Thursday, June 23, 2011

Principled Vs. Stubborn: A Conceptual Pet Peeve

Oooooh I should have written about this months ago, as it's been a pet peeve I've been thinking about for months. In some of my most long-lasting disputes my character has often been labeled as "stubborn" for not accepting my opponent's position, and while it's hardly a severe injustice the inaccuracy of the conceptual application annoys me given I advocate speaking precisely.

Essentially, the problem here is that my opponent is calling me stubborn only because I refuse to accept their position, not because I'm tuning them out or am denying what I recognize as true. In these particular cases the persons use atrocious logical fallacies such as begging the question, appealing to popularity, and even resorting to intimidation by yelling and calling me names. These conversations can hardly be called constructive arguments, and I've had to tolerate them since I either had to deal with the person not of choice or have been unwelcomingly contacted by them. Because of their refusal to provide evidence or proof I have held steadfast in my position by virtue of intellectual honesty and integrity, and for that I've been called "stubborn," but it isn't an accurate label.

In reality I'm being principled, not stubborn. Both of these concepts, when oversimplified and their essential characteristics are suspended, mean that one refuses to change one's course of action, beliefs, or evaluations in the face of persuasion (either forceful or intellectual) or calls for alteration. The feature that distinguishes these terms is why one is maintaining such a refusal. In the case of stubbornness, the essential trait is emotional: The person is maintaining his position or course because he's acting on emotion or is evading something that upsets him. Take as example a cartoon I saw, where a character walked fruitlessly up a downward escalator with his eyes close, vigorously denying to all the inconvenienced shoppers that he was going the wrong way because he wanted to evade being upset by learning he was wrong. He's being stubborn because he refuses to change his course of action, going the wrong way on an escalator, even though reality blatantly shows he's doing something unproductive.

A principled person, on the other hand, maintains his position or course on the basis of his intellectual honesty and integrity, and maintains them because it is in his best judgment that it is proper to do so, after assessing other people's positions and the available information about the matter. He may still be in the wrong, but he doesn't maintain a wrongful position or course because he feels like it, but rather because he's honestly mistaken. There's no stubbornness here.

I am annoyed by having such a label as "stubborn" applied to me since I pointed out the logical fallacies in my opponents' positions -- which they have refused to address in any way -- and have made explicit that I refuse to change my mind because my judgment is unaffected, so to accuse me of acting stupidly on emotion is inaccurate and unjust. And irritatingly enough, what these opponents accuse me of is what they're actually guilty of. It is they who refuse to address or even acknowledge my position, and maintain their ways of thinking even as they keep recognizing fact after fact I give them and the evaluations that logically follow, so it is they which the label stubborn appropriately applies.

And by gosh, anyone who refuses to acknowledge the distinction between these concepts is being stubborn too.


  1. It is frustrating when "being open minded" is taken to mean, "Agree with everything I say and don't rebuke".

    Thank you for writing this. Gives the whole thing a bit of clarity.

  2. Excellent and thoughtful! I have been called stubborn most of my life, mostly by people who have no other argument. It used to bother me, but now I recognize that we really are not having a discussion in any meaningful sense of the term.


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