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Help! I'm Being Held Prisoner By My Sources Of Information!

Alexander Orlowski. Convicts  under Escort.
[Alexander Orlowski. Convicts under Escort. Source]

1) Introduction

Many people tell me they disagree with some things on my web site. In a way, that is so trivial it seems hardly worth mentioning. On the other hand, if we think about it, the simple fact of two persons not agreeing on something, plunges us deep into some very important philosophical questions.

How come people can disagree? Is there such a thing as "truth" which is valid for everybody, or are we condemned to each be inside our own little "reality", with our own little personal "truth"? Suppose truth does exist, and I'm stuck in error, how can other people "pull me out" of my error and lead me out of darkness and into the light?

2) The Reality Check

At the very first honest effort to use our heads, we clearly see that reality does exist, and that we can know this reality, and that everybody is "inside" this same reality. This is discussed in articles like What Is Truth?, The Philosopher's Glove, Concedo, Nego, Distinguo, etc.

3) What have you been reading?

Given we're both in contact with the same reality, how then can we disagree? Based on my personal experience, I'd say the difference is our sources of information. I'm not a miracle-worker; I can't transform lead into gold; I can't take bad sources of information, and produce good and truthful assertions based on them.

This is why, in a way, I'm being "held prisoner" by my sources of information. Assuming I have good intentions, then if I say something which is not true, it is probably because I've been reading bad sources of information. A famous economist reportedly said, in a far less varnished fashion:

Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slave to some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.

In order to "pull me out of darkness", you have to gently show me other, more reliable sources of information.

If I look at my personal experience, I can see that when I change my mind, it's because somebody has "taken me by the hand" to show me a source of information I wasn't aware of. To take a silly but true example, I used to purchase ink cartridges for my printer. Then my Aunt called me over so I could see a TV program on ink-jet printers. I don't like TV and my Aunt isn't a computer expert, but somehow she insisted and I did go watch the program. There I learnt that the ink in a cartridge is more expensive than champagne at 50$ a bottle, or even perfume at 250$ a bottle! I also learnt that you can buy little kits to refill your cartridges for roughly ten times less money. So I changed my mind!

4) Conclusion

A man who has fallen into error does not cease to be a man. He never forfeits his personal dignity; and that is something that must always be taken into account. Besides, there exists in man's very nature an undying capacity to break through the barriers of error and seek the road to truth. God, in His great providence, is ever present with His aid.
[Pacem in terris, #158]

In a way, this text is actually just a reminder to myself, since I regularly forget that most men try to do what is best, given the sources of information they have. I must stop "jumping all over people" as soon as they apparently disagree with me. Maybe they're just being held prisoners by their sources of information. Or maybe I'm the one wearing the handcuffs! And if I'm the one wearing the handcuffs and that you have a key, please make a reasonable effort to free me!


Don't believe everything you read on the Internet. (Abraham Lincoln)

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