Still, even if the name is stupid, most of us have run across, in person or on the internet, someone recommending further reading on a topic. I don't dismiss this at all -- not everyone can be an expert in every topic, and sometimes reinventing the intellectual wheel isn't the most productive use of time or words. However, it seems like one of the prerequisites for reading suggestions falling under the Courtier's umbrella is that they're made by someone with whom one is disagreeing, and whose suggestions one might be inclined to dismiss. Leah at Unequally Yoked has been examining the question of "Who Gets to Give the Courtier's Reply?", and I like this definition that one of her commenters gives on a different post:
It’s only a Courtier’s Reply if it’s an effort to shut down discussion, not improve it. “How dare you say that when you haven’t even read *this*!” is a Courtier’s Reply. “Hmm, it would be really helpful if you were to read *this* before the next time we discuss this” isn’t, I think; though I might sometimes decline.Of course, there are a number of reasons for acceding to this rather arrogant demand; one is to know your opponent's positions in order to demolish them. Leah offers suggestions for when an intellectual antagonist's reading list is actually worth paying attention to:
Even though their model is different, their predictions look a lot like yours....You’re in love with them. ...You both respond strongly to certain not-common aesthetics.
These are useful indicators, though I would add: You have to have some sense that your interlocutor is a person whose particular recommendations are trustworthy. This trust can be based on a number of factors: the "courtier", if you will, may be a respected member of his profession or acclaimed as an authority on the subject on which he's expounding. However, in most cases (especially in internet discussion) a person has to make a decision about the courtier's trustworthiness based solely on how the courtier represents himself in discussion.
No subject exists in a void. A person's views on religion, politics, science, etc. shape his personality and his relationship to others, and his method of presenting those views to others can strongly predispose or prejudice his listeners as to the reliability of his testimony on behalf of those views. The courtier may feel that the very rightness of his views gives him the leeway to present them as aggressively or unpleasantly as possible or to demand that his opponent do extra research. Intellectual bullying and domination is a very different thing from arguing a position or persuading an opponent; the opponent's unwillingness to fight or inability to construct a counter-argument has more to do the opponent's abilities and interests than the essential soundness of the courtier's argument. A person who is able to argue his position with civility is going to attract more listeners to consider his positions, right or wrong. Anyone can insist that his opponents need to read certain books if they're even to be well-informed enough to continue the discussion; every reader is privileged, when deciding how to allocate precious reading time, to consider the following:
Do I trust this person to be informed and make good recommendations on this subject?
Someone who has given inaccurate information in the past, who tosses out reading lists because he can't summarize his own positions coherently, who is paranoid or ranting or incomprehensible is generally not someone who will inspire his opponent to take a reading list seriously.
Does the way this person presents himself indicate that the knowledge he claims to have is something that will make my life better, richer, and truer?
A person may seem knowledgeable and authoritative on a subject, and yet state his case so angrily or offensively that readers draw the conclusion that although he knows his subject, the subject might not be worth knowing, or will contribute in no way to their own personal well-being and intellectual formation.
Am I actually interested in continuing a discussion with this person?
A person may be informed (and his opponent may concede that there is some truth in his position), but be so abrasive, demeaning, arrogant, or creepy that he closes off the possibility that his opponent will even want to further understand his positions, or follow his reading recommendations over those of more civil and gracious authorities.
These are subjective considerations, but very few people make decisions based on purely objective criteria. "Courtiers" ignore this at the risk of their own irrelevance. One might, of course, follow an obviously crazy person's reading demands in order to know what the crazies are reading now,
This is especially cautionary for Christians, who believe that truth is not just an objective standard, but a person, and that our manner of speaking of what we believe to be true is just as crucial to the impression others take of that truth as is the way we speak of a person elemental to preserving or destroying that person's reputation. We can't destroy truth by speaking it badly, but we can damage another person's ability to receive truth by our own objectionable ways of presenting it. To borrow an admonition I once overheard: "You are responsible for the hearts you harden."