- There’s lots of good stuff in this brief article, the point of which is to demonstrate that we vigorously defend positions that (unconsciously) we don’t really believe.
- He gives a number of reason:-
- We might want it to be true, and feel reassurance when we argue for it (think of the parents who insist that their missing child is still alive, despite the lack of evidence).
- We might associate it with people we admire, and assert it so as to be like them (think of how people are influenced by the views of celebrities).
- We might think that it will get us attention, and make us seem interesting (think of teenagers who adopt provocative views).
- We might profess it to fit in and gain social acceptance (think of a university student from a conservative background). Or
- We might feel that we have a duty to defend it because of our commitment to some creed or ideology (we sometimes call this attitude faith – belief in the religious sense).
- He thinks we might be able to diagnose whether we really believe something if we imagined an all-powerful demon who would torture us if – on careful consideration – we professed something we didn’t believe.
- This is effectively the Future Great Pain Test1 useful in the philosophy of personal identity to reveal whether we think we will survive some adventure. It is not to be confused with Descartes’ evil demon2.
- With respect to Frankish’s 5th “reason”, it is somewhat analogous to what I might call the “2 Maccabees Test3”. There’s a stomach-churning passage in which all seven of a mother’s sons are threatened with death by torture (involving a large frying pan) if they don’t throw over Jewish religious practices, and their mother encourages them to persist in the hope of a “better resurrection”. On reading this, many years ago, I was struck by (what seemed to be) the fact that I probably wouldn’t go through such a trial in defense of my Christian beliefs (that might just be weakness – but also obstinacy4 ) but that I certainly wouldn’t encourage my children to do so.
For the full text, see Aeon: Frankish - What do you really believe? Take the Truth-Demon Test.
Footnote 3: Footnote 4:
- Who can cause us to believe all sorts of falsehoods, but can’t deceive us (Descartes says) about our own existence as a thinking thing.
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