Critical Thinking Watch: Background Knowledge, Coherence, and Reflective Equilibrium


In the context of this post, the above Amadeus clip should make sense momentarily. But what I really want to direct your attention to, after you read my set up comments here, is the below video by Massimo Pigliucci.

Pigliucci does an admirable job explaining why it’s important, when arguing, that you keep an eye on your coherence.

If, for example, you argue for the existence of ESP (extrasensory perception), one would also hope that you have some plausible physical theory that accounts for it.

For instance, let’s say you believe that a gifted psychic, using her ESP, can know, at this very instant—and by intuition alone—an event going on in Mongolia. Let’s also say you believe that nothing, including information, can travel faster than the speed of light. If so, you had better think again about the truth of either:

  • your claim that ESP is real; or
  • your belief that the speed of light in inviolable.

If you don’t, you’re not being especially coherent in your beliefs; you’re treating them as one would a visit to a buffet. You’re mesmerized by the sight of a little of this, a little of that, but in no particular order:

Why can’t I have two mouths? I like the look of the salad and the dessert and—however inelegant—I want to hold them both right now, on the same plate!

Of course, if you don’t have the energy for reconciling your desires or beliefs with one another, there’s always that universally human and ever handy device for being happy anyway: cognitive dissonance.

And masturbation.

Here’s Pigliucci:

About Santi Tafarella

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