Back to Prindle Institute

Are Politicians Obligated to Debate?

photo of empty debate stage

In the leadup to the provincial election in Ontario, many members of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party have been avoiding the debates taking place in their respective ridings. In fact, 22 out of 34 Conservatives have recently failed to show up to debates in which members of their rival parties were participating, a number that greatly exceeds the absences from all other parties combined. When asked to comment on the situation, a campaign official speaking on behalf of the Conservatives stated that the party’s mandate was to have each candidate “carefully assess the value” of participating in a debate in order to “limit the risk” of doing so. He also stated that debates are of “low value” and a candidate’s time can be better used in other ways.

Debates ahead of elections are common in democracies around the world. So, too, are instances of politicians avoiding them. For example, in the run-up to the recent presidential election in the Philippines, candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. participated in only one out of four scheduled debates; when asked to explain his absence, he cited the desire to keep his campaign “positive” (although many of his critics speculated that his failure to attend the debates was motivated by a desire to avoid discussing his family’s history). The strategy seems to have paid off, as he is presumed to have won the election.

Some who disapprove of Conservative Party candidates skipping debates in Canada have called the move “anti-democratic”; in the Philippines, Marcos’ opponent Leni Robredo said that participating in debates is something that candidates “owe…to the people and to our country.”

Is this right? Do politicians have any specific obligation to participate in debates? And if so, what kind of obligation?

There is one sense in which political candidates like those mentioned above are not obligated to participate in debates, given that not participating does not preclude one from running. We might think that there is a different kind of obligation involved, though, one associated with “playing fair” or maybe “being a good sport”; such norms, however, have rarely held much water in the world of politics. Of course, one risks losing face in front of one’s constituents by failing to appear for debates, but if a politician can make up that loss in other campaign activities, or if one’s target constituency doesn’t really care about the outcomes of political debates anyway, then it might be more prudent to skip debates altogether, especially given the risk of hurting one’s campaign by getting caught off-guard by a question or saying something dumb.

So we might think that politicians who refuse to attend debates are not violating any explicit electoral processes, or being imprudent, but are instead lazy, or cowards (or both). But this is perhaps a far cry from the accusations above of being “anti-democratic.”

Indeed, there does seem to be something more egregious about avoiding political debates, namely that doing so undercuts informed citizenship, something that is a necessary condition for a well-functioning democracy.

To defend this kind of argument we need to consider what we mean by “informed” and “well-functioning.” But in general, the claim is this: if those in positions of political power are meant to be reflective of, and act in service to, the will of the people, broadly construed, then those people need to be informed about what candidates’ positions are on important issues.

That’s glossing over a lot of nuances, of course. And it’s not as if every voter needs to be extremely knowledgeable about all the details of every candidate’s respective platform, or stance on every policy issue, in order to be well-informed. Regardless, the loose argument is that better-informed voters will tend to make better voting choices, and the responsibility to inform citizens lies not just with said citizens, but with the politicians, as well. Political debates are, arguably, a significant source of information about candidates. Failing to participate in such debates thus prevents voters from getting important information they need to be well-informed. We can then see why one might think that avoiding political debates is anti-democratic, as doing so is antithetical to the democratic process one is participating in.

One might think, though, that there are surely other ways in which one can become well-informed about the candidates in an election – one could, say, look up relevant information online.

Doesn’t such readily available information make political debates more or less obsolete, at least in terms of their ability to inform the public?

No, for a few reasons. First, reading statements online does not give one the same kind of information that might come up at a debate, as there are no opportunities for rebuttals or follow-up questions. Second, one does not get to compare candidates in the same way when simply reading information online. Finally, people are not great at actively seeking out information about candidates who are members of parties one does not already endorse. It seems less likely that one would change one’s mind when doing self-directed research, in comparison to a debate.

Here is the kind of being-well-informed that seems especially crucial for a well-functioning democracy: not just knowledge about what one’s favorite candidate is all about, filtered through one’s preferred news outlet or website, but information about how different candidates compare, as well as information about other choices one may not have considered. More than just custom or nuisance, debates serve an important function of helping to inform the voting public, and failing to engage in them violates obligations central to democracy.

