What attracted me to philosophy in the first place was a desire to think critically about whatever came my way and left me wondering. I take it that I have this in common with just about everyone else in the discipline.
I love considering wild counterfactual scenarios for their own sake to see how they press on my intuitions, and contemplating paradoxes: it’s an occupational hazard for most of us. But I don’t think it’s what makes philosophy worth doing. If I had to justify philosophy to an outsider — as I often have — I would say, honestly, that 99% of the work we do is rehearsing for the times our skills are really needed: times when a momentous decision has to be made, tempers are running high, and our long years of training in being cool, collected, rational, and imaginative are needed.
Strangely (to me), I’ve found that some people in the discipline have exactly the opposite view. They’re happy bouncing along, doing their work most of the time; but as soon as a major decision with practical consequences has to be made, they not only abandon their standards of philosophical dialectic, but openly urge others to as well!
I find that astonishing. It seems a no-brainer to me that, when a practical decision must be made and we have time to think and talk about making it, we must raise our argumentative standards, not abandon them. And yet, with respect to several issues (e.g. whether to support a war or policy, whether to applaud or reject a social change, etc.), I’ve often heard it said that too much is at stake to reason about it: the situation demands unanimity, not discussion or re-evaluation.
I have a hard time seeing how this could possibly be right, but I’d like to give it a go. First, I admit that I can think of two types of cases right now in which dissent or critical analysis are inappropriate:
1) Emergencies in which there are not even a few minutes to spare thinking and discussing the matter (e.g. the building is on fire and there’s no time to reason about what to do); and
2) Cases in which it’s uncontroversial that one side of the issue has the legal (or perhaps merely moral) right to dictate a solution to the issue (e.g. A is in B’s home, and B asks A to leave and doesn’t want to discuss the matter with A).
Aside from those cases, it seems to me always illegitimate for one side of an issue to cast aspersions on the other for merely wanting to discuss the matter. And even in those two cases, I think it’s illegitimate to stigmatize people for raising reasoned criticisms on these issues later on: once we’re out of the building, there should be no taboo against arguing that there was no good reason to leave so quickly or that B violated the norms of etiquette in throwing out A. The criticisms might be unfounded depending on their substance, but the mere discussion or consideration of them should not be taken as a sign of bad argumentative faith.
Facing dissent in the face of an important cause will always be annoying; but rejecting it without careful consideration strikes me as dangerous and positively vicious.