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September 13, 2012

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Luis Enrique

"We believe in evolution and climate change not because we've gathered evidence ourselves "

yes but they are "the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence"

When I hear a claim, I like to ask myself what somebody would have to know - what kinds of evidence - to support that claim. It does't need to be science, but sometimes one hears claims that even the "general bank and capital of nations" probably have no basis for claiming knowledge of.

Keith

I had to laugh when you said you have survived your encounters with the medical profession so they must be reliable authority figures!

That is a biased sample. People die all the time. Why are the deceased less reliable evidence of medical competence then the still living? For most of the history of medicine the treatments did not work and often made you die more quickly and all of medicine was quackery. Usually the sick get better with little or no treatment just as the economy tends to recover even if the economic policy is crap. Then you forget Dr Shipman and people like that who are even less reliable as authority figures being addicted to murder. What about the doctors who force fed the Suffragettes for the "Liberal" Government of Asquith or the ones who help Torture people at Gitmo or else where?

The problem with Burke is that knowledge is not static. Social traditions may become poor guides to action as the conditions that produced them change and make the tradition counter productive. It was following the dominant traditions in France about running the state and economy that produced the revolution. Burke and his conservative admirers are wrong as they have drawn an incorrect conclusion from the events. The traditions did not work and broke down.

Account Deleted

Burke's position was a justification for a restricted franchise - i.e. reliance on the judgement of your betters and those that embody tradition. He wasn't advocating the wisdom of the crowd.

The claims by the likes of MacKenzie and Straw that they were poor innocents, led astray by those nasty policemen, are risible. Anyone in 1989 who was a football fan and/or politically aware knew from the off that the police had ballsed-up and were smearing the fans, just as they had tried (and failed) to smear the miners after Orgreave in '84.

The behaviour of the media and politicians did not reflect misplaced trust but willing collusion. No one would expect better from MacKenzie, but it dismayed many that it took a Labour administration over a decade to screw up the courage to release the incriminating papers.

Ralph Musgrave

“Man is condemned to freedom” – Jean Paul Satre. I other words you have no option but to think for yourself. You can if you like rely on some authority, but it was you that took the decision to rely on the authority. So the reality is that you just can’t avoid thinking for yourself.

Worldcrisisbook

I agree with Keith about the dangers of trusting doctors (famously able to bury their mistakes).

However knowledge not being static is not a problem with Burke, since his advice never depended on that. Burke wrote explicitly about how knowledge and the consensus, like reforms, grow and develop. And that is why it is false to say the ‭"‬traditions did not work and broke down‭"‬ - it is in fact the countries that broke with their traditions and had revolutions that are now socially fragile and divided.

It worked o‭ut exactly the other way round. Burke has been consistently proved right over the last two and a half centuries - not least, fromarsetoelbow, because it is also false to say his advice quoted here was "a plea for a restricted franchise". He favoured gradual expansion of the franchise, and he was right.

That is why Britain continues to develop, just as Burke said it would, and France is still to this day crippled by the revolution Burke saw through right at its outset ...having since gone through five republics, two monarchies, two foreign occupations, and a military putsch since (not before) World War II.

Worldcrisisbook

Perhaps worth adding that "It was following the dominant traditions in France about running the state and economy that produced the revolution" is also completely incorrect.

In fact, it was _deviating_ from the ancien regime's tradition of paternalistic interference in markets that caused the revolution - the total opposite of what many people believe today. The information-gathering exercise known as the "cahiers", where ordinary French people at 25,000 locations across the country were encouraged by royal minister Necker to list their needs and demands in the spring of 1789, revealed a strong desire for more paternalism and _more_ legal intervention by the king, not less. The cahiers show overwhelming demand for a return to the more feudal norms and practices of the 1760s.

