The Epistemological Crisis: Why Good Conversations Are Hard to Find | Community perspective


It is increasingly evident that Americans are in the midst of a new social climate, in which almost every aspect of life is politicized, from the brand of clothing we wear to the type of medical decisions they make. takes.

This polarization, this partisanship that spills over into popular culture, leads people to question not only their fellow citizens but also their morality. How, for example, could good people believe obvious lies, support heinous causes, and follow terrible leaders? Some people have spent months and even years trying to convince their friends and family of their core beliefs, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Others have given up on the act of persuasion altogether and written off those they disagree with as bad or stupid. What we should urge people to do when we approach difficult conversations like this is to no longer focus on “what” our peers think, but on “how” they think.

How do you determine if something is true? How do you determine if something is moral? These are the most important questions we should ask ourselves and others because “how” we think determines “what” we think. If someone doesn’t value reason, empirical evidence, and logical consistency in their arguments, no evidence in your favor is going to sway their mind. Likewise, if someone lacks a moral compass to begin with, can you really expect them to be outraged when horrible things happen?

Before having a discussion with someone about what they believe, you need to understand how they think. It means listening even if their particular philosophy is terrible for you. This difference in epistemology can be the roadblock to your conversation, and until you resolve this and are on the same page, no quarrels or shame will change their minds.

So ask yourself: where do your values ​​come from? Why do you value the things you do? Do your notions of truth come from a scientific methodology? Or can they be influenced by faith or personal intuition? We need to agree on what constitutes good evidence before we discuss the evidence. And we have to agree on what is good before we can debate whether an action is moral. Much of our debates about culture, politics, and religion collapse because we have different definitions of these very important concepts. If we have different definitions of good and what is true, then of course we will never agree on what is morally right or what is really going on in the world.

The problem is, most people don’t think deeply about these things. They certainly have opinions about what is true and moral, but ask them what the foundations of these beliefs are, and they often find themselves at a loss for words. We need to spend more time thinking about our way of thinking. What is our methodology? What are our principles? Because until we can be on the same page about these things, there will be a major segment of the population that you cannot understand or persuade.

Do you think Biden is better than Trump? Or Trump better than Biden? Explain how we determine “better”. Do you think Christianity is true? Or is it wrong? Or is there another religion we should follow? Explain how you determine if something is “true”. Do you think the media is wrong? Or is it 100% correct? Or that we should believe in a plot from an underground website? What constitutes a good source?

These are the kinds of conversations we need to have because they are worth looking into. I believe that most of the people in this world are good or at least believe that they are doing good. And if they do something wrong, our ability to show them that is very important. I also believe that although most people are not rational, they sincerely believe that they use reason when they think of the world. Questioning their notions of what rationality really is could be the key to changing their worldview.

Too often we see ourselves as stupid or mean because of our frustration that a productive conversation cannot take place. “No matter how much evidence I show them,” you might say, “they just won’t listen. They continue to support sexist racist Donald Trump. Or the hair-sniffing socialist Joe Biden. They cling to their religious conspiracies and beliefs or close their minds to anything that does not belong to ungodly materialism.

The frustration of the inability to persuade themselves makes many people outwardly hostile to others, especially on social media. But we must resist this temptation. Obviously, one of these camps is right and the other is wrong, depending on the problem. But because most people really care about what’s right and really care about what’s true, they’re not bad people. There is a way to reach them. And although we can never reach them all, we should always have this dialogue, because each person who becomes more rational as a result makes this world a slightly better place.

Brent Nichols is a resident of Fairbanks, Alaska who is concerned about the current state of education and American political discourse. It can be emailed to [email protected]


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