I was recently moderating a face to face philosophy discussion in DC and encountered a few religious fundamentalists who were difficult to deal with. The leader of the group called upon me to help him devise a strategy of quickly identifying delinquent members and preventing them from causing disruptions. When he asked how they could be characterized euphemistically as opposed to as "dogmatists" or "polemicists", I told him the politically correct term was "enthusiast" but I'd call them neophytes or novices.
Hence, below I've come up with a nine symptom method of identifying intellectual neophytes who are likely to undermine the quality of intellectual discussion in any community. There is an outside chance that this forum might benefit from it too.
1. The Rationalist's fallacy. Lack of openness to examination of the core ideas of their worldview, tendency to presume that they can comprehensively and indisputably establish their theoretical framework on a small number of premises that can be used to critique all rival theses. In general, people who are experienced with intellectual or even plainly academic endeavors tend to be more mindful of how easily even the most apparently solid of premises can be undermined.
2. Sloppy generalizations. Tendency to be glib by working with sloppy generalizations as opposed to specific ideas and referencing apparently difficult concepts without making a clear point. Clarity and thoroughness of thought is the hallmark of an experienced thinker, we all start out with vague notions and amorphous intuitions about the concepts we're studying and only later gain the ability to think in more precise or comprehensive terms. The sloppy generalizations also manifest in the composition fallacy (it happened this way two years ago, so it must always happen just the way it did before)
3. The bifurcation fallacy. This trait is generally displayed in dichotomous or black and white thinking; inability to evaluate concepts on the basis of a continuum rather than categorical bifurcations or absolutes. Experienced thinkers tend to understand that most dichotomies are false as they've grown out of that phase years ago.
4. General intellectual insecurity. Evident displays of personal insecurities in intellectual discussions that manifests in vehement opposition to a particular concept, eminent thinker or another interlocutor in the group. Experienced discussion participants enjoy challenging their own worldview and aren't easily threatened or unsettled by challenges.
5. Poor pattern recognition. This trait manifests in narrowness of perspective and repeated inability to grasp the main idea behind the discussion and the subsequent tendency to excessively focus on a rather trivial or a tangential point at the expense of the general pattern and the overarching theme. Philosophy, science and most other intellectual disciplines are abstract thinking endeavors and pattern recognition is a vital part of all of them. If someone struggles with that, chances are that their skill-level is rudimentary at best.
6. General arrogance. A haughty, supercilious attitude that stems from the person's inflated opinion of their intellectual abilities. Experience tends to humble us and that's true in virtually every walk of life, not just philosophy. If someone is a fundamentally conceited person, but they have studied philosophy to the point where they've become proficient at intellectual inquiry of some kind, they shouldn't be arrogant about philosophical matters. It is much easier to shelter illusions of one's own stupendous competence in many other activities in life than it is in philosophy. In my experience, even the very egotistical people tend to become humble about their intellectual abilities once they start becoming proficient in philosophy or any other similarly intellectually demanding discipline.
7. Failure to emotionally disengage from the discussion. People who display this quality tend to become embroiled in polemical confrontations and have a tendency to strongly identify with one particular side of the discussion and take umbrage at criticisms of their preferred position. In general, emotional detachment is one of the core competencies of intellectual inquiry.
8. Unwillingness to think autonomously. This manifests in the person's intransigent or partisan support for a particular authority-concept that could be intellectual, religious, political or even personal. I.E, "
the Bible says so that's what I am sticking to, I looked it up on the internet so this stuff must be right! Atheism is the way to go as our secular humanism is the antidote to religious bigotry, my grandfather told me this before he died! I've read this in a philosophy book or a real scientific study, so bow to me!"
9. Excessive image consciousness. Tendency to excessively rely on recherché vocabulary, technical or neo-logistic words and unwillingness or inability to clarify and simplify their position once requested to. Such people tend to be far more interested in merely appearing intelligent as opposed to increasing their intellectual competence. In stark contrast with the experienced thinkers, these people generally have little interest in learning or helping others do so.
To conclude that an individual displays any of the above symptoms, the above described behaviors must be part of their general repertoire as opposed to isolated incidents. A member of the discussion group can be classified as a neophyte if he or she repeatedly displays at least five of the aforementioned symptoms.