I got into an argument, and while I don’t think anyone changed their mind, I think I realized something about why our argumentative norms are so incompatible.
The people I was arguing with are academic philosophers. They like extensive, detailed exploration of a concept, tend to be very wordy, and cite heavily.
I am a rationalist, which is justly accused of being a new school of philosophy that includes as one of its tenets “philosophy is dumb”, and we do not have the same norms.
Here’s an example: (EDIT: After feedback that the quoted person did not agree with their paraphrased statement, I have replaced it with direct quotes.)
Me: I’d be interested in the one minute version of how you think the Sequence’s criticism of philosophy is wrong.
My interlocutor: There are several criticisms, if you link me to the one you want, I’ll write a thing up for you.
Me: “Point me to a paper” is one of the frustrating things about trying to argue with [philosophers]. Particularly after [I asked] for the short version.
If you don’t have a response to the aggregate that’s concise, just say so; the response you gave instead comes off as a mix of sophistication signal and credentialist status grab, with a minor side of “This feels like dodging the question.”
Philosophers, on the other hand, seem to have a reaction to rationalist argument styles of “Go read these three books and then you’ll be entitled to an opinion.” More charitably, they don’t think someone is taking discussion of a topic seriously unless they have spent significant effort engaging with primary sources that are discussed frequently in the literature on that topic. Which, by and large, rationalists are loath to do.
The academic mindset, I think, grows out of how they learned the subject. They read a lot of prior work, their own ideas evolved along with the things they’d discussed and written papers about. A lot of work is put into learning to model the thought processes of previous writers, rather than just to learn their ideas. Textbooks are rare, primary sources common. Working in an atmosphere of people who all learned this way would tend to give a baseline assumption that this is how one becomes capable of serious thought on the subject.
(Added note: It seems to be the case that modern analytic philosophy has moved away from that style of learning at most schools. All the effects of this style still seem to predict the observed data, though.)
The rationalist mindset grows out of the Silicon Valley mindset. They have the “minimum viable product”, we have the “minimum viable concept”. Move fast and break assumptions. Test your ideas against other people early and often, go into detail only where it’s called for by the response to your idea, break things up into many small pieces and build on each other. If you want to get a library of common ideas for a subject, read a textbook and go from there.
With this mindset, it’s a waste of time to read a long book just to get a few ideas and maybe an idea about how the author generated them; you could instead take half an idea, smash it against some adversarial thinking, and repeat that three or four times, getting several whole ideas, pushing them into their better forms, and discarding the three or four that didn’t hold up when you tested them. Find techniques that work and, if you can put them into words, give them to someone else and see if it works for them as it did for you.
So academics see us as dilettantes who don’t engage with prior art, are ignorant, and make old mistakes; and we see them as stick-in-the-muds who aren’t iterating, wasting motion on dead ends without anyone to tell them they’re lost and slowing down any attempt at collaboration.
(I don’t think I’ve changed my mind about what I prefer, but I hope I’ve passed an ideological/epistemological Turing test that lets people make up their minds which is better.)