In Defense of Mill

collage of colorful speech bubbles

In recent years, commentators — particularly those who lean left — have become increasingly dubious about John Stuart Mill’s famous defense of an absolutist position on free speech. Last week, for instance, The New York Times published a long piece by Yale Law School professor Emily Bazelon in which she echoes a now-popular complaint about Mill: that his arguments are fundamentally over-optimistic about the likelihood that the better argument will win the day, or that “good ideas win.” In this column, I will argue that this complaint rests on a mistaken view of Mill.

Mill’s argument, briefly stated, is that no matter whether a given belief is true, false, or partly true, its assertion will be useful for discovering truth and maintaining knowledge of the truth, and therefore it should not be suppressed. True beliefs are usually suppressed because they are believed to be either false or harmful, but according to Mill, to suppress a belief on these grounds is to imply that one’s grasp of the truth or of what is harmful is infallible. Mill, an empiricist, believed that no human being has infallible access to the truth. Even if the belief is actually false, its assertion can generate debate, which will lead to greater understanding and ensure that truths do not lapse into “mere dogma.” Finally, if the belief is partially true, it should not be suppressed because it can be indispensable to discovering the “whole” truth.

Notice that Mill’s whole argument concerns the assertion of beliefs, or the communication of what the speaker genuinely takes to be true. The key assumption in Mill’s argument is thus not that the truth will win out in the rough and tumble of debate. This may well be true — at least, it may be true in the long run, when every participant is really engaging in debate, or the evaluation of truth claims. Rather, Mill is taking as given that a lot of the public discourse is aimed at communicating truth claims in good faith. The problem is that much of this discourse is not intended to inform others about what speakers actually believe. Much of the public discourse is propaganda — speech aimed at achieving some political outcome, rather than at communicating belief. As Bazelon points out, referring to the deluge of disinformation that currently swamps our national public conversation,

“The conspiracy theories, the lies, the distortions, the overwhelming amount of information, the anger encoded in it — these all serve to create chaos and confusion and make people, even nonpartisans, exhausted, skeptical and cynical about politics. The spewing of falsehoods isn’t meant to win any battle of ideas. Its goal is to prevent the actual battle from being fought, by causing us to simply give up.”

The purpose of disinformation propaganda is to overwhelm people with contradictory claims and ultimately to encourage their retreat into apolitical cynicism. Even where propagandists appear to be in the business of putting forward truth claims, this is always in bad faith: propagandists aren’t trying to express truth claims. 

Where does this leave Mill? Mill may have been mistaken in overlooking the pervasiveness of propaganda. However, his defense of free speech need not extend to propaganda. If Mill is concerned only with defending communicative acts that are aimed at expressing belief, then we have no reason to think that Mill needs to defend propaganda. Thus, a Millian defense of speech can distinguish between speech that is intended primarily to express a truth claim and speech that is intended primarily to effect some political outcome. While the former must be protected from suppression, the latter need not be, precisely because the latter is not aimed at, nor likely to produce, greater understanding.

Of course, this distinction might be difficult to draw in practice. Nevertheless, new policies recently rolled out by social media platforms appear to be aimed precisely at suppressing the spread of harmful propaganda. Twitter banned political ads a year ago, and last month Facebook restricted its Messenger app by preventing mass forwarding of private messages. Facebook’s Project P (P for propaganda) was an internal effort after the 2016 election to take down pages that spread Russian disinformation. Bazelon recommends pressuring social media platforms into changing their algorithms or identifying disinformation “super spreaders” and slowing the virality of their posts. Free speech absolutists might decry such measures as contrary to John Stuart Mill’s vision, but I have suggested that this might be a mistake.

Tom Cotton’s Op-Ed and the Aims of the Opinion Page

photograph of newspaper printing press in operation

On June 3, 2020, The New York Times ran an op-ed by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton calling for the U.S. military to use an “overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain, and ultimately deter lawbreakers.” He was referring to the riots that broke out in reaction to George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police—riots that Cotton depicted as the work of “left-wing radicals” and “nihilist criminals.” The fallout over the piece led to the resignation of the paper’s opinion page editor, James Bennett, with The Times publicly conceding that Cotton’s piece should not have been published. This reversal, and Bennett’s ouster, has itself provoked criticism of The Times by commentators of various political persuasions. For the philosophically inclined, it provides an opportunity to consider the criteria editors should use in selecting the independent opinions that appear in their pages.

