Thursday, December 3, 2009

Our Prejudice; a Freethought Thought Experiment

Original Posting

Freethought is a term generally used to indicate the philosophical position that beliefs should not be based upon tradition, dogma, or fear of consequences, rather that they should be based upon evidence and reason. One of the key ideas that the freethinkers cling to is the idea that “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” (W. K. Clifford). What sort of free thought is that? It starts out by saying what kind of thinking is off-limits! They reject tradition and dogma, they take away the freedom to embrace irrational means of coming to beliefs!

I'm not, however, too concerned with the misuse of language when developing names for viewpoints. My main goal here is to call attention to the ways that “freethought,” traditionally understood, is not really free, so that I can then highlight what actual freethought would be. It's not really an attack on the freethinking worldview, it's a launching pad for a discussion of my conception of what genuine freethought would be, which is itself a launching pad for a moment of introspection.

To conceive of freethought proper, think of the kinds of thought used in everyday life. Now strip away every prejudice, every bit of non-freedom. What do you have left? Nothing, really. Without prejudice you cannot even say that truth is better than non-truth, you have no criteria for what is 'good' thinking and what is 'bad' thinking, there's nothing but a jumbled up mess of thoughts firing off. Without those little prejudices, there is no framework for our ideas, and everything falls into mental anarchy.

However, ask yourself if your prejudices are justified. How many beliefs comprise the framework of your mind that are based on little more than assumption and prejudice? How many things do you hold to be self-evident?

Our beliefs are one of the main aspects of our selves that we use to define ourselves. However, wouldn't a belief that's based on other faulty beliefs be itself faulty? Any faultiness in our foundations and frameworks could result in us defining ourselves by little more that prejudice. Is there really any other way to do things, though? Doesn't all thinking ultimately come back to those beliefs that we hold to be self-evident?

Is it possible that we just use the term 'self-evident' to escape the more plausible concept that we simply choose certain beliefs as being obvious enough? Is it possible that it all comes down to an act of the will, which states what kind of beliefs we think are obvious enough?

And if it all comes down to the will, what hope for truth do we have?

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