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.