Skepticsm and Change

The introduction of change.
In order to introduce change it is necessary to be open to questioning and skepticism. Skepticism requires critical thinking on how do we know what we know is true. The electronic age began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and heralded by the growth of the Internet. Now many sources of information and misinformation are available. This makes lots of opinions available. The question at hand is whether your opinions are formed by others or have you expended some energy on critical thinking rather using the easy button of acceptance. When one stops questioning any idea, it can become dogma.

Socrates claimed that all he could ever know was the knowledge of his ignorance. Aristotle explained, “All men by nature desire knowledge.” Stoics believed that our knowledge comes from the acceptance of our perceptions as representative of external facts.  Skeptics such as Sextus argued that people who believed they could know reality were subject to constant frustration and unhappiness in life. If they would genuinely suspend judgment, recognizing that their beliefs about reality were not necessarily valid, they would achieve peace of mind. Never affirming nor denying the possibility of knowledge, they should remain in a state of open-minded composure, waiting to see what might emerge.(1)

Individualism spread with many of the new ideas during the Renaissance, including humanism. Humanism emphasized that people should think for themselves rather than just trust the structures of power and law imposed by tradition or higher authority, thus introducing healthy scepticism. During the Age of Enlightenment the ideas of the Renaissance continued to grow and become more widespread. In particular, advancement in science led to the emphasis on the power of human reasoning.

John Locke believed that humans know what is right and wrong and are capable of knowing what is lawful and unlawful well enough to resolve conflicts. In particular, and most importantly, they are capable of telling the differences between what is theirs and what belongs to someone else. Regrettably they do not always act in accordance with this knowledge. For the individual, Locke wants each one of us to use reason to search after truth rather than simply accept the opinion of authorities or be subject to superstition. On the level of institutions it becomes important to distinguish the legitimate from the illegitimate functions of institutions, and make the corresponding distinction for the uses of force against these institutions. Used properly, reason could determine the legitimate functions of institutions and optimize the functioning of society with respect to both material and spiritual welfare. For the philosophers of this time, the point of promoting science and reason was decidedly not just the desire to understand the world, but to change it as well. (2) This thinking evolved into the optimistic faith in the ability of man to develop progressively through education and the use reason.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) noted “Knowledge like other good things is difficult, but not impossible; the dogmist forgets the difficulty, the skeptic denies the possibility. Both are mistaken, and their errors when widespread, produce social disaster.”(3)

Institutions preserve patterns of behavior and are designed to resist change. In these settings people say things and do things over and over again. The corporation of the 21st century meets these criteria. Corporations have been quietly usurping political power, and as political systems give legislative power to the corporations, accountability has been transferred to the corporations. Corporations are the dominate institution of the 21st century, individuals now need to determine the legitimate functions that will optimize flourishing of the individual and society, both with respect to material and spiritual welfare. The small government and minimal regulation that supports the functions of the corporation is dogma that needs to be questioned. The challenge is to avoid unfamiliar language that may create cognitive dissonance so strong that people will react to the discomforting evidence by strengthening their original beliefs and creating rationalizations to dismiss the discomforting evidence. In order to introduce change, the goal of this blog is to develop a process that makes adherents less satisfied with the status quo and more tolerant to change.

1 Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind, Ballantyne Books, New York. 1991. (77-78)
2 Uzgalis, William, “John Locke”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2010/entries/locke/>
3 http://en.wikiquote-org/wiki/Bertrand_Russell

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