Monday, May 15, 2006

Chosen By Our Beliefs: 2nd Installment

The approach I described in "Personal Philosophy: First Installment" has a subtle difference from the way philosophers usually assert their views. Implicit in the usual approach to asserting one's beliefs is the assumption that we are the masters of our beliefs; that we decide to believe this or that. Some “I” or self within us has decided that this is true and that false, and for good reason. But I don’t think this is how we get our beliefs, at least not the fundamental ones.

A story illustrates this: In graduate school for sociology I couldn’t understand how people adopted a sociological tradition and method to follow in. There was the Western Marxism of the Frankfurt School, phenomenological sociology, qualitative vs. quantitative field methods, Structural-Functionalism, and others. If we’re all rational scholars then we would have to rationally choose the tradition which gave the right view of things. But how to choose that? I think what happens is that people are drawn to the traditions and views which attract them. They gravitate, are entranced, find it interesting, speak its language, feel it makes sense or any other non-rational way of being converted to a point of view. I don’t think it is generally the case that people rigorously examine all views and then choose the right one. How could they settle such a thing, since the entire discipline itself has not settled such a thing; that’s why there are differing traditions living uneasily with each other. This is why the intellectual divisions in academia are so severe. By engaging with an unbeliever, the non-rational fundaments of your view are in danger of being exposed.

So I think it’s more accurate to say that our beliefs choose or seduce us, rather than us choosing them. This is why people so easily become agitated and fearful when their views are challenged. There is so much of our self at stake when our beliefs are threatened. Dispassionate reason is the mask we use to contain our passionate attachment to a certain way of looking at things. This is why I think that, with enough information, we can determine the psychological work that specific beliefs do in maintaining the existence of the world that we need to have be true.

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