If a person knowingly depicts unverified information as accepted fact in a public forum, is that ethically or morally wrong (i.e. Some form of intellectual violence)?

Asked by: man0euvre
If a person knowingly depicts unverified information as accepted fact in a public forum, is that ethically or morally wrong (i.e. Some form of intellectual violence)?
  • So here's the situation:

    I was debating an acquaintance on facebook, and she was asserting her views without supporting evidence and without considering mine. Her claims were very clearly unverified (hearsay, fallacies in informal logic), so rather than argue the points, I simply asked that she be more judicious in how she presented her ideas so that people wouldn't confuse what she said for verified fact.

    This brought about a new debate over this question. Is her conduct- espousing unverified opinions as fact in a public setting without qualification- a form of intellectual violence against anyone who might overhear? Is it wrong to commit such violence? Is it the speaker's duty not to assert unproven opinions, or is it the listener's to verify the opinions before adopting them? Who is actually to blame if misinformation is accepted as fact, and for the ramifications that follow?

    I am inclined to say that talking out of one's anus in public with no extenuating justification is a form of deliberate harm, and that it falls under similar ethical constraints to deliberate lying. The only point which has me fuddled is how this affects free speech. If it's legitimately harmful to talk out of one's anus in public, are we therefore bound to speak the truth in public as far as possible, to avoid harming others? I'd like to hear other opinions as I continue to look into the ethics on this issue. Thanks.

  • It is a lie.

    IF you have information and you have not verified that it is true, and then go one about OMG guys this thing is true for totally real! Well you just told a lie. If you promote unverified information as being not only true, but widely accepted truth, you are basically being fox news, and that's not ok.

  • This does great harm

    People believe it, people perpetuate it, and overtime you have a whole population of people believing it except for the smarter people who bother to check their facts and then they have to suffer for everyone else's idiocy. Make sure you have checked all your facts before you go posting nonsense or at least vocalize the fact that you aren't actually sure.

  • I would say no...

    I can overhear any number of things, but it is up to me to separate fact from fiction through research. If I choose to regard those assertions as definitive facts without due diligence on my part, I only harm myself.

    Also, for all you know she may really, truly believe these things to be true.

    Slander and defamation are examples of one using words to initiate force / fraud against another. But even in such cases, there must be solid proof that a) the statements caused real damage to the target and b) the person making such statements knew them to be false and knowingly repeated them with the express intent of inflicting damage on the target and/or defrauding others for a profit by this means. Proving that sounds much easier than it actually is.

    Ethically, it's wrong to purposely mislead.

    Posted by: Tink
  • Relax, it is just conversation.

    What you seem to be discussing is the difference between scrupulously expressed, supported, and constructed ideas, and normal verbal intercourse. True, most of us are careless sometimes in our thinking, conversation, and writing. That is markedly distinct from willful deception.

    Absolutely, the deliberate misleading of someone, whether through introducing inaccurate information or intentionally fallacious reasoning is ethically corrupt.

    Arguably, conscious carelessness in our reasoning is also ethically corrupt.

    Where it gets sticky is in the responsibility to verify information before repeating it or using it to formulate an idea that we express in any medium.

    One extreme is never to say or write anything until we personally verify the truth. (That would render us unable to make statements about history before our birth, or about any place we have not personally been, for example). We would all be stuck in a Socratic loop of conscientious ignorance.

    The other extreme is to merely select ‘facts’ from any external source, at whim, and with no skepticism, and then to repeat these ‘facts’ without justification or citation of the source, and without any logical connection (valid or fallacious) to the conclusion/premise.

    I think viable and feasible virtue lies somewhere in between. I think the following are useful ethical considerations/rules of intellectual engagement.

    1) Operate at the limits of our capabilities, knowledge, and understanding. (These are particular to each person, so the standard for virtue is relative.) We do not all have the same base of experience or training in formal logic.
    2) Cite the source of the information, IF WE REMEMBER IT.
    3) Acknowledge any doubts we have regarding the veracity of a ‘fact’.
    4) Acknowledge any biases in our sources or ourselves.
    5) Select the information BEFORE the conclusion we want to support, OR acknowledge we are trying to prove an idea, and are only selecting facts that support it.
    6) Think critically to the minimum extent that we acknowledge when logic is counterintuitive, or facts are counter to our personal experience.
    7) Express ideas, to the extent possible, in a manner that matches our audience’s ways of thinking, in order to promote more accurate understanding of what we are trying to express..
    8) In conversation, both sides have the additional duty to accept the most charitable interpretation of a statement by whoever we are talking with. It is ethically corrupt to claim a weakness in expression is a weaknesses in intent or ethics.

    If I understand your post, what really happened is you disagreed with someone, at least partly because of your failure to adhere to number 8.

    These ethics cut both ways, so put your indignation aside, relax, and accept that we can all be equally virtuous, even when we disagree, believe different ‘facts’, and come to our conclusions through differing mental processes.

  • Caveat lector - Reader beware

    Public forums are fantastical places for debates.
    There is always an agenda. And there is always someone biasing things toward the "what's in it for me" skew.
    It is good to listen but we each have our own ability to critically think. Most people have someone with whom they can discuss ideas.
    In the age of information, ignorance is a choice. It is easy to research ideas and opinions.

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