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Open for Debate

Arrogant Pride and Alternative Facts

17 July 2017
“Pride…is a very common failing” (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice). What Austen calls “pride” is these days better described as arrogant pride to distinguish it from the rightful pride of those opposing discrimination on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation.

Austen characterises it as “a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary.” Those who are arrogantly proud, then, are full of themselves and possessed of a feeling of superiority. They dominate conversations, interrupt other people, and are dismissive of views opposed to their own. We are sadly confronted with these behaviours on a daily basis. We observe them among work colleagues; we see them exhibited by those who are meant to represent us in complex political negotiation. We exhibit them ourselves.

Arrogance is an obstacle to rational debate and is particularly pernicious when diplomacy, moderation, flexibility and the ability to compromise are required. There are two features of arrogance in debate that are particularly harmful. When we converse with we acquire obligations toward our interlocutors. For example, everything else being equal, we should avoid lying or misleading them; we owe them to be helpful when helpfulness is not costly to us. In addition, we should be careful with any statement we make. Speakers who make claims, rather than offer mere suggestions or put forward a conjecture, have obligations toward their audiences. They must make themselves answerable and accountable for their claims. They make themselves answerable by being prepared to justify their views in the face of legitimate challenges. They make themselves accountable by acknowledging that they are to blame if it turns out that their claims are mistaken.

Arrogant individuals in their sense of superiority do not think of themselves as answerable; they respond to challenges with anger and dismissal. Some supremely arrogant people also take themselves to be unaccountable. They behave as if the world should reflect their opinions, rather attempting to adjust their views to reality. They imagine themselves the umpires of what is true, proudly declaring that things are as they call them (but forgetting that they should call them as they are). From here to ‘alternative facts’ the gap is small.

If you would like to read more about arrogance and assertion check out my paper ‘”Calm Down, Dear”: Intellectual Arrogance, Silencing and Ignorance’, Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 90 (1), 2016, pp. 71-92. You can find a final draft on my website.

Image ‘“Alternate Facts” van‘ by Claire Uziel licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0