Against Committing

    Starting with a loose screw

  1. A starting view:

    We should stop committing

    Committing: In addition to giving arguments for or against some proposition, p, saying whether or not I believe that p is true.

  2. Examples of committing:
  3. The alternative is to not commit:
  4. Note that the following is not an example of committing, because the claim that I believe the conclusion is part of the argument for the conclusion, not made in addition to the argument:

    I believe that I have a belief. If I believe that I have a belief then I have a belief. Therefore, I have a belief.

  5. We don't need to commit

  6. Two thought experiments:
  7. An argument:

    Philosophy would be no worse off if David Lewis had never committed about modal realism. Therefore, philosophy would be no worse off if none of us ever committed about anything.

  8. Some further things to note:
    1. Committing to p is not part of the argument for p, so taking it away makes no difference to the argument.
    2. That the author believes that p is true is no extra reason to think that p is true, not by philosophical standards. So taking away the committment does not take away any philosophically respectible reason for p.
    3. Committing to p is not needed to show that p is worth taking seriously.
    4. Committing to p is not needed to show that the argument for p is interesting, nor to make the paper itself interesting, or exciting.
    5. Committing to p is not needed to make the author be more careful with the argument. Committing to not-p does not give the author license to be lesscareful with the argument.

    Committing can be a hindrance

  9. Committing about p requires me to have an opinion about p, the formation of which can be very demanding. Waiting until I have one might stop me from publishing interesting arguments for or against p.
  10. What if I commit to p and then later change my mind? I might not have the strength of character to stay focused on the truth rather than on saving face.
  11. What if I commit to p and then think up an excellent argument against p? Trying to square the argument with my previous commitment might make it hard (a) to publish the argument at all, or (b) to present the argument in its most favourable light when published.
  12. Committing can make philosophy too personal: "How can he think that"? We should be playing the ball, not the man.
  13. Committing might leave certain positions neglected or overlooked. Rachels: "There are not many hedonists among contemporary philosophers."
  14. Tightening the screw

  15. We should stop committing on the premises of the arguments that we consider.
  16. We should stop saying the following weaker things about the premises and conclusions:

    One benefit of this: it stops us replying, "I just find that implausible". Another: it helps stop us being bullies.

  17. We should stop saying the following stronger things about the premises and conclusions:
  18. We should even stop saying the following things about the premises and conclusions:
  19. A final view:

    We should stop adding any claims about the attitudes that we do or do not have towards the premises and conclusions of the arguments that we are considering.