Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy

    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Avoiding leaps of faith into conclusions

Posted by robertpriddy on November 29, 2009

It is remarkable how many people believe many things on rather insubstantial evidence, but just as remarkable is how so many reject things out of hand without having even investigated at all, let alone as fully as possible!  I have observed more and more clearly in latter years – many people will believe just about anything, especially if it suits them, their lifestyle, their habits and accumulated opinions. This cuts both ways, of course, both as to believers and unbelievers. When the facts cannot be established and an issue is still in the balance, most people prefer a certainty than a continued state of uncertainty… even if it is a false certainty. Most people are very poor at questioning their own beliefs, especially those held most dear. But any genuine search for truth must question beliefs, however deep-rooted – and this is most demanding. It calls for a patient condition of inconclusiveness and tolerance of the uncertainty caused by reservation of final judgment until certain knowledge is attained.

There are always pros and cons in any matter, increasingly so the larger and more important the subject. To keep in the mind all of them from both sides, yet not to conclude in favour of one side or the other is a feat of conscious tolerance of uncertainty that few people can sustain for long… at least when the issue is at all crucial. Only when the evidence is so powerful as to make its factuality believable to the well-informed can reservation of judgement be concluded. One should be wary of the fact that belief is endemic, and it takes many different and new shapes which also often shift as experience proceeds.

An even-minded approach allows us not to pre-judge – whether the prejudice be for or against – and helps us takes the rough along with the smooth. But this requires restraint in reaching conclusions together with continuous reflection upon one’s own mind and personal, experiential knowledge. It is not easy to remain open-minded towards all evidence and various interpretations of it, by many-sided reasoning. While investigating the case against Sathya Sai Baba, I have always borne in mind how further questions and answers of which I had not yet thought might arise. This was because I wanted to follow a most stringent method of seeking the true facts.

In general, I do not believe that all or even most of my convictions represent absolute certainties or that what is apparently incontrovertible fact cannot ever prove to be otherwise. Yet personal responsibility requires that I hold to convictions that I have been able to reach after thorough examination [and repeated reexamination as new information emerged] until the cogent reasons for them have been shown to be incorrect by stringent methods of proof. I am aware that some of my important convictions have been overturned by the facts again and again in the past and that many a ‘scientific fact’ and theory have been modified, superceded or rejected in my own lifetime. This applies all the more to human acts and historical developments, as distinct from natural events and processes. That I have moved with the emerging truth and not stuck in a belief that fact has superseded I consider an achievement.

The hardest part of the search for truth, I think, is to remain undecided when sufficient facts and evidence are lacking… for most people everywhere like to get rid of uncertainty quickly and would even prefer to live with false certainties than with inconclusiveness.

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