The Only Thing Worth Majoring In

Ezra Klein's Vox.com is up and running, full of news explainers and policy discussions from his stable of millennial wonk-journalists.

Under his personal byline is a piece about cognitive bias Politics Makes Us Stupid that's sparked discussion in the left wing blogosphere, notably this from Paul Krugman.

How do you avoid bias and arrive at good fact based conclusions? Bill Gardner at the Incidental Economist has the answer. 

If you want to be right, study philosophy:

I think that moral philosophy helps. And not just reading moral philosophy, but doing it: reading it and then arguing about it with people who are good at the trade. This isn’t easy: philosophy seminars are infamous for their “blood on the floor” argumentative style. Moreover, philosophers do not have special technical methods that give them privileged access to policy truths. But doing philosophy gives you two important things in your personal fight against identity-protective cognition.

First, moral philosophers are skilled at exposing the values underlying your position and confronting you with their implications. This is where you go to learn more about who you are inside. Analyzing your values can help break you from unreflective reliance on the values of your friends. And maybe seeing the values that shape your thought can help you anticipate your own biases. This way of learning about yourself can involve a live dissection before an audience. But that’s just how it’s done.

The second thing you learn in seminar is an important discipline of argumentation. What these people are good at — so far as I can tell, the only thing they are good at — is arguing. And to get taken seriously in philosophy, you have to tackle the best version of the argument you hope to defeat. Cheap-shotting, straw man arguments work in political debates, but in seminar they make you look like the chump. So you learn the discipline of reading charitably, that is, reading to construct and then defeat the strongest possible version of the opposing argument; if possible a better one than your opponent made. And making the best possible argument for your opponent is the best way to make yourself responsible to all of the empirical evidence.