Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Thinking: Explanation vs. Justification

It's a commonplace that folks who tend to the left want to understand the "root causes" of behavior, while folks more to right want to focus only on the effects of a particular behavior or events. Even though neither characterization is really true, people tend to believe things like this without thinking too much, and this commonplace enables people like Karl Rove to accuse liberals of wanting to "offer therapy and understanding to the attackers" after 9/11.

An excellent discussion has broken out among the people I read over the question of whether "explaining" a bad act, like 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombings, ends being a kind of "justification" of the act. I wondered the same thing about Ted Haggard's explanation of Pat Robertson's "take him out" comment earlier.

The discussion starts with Brad DeLong, an economics professor at Cal, posting his exchange with his former teacher Jeff Weintraub. This prompted a reflection by Hilzoy and this response from her blogging partner Sebastian Holsclaw, both at Obsidian Wings.

These are long posts, and the discussion is very wide-ranging, but I recommend them for two reasons. First, they are examples of how to have a good discussion, and of how the internet can be used for something more than commerce, porn, and PM's. Second, I think this discussion can give us insight into "how" we talk about issues, and "how" we understand our own viewpoint within a discussion. The better we understand both, the better off we will all be.

(Note: Edited because some of the orignial sentences were badly written. 11:37 am 8/30/05)

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