A Field Guide to Bullsh!t
In your book you also talk about the “going nuclear” tactic. What is this?
When someone is cornered in an argument, they may decide to get sceptical about reason. They might say: “Ah, but reason is just another faith position.” I call this “going nuclear” because it lays waste to every position. It brings every belief - that milk can make you fly or that George Bush was Elvis Presley in disguise - down to the same level so they all appear equally “reasonable” or “unreasonable”. Of course, you can be sure that the moment this person has left the room, they will continue to use reason to support their case if they can, and will even trust their life to reason: trusting that the brakes on their car will work or that a particular drug is going to cure them.
Isn’t there a grain of truth in this approach?
There is a classic philosophical puzzle about how to justify reason: to do so, it seems you have to use reason. So the justification is circular - a bit like trusting a second-hand car salesman because he says he’s trustworthy. But the person who “goes nuclear” isn’t genuinely sceptical about reason. They are just raising a philosophical problem as a smokescreen, to give them time to leave with their head held high, saying: “So my belief is as reasonable as yours.” That’s intellectually dishonest.