Monday, September 29, 2008

What do people mean when they say they support freethought?

     Intuitively, I would think that meant that they accepted that people held their own beliefs without trying to coerce them into following some group. Perhaps they would try to understand the perspectives of other people to see how they came to different conclusions. (That would be without calling them stupid or shunning them.) However, this has not been my experience. In actual fact, advocates of "freethought" apply their own coercive techniques to make dissenters follow the crowd (in my own limited experience.) So what do they really mean? Is the claim only a collection of words that sound pretty? Are they expressing an ideal of non-coersion that they only apply to others? I am interested in learning the perspective.


Igor said...

Perhaps freedom of thought should mean exactly what it means, ability and right to think whatever one wants, not matter how ridiculous, without restrictions. However, once "freethought" goes beyond that to free speech, one should not be surprised if one is criticized and even ridiculed (fairly or not). That is the catch-22 of freethought/freespeech scenario where one advocating same should not be surprised if they are offended or disagreed by someone else's exercise of same.

In the marketplace of ideas, not every idea is meant to survive the brutal assault for a simple reason that it might be a really bad idea.

Pvblivs said...


     Perhaps, but I note that historically good ideas have been suppressed (and some probably lost to time) by the same onslaught. I have no issue that people reject an idea for a perceived lack of merit. I certainly don't expect anyone to agree with me on everything. But I do find that the methods used by "freethought advocates" have a strong tendency to mirror the very methods to which they object when religious leaders act against them.
     With my ideas, I have seen very little criticism (direct evidence tending to show the idea is incorrect) and a great deal of ridicule (misrepresenting the idea as something else readily recognized (even by me) as false or insisting that anyone who would consider such an idea must also believe some other recognized nonsense.) I have also seen some decrees passed off as criticism.
     Ultimately, I think the problem is that many people have difficulty entertaining an idea without endorsing it. I also think that people difficulty admitting that their reasons for believing something are not that good. Consider. I believe that the world is round(ish). But the reason for my belief is that other people have told me so (and I trust them on the point.) I presume that this has been verified directly and have no evidence of any related hoax. But if someone believed that the world was flat and that instead an elaborate social experiment was being conducted, I would not have the means to argue against it. I have not performed such direct verification. Neither is it worth my time to do so. For my purposes, it would not matter if the world were flat. Furthermore, someone believing it so could have very useful reasoning on other matters more significant to my day-to-day routine.
     Ideally, in such a disagreement with no actual significance, people would just recognize that they disagree on that issue. The flat-earther in the above example would not be calling on me to do anything different than I already do. There really should be no issue. But, all too often, there is an issue.