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Welcome – Intro to Intellectual Accountability

Updated: Jul 12, 2019

Hello! Thanks for checking out my research blog. For the next couple years, this space will be a research blog concerned with my project for the Banting Fellowship I hold at Dalhousie University, which concerns what I've come to call intellectual accountability.



Intellectual Accountability: The Project


The idea is this common kind of situation: you find that someone is ignorant, or has false beliefs, or has made some other kind of intellectual error, and you feel that they should be held accountable somehow. Maybe you try to correct them. Maybe you direct some criticism of the way they arrived at the error. Maybe you feel some resentment, or express annoyance, anger, or frustration that this person got this thing wrong.


While it's common enough to be on one side or the other of these situations—as the person being held accountable, or the person holding the other to account—it would not, I think, be controversial to say that we're mostly pretty bad at this. Arguments over who's right and who's wrong, who's been intellectually irresponsible, who's been misled and who's clear-headed—all of these discussions are often tense. People lob insults at one another. People deflect from the point for which they are being criticized in an effort to "win" the argument, rather than taking the criticism seriously. People feel so nervous about making an error and being called a fool, or are confident in their beliefs but simply don't feel they have the emotional energy to deal with naysayers, that they withdraw from conversations entirely. And our major social media platforms don't do much to help.


The aim of my research project is to understand what's going on in these cases. We need to know what makes it appropriate to call people out for their intellectual mistakes in the first place. Beyond that, we need to understand just which ways of holding people intellectually accountable are themselves appropriate, and which ones actually work. When we find ourselves being held accountable for a purported intellectual error, we need to understand how to respond, whether we agree with the criticism or not. And since much of our contemporary political situation is rooted in significant disagreements over values and matters of fact, this new understanding of the proper place of intellectual accountability in our individual and social lives will help us engage in these important debates better.


This blog will be updated roughly once a week with a brief discussion of something I'm researching or a connection to current events. Watch this space—or follow me on Twitter @errantcanadian to keep up with what I'm writing.


Edit Log:

12-07-19 Minor changes.

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