Monday, October 4, 2010


Via Mind Hacks this morning, a link to an article in, of all places, the wall street journal. An article on ambivalence, which makes me wonder about a couple of things. The meta-question that first occurs to me is to wonder whether I like this because I agree with the idea that a "A certain degree of ambivalence is a sign of maturity" and would like to imagine that I possess both maturity and a certain degree of ambivalence. The answer to that, I think, is probably yes.

The discussion couches ambivalence in terms of being able to see multiple viewpoints and make decisions based on evidence rather than being ideologically driven. As opposed to the more common meaning of ambivalence, being the not caring one way or t'other.

Ambivalence vs ideology then. The next question that springs to mind is how well this trait is represented in various parts of the population. I'm guessing that amongst scientist, it would be relatively high, given that theoretically at least, we are meant to be open to the possibility that we may be wrong. Possibly amongst evangelical ministers or talkback radio listeners, ambivalence might be something that is rarely found. Could there be a change in ones ambivalence as someone gets older? Is there a tendency for older scientists to get stuck in their viewpoints or ministers to question their ideolgy? All interesting questions. 

Then, but a short time ago, I come across this, from Ken at Open Parachute, talking about the development of morailty. Passing through 3 stages, reciprocal, authoritarian and moral autonomy. This is talking about a subset of things that one could be ambivalent/ideological about obviously, randomly musing though, I see a correlation between not developing the ability to be ambivalent and stopping in that second, authoritarian  stage of moral development. Requiring an external authority and submitting to that external authority stops or at least slows a person from asking questions. Without asking questions you don't get to see why/how other people are thinking and are thus less able to see issues from multiple different directions.

A snippet from Dennett this morning via Jerry Coyne would seem to support the idea that as Ken says, a lot of people probably do advance eventually to moral autonomy but still couch their morality in terms of an external authority - "people maintain their loyalty as vigorous members of their denominations while quietly setting aside the dogmas, either utterly ignored as irrelevant or wreathed in protective layers of metaphor."

On the surface though, I could see how easy it would be to get stuck in an ideological mindset when you are operating under an authoritarian morality model. 

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