Skepticism is necessary for fruitful debate, belief



If you’re walking across the street with someone and they tell you to hurry up, you will probably look up to check for a flashing red hand or incoming car.

In doing so, you are choosing to see for yourself, rather than accept someone’s word blindly. Unfortunately, we do not carry that attitude as far as we should.

On a college campus, we’re bombarded with facts, opinions and arguments. You should trust me when I say that if you do not see a truth for yourself, then this barrage of ideas is in vain.

In other words, don’t accept something based on authority. Even if it is from the mouth of a professor, politician or priest. A statement needs to be filtered before it is believed.

If I’m not convincing, there are many others who back me up. The extreme of this is Descartes, who rejected everything except what he saw most clearly, “I think, therefore I am”, in the Meditations.

Albert Einstein said, “Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” Putting it even more strongly, Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

All these thinkers agree that we should have a healthy dose of skepticism.

Sometimes, this frustrates other people. For example, I often hear people say that we cannot reject global warming because 99% of scientists agree on it. However, one must withhold opinion without actually witnessing the evidence and arguments.

Scientific consensus makes global warming seem highly probable, but it is not completely convincing — the data and explanations need to be seen to be sure.

Also, once you see something for yourself, you can show it to others in the future. Without this, you will be left parroting conclusions and imitating authorities. Quotes and examples may persuade some but won’t make it clear to everyone. It is most frustrating when someone is just repeating what they’ve heard without an argument.

Thankfully, we instinctually strive to see things for ourselves all the time. If we’re lazy, though, then we’ll limit this to life-threatening moments like crossing the street.

Moreover, we give and receive information daily, so how does this affect the role of an educator? First and foremost, the educator should clearly see what he or she wants to share. Then, he or she should present it in a way which spurs the audience to see it for themselves.

It might persuade with reason, but at the very least she gives the tools and motivation to take something out of what she sees.

I contend that our exchanges are more fruitful with these ideas in mind. How can anyone disagree?

Patrick Brennan is a mathematics and philosophy junior.

Email [email protected].