Should The New York Times have run Cotton’s op-ed? In order to answer this question, we need to think about the purpose of a newspaper opinion page, and the way that purpose helps realize important values. There is an obvious sense in which an opinion page can share certain features with a public forum: it may serve as a venue for the expression of a multitude of opinions by ordinary citizens as well as public figures. Public forums are valuable because they are spaces in which citizens can deliberate, debate, and voice their dissent concerning important political, social, and cultural issues. Such spaces help citizens make better political decisions and keep public officials accountable.

The public forum conception of the opinion page is not the only one a paper could adopt. For example, a newspaper could decide that its opinion page should speak with one voice, advancing a more-or-less coherent set of positions on matters political, social, and cultural. On this view, only op-eds that are consistent with the opinion page’s strong editorial line would be entitled to a place. For example, this appears to be The Wall Street Journal’s philosophy. Since we are dealing here with private companies and not government agencies, the choice is entirely at the owners’ discretion.

In addition, there is one important distinction between a public forum and a newspaper such as The New York Times. In the latter case, the very fact that the newspaper chooses to run an op-ed lends credence to the views expressed therein: it is an indication that these views are worth considering. One might reply that a view can be worth considering even if it is false and immoral. John Stuart Mill famously wrote in On Liberty that even well-argued falsehoods could aid us in our pursuit of knowledge, pushing us to defend our own views “fully, fearlessly, and frequently” and preventing them from lapsing into “dead dogma.” However, if we are to evaluate the permissibility of publishing an opinion partly on the basis of its tendency to promote knowledge, we must also register the fact that lending credence to false or immoral views can spread factual or moral ignorance.

In light of this consideration, it may be reasonable to adopt a modified conception of the opinion page, one according to which its function is as a sort of refined public forum—a forum in which certain opinions are excluded because they fail to meet certain minimal standards of factual accuracy, moral decency, and other considerations discussed below. Such a forum is still valuable because it promotes democratic deliberation and debate, but unlike traditional public forums in the United States, it also actively works to avoid spreading ignorance. And whereas on the unrefined public forum conception the default assumption is that opinions are worth publishing absent good reasons for their exclusion, on the refined public forum conception an opinion must meet certain criteria in order to qualify as worthy of publication.

Some criteria seem relatively uncontroversial. Since we reason better if our premises are clear and our arguments logically correct, opinion pieces should meet some minimal standards of clarity and cogency. Relevance is another criterion: op-eds should be about a topic of pressing or significant public concern about which there is a need for democratic deliberation and debate, rather than some extremely obscure topic.

The purpose of the opinion page also seems to suggest that editors should avoid printing op-eds that contain any factual errors, since democratic debate and deliberation are undermined when citizens reason from false premises. But more careful reflection suggests that because factual claims can themselves be the subject of reasonable public dispute, an opinion page can better help inform the public about such factual disagreements by allowing the disputants to make their cases on the page, even if doing so risks printing false claims. For example, in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, the question whether Iraq possessed WMD was a matter of reasonable debate given the information publicly available, and would have been an ideal subject for opinion pieces arguing both sides of the issue. By contrast, there is no reasonable debate to be had about the reality of the Holocaust. Thus, while there is good reason not to print op-eds containing factual claims that are clearly false, the purpose of the page is better served by giving airtime to reasonable controversies over matters of fact.

A similar point applies to controversial questions of value. On the one hand, it might be argued that democratic deliberation is hindered by false beliefs about what is good or what is right. However, in many cases matters of value are themselves the subject of reasonable public dispute; and in these cases, it is better to inform the public about the various positions being staked out on those questions and the arguments advocates are advancing for them, even at the risk of airing views that may ultimately be widely judged immoral. Twenty years ago, the morality of gay marriage was heatedly debated across the country by people of good will. At that time, it would have been appropriate to run opinion pieces arguing both sides of the issue. So, while there is good reason not to publish op-eds containing clearly indecent moral views, particularly if they do not meet the criterion of relevance, the purpose of the page is well-served by allowing reasonable debate about questions of value.

The goal of fostering informed democratic deliberation also suggests that particularly controversial views ought to be presented in a way that is best calculated to foster reasoned debate. This might involve, for example, a “point counterpoint” format in which op-eds arguing for opposing views are published side-by-side. Meg Greenfield, who edited The Washington Post’s editorial page for over 20 years, was known to employ this technique with respect to particularly controversial topics.

