heterodox: the blog
Sacred Beliefs “R” Us
When hearing testimony on financial regulation, we like to know whether the expert has a vested interest. We like to know of commitments that affect interpretation and judgment.
An individual’s ideological commitments are like vested interests, only deeper and more permanent. They are like his religious commitments, running deep and changing little. They suffuse his professional and personal relationships, his sense of self, his sacred beliefs and sacred causes. They are religious, in Emile Durkheim’s broad sense of the term religion.
In his 2014 book The Sacred Project of American Sociology, Christian Smith excavates the sacred beliefs and sacred causes of American sociology, and declares his own. Very refreshing!
There is a lot to be said for declaring your sacred beliefs. Do you not like to know where the speaker stands?
Some say: Don’t wear your politics on your sleeve: Just be truthful. But truthfulness leaves things vastly under-determined. There are a lot of truths out there, most not worth bothering with.
Many sentences are not well formulated. But that does not mean they violate truthfulness. Bad ideas are often like bad food or bad music: Not untrue, just bad.
Professors must make judgments not only about whether a sentence is true, but whether it is important, whether it is worthwhile, whether it is good.
When economics professors were asked whether they welcomed ideological openness on the part of a speaker, most said they did.
Perhaps a professor will sometimes not be open about her ideological views because they depart from the dominant ideology of her field. She might be wise to cloak or even disguise her miscreancy; doing so might be good for her and good for the world. Such a situation and other situations may indeed make it proper to keep one’s own ideological views quiet or cloaked.
But in sunnier situations there is a strong case to be made in favor of ideological openness (read a short essay in praise of ideological openness, by me).
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