Boundaries of tolerable intellectual diversity – a question for Jonathan Haidt

I admire Jonathan Haidt for his championing of intellectual diversity, and for actually doing something about the lack of it on college campuses besides whining or bloviating the way most people these days do about everything else.

I’m not a Twitterer, but if I was I would direct a twittering at Mr. Haidt (@jonhaidt) asking him this question, with apologies in case he’s already been asked it a million times:

Are there any ideas that should be excluded from college campuses?

I expect Haidt would say we should exclude ideas that implicitly or explicitly call for physical violence against classes of people. Any others?

It’s not hard to find people saying that support for one of the following ideas implies a call for physical violence against a class of people: communism; legalized abortion; bans on abortion; immigration restriction; mandatory K-12 education; conscription; incarceration as a penalty for crime; and so on.

I doubt Haidt would say support for any of the above ideas should be kept out of college classrooms, so clearly there is a boundary line somewhere. Who should draw it, and using what criteria?

I’m genuinely curious, because it looks like a tough question. Here’s what made me think of it: I personally am opposed to slavery and wish to see it eradicated, but I have never seriously investigated my own reasoning. (This is not entirely an accident.) In my head I can envision a pretty interesting Oxford-style debate over the motion “Slavery can be done in a moral way.” I would sit on the side opposing the motion, but I’d probably end up conceding some points to my opponents. Envisioning this caused me to wonder whether such a debate would be possible even in a university that championed free speech and intellectual diversity. (Of course it probably wouldn’t.)


3 thoughts on “Boundaries of tolerable intellectual diversity – a question for Jonathan Haidt

  1. It’s not a tough question.

    The answer is no.


    If somebody breaks a law against violence or libel or inciting a riot or some such then prosecute.

    This is not rocket science. It’s actually simple and straightforward.

    • I think it is a tough question. Imagine a school is facilitating an Oxford-style debate whose motion is “Black people who assassinate cops in 2016 are heroes.” It’s a ridiculous motion and doesn’t appear to add anything to academic thought. It is (or ought to be) deeply offensive to the sensibilities of any law-abiding American citizen. If I was a student at that school, I’d say the school was abusing my tuition dollars by contributing resources to such a debate. BUT, nobody is breaking a law against violence or libel by arguing for the motion.

      Somewhere there is a line that needs to be drawn, and it isn’t simply wherever the law is.

      • Maybe exclude only ideas where the person arguing for the idea themselves believes the idea would lead to violence (implying that violence is necessary)? In other words, exclude ideas that explicitly involve violence, and for borderline ideas, make the person state their opposition to violence (even if that sounds like a contradiction to the other side). For example, arguing for abortion because fetuses can’t suffer would be OK, but arguing for abortion because murdering kids is fun wouldn’t be. In principle, this doesn’t eliminate arguing for slavery — one could argue that black people can’t suffer — but it would be a short-lived argument.

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