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Responding to Paul Krugman’s claim that liberals better understand their opponents’ arguments than do convservatives, Bryan Caplan has an interesting idea to test whether intellectuals are able to correctly state their opponents positions:

If someone can correctly explain a position but continue to disagree with it, that position is less likely to be correct…the ability to pass ideological Turing tests – to state opposing views as clearly and persuasively as their proponents – is a genuine symptom of objectivity and wisdom…

Here’s just one approach.  Put me and five random liberal social science Ph.D.s in a chat room.  Let liberal readers ask questions for an hour, then vote on who isn’t really a liberal.  Then put Krugman and five random libertarian social science Ph.D.s in a chat room.  Let libertarian readers ask questions for an hour, then vote on who isn’t really a libertarian.

I’d tend to describe Krugman and Caplan, respectively, as a Thinking Liberal and a Thinking Libertarian, meaning that they actively engage opposing ideas.  But I also suspect they’d both fail a well-designed ideological Turing test quite miserably.  The key would be to ask questions that effectively challenge a belief structure.  It’s difficult to convincingly defend ideas against criticisms you find legitimate; either you concede defeat, or you resort to caricaturing the opposing view.  No matter how well you think you understand an opposing view, chances are that somewhat who actually believes it understands it, and can defend it, much better.

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One Comment

  1. “No matter how well you think you understand an opposing view, chances are that somewhat who actually believes it understands it, and can defend it, much better.”

    Not always. Beliefs don’t always start with logic. They can grow out of irrational brand loyalty, for example.

    Example: “Why do people both support the death penalty and oppose abortion rights (or vice versa)?” For some, the answer is partisan politics. Reagan supported state’s rights to have a death penalty, but part of his Presidential platform was a constitutional amendment against abortion. Fans of Reagan convinced themselves they supported these policies, even if these voters had no prior opinions on the death penalty or abortion.

    If someone believed an idea only due to brand loyalty, I could defend that idea as well as they could.


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  1. […] to write computer code that would badly fail a Turing test, it’s easy for humans to fail an ideological Turing test.  All you have to do is express your own thinking.  For instance, here’s Brad DeLong: I […]

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