Dr. Jordan B. Peterson’s Performative Contradiction?


I love Dr. Peterson’s lectures because for me the experience of watching them is like the experience of listening to Beethoven.

He uses the different ‘orchestral’ instruments of biology, anthropology, bible stories, behavioural psychology, psychoanalysis, literature, neurology, brain structure, evolution, myths, and more to weave together a symphony that expresses his own ideas.

It is a highly poetic way of communicating something.

I suspect that it appeals to creative people (or those high on openness). I know that colleagues of mine find this exact ‘poetic’ characteristic of his work extremely annoying, and actually cannot listen to him.

However, a poetic symphony is not an argument.

I always taught my post grads that the axioms that underlie your actions (and thinking), about which you might know nothing, are Philosophical. So at first glance Peterson’s case, which he has made in several video debates,  that almost everyone in the West acts upon deep religious axioms, looked like a similar claim: Peterson claims that people act / behave as though they believe that they themselves are individual people who are autonomous, self governing beings. And that this belief is a Christian belief and therefore the people who act in this way (all of us in the West) are religious even though we don’t realise it.

However , I think Peterson is committing the Genetic Fallacy – conflating the origin of something with the nature of that thing – when he claims that people ARE religious/Christian (Sam Harris, Matt Dillahunty,  et al) even though they think that they are atheists – because their actions are predicated upon Christian values and beliefs and you see a persons beliefs in their actions.

See for example: An Evening With Matt Dillahunty & Jordan Peterson

Although Jesus (real or mythical) seems to be the first person to articulate the idea that every single person is equally potentially divine, the predicate idea here (of the equality and individuality of individuals) is a philosophical idea.

The religious claim that the origin of the individuality is God does not actually mean that mean that the ‘equality and individuality ‘ concept is itself divine or even includes an idea of God. They are two separate concepts, which are not connected necessarily.

To illustrate – You can imagine a logically coherent claim that the origin of the ‘equality and individuality’ concept is not God but Satan. That would also be a religious claim. (In fact it has been claimed that Milton makes this argument in Paradise Lost)

A person can be acting out the philosophical axiom that every person is individual and equally worthy of … without also acting out the ‘origin’ claim that the origin is God.

All you can say is that the philosophical axioms that they embody in their actions were historically articulated as having divine origins.

It is like saying that because Freud was Jewish, psychoanalysis is Jewish thought and every psychoanalyst is Jewish even if they don’t know it.

And more, every person who uses the term ‘the unconscious’ is Jewish because the person who originated the term was Freud and Jewish. So even though they tell you that they are not Jewish, they simply don’t know that they are Jewish!


But something else about the recent Jordan Peterson’s debate with atheist Susan Blackmore bothered me!

Jordan Peterson vs Susan Blackmore • Do we need God to make sense of life?

The rhetoric of his metaphorical way of explaining is powerful, but it is RHETORIC when presented as a case against a person who says they are an atheist.

Some people might even claim that it is Sophistry to use a metaphorical and poetic style AGAINST  the person of a person who says they are Atheist, rather than making a valid argument about the theories – independently of any particular person.

I think it is a sophisticated and powerful way of ‘playing the man instead of the ball’ because he is using Susan Blackmore as an object to prove his own theories, rather than as a self-determining human being who speaks for herself.

I can see that Peterson might be in a moral dilemma in the moment during these discussions / debates:

On the one hand there is an ethical duty not to treat a person as a means to his own ends of communicating his ideas. On the other hand he feels a duty to the public at large to communicate his ideas.

To some extent the action he should take depends upon what underlying (philosophical) system of ethics Peterson himself holds:

  •  If he is a Utilitarian he might calculate that the greater good for the greatest number is to use an Atheist like Sam Harris or Susan Blackmore as a means to teach hundreds of thousands of other people. So that is the right thing to do.
  • If he holds a De-ontological view of ethics, then as soon as he realizes that he IS using the Atheist as a means to his ends – he must stop because that is a wrong thing to do.

De-onotological Ethics demands that he find another way to communicate his theories.  For example in third person, objective, philosophical argument.

However, even without analysing and clarifying what philosophical ethical system underlies Peterson’s actions that he may or may not be aware of himself , I would argue that:

1) If Peterson truly holds that the individual is sovereign, then his actions should be consistent with that theory.

2) If you treat a person as a means to an end, you are not treating that person as a sovereign individual.

So by Peterson’s own theory about underlying axioms being demonstrated in behaviour here is the contradiction :

3) Peterson’s actions in treating Susan Blackmore as a means to the end of demonstrating his point, show that he does NOT believe that individuals are sovereign beings worthy of respect and dignity.

It is a performative contradiction.