If we adopt the refined public forum conception of the opinion page and judge according to the criteria discussed above, Tom Cotton’s op-ed appears problematic in certain respects. It was reasonably clear and cogent—one cannot claim to be offended by its argument and simultaneously not understand what was being argued. It was certainly relevant, since it concerned events of pressing public concern and was written by a person who wields enormous power. It advanced some unsubstantiated factual claims, such as its claim about left-wing groups’ involvement in the rioting. However, it is possible that at the time it was published, the degree of involvement of these groups was still a matter of reasonable dispute.

Less clear is whether the values that Cotton espouses are a matter of reasonable dispute. In particular, there is the question whether we should take seriously the view that the U.S. military ought to use its enormous capacity for violence against those engaged in the destruction of property. One reason to do so is that this view seems to be shared by a substantial proportion of U.S. adults; this speaks to its relevance. However, given its controversial nature and the risk of lending credence to an immoral view, a different presentation of Cotton’s argument—perhaps in the form of a point counterpoint—would almost certainly have been a more ethically sound editorial decision.

Furthermore, Cotton’s rhetoric seems designed to intimidate. Specifically, Cotton recommends using “an overwhelming show of force” to deter “lawbreakers.” There is a disturbing ambiguity in that statement: are people engaged in civil disobedience included within the scope of “lawbreakers”? If Cotton’s piece can be reasonably interpreted as threatening violence against those engaged in civil disobedience, it could have a chilling effect upon open expressions of dissent, thus undermining democratic debate and deliberation. Surely, if an editor has good reason to think that an opinion piece is intended to silence others, or will have the effect of so doing to a significant degree, the refined public forum conception of the opinion page would tend to favor not running it in its current form.

A newspaper’s opinion page can, at its best, encourage the kind of frank, fair, and informed exchange of views that makes democracies function better. Yet editors have a responsibility to see that they do not spread ignorance by stamping clearly false or morally perverse opinions with their newspaper’s imprimatur. They also have an obligation to present controversial views in a way best calculated to encourage reasoned debate. For all of these reasons, the decision to publish Tom Cotton’s op-ed should be viewed as a challenging one, whether or not it is ultimately justified.

The Harms of Reporting Political Insults

photograph of reporters' recording devices pushing for response from suited figure

This week I had the most amazing experience reading a news article. The article was discussing the preparations being made for the impeachment trial and I came across this sentence: “Trump tweeted right before and after Pelosi’s appearance, in both instances using derisive nicknames.” What an idea: to avoid repeating what is essentially name calling and to simply refer to what kind of statement was made. Afterall, what is the journalistic value of reporting that a politician called someone else by derisive nicknames and then repeating those nicknames? Does it make us more informed? Does it make national political debates any better? Perhaps not, and this means that the question about whether journalists should repeat such insults is an ethical one.

After the 2016 Presidential election there was much discussion about the issue of journalistic standards and the merits of covering a candidate like Donald Trump so much. Even before the election there were reports that Trump had essentially received over $2 billion dollars in free media simply because he was so consistently covered in the news cycle. Later there were those in the media, such as CNN President Jeff Zucker who acknowledged the mistake of airing campaign rallies in full as it essentially acted as free advertising. According to communication studies professor Brian L. Ott such free advertising did affect the electoral results. What this means is that media is not always merely a bystander covering election campaigns because that coverage can affect who wins or loses. This is relevant for several reasons when it comes to reporting and repeating political insults.

For starters, such insults can act like a form of fake news. Part of the problem with fake news is that the more it is repeated, even while being demonstrated to be false, the more people are likely to believe it. In fact, a study has demonstrated that even a single exposure to a piece of fake news can be enough to convince someone that its contents are true. Even when a report explicitly aims to repute some false claim, the claim itself is more likely to be remembered than the fact that it is false. Now, if we think about insults and nicknames as a piece of information, we are likely to make the same mistake. Every “Lyin’ Ted,” “Shifty Schiff,” or “Crooked Hillary” in some form offers information about that person. The more it is repeated the harder it is to repudiate claims related to it. No matter how many fact checks are published, “Crooked so-and-so,” remains crooked.

One may argue that if the media took measures to stop directly quoting such names and insults and simply noted the fact that an insult was made or is being popularized, then it is no longer performing its journalistic function of informing the public. It might be wrong to not report on direct quotes. However, if insults are more likely to stick in the minds of the public than the information repudiating the stories behind such insults, then the result may be a less informed public. As for the matter of reporting on quotes, this issue is already being discussed in terms of whether the media should repeat quotes that are factually incorrect. Darek Thompson argues that the media should put such quotes in “epistemic quarantine” by abstaining from direct reporting on the language being used in the name of securing the original purpose of journalism: to report the truth.

There is another objection to consider. By not covering insults and replacing them with general descriptions of the comments the media will no longer be reporting neutrally. However, the important thing to keep in mind is that politics is not just about information it is about branding. According to Amit Kumar, Somesh Dhamija, and Aruna Dhamija one outcome of political marketing is the political brand. If a politician is able to cultivate a personal brand, they can create a style and image which is distinct, and thus are able to target specific “consumer citizens” in a way such that politicians are able to establish an instantaneous reaction with the public.

For example, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spent years cultivating a brand beginning with his boxing match with a Conservative Senator, with it establishing a sense of “toughness, strength, honour and courage.” One can only imagine that his recent beard growth, with its ability to project experience, is an attempt to change that brand. However, just as a company’s brand can be tarnished, so can a personal brand. When an insult like “Cooked Hillary” is used in a repeated and targeted way, it damages that brand in a way distinct from merely insulting someone. It acts less as an assertion of fact and more like a way to connect concepts on a subconscious level. Thus, when the press repeats insults, they are acting as a form of advertising to attack a political brand. In other words, repeated reporting of such insults is already non-neutral in its effects.

Perhaps reporting insults still serves a journalistic purpose, however it is difficult to see what purpose that is. Such insults are less about the merits of policy and are essentially ad hominem attacks. In fact, the reporting of such ad hominem attacks makes addressing empirical claims very difficult. According to a study, attacking an individual’s credibility may be just as effective as attacking the claims that the individual makes. For instance, attacking Clinton for being corrupt “could be just as effective as actual evidence of criminality, and no less influential.” In other words, once an ad hominem attack is made, the empirical facts of the case do not really matter. Dr. Elio Martino of Quillette notes, “If attacks on a person’s character are effective, and potentially irreversible even with the subsequent addition of facts, it becomes easy to discredit people wishing to tackle the difficult but important issues facing our society.”

So, reporting ad hominem attacks essentially does not aid in keeping the public informed. However, others have noted that reporting insults only serves to make politics “more trivial and stupid.” In a polling exercise in Australia, a group sought to get voter perceptions of political leaders and to form a word cloud of the responses. The responses mostly consisted of insults. As Terry Barnes notes, “While it may be a bit of fun—and it’s always fun for the rest of us to see political figures publicly humiliated—this tawdry exercise dumbed our politics down that little bit further, trivializing for the sake of titillation.” This isn’t an issue isolated to one politician or one nation; reporting on ad hominem attacks is trivial and it damages our ability to carry on political conversations. It is hard to see what journalistic purpose the reporting of any political insult could have.

All of this brings me back to the article I began with. It was so pleasant to see a pointless insult not being directly quoted, but simply noted. My hopes were dashed, however, when I scrolled further to not only find the tweet containing the insult embedded in the article, but to also find the article itself later mentioning the “derisive nickname” in question: “Crazy Nancy.” Would I have been missing out to know that a politician insulted another without knowing what the insult was? I don’t think so.

Why Are Political Debates So Difficult?: A Holiday Survival Guide

Group of people gathered around a holiday table

The holiday season is upon us, which often means spending more time with family. For many of us, this also means the risk of heated political disagreements around the dinner table. If you’re like me, you’ve since learned that trying to talk politics with family members is more often than not a waste of time: no one ever really changes their mind, and everyone just ends up being mad at each other. So perhaps you’ve adopted a new policy: ignore the debates, or don’t engage, or change the topic as quickly as you can. It’s easier on everyone.

