Logical Gal – what makes something true?

17 Mar

Habit with him was all the test of truth, / It must be right: I’ve done it from my youth. -George Crabbe, poet and naturalist (1754-1832)

George Crabbe - Poet

Talk about redefining truth!  You’d think that a rule of life that stupid would be immediately laughed at and knocked down!

But before we ‘go all smug’ on poor Mr. Crabbe’s description of someone’s idea of truth, let’s stop a moment and reflect if we ourselves don’t rely on this fallacy in some version or another.

This Appeal to Tradition (or in Latin – argumentum ad antiquitatemcan take the shape of many habits that are harmful.  Just because something is habitual doesn’t make it healthy or right or lawful.

  • I always interrupt my husband; he doesn’t mind.
  • We always host our in-laws for Christmas; I’d feel guilty if we suggested otherwise.
  • The XYZ minority group are used to our comments.  What’s the big deal?

One of the dangers of relying on and NOT questioning tradition or habit is that you stop thinking through your reasons for doing something.

Tradition Fallacy

Tradition and habit are not bad in and of themselves.  In fact, solidifying some habits can be very beneficial! (i.e. questioