Know Thyself

At the end of the last post I more or less challenged readers to consider their motives for their beliefs. This would be especially questionable if I was not willing to accept my own challenge, so here I will mention a few of the potential influences on my own opinions.

I want to be honest with people. This is a natural consequence of the love of truth, and it might seem surprising to mention this as one influence that can run against the truth, but it can do this. For wanting to be honest involves not only wanting to speak the truth, but to say what you think. And as Katja Grace says, “Imagine your friend said, ‘I promise that anything you tell me I will repeat to anyone who asks’. How honest would you be with that friend? If you say to yourself that you will report your thoughts to others, why wouldn’t the same effect apply?” In other words, this motive can influence me to avoid thinking things that I would not like to say to others, for whatever reasons.

I would like other people to be more concerned about the truth. This again is a somewhat natural consequence of the love of truth, but again it can be a misleading influence. For it can be a motive to avoid saying things which may tend to make people seek the truth less, even if those things are true. And in combination with the desire for honesty, it can be a motive to avoid thinking those things, even if they are true. This motive is currently telling me not to write this post, since theoretically people could use it as a reason to be concerned less about the truth.

I want to be respected by people. This can lead to saying and thinking things I expect to be respected by those I care about, whether or not those things are true.

I want to say interesting and important things. This makes it more likely that I will believe something interesting as opposed to something uninteresting, even if it is equally likely, and the same applies to things that seem important as opposed to unimportant. It also makes it more likely that I will exaggerate true statements somewhat so that they will seem interesting and important.

I want to be consistent, and to defend things that I have already said. In conjunction with the above fact about exaggeration, this makes it more likely that I will come to believe an exaggerated view of various things, even accidentally, since this type of exaggeration often happens in a somewhat thoughtless manner.

Although different people will have somewhat different concerns, none of these things are particularly strange. And in principle there is nothing wrong with wanting such things, just as there is nothing wrong with wanting to eat food that tastes good, rather than being concerned about health alone in one’s choices relative to food. But if you want to be healthy, it is pretty important to notice that your desire for ice cream is not exactly the desire for health, and to moderate this desire. And likewise if you want to know the truth, it is important to notice the nature of the other influences on your opinions, and to moderate these influences.

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