This weeks question is
Should you believe what you hear?
The most important philosopher f the Scottish Enlightenment was David Hume. He studied humans as others studied the rest of nature. He concluded that you should never believe an exceptional event on the basis of what other people say or write.
Three Minute Philosophy – David Hume – CollegeBinary
(Some bad language)
Hume said that you should only believe people if they are likely to be right. This is similar to Sam Harris’s view in the TED video when he says that if he told people that string theory was rubbish he would not be credible because he isn’t a physicist.
A wise man… proportions his belief to the evidence.
For him a miracle was an event that is an exception, something that has never happened before. So you should always ask the question “What’s more likely?”
His assumption that you should only believe people if you have evidence that people are right was criticised particularly by Thomas Reid.
Thomas Reid’s theory of common sense
Reid believed that trusting other people was similar to trusting your senses. We don’t only trust our senses when they are likely to be right or when they have been proved to be right. Children trust things that adults tell them even though they have no experience to show that the adults are credible. This he felt showed that belief in a person is a natural human condition. Reid called this the principle of credulity and defined it as
a disposition to confide in the veracity of others and to believe what they tell us.
He also believed that people had a propensity to tell the truth so that just as we are naturally trusting we are naturally truthful.
So Hume and Reid both believed that we naturally trust our senses. Reid thought we naturally trust other people but Hume thought we had to get evidence first. If Hume were right then children wouldn’t believe anything because they would have no evidence. It looks as though Hume thinks that children shouldn’t believe anything unless they have their own evidence.
Hume thought people lied a lot to gain advantage and Reid thought that people were naturally honest.
What is Enlightenment?
Historians use this word to describe a period in European History.
The dictionary describes it as follows
A German Philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote an essay on it. In answer to the question “What is Enlightenment” Kant wrote
Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s ow understanding without the guidance of another…….The motto of the enlightenment is therefore Sapiere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding.
Sapiere aude – translates from the Latin as “Dare to be wise”. He believed that we should all think for ourselves and not be blindly guided by others. This virtue has been called “intellectual autonomy”
Kant’s belief is closer to that of Hume. They both believe that we should not blindly believe what other people say. However Hume believed that no testimony be be used as a basis of knowledge whereas Kant acknowledged that testimony couldn’t be totally excluded. He said that such ‘incredulity’ would be a form of ‘logical egotism’.
What interested me most about Kant as I was researching was his views on morality. He certainly felt that testimony should not be used as a basis to adopt moral principles. He strongly believed in intellectual autonomy on this point His views on morality are strongly stated.
His idea of the “universalizability test” had five steps. You can see them on the wikipedia page. The basic premise is something like this – don’t do anything that you don’t think everyone else should do.
For example if you think it is OK to lie for self gain then you must accept that it is OK for everyone in the world to lie for self gain. If you think that it’s OK for everyone to do it then go ahead. You first need to imagine the consequences of that action if everyone does it.
I am one of those people who believes everyone. I am the sucker who will send you money because you are stuck in a foreign country with no way to get home and please would I send the price of the ticket. I believe and trust everyone until I am proved wrong. So I guess that I am Reid’s ideal. However I know the world isn’t like that. I know that people do lie for lots of reasons. As I have grown older I have grown more sceptical , not sceptical enough according to my husband.
Reid tells us what people do and Hume and Kant tell us what we should do to a greater or lesser extent. The message is clear. Don’t believe everything that you hear or read. Watch out for the tricksters.
Philosopher-comedian Emily Levine talks (hilariously) about science, math, society and the way everything connects. She’s a brilliant trickster, poking holes in our fixed ideas and bringing hidden truths to light. Settle in and let her ping your brain.
Can I believe my own eyes? Maybe not.
The amazing Dave Cremin performs an impossible card trick in Times Square.
I am not going to become the greatest sceptic overnight but I believe I should question more than I do. As to what is the natural order of man I think and I hope we are naturally truthful and trusting.
- The Common Sense Philosophy of Thomas Reid (presbyterianblues.wordpress.com)
- The Enlightenment’s ‘Race’ Problem, and Ours (opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com)
- On the Enlightenment’s ‘Race Problem’ (3quarksdaily.com)