[My provisional conclusion until shown to be faulty by sound counter-argument]


However,  I would not wish Dr. Peterson to give up or change his ‘poetic’ style of communicating his ideas. It is wonderful and unique, and it allows him to do so much good in the world.

So,  in the next post(s) I will suggest several different alternative ways out of this ethical dilemna.


Posted in Uncategorized

Free Speech is The Freedom to Offend


This is an outline of part of the talk I will be giving to the SOPHIA Meeting in Antwerp on May 30th 2015: “CoPI & The Importance of the Freedom to Offend in Argument”, including my argument for free speech. Amazing that it needs to be argued for, but it does. [Fleshing out the outline bit by bit.]


Without the freedom to follow where thought leads:

There is no creativity
There is no scientific advancement
There is no technological advancement


Without the freedom to communicate where one’s thought leads

There is no testing of ideas
There is no dialogue
There is no development


Social / Political Reasons for Free Speech

There may be some views, ideas or theories that if put into practise harm people e.g. FGM

  • These need to be argued against
    for if they are not argued against it may not be clear why they are harmful
  • In order to be argued against they need to be stated

(example racist and sexist views of 12 year old children in ER)

The practises themselves (e. FGM)  can be banned, but talking about them should not be banned


Free Speech IS the freedom to offend

  • No-one needs free speech to agree with power
  • You need free speech to ‘speak truth to power’

Example – law in Scotland against singing sectarian songs


 Rangers fan Scott Lamont jailed over Billy Boys song

BBC 12 March 2015

A Rangers fan who was arrested for sectarian singing while on his way to attend a game against Celtic has been  jailed for four months. Scott Lamont, from Glasgow, was heard singing the words of the Billy Boys song on Cathcart Road on 1 February.

In order to enforce the law police officers had to be taught the offensive songs

Officers to learn sectarian songs for Old Firm tie

 A police insider told the Evening Times: “Obviously some of these songs are recognisable. But we will be making sure that all officers involved in policing the match are aware of what is acceptable and what is not. If you sing an offensive, sectarian song, we’ll arrest you.


The CoPI method

I developed CoPI as a method to induce Philosophical dialogue with groups of any age: by observing how professional philosophers actually do philosophy and developing a way of re-creating the conditions of philosophising that I could use with groups of non-philosophers

The Realist Philosophy that underlies CoPI and how it is instantiated in CoPI practise

Underlying Realist Philosophy

Instantiated McCall’s CoPI Practise

1) In the Realist Philosophy that underlies CoPI, there is a distinction between epistemology and metaphysics. 1) CoPI uses philosophical analysis of the philosophical assumptions / principles that underlie actions, judgement, emotions etc. – distinguishing between epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, Philosophy of mind, philosophy of science etc.
2) In the Realist Philosophy that underlies CoPI, the world held to be is distinct from our knowledge of the world. 2) CoPI uses difference and disagreement to elicit contradiction in order to reveal where our knowledge of the world cannot accurately reflect the world as it is.
3) In the Realist Philosophy that underlies CoPI, the principle of contradiction holds in the world 3) CoPI uses logic in which finding contradiction, or one counter-example then falsifies a theory or argument
4) In the Realist Philosophy that underlies CoPI, people are fallible – can ALL be wrong about the world 4) CoPI uses a group of people – because since everyone and anyone can be wrong there is more chance of revealing error with more minds


CoPI Basics

A philosophical dialogue should have:
1) Philosophical content
2) Two or more different philosophical ideas
3) Contrasting philosophical ideas
4) Arguments given to support the ideas
5) A movement or development of ideas and arguments

Philosophical content

There are no limits on the content of Philosophy. (That’s why it is regarded as dangerous by autocrats)

In CoPI it is the CoPI Chair’s responsibility to ensure that the content is Philosophical. Not to input content, but investigate whatever comes up

Both in Philosophy and in CoPI practise any content that has philosophical assumptions underlying it is allowed

This includes content such as

  • Racist
  • Sexist
  • Homophobic
  • Facist
  • Marxist etc.

Arguments given to support the ideas

Philosophy is done in argument
Philosophers make a case by, for example

  • positing premises and looking at the conclusions of combinations of premises
  • using examples and counter-examples to test arguments
  • using thought experiments to test arguments using analagous (or would be analagous) premises

The CoPI Chair uses the CoPI reasoning structure to ensure that EVERY contribution is an argument

  • So both in Philosophy and in CoPI offensive views can be presented but only in argument
  • CoPI Participants investigate the reasons that support the views
  • The CoPI Chair guides the group to uncover contradictions and inconsistencies
  • Offensive views are examined to see if they stand up to counter-argument

The freedom to offend in argument is important for CoPI


1) Philosophy is by definition open and discussions that censor ideas are not Philosophy

2) Philosophy is done in argument so that ideas and theories are tested

And since CoPI is designed to be philosophising, offensive arguments are allowed



The answer to the problem of ‘Offense’ is Resilience

Offense is in the mind of the offended.

