The Case for Reason

Image of Aaron Beck captioned don't believe everything you think

(Appox 5-6min read)

Belief (not the come to Jesus belief) determines everything about our lives; it is the driver for how we behave in reality. We act on what we believe to be true, that is to say, our beliefs orchestrate our actions. Performing a simple thought experiment will demonstrate that everything you do comes down to a belief about the nature of reality. You go to work, why? It is because you believe that by carrying out labour, another party — invested in said labour — will reward you for your actions monetarily. It is because you believe you need this money to provide for your family, or your social life, or create a legacy. Ultimately everything we do is based on what we believe to be true about reality; making objectivity, the ability to change ones beliefs in the face of evidence, and honest discourse some of the most important facets about our lives. If we agree about belief then, we know we must rely on our best tools for determining what is true!

Our best, and most rigorous, tool for determining what is true about reality is science — plain and simple. It has been the most successful method we have ever used in discerning reality’s phenomena. However, given that most of us are not scientists, this is not what I am going to be writing about as it will not be what you will use in your everyday life to filter falsities on the go.

This is where philosophy comes in — specifically the branch of philosophy called epistemology. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge describes epistemology as…

“Epistemology is the study of the nature and scope of knowledge and justified belief. It analyses the nature of knowledge and how it relates to similar notions such as truth, belief and justification. It also deals with the means of production of knowledge, as well as scepticism about different knowledge claims. It is essentially about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry.”

Philosophy and epistemology teach us how to think, reason, and argue correctly about any subject — even the subjects in which we are poorly informed. This sounds counter-intuitive, as it should, but the fact is that an admission of  ignorance is most often the correct answer to a question or subject in which you know very little. Admitting ignorance allows us to seek out the correct answer so that we may be better informed. However, if we make an unfounded claim and anchor our belief to it then honest discourse — which results in solutions — cannot take place. In fact, what often happens is that when presented with contrary evidence, which refutes the claim, someone who has anchored their beliefs to a claim will actually double down on the incorrect claim. This is a genuine psychological glitch humans have, which has been well studied, called the boomerang (backfire) effect.

Instead we must become sceptics — good sceptics. Good scepticism is not doubting everything and jumping at outlandish contrary positions, lets leave that to conspiracy theorists. It is recognising poor pathways in one’s reasoning faculties such as biases, fallacies, flaws in human cognition, and correcting course to arrive at correct conclusion.

“It begins with skepticism. The history of human folly, and our own susceptibility to illusions and fallacies, tell us that men and women are fallible. One therefore ought to seek good reasons for believing something. Faith, revelation, tradition, dogma, authority, the ecstatic glow of subjective certainty—all are recipes for error, and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge.” (Steven Pinker – The Better Angels of our Nature)

Good sceptics recognise these flaws, which militate the truth, and use methods which have been demonstrated to be effective such as probability, syllogistic reasoning, laws of thought, and empirical evidence. Doubting something is good but only when we have good reasons to doubt! Doubt does not make you a sceptic; we know that people can believe both true and false things for good and bad reasons, it is, therefore, essential that your beliefs are based on good reasons. This, of course, is all predicated on the assumption that one cares about the truth and wants to believe as few false things and as many true things as possible.

We now face a new world which is unlike any our ancestors before us have encountered. Information abound, bursting to be emancipated so that the world might know all there is know! Digitising everything from books to communication has allowed us to connect the entire planet; opening geographical boundaries and uniting the world. This has allowed vertiginous levels of innovation and technological progress to increase exponentially. What this means is that we need — now more than ever — to be focused on objectivity and reality!

Use the advantages our era has given you to challenge what is untrue and help militate the proliferation of bad ideas. Extol those who fight for reason and converse with those who do not so that they might come to see the importance of such a fight. Educate yourself on logical fallacies and human biases so that you may recognise when you commit them and correct course. Take the advice of one of our generations greatest thinkers, Christopher Hitchens, when he said…

“Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence.”

Written by Aidan Doherty


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