Sometimes, I have a lot more fun reading the reviews of a book on a site like Amazon or Goodreads. I don’t value either of these two places, and I have a thoughts as to why on my sister blog, but if nothing else it is a window into what a selection of other people think on certain issues. With this book, it certainly sheds light on the desperation with which people will attempt to discredit what they do not value. A lot of the negative reviews reek of desperation. Ironically enough, you can use the very tools learned in this book to spot poor epistemological grounding.
I started reading this book years ago, but I put it down about a quarter of the way through. It wasn’t so much that I thought it was bad, but I was having some religious burnout. I don’t like to have religious conversations with people, as I think it tends to create people at their most dishonest. But the impression that the book was largely about ‘street epistemology’ – a term of (I think) Boghossian’s own creation referring to the process of having conversations with people about their beliefs, and specifically bringing to clarity to what extent your interlocutor is not soundly justified in holding those beliefs – and so in early 2021 when certain conversations with family members turned to contentious subjects, I found myself turning to this book once again.
Epistemology: it’s not just for Atheism anymore.
The book might actually be better subtitled as Using Socratic reasoning to make your Opponent second guess themself. I just can’t speak of how effective any of it is. The people I argue with in my life tend to just reply with ‘because its true’, which tends to shatter the spirit of discourse. But this might just be a pitfall of my family and friend group. Largely, I found Boghossian’s advice to be full of sound strategies for conversations, and the examples he gives throughout (in the form of recorded conversations that he had had) where useful illustrations.
The book convinced me, in a respect. Before reading it, I was much more skeptical about the idea of having conversations with people. Now, I am a little bit more willing to try. The book and the ideas covered within are mostly reasonable – being doxasticly open, re-framing the notion of faith so that people understand how little epistemological weight it has, and using questions to show where people’s faith fails them. It is hard to imagine anyone disagreeing with this who isn’t some kind of true believer. And yet, I find myself going back to the Amazon and Goodread reviews. I guess we have no shortage of true believers.