The members of my social circle, especially my childhood friends, are currently orbiting the age of twenty. I somewhat vividly recall, if that qualification makes sense, the way I perceived twenty-year old humans in the past. The way I imagined their lives and interpersonal relations was very hazy, for I have not been very imaginative up until this point in my life. The haziness of my impression, however, was remarkably inaccurate.
Being twenty does not feel like I thought it would. I don’t feel mature, responsible, knowledgeable, and living in an alien world – which is precisely how I pictured it. In fact, I feel very immature, prudent though low on real responsibilities, wide-read by my age standards but an uncultured swine in comparison to older humans. And I am very acquainted with the customs of the world I live in. In fact, I regard them as quite natural.
Very inaccurate images of pretty much everything. That’s probably what fills my mind, even though I don’t know it. For how will my perception of the world and my intellectual judgement change as I develop into a young adult, then a full-blown adult, and eventually reaching seniority? It is very likely that I won’t see much of the world as I see it now. The problem is: I don’t know which parts are going to be changed completely, and which are merely going to be refined.
Looking at it this way makes it seem like I have no basis for exerting rational judgement except putatively, with the thought in mind that all these judgements will be changed in dramatic ways as I develop. I like to imagine my current self unknowingly conversing with my older and wiser self. Would I find his ideas unpalatable? Perhaps, through deep reflection and comprehensive reading, he has reached a Conservative point of view, he has finally rejected Metaphysics, Aesthetics, and Ethics altogether, and perhaps he came to enjoy Freudianism.
Since I am not surrounded by his Web of Belief, but rather by mine, I might promptly judge that he has made a mistake. In short, I would be doing something very dear to human beings: dismissing other people’s intellectual results with no attention to the road they have traveled. This is a mistake, I gather. Sometimes it is reasonable to dismiss results, such as dismissing someone who believes in Astrology, in Christianity, in Homeopathy, in Spirituality.
This rings true because I have heard of so many arguments for these ideas, and none of them were more than bad thinking habits. Though I do give some credit to wild theories in Psychology, Sociology, Economics, Philosophy, and the like, it became a no-brainer to me to reject what flies into the face of the natural sciences or the skeptical worldview. (In the latter, Jesus’s resurrection requires an incredibly massive amount of evidence to be established, for example.)
With that in mind, I shall reword my statement: it is usually a mistake to not really inquire into the justifications people have for their beliefs. It is quite easy to dismiss people who disagree with well-supported nodules of our Web of Belief, as if they were obviously irrational. However, I am currently putting that practice into question.
I don’t know what are the criteria for rightful dismissal of someone. Perhaps I shouldn’t dismiss Thomism or continental political philosophy based on psychoanalysis right away. Many intelligent people, such as Mortimer J. Adler or Michel Foucault, engaged their intellect in considering these questions. A true philosopher does not take as granted that they are wrong.
The correct behavior, it seems, is only dismissing something that is obviously fringe or that you understand well. I make the fringe-proviso because I do not think it sensible to devote dozens of hours of studying in an attempt to comprehend phrenology or the work of Deepak Chopra. However, it opens room for contention.
You see, as a scientifically-oriented skeptical naturalist agnostic, though willing to accept non-materialistic ideas such as mathematical platonism and philosophical theism, Christian philosophy or works based on psychoanalysis seem to be very off the mark. The only thing that makes me want to consider them is that a huge chunk of intelligent humans believe in theories based on such stuff. Recall the Adler & Foucault example.
In light of these considerations, I have concocted procedural questions to check if I should suspend my judgement on a matter.
(A) Does it heavily clash with what you find most obvious in your Web of Belief? Things such as “it is a work of theology”, or “it is based on alternative medicine”, or “its foundations lie on psychoanalysis”, or “a Marxian analysis of society”. If it does, then we go to the next question.
(B) Does it have many intelligent and contemporary supporters? Surely there are no intelligent supporters of pseudoscience, for I have never seem a formidable defense of it. But I wouldn’t be so surprised if I saw a formidable defense of Thomism or the theories of Judith Butler. If if doesn’t, then you should be very skeptical of the ideas involved, and if it does you should be more open.
(C) Does it seem a reasonable challenge to these judgements? This is the last stage. If it doesn’t, then you can simply dismiss it as yet another stupid human belief.
After writing that, I can see how vague that is. What is a reasonable challenge? Isn’t that the very judgement I am trying to make more rigorous by concocting procedures?
I will, then, make one more attempt. What I should do is know clearly the reasons I am inclined to reject a certain idea I don’t understand. That means that when I argue against phrenology I will not claim to know how its fundamental assumptions are wrong, but merely that it is rejected by all modern scientists, except the fringes that also believe a load of fringe beliefs. (Remember: a fringe belief about natural sciences can be correct, but it is very unlikely.) That way, I will know exactly what nodules in my Web of Belief are being used as support for my dismissal of an idea.
Thereby, I never claim to know more than I do, for I state clearly what I know about the subject and my reasons for distrusting it. I will hover between suspension of judgement and deep distrust. It is only when I understand the best arguments, as is the case with Creationism and Astrology, that I can yell against them.
This procedure will make me give much more credit to some ideas than they deserve, but on the other hand it will prevent me from dismissing good challenges to important nodules in my Web of Belief. The net result seems positive.
Going back to my conversation with my senior self, I would clearly state my weak reasons for distrusting his Conservatism, for example. I would not judge that he is wrong unless I understood his point of view and pin-pointed the faulty nodule(s) in his Web of Belief. I will not reject ideas unless I have a very good grasp of their most formidable defenses – but, rather, merely hold putative trusts and distrusts.
In this manner, I also solve the problem I encountered at the beginning: I am probably wrong about most things, assuming I get closer to the truth as I get older. That remains true, but is no longer a problem, for I have a procedure that calibrates the strength of my belief according to how much I know.