Reasoning is honouring yourself by using your power to think and avoid inconsistency.

Source: Richard Robinson, An Atheist's Values, 1964.

QUOTE: "A horrible example of acquiescing in inconsistency is provided by a certain common way of taking the doctrine that 'the exception proves the rule'. Many people take this to mean that, for example, you can prove that it is a rule that women are inferior to men by producing an exceptional woman who is not inferior. They imply that a universal generalization is proved to be true by the production of a case in which it is false! This is selfcontradictory and absurd. An exceptional woman who was superior to men would not prove a universal rule that all men are superior to all women. On the contrary, she would disprove it completely for all time. And as to a statement about averages, for example that the average man is superior to the average woman, it is neither proved nor disproved by any individual case of anything at all."

COMMENT: The exception both says the rule matters and it should not always matter so it wants two things it cannot have.  It is either one or the other.  The error is behind most of the power of religion and ideologies.  It is a deliberate error for you know if you value the rule or not.

QUOTE: "'All is uncertain', said Hume. But it is extremely unlikely that the probability of every proposition is exactly equal to the probability of its contradictory, so that we ought to suspend judgement about all propositions. It is still more unlikely that a pair of contradictories could both be improbable rather than probable.”

COMMENT: If you say Jesus rose from the dead or did not you may find one is as probable as the other. And maybe in fact if you had all the information you would see that his being dead is the most probable. Don’t seek iron certainty – let the evidence tell you what is probable. So you have, “a burden of judgement, of judging which is the more probable of the two contradictories in view of the available considerations… we can often make a reasonable judgement as to which is more probably true, and then it is wise to be content with that. It is unwise to insist on all or nothing, for the result of doing that is to get nothing.”

QUOTE: "The probable must not be opposed to the true. Plato pointed out that it is wrong to say 'let us seek what is probable, not what is true' (Phaedrus 272 DE). That amounts to the immoral advice: 'seek to convince, and do not mind whether what you say is true.' The right maxim is: let us seek what is probably true rather than what is certainly true, since certainty is unobtainable outside mathematics. The probable is not opposed to the true or the false, but to the certain and the improbable.”

QUOTE: the pursuit of probability is the right middle way between two wrong extremes. One of these wrong extremes is the pursuit of certainty…the other is the acquiescence in mere possibility.

COMMENT: He says we look at whatever has the weightiest evidence instead of doubting everything because nothing can be proven and instead of saying x is possible for that non-x is possible too. The moral is, don’t waste time on thinking what is possible or on what cannot be proven but just let the evidence speak to you. Let it direct your thinking.

If it is possible that aliens raised Jesus from the dead not God or that Satan did it you cannot say, “It is possible therefore I believe it.” That is not logical at all and is to “speak as if our not knowing a certain statement to be false were good evidence that it is true. I call this the argument from ignorance”. It is one strange tribute to faith to go down that road and use ignorance to do it!

“No amount of ignorance can make it right to consider only one side of a question. However ignorant we may be, we should consider the evidence for both of the two contradictories, and decide which is the heavier.”

QUOTE: “Reason … includes respect for evidence. The decision which of two contradictories is the more probable is to be made by examining the evidence for and against each.”

“One common form of disrespect for evidence is the habit of believing a proposition not because it has the better evidence but because its contradictory is painful. Somebody has said that 'I could not rest in a truth were I compelled to regard it as hateful'. Christians often recommend their doctrines on the ground that they are comforting, whereas their contradictories are depressing. You can find a striking example of this in Newman's Grammar of Assent, p. 305, which shows how powerful it can be.”

“Believing truly is in the long run likely to comfort us more than believing falsely; and anyhow it is beneath our dignity as human beings not to seek a correct view of things.”

“Another form of disrespect for evidence is to reject it in favour of intuitions or hunches. Intuitions are necessary sometimes, namely when we have to make a decision but cannot in the time available find any evidence on which to base it. For instance, if you must decide this instant whether an attacker will shoot at your head or your heart. Furthermore, intuitions are sometimes good evidence in themselves. If there is a person whose intuitions in a certain field have turned out right more often than not in the past, then the fact that he now intuits a certain statement in the field to be true is good evidence that it is true. But an intuition is at best only one piece of evidence among other possible pieces. It is always capable of being overthrown by further considerations. It never justifies us in neglecting to look for other pieces of evidence, or in neglecting to put them also on the scales when they appear. And Bishop Gore's view that we are justified in believing an intuition if it gives us strength is very bad indeed.”

