Blargh Blog

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

A message to our readers

In this world of spin and counterspin, this world where people seem to care more about their side looking good and the other side looking bad than about the truth, you are one of the regretfully rare people out there trying to wade through the mass of distortions and flawed thinking to figure out how things really are. Others are all too willing to see the world as they would like it to be, as they are swayed away from the truth by their own biases, preconceptions, self-interest, and ideology, and they are all too unwilling to accept the facts for what they are and to work through a sound argument. But not you. Though you’re not magically immune from these human limitations, by being reasonable and open-minded you’re able to keep their influences to a minimum and to base your positions on clear thought and the evidence at hand.

Now, you don’t claim to be perfect, but when you do make mistakes they are often because you did not have all of the best evidence readily at hand, and you are usually able to recognize, correct, and learn from the (relatively few) errors that you have made in your reasoning and judgment. Most other people, either from their biases or from (shall we say) a lack of dedication to figuring out the truth, often prove unable to come to reasonable conclusions even when they have clear evidence and clear arguments before them, and they tend to make the same kinds of mistakes over and over, no matter how often their errors are pointed out.

Does all of this sound about right to you? Then you, sir or madam, are a naive realist. What is naive realism? Social psychologists describe naive realism as the worldview characterized by the acceptance of these three tenets:

1. I see the world as it really is, with my beliefs following from the evidence I have about the world in a relatively straightforward and unmediated way.

2. If other people have access to the same information and interpret and process it in a relatively reasonable and open-minded way, then they will come to the same conclusions as me.

3. If others claim not to share my views, that’s either because a) they haven’t had access to the same information, b) they haven’t thought clearly enough to reason properly from evidence to conclusions, c) their views are being distorted by some personal bias or ideology, or d) they are not being honest about what they believe.

If you have been nodding along to these tenets, you may be wondering, is “naive realism” such a bad thing? If I really am more dedicated to the pursuit of truth and more discerning than most people, do I really deserve to be called “naive”? Well, there are a lot of people out there who accept (more or less) the tenets of naive realism, have access to the same evidence, and have different views. I suppose that it’s possible that you’re the one who has managed to get most everything right. But you should be at least a little bit concerned that, perhaps, you have been somewhat overconfident in your ability to reason in a properly dispassionate way from your experiences to each of your beliefs, without distortion or distraction from the biases and preconceptions that human beings seem prone to accumulate. And, perhaps, you have been a bit too harsh and disparaging of those who have come to hold views that differ from yours.

It’s something to think about, at least.


At February 18, 2005 10:15 AM, Anonymous collin said...

thanks whoever you are... you just really helped me out with my upcoming psych. test... preciate it


At August 26, 2007 1:14 PM, Blogger Michele said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At August 26, 2007 1:17 PM, Blogger Michele said...

Dear Blar. Our naive realist intuitions (we are all naive realist, at one or the other level of our mind) become rather shaky when we consider descriptive statements which are generalizations. This is the case, at least, of generalization in social science. (Although certain philosophers will claim that what I just stated applies to the "pure" or "natural" sciences as well.) Think about some very general beliefs that a person like me and you has about human nature. For example, the idea that although people differ widely in characters and skills, no single individual is clearly superior to all other individuals, and that there is no single individual whose practical judgments we can reliably consider to be wiser than those of an assembly.
These are all, on the face of it, descriptive statements. These propositions aim to present us with "the way things are". Their aim is, one might say, "to mirror the world". However, I wonder whether any one individual who has arrived to give his or her assent to the generalization I mentioned above could do that in abstraction from his ethical convictions. This is not just a matter of history of ideas, or I would be committing the genetic fallacy. The problem is that a general truth (and the only truly interesting truths are general ones)is discovered or deduced from a certain way of organizing particular truths. Even if the notion of purely descriptive "observation protocol" makes sense, it is clear that such truths are not of much use in life. But when we move from "observation protocols" to empirical generalization, there is no such thing as a logically compelling metholodogy or criterion to group together different informations. And I would say that our "quasi-aesthetic" sense of the logical relevance of certain criteria is not independent from the moral values we accept.


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