“Think for yourself!” And other bad ideas.

“Think for yourself!” And other bad ideas. May 3, 2013

Al Geier, the closest person to Socrates I know, was leading class at HBU a few weekends ago and someone (it could have been me) said, “We need to think for ourselves and encourage others to do the same.”

He looked at someone (it could have been me) and said, “No. We need to think well and encourage others to do the same.”

And I knew he was right.

Platitudes are dangerous, because they discourage thought, but thinking is dangerous, because it can lead one into great evil. Great systems of evil, one thinks of Naziism, Communism, and the New York Yankees, can only exist by means of thought. Unthinking souls would not get up in the morning and decide to overpay mediocre baseball players.

Of course unthinking people would never have invented baseball, they would have kept clubbing baby seals as a sport.

Once someone like Kim Jung Un begins to think as he thinks, perhaps the best thing to hope is that he thinks less and smokes more.

Thinking more (or using reason) is also not the answer, since once someone begins to think poorly or using bad assumptions (or unethical ones), then he will generate ever greater messes. Elaborate evil oft does more harm than simple evil.

It takes a culture to achieve the American level of decadence.

Conceding all of this, some member of the class (it might have been me) thought: “We just need to follow the evidence.”

But then the obvious retort, so obvious that even I could have thought of it, was: “What counts as evidence?”

If ethics is on the line, all the science in the world might clarify issues, but it cannot settle them. “Is” doesn’t leave us much closer to “ought.”

Living the good life, therefore, is easier if one received a proper education and upbringing. Someone with virtuous character might only be corrupted if he or she begins to “think for themselves” and it leads only to vice. After all, thinking can easily become a slave to our erotic natures, as Plato pointed out.

But isn’t this very reflection an example of thinking? Why think? But isn’t that a foolish question? If I am in good health, mustn’t I think?

I don’t know about anyone else, having no access to their souls, but I have never managed not to think, so I had better learn to do it better than I do. And yet thinking clearly and more rationally is not a complete answer! I have rationalized my way to many an ethical disaster.

And of course, I think my upbringing was good and my general worldview true (Christianity), but then I would think that, wouldn’t I?

The simple point of this brings up is that “thinking rationally” is good, but it is not enough. Thinking in community is better, since that will help with my blind spots, but still dangerous. Don’t we get trapped in the assumptions of our time? Thinking in a “chronological diverse” community is better still, since it cuts off that problem, but even then there is no guarantee.

And isn’t that Socrates’ (and Al Geier’s) point: doesn’t the person who would be just have to commit himself to the task and then see? Good education helps and not being twisted by a corrupt culture is even better, neither makes being just or righteous sure.

I hope there is a good God who has spoken to His people: if so, then what has been believed by those people in most places, at most times would contain a residue of truth, but still there will be a gap in my certainty.

Using best reason, with all the reading, discussion, and love of God I can muster will still leave a gap between certainty and where I am. I shall have to live by Faith.

To my relief I discover that great prophet Habakuk, and the Apostle Paul agree.

Faith is the only way to live.


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