“Another form of disrespect for evidence, which may overlap with the foregoing, is the fanatic's deliberate hostility to evidence and rejection of it, what Professor Campbell called 'the blind uncritical devotion to an idea or cause which is so utterly sure of its own rectitude that "examination of the evidence" seems mere meaningless waste of labour' (Philosophy, 1950, p. 119). 'I believe it because it is absurd.' The fanatic, if he has to defend his view, does so by force or fury or intimidation or sarcasm or authority or mollification, all means which, while they often convince, never contribute to the determination of a truth-value.”

“The commonest form of disrespect for evidence is mere carelessness or thoughtlessness or failure to realize what is required.”

“Respect for evidence involves knowing that evidence usually does not come without work, and hence involves searching for the good evidence.”

“A subtler form of disrespect for evidence is pretending that we have evidence when we have not. We may do this to others or to ourselves. 'Evidence is accumulating', we say. But how much has actually accumulated? For only that counts. To assume that in the future there will be more is to disrespect evidence.”

QUOTE: “The reasonable man holds his views tentatively rather than dogmatically. He bears in mind the possibility that at some future time the weight of evidence may point the other way. He refrains from thinking that 'there cannot possibly ever be a good reason for changing this view, and so I will never listen to any argument against it'. …Tentativeness is not the same thing as hesitation or indecision. Holding one's opinions always tentatively neither is nor involves being always hesitating and indecisive. … Tentativeness does not involve always listening to every argument. If you were hurrying to a vital appointment, and a queer-looking stranger stopped you in the street and asked you to listen there and then to an argument that the earth is flat, reason would not require you to comply. Nor need you read all the volumes of the Society for Psychical Research before deciding that there are no ghosts. We could spend our whole lives listening to arguments and still not have heard all the persons who wish to persuade us. Hence we are obliged to choose what we will hear and when we will hear it; and we are not necessarily unreasonable because we have declined to listen to Mr A's argument or read Mr. B's book. The ideal of tentativeness does, however, involve never deciding that 'under no circumstances will I ever consider any further argument against this proposition, or reconsider an old argument, with a view to possibly changing my opinion'.”

QUOTE: “The essential part of bearing in mind the possibility that one is mistaken is not to begin each statement with the words 'I may be wrong but it seems to me that'. That would be very tiresome and quite useless. It is to allow free speech to others and weigh their ideas. Reasonableness includes listening to the other side, and giving the other side full liberty to argue. It includes submission to criticism.”

QUOTE: “The reasonable man behaves as a fallible being among fallible beings. The unreasonable man, on the contrary, sometimes talks as if you were fallible but he were a god. 'Don't trust man', he sometimes says, 'trust God.' This remark would be selfdefeating if he regarded himself as a man, for in that case he would be telling you not to trust himself and therefore not to trust this advice of his. So the implication is that when he speaks it is the voice of a god. Newman clearly makes this claim in the following sentence: 'Theological reasoning professes to be sustained by a more than human power, and to be guaranteed by a more than human authority' (Grammar of Assent, p. 377). Similarly, Rousseau at the beginning of his Discourse on Inequality, para. 7, quite clearly implies that whereas other men's books are merely human and contain lies, this book of Rousseau's is the voice of nature herself and therefore must be true, though he says he may have added something of his own without intending to.”

COMMENT: Rousseau was not claiming divine inspiration but to know it all about nature. Nature is able to work with him to produce a book of truth. The Christian view is that God shows himself in nature. The Bible says that God shows his image in man and woman. So if Rousseau was a problem when he just was talking about nature being the ground of truth imagine what it is like if you think there is a God?

QUOTE “Submission to criticism excludes keeping one's opinion secret. It involves making one's views known rather than concealing them. Reason is essentially public. The reasonable man submits to criticism, and he submits to the new evidence and new probabilities that criticism sometimes brings.”

COMMENT: Robinson tells us that we cannot think all the time about everything and it is okay to follow authority as long as you judge that the person really is in a position to be an authority. It is only okay then. To say authority should not be challenged or it credential check is just an attitude that “suppresses the vitally important fact that each one of us has to decide who are the authorities” anyway so we have to do it right. Examine the credentials! “We are all of us always inevitably judging the authorities, that is, criticizing them. The only choices we have in this matter are whether to do this judging consciously or unconsciously, and whether to do it reasonably or unreasonably. Evidently it is better to do it consciously and reasonably.”

