Striking a Balance?

Philosopher Julian Baggini today:

If you are stuck on a mountaintop, the belief that you will get down if you try hard enough is too important to seriously doubt. In contrast, the belief that you will survive no matter what you do, is too dangerous to go unchallenged.

Is this statement too breezily formulaic for thinking about what should be, and what should not be, outside the bounds of serious and unrelenting scrutiny in a society? For example, does religion get a pass in such a formulation? Or does criticism get to go all the way down? How about atheists who don’t look at their own metaphysical and epistemic premises?

Just this past week, they passed a blasphemy law in Ireland. Is it the obligation of a free society to protect deeply held beliefs from mockery and aggressive scrutiny, or to protect speech from censorship?

I think that we must bring a robust scrutiny to all ideas, and should not protect people from the inconvenience of being exposed to ideas that they don’t like. To do otherwise is to infantalize people. Adults must have the opportunity to hear things, and must be free to think things—and speak them without holding back. This means that to set, as Baggini did, the disappointment of hope out as a potential excuse for witholding scrutiny is, in my view, a very, very bad idea. It presumes that adults must not face the world as it appears, and need not reality test their beliefs when it comes to their deepest hopes.

And to be fair to Baggini, at the end of his essay, he finally lands, after the twists and turns of reflection, on the side of unhindered scrutiny:

“Anyone who values truth, including atheists, has to strive very hard try to compensate for belief in belief’s distorting effects. And that’s no less the case when it appears in the guise of belief in unbelief.”

No sacred cows. Not even atheist ones.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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