So strengthen the minds of the offended.

Having no practise in resilience leaves children and adults vulnerable


 CoPI develops Resilience

The practise of CoPI develops resilience in participants over time.

  • In the beginning participants feel uncomfortable or even offended by being disagreed with
  • the next stage is when participants become used to and comfortable with disagreement
  • finally participants look forward to disagreement

The results include

  • children and adult participants  no longer finding difference threatening
  • children and adult participants enjoying people who are different to them and hold different beliefs to them
  • children and adult participants develop confidence not to be hurt by words


Posted in Citizenship, Communities, CoPI, Creative Thinking, Critical thinking, Ethics, International, Logic, McCall CoPI, Philosophy, Reasoning, thinking

Giving cover for hate and murder

Cath OWL no writing copyIt takes a thousand years to create a moral populace, and not long to destroy that- just look at Nazi Germany. Now we have conditions created, where bad, hateful men use the cover of ‘religion’ / ‘politics ‘ or whatever to kill and maime because that is what they want to do.  It is mostly men, but nasty hateful women also use the cover of PC and identity politics to destroy people’s careers – because they can and they want to. And gullible people help the wicked because they believe that the hateful people have genuine motives – and excuse them.

Posted in Uncategorized

How Educational Progressives are still trying to silence those who disagree

It is great to find out that there ARE teachers and schools in the UK actually doing this :”Discipline works. No excuses works. A focus on knowledge works. Explicit teaching works. Drills and tests work. And no, it does not kill off creativity or oppress children. Quite the opposite.” As a visitor to schools, both private and public , deprived, average and wealthy in the US, UK, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Poland, Turkey (where I have trained teachers in how to implement Philosophy for children) I have been advocating this for 30 years. I thought I was a lone voice! It is so obvious when you see a lot of schools, that the biggest difference across all cultures and in all socio-economic environments is – discipline. Where there is strict discipline the children have a chance to learn, even if the teachers are not brilliant. Where there is no discipline even brilliant teachers struggle. It is that simple! Of course good teachers also make a difference, but there is no one teaching methodology (or pedagogy) that is ‘good’. It depends upon the individual teacher.

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Make Bankers Professional

How about making banking a profession like other professions?  Like medicine, teaching, accountancy etc.  – for they are not.

In 2007, a year before the world-wide financial crash,  I was taking part in a seminar-conference on Professional Ethics that included small group discussions among different professions. In my small group was a senior banker from RBS who told us that unlike accountancy, teaching, medicine etc., the folk who ran the banks did not have to have ANY banking qualifications or even experience in banking. His bosses did not even belong to the professional association.

He and other (real) bankers were writing to the FSA warning them about what RBS was doing, and the FSA paid absolutely no attention!

He also said that the people in the FSA were mediocre folk who could not get on in banking and did not understand the complex financial instruments being created.

They warned about the crash, as did many, many financial journalists in the USA.

So three suggestions to professionlise banking:

1) Require bankers to pass the already existing banking exams

2) Require bankers to belong to the professional association that has an ethics committee, but which at the moment has no teeth

3) Allow the professional bankers association to strike off bankers (like doctors) who misbehave

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Bad effect of TV on Policing

There is something important about the power of the media regarding police officers, criminal law and criminal procedures.

Most professionals dislike the way their profession is portrayed on TV and in films because it is usually so far from reality. For example doctors, teachers, lawyers et al are portrayed as having numerous romantic entanglements at work, which in my experience is totally unreal (or have I been blind?), nevermind the innacurate depiction of their work and their skills. However the public are likely to have contact with real doctors and teachers – we all went to school at least and most of us either visit a doctor or have family / friends who do.

But most people have no interaction with the police!

So their image and ‘knowledge’ of police and police procedures and even how the law works comes from TV shows and films. This has a real and detrimental effect upon both offenders and victims – in so many ways.

I have huge respect for the British police. Every police officer I have met (with the sad exception of a couple of Met officers) has been courteous, intelligent, reasonable, professional and polite. They have never sworn in my presence (maybe they do amongst themselves, but not in public). And yet the image of police officers  hammered into the public over and over again on TV ‘cop’ shows*  is that of ignorant, insensitive, foul-mouthed, aggressive people.

This causes  problems when people have no real life experience to counter this image. (tbc)

Posted in Uncategorized

Ideas Inbreeding: Why Managers and Board members are failing

Ideas Inbreeding: Why Managers and Board members are failing.

Posted in Business, Business Ethics, Citizenship, Creative Thinking, Critical thinking, Ethics, International, Logic, Professional Ethics, Reasoning, thinking
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