Peter Suber

As Ben mentioned, I'm on sort of a Peter Suber kick. I was amazed by him as a student and am still amazed now purely as a reader. Anyone who has invented six knots, been a professional stand-up comic and taught philosophy is bound to be an interesting person. He has a profound mind, the vocabulary to articulate it clearly, and a knack for writing zingers that are both linguistically elegant and filled with insight. There are a lot of reasons that I find him interesting. But what I find far more fascinating than anything else is his sense of fairness.

I have never met or read anybody who is as willing to engage opposing points of view in as honest a fashion. He doesn't engage opposing arguments specifically to undermine them. On the contrary, he often shows ways to strengthen them that make them more persuasive than they were originally. But it's not a game. I don't think he does this merely to show that his position will remain intact when compared to even the best opposing argument. He does it, I think, in an honest effort to see if there's anything in them that is worth believing. He considers the possibility of having to temper, revise or even reject his own stance based on the points made by the opposition.

I'm a fanatic for this kind of flexibility of opinion. I only wish that I encountered it, and practiced it, more frequently. I recently found a short writing of his called The Clinical Attitude, which better describes the fairness and flexibility that he is an example of.

1 comment:

Joe said...

I just read the "when we leave our desks" speech. It's interesting that Peter has now "left his desk" so to speak. He wrote me an email not long ago that said something about his "more direct approach to world-changing." He also said that "good teaching is good world-changing; it just takes longer" or something like that.
I also appreciate his objectivity. I think some post-modern types have come to derride the very idea of objectivity as secretly patriarchal and racist (I think Marya is one proponent of this viewpoint). But, Peter shows how awesome it is to be rigorous and objective, i.e., to really care about the truth instead of your own ego or agenda.