Tag Archives: logical fallacy

Who’s to say what beliefs are correct or not?

Ever noticed how many quotes by famous, so called “successful”  people you see floating around on the internet? It’s quite interesting to ponder the reasons why it is seen  as important to include the name of the person who said the quote. Generally they are quotes by people who are renowned for something – obviously people think including the quote will add weight to whatever point they are trying to make. Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with quoting someone, but the question I want to answer in this post is “do we need to know who said something to determine if it is correct or not?

For an example, let’s use Einstein. You won’t have to look far before you find someone quoting something Einstein said. It’s almost as though people think that “well if Einstein said it – it has to be true!”. But there are other people out there who think a bit differently.  Instead of giving emphasis to Einsteins name, these people give emphasis to what was actually said, and whether the statements make sense or not. Granted – Einstein was a smart man, but no scientist would believe something was true simply because he said it. Would it still ring true if a stranger on the street said it? Someone with no reputation? What about a five-year old child?  That is the real test.

History is littered with examples of people believing so strongly in things simply because the guru or hero they like and follow has stated such things to be fact. Many religions have involved prophets who’s words cannot be questioned. And of course we have many experts in different areas giving us their opinions, and we often validate their “appeal from authority”. The problem is, the person who said something does not have any relevance when trying to determine if their words are accurate or not. If a five year old child came up with an equation which disproved Einstein’s words, science would be forced to accept it, as the only thing which really needs to be considered is the reasoning on WHY something is claimed to be true. And following that, the reasoning on why that ‘why’ is correct, and so on.

Here’s a quote from Carl Sagan:

One of the great commandments of science is, “Mistrust arguments from authority.” … Too many such arguments have proved too painfully wrong. Authorities must prove their contentions like everybody else.[2]

The question is, did including Carl Sagan’s name really add any weight to my argument? Surely the reasoning behind the argument is much more important.

There will always be some situations where we are forced to take other people’s words for things, often due to not having the time or resources to understand the topic yourself. If I was boarding a plane I certainly would want to make sure the pilot was an expert, and would place my life in his/her hands. And, I am not saying we should be disregarding what people who have clearly spent a great deal of time learning about a particular subject have to say. It is obviously not possible for one person to hold the sum of all human knowledge. I am simply saying that it will be their explanation of such a topic which will define their view as being accurate, not their claim to be an expert on the topic. 

Because when it comes to philosophy, and the big picture of life and what it’s all about (we can define this subset of knowledge as “wisdom”), being an “expert” really holds no weight. If you attend a course on philosophy, all they will tell you is who said what, when and where. Wouldn’t it be more important to ask which philosophies are more accurate? I have seen countless people of renown all get it completely wrong when it comes to explaining an accurate account of reality. This may seem like a bold statement, but it is one which can and will be fully explained on this blog. And you don’t even need to know my name!

Who’s to say what beliefs are correct?  It does not matter. The beliefs themselves and the layers of reasoning they are constructed of will tell you all you need to know.

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