Jeff Lowder just wrote a helpful article in which he contrasts “genuine inquiry” vs. “partisan advocacy”. Jeff describes genuine inquiry as
“reading opposing viewpoints, not with the goal of preparing pithy one-liners for debates, but with the goal of actually trying to learn something or consider new ways of looking at old topics.”
He adds that it consists of
“trying to ‘steel man’ your opposition, i.e., trying to strengthen the arguments for your opponent’s position.It might even include publishing arguments for a position you do not hold and even reject.”
Good to see! By that measure I’m concerned with genuine inquiry since, ahem, I engage in all of the above.
So what does partisan advocacy look like? Jeff writes:
“In contrast, partisan advocacy is, well, exactly what it sounds like it is. Much like an attorney hired to vigorously defend her client in court, a partisan advocate isn’t interested in genuine inquiry.”
Okay, I know what Jeff means, but there is a problem. While this might seem to be “like an attorney”, the difference is that the attorney (at least the attorney with integrity — and since we’re steelmanning, that’s what we’ll focus on) works intentionally within a broader system that seeks to serve the interests of justice. Within this context, the attorney recognizes that her commitment to defend (or prosecute) the defendant functions as part of a system in which opposing counsel engages in the prosecution (or defense) of the same defendant. Together, these opposing views appeal to the objectivity of a judge (either a professional judge or an ad hoc jury) to serve the interests of justice.
The point is relevant not only for defending attorneys but also for defending any advocate for a particular view to the extent that he/she understands him/herself to function within a similar system.
Now for my second and final quibble with the article. Jeff opts to describe the contrast between genuine inquiry and partisan advocacy as follows:
“I think we get the distinction between (an ideal) philosophy of religion vs. apologetics.”
Again, I know what he means. And again, I want to offer a modest dissenting opinion. While apologetics often exemplifies partisan advocacy — especially when it is produced by “apologetics ministries” — the term “apologetics” simply refers to a defense of one’s views, whatever those views may be. And people can surely engage in defenses of their particular beliefs (whatever those beliefs may be) without capitulating to partisan advocacy.