Why do these dinner table arguments seem so futile? I think one reason is that many of our political disagreements come down to an underlying moral disagreement, namely disagreements about what’s right and wrong, what kinds of obligations we have to others, or just how people should be treated in general. So when you and I disagree about whether, say, we ought to increase minimum wage, or whether we ought to tax people for services that they don’t themselves use, a major part of our disagreement is about when we ought to make sacrifices for the benefits of others. And then it’s up for debate as to how much of a hit myself and my family should take for the well-being of others: some people think we ought to do a lot to help each other out, especially if we have a lot, whereas others think that they shouldn’t be asked to make sacrifices, especially if what they have is something that they feel that they have earned and are entitled to.

While moral debates happen all the time, experience suggests they’re difficult to resolve. Why might this be the case? First off, what often seems to be so difficult about moral debates is that those who disagree with us about moral matters don’t seem terribly interested in actually listening to what we have to say: they don’t want to change their minds, they just want to hold on to what they think is right. Second, that someone disagrees with us about a moral matter might lead us to start thinking in “us” versus “them” kind of terms. Thinking in this way could bring along with it biases that lead us to think that “they” not worth listening to, or that “their” arguments couldn’t possibly be any good. This happens all the time when we try to talk politics: we start thinking of the other person not as an individual, but as a member of a group that we don’t like (those heartless Republicans don’t want to listen to us level-headed Democrats, perhaps, or those hippie Democrats don’t want to listen to us level-headed Republicans).

There are other factors that complicate moral disagreements. Consider first the ways in which we might try to resolve disagreements of different kinds. Say, for example, that you and I disagree about the year a movie was released, or what the capital of Indiana is, or how many feet are in a yard. These disagreements are easily resolved: a quick appeal to the internet will settle the matter. Or maybe we disagree about something more complicated: say we work in construction and we disagree about where the best place to build that bridge is. It seems like the best way to resolve this debate is for both of us to present our reasons and evidence, and then, as long as we’re willing to listen to each other, the better plan will become apparent through our conversations with each other. Not all such debates will go so smoothly, of course, but they seem to definitely be resolvable, much more easily than debates that we have about what’s right and wrong.

So here’s where I think part of the problem lies: we can resolve, or at least make progress on disagreements about movie release dates, the imperial measurement system, state capitals, and even optimal bridge placement, by acquiring new knowledge. One of the main reasons we disagree about these matters is that we know, or think that we know, different things. In order to resolve our disagreement, then, we need to get on the same page by knowing the same relevant things. Acquiring this knowledge can be easy, like when we look up something on the internet, or it can be more difficult, like when we need to do more to consider what we have evidence for thinking is true when building a bridge. Either way, we can get this knowledge by listening to others, by consulting reputable sources, and by considering the evidence.

But this doesn’t appear to be how we resolve our moral debates. I can’t look up online how I ought to balance my personal sacrifices against the possible increased wellbeing of others. Actually, I probably can find at least what someone thinks is an answer to this kind of question on the internet. But it’s not going to settle any debates if I point to someone on the internet who says “you should care more about others!” in the way that I can point to the fact that Wikipedia says that “Indianapolis is the capital of Indiana!” It’s also hard to see how I could try to give you the knowledge that I think you’re missing in order to resolve our moral debate: if I think that you really should give more to those who need it, and you think you’re doing plenty already, it often seems like the best we can do is to agree to disagree. But this is not a resolution, it’s a stalemate. As Kayla Chadwick laments, it’s hard to see how we can convince someone of something so basic as the fact that they should care about other people.

So what’s the solution? Here’s a suggestion: perhaps moral debates need to be resolved not by just sharing knowledge with each other, but by seeking out new understanding. This might require helping others see things from a new perspective, or helping them draw new connections between their beliefs that they hadn’t considered before, or challenging conclusions that they’ve drawn in the past, or helping them have new experiences, or all of the above. It may be the case that not all of these tasks can be accomplished just by talking to one another: for example, if you’re really not moved by the plight of someone that you are easily able to help, it’s hard to see how I can get you to understand just by giving you information at the dinner table.

Nevertheless, we might still be able to accomplish at least part of the task of conveying understanding by talking to one another: I might be able to use my words to share experiences I’ve had, or to challenge assumptions that you have made, or to help you see relationships between things you believe that you didn’t realize before. What’s probably not going to work is what works in other kinds of debates, namely the bald presentation of your reasons, or simply telling someone that this is the right way to think about things. The mere fact that you think something is true is probably not going to help me understand why it’s true, and so if we’re going to resolve our moral debates we’ll probably have to work a lot harder.