The French revolution was produced by the personal ambition and desire of reforming, modernising aristocrats and bourgeois to strip _away_ old privileges for all classes along with (they thought) archaic and anachronistic protections for the poor. Ascribing the revolution to a popular upsurge against old traditions is another claim which is historically just 180 degrees wrong.

gastro george

"The claims by the likes of MacKenzie and Straw that they were poor innocents, led astray by those nasty policemen, are risible. Anyone in 1989 who was a football fan and/or politically aware knew from the off that the police had ballsed-up and were smearing the fans, just as they had tried (and failed) to smear the miners after Orgreave in '84."

Quite. And it's not as if they've stopped, either.

Account Deleted

@Worldcrisisbook, where to start?

"It is in fact the countries that broke with their traditions and had revolutions that are now socially fragile and divided". Too true. The USA is going to the dogs. I blame that Edmund Burke for supporting them.

Luckily we never had a revolution in the UK, though that Burke fellow kept on referring to one as occuring in 1688. Can't think what he meant. Perhaps he was confusing it with the Civil War, which we also didn't have.

He was, as you say, in favour of expanding the franchise from just the rich. He wanted to include the catholic rich as well. Good man. I don't think his gradualist approach would ever have gone as far as democracy, which he considered the tyranny of the majority over minorities. You have to stop somewhere.

As for the relative performance of Britain and France since WW2, I confess I may have missed some of the events you mention, unless you're counting De Gaulle and Sarkozy as monarchs. I've been on holiday to France a few times. The place isn't what I would call crippled. It's more like they're still wearing in their Christian Louboutin heels.

Account Deleted

The notion that the French revolution was engineered by a conspiracy of self-hating aristos and uppity bourgeois, and had no popular basis or socioeconomic cause, originates with Joseph de Maistre, the anti-enlightenment philosopher. His thinking heavily influenced the development of French rightwing thought, from the obsession with "the enemy within" (often Freemasons and Jews) down to Action Francaise and the Vichy collaboration. It's reactionary nonsense.

ortega

By the end of the XIXth century, the mathematician William Kingdom Clifford wrote an essay called 'The ethics of belief', where he asserted: 'it is wrong always, everywhere and for anyone, to believe anything upon isufficient evidence'.

William James answered in his talk 'The will to believe': 'here, in this room, we all of us believe in molecules and the conservation of energy, in democracy and necessary progress, in Protestant Christianity and the duty of fighting for the doctrine of the inmortal Monroe, all for no reasons worthy of the name'.

Because, as James said in the same talk: 'Our faith is faith in some one else's faith'.

It seems to me that what Dawkins is asking his daughter, and ususally also to his readers, that are mainly non scientists, is: 'have faith in my faith'. And many of they do. Too pity that today's atheists and agnosticists do not alwys have present in their minds the words of William James.

(quotes above are from 'Agnisticism, A Very Short Introduction, by Robin Le Poidevin, a very good litlle book).

JamieSW

I'm not sure your advice contradicts Dawkins's. He doesn't advise 'only believe that which you have personally investigated the evidence for'; he advises questioning whether a claim is the 'kind of thing' that 'people' know because of evidence, or whether it's the 'kind of thing' that 'people' 'only' believe in because of some non-rational reason. In other words he is advising precisely what you are: to think about what a given authority is probably basing its claims on, before trusting it.

Doug

The slant I would put on the Dawkins advice is the encouragement of children (and adults) to think critically about what you're told. 'Received wisdom' often only benefits the status quo. Any half decent society would have critical thinking skills routinely taught in school.

As for Hillsborough, why are people surprised that New Labour automatically trusted in the police version of events? Their whole mindset was one of distrust, contempt and lack of understanding of working class life and experience.

ajay

I'm not sure your advice contradicts Dawkins's. He doesn't advise 'only believe that which you have personally investigated the evidence for'; he advises questioning whether a claim is the 'kind of thing' that 'people' know because of evidence, or whether it's the 'kind of thing' that 'people' 'only' believe in because of some non-rational reason.

Agree. You're misreading Dawkins here.

Brianna

Great article.

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