QUOTE: “Selfdefeatingness in practice is to be added to selfinconsistency in theory as part of unreasonableness. It is unreasonable, for example, to desire people's love and at the same time keep on hurting them. Such selfdefeatingness is often called inconsistency. But it is not a belief in two inconsistent propositions. The statement that 'I want people to love me' is consistent with the statement that 'I want to hurt people'. Selfdefeatingness is due to laws of nature, not laws of logic. It consists in pursuing two aims which nature has made incompatible; and only by knowing some laws of nature can we know what aims are incompatible.”

QUOTE: “It is very common to depreciate reason or compare it unfavourably with something else. People say that reason tends to atrophy feeling, that it tends to make action feeble, that it is incompetent in certain spheres, that it cannot help to make us happy, that we should trust God not human reason, that to trust reason is pride, that reason cannot prescribe ends, that reason must be subordinated to faith or intuition, and that we should think not with reason but with the blood. Yet it is absurd to talk against reason if the word means what I have suggested. Reason, I have suggested, is either the power to think or the good use of that power…The other element which leads people to talk against reason is the misconception that reason is a special faculty, not the general faculty of thinking but a special department of it…we slide into regarding reason as some mental power other than the power of thinking.”

“This confusion leads also to the idea that those who praise reason are neglecting nonrational methods of knowing, or denying their value. If reason is thought of as one peculiar mental faculty, and we recognize other rival mental faculties alongside it, it seems that those who praise reason are neglecting these other instruments. But when we see that reason is not a special faculty, but the good or ideal use of the general faculty of forming statements and beliefs, this opposition falls to the ground.”

COMMENT: Robinson warns that as thinking is consciously and unconsciously behind all we do “I think I should give into this feeling or intuition or guess” that any attempt to scrap it is really an attempt to put some ideas or beliefs or things you think you believe beyond criticism. There is nothing neutral about doing that. It is about getting people to believe something untrue. The beliefs might be true after all but those who use this method think they are not which is why they have to avoid thinking critically about them and want protection from those who know better.

So as we would expect he writes, “Every special way of producing beliefs that there may be, either intuition or sight or hearing or telepathy or what you will, is to be examined and given whatever weight seems reasonable after examination; but none of them is to be set up as autonomous and immune from criticism. None of them is even to be assigned a special sphere in which it is uncriticizable. … Reason is supreme because it is not a special faculty, but the best use of the whole faculty of forming beliefs for the sake of forming them truly. The only alternatives to thinking with reason are thinking unreasonably and not thinking.”

He should have added in the notions of God’s grace and divine inspiration!

Thinking carefully and using this ability to measure the quality of evidence before accepting anything as probably true is not a faculty but part of what we are that we unfortunately can treat like a faculty. Even your life can be treated by you like a thing. Anything can. You can take anything for granted to be picked up and dropped when you feel like it. The ultimate reason why we treat our thinking ability so badly is our religious spiritual side. Belief in God threatens your reason by making you treat it as a part of you and considering other ways of getting “information” equally or more important. There is nothing neutral about this. If you give the person you know to be reliable an equal platform with liars and stupid people that person’s message is being drowned by noise. It is destroying the truth and averting it.

If reason really rots away your ability to feel for others in need then it must do that for those religious believers! They are talking about themselves not us and they need God and feelings for God to work up the interest in helping others!

QUOTE: “The misconception of reason as a special faculty is also responsible for the idea that 'it is beyond the power of reason to prescribe ends' (Harrod in Mind for 1936). Reason is the good employment of thought, and thought both can and should adopt ends.”

QUOTE: “Love the virtue is the right habitual conduct of love the emotion - love is primarily conversation- it is to be with others in understood and amiable communion.”

COMMENT: Communion works two ways so to love God is to think you are getting information from him. That is a dangerous idea. Even if believers are harmless that is down to luck. They could just as easily think they must execute a child as a sacrifice Abraham style. Abraham was told by God to murder Isaac as a sacrifice. Experience shows that getting information from God is only in your head and is really just guesses being mistaken for divine communications.

FINALLY: Reason is the power to protect ourselves by carefully assessing. To protect ourselves means knowing what the truth is and working with it. Faith and intuition and divine inspiration are threats. Miracles are nonsense for the exception does not prove the rule but proves there should be no exception. Belief should be devoted to evidence. Evidence is the answer instead of looking for absolute proof of anything or doubting everything. Evil uses good to hurt you and we should always aim to reduce the misery in x if we have a choice with making y happy. Feeling nothing instead of happy is better than being in misery. Choice is a problem for it is too easy for feelings and mistakes and intuitions to pose as reasons for acting. Joy is hard to find for we are really always choosing to do good in the hope that it really is good. The doctrine of God is inherently harmful.

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