I was reading an article the other day in a book called The Simpsons and Philosophy on Lisa and the concept of anti-intellectualism in America. The article discussed how Americans are on one hand fascinated with and have much respect for the professor or scientist, but on the other hand, have this resentment that those intellectuals live in their ‘ivory tower’ far away from the real world. It’s kind of funny. We actively seek out ‘experts’ to give us their opinion on various topics – just look at all the guests on daytime talk shows for instance – and yet if they disagree with our own, we become defensive and respond “Well, what do they know? I’m entitled to my own opinion too.”
It never ceases to amaze me that people can hold the belief that all opinions/ perceptions/ theories hold equal weight, regardless of how informed the person making the argument is. An ‘expert’ opinion holds the same weight as the everyday common man. Now, I’m not saying that just because so and so says it’s true means that is absolute proof that it is. Authorities are used to show that there is good reason to believe something. But if we don’t agree with the authority, we immediately try to discredit the authority as ‘that’s just one opinion and no one really knows anything.’
I bring up the topic because I received an email today where someone specifically stated “There is no bak (sic) up to your ideas.” This person prided himself on staying open to all ‘ideas’ regardless of how plausible they really were. To him, all perspectives had equal weight, and regardless of historical or scientific evidence or the debates of numerous philosophers and theologians, there was still this sense that no one really knows anything and therefore I will believe what I want because it could be true. And the most fascinating thing was that he was unwilling to actually do some research into primary sources because what did they know? They were just another opinion on equal footing with his own, regardless of what they said or how well they articulated their own argument. No debate on principles, theories, methodologies, etc here. Just a flat, well my opinion is just as valid as theirs and a strong predilection towards oh, they don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ve heard about their reputation (through the grapevine of course, & we all know how accurate that can be).
Well, to each, his own, right? I was just struck not only by his laziness to actually go look things up and do a bit of research but also by his unrelenting enthusiasm for believing that all ideas hold water. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I take a scientific approach to evaluating whether something is credible, so I can reject the more outrageous ideas while keeping those that may be plausible. But to say that there is no ‘back up’ to one’s ideas is ridiculous. People believe what they’ve come to know and accept as true based on their own life experiences. We know that if we toss a ball into the air, a force we call gravity will pull it back to the earth. If I stub my toe, it will probably hurt. My arms and legs don’t just fall off whenever it’s windy. If I don’t eat, eventually I will get hungry. Etc.
Sure, you could argue as Descartes did that it is not possible to ‘know’ anything because the mere possibility that something could exist causes doubt that it might. It is impossible to ‘know’ anything with absolute certainty. Or you could argue that no one uses the word ‘know’ in that regards. If you asked me if I ‘knew’ the time, I’d look at my watch and tell you. I may recognize that it is ‘possible’ that my watch stopped or that it was off by a couple of seconds from the world clock, but it’s far more ‘probable’ that it’s approximately the time my watch says.
The key here is what is ‘probable.’ We believe what we do because over the course of our lives, we’ve learned that certain things are more likely to be true than others. It is the foundation that our ideas are based upon and provides the justification for why we believe what we do. In knowledge theory, for something to be considered ‘knowledge,’ it must be justified – we must have a ‘good reason’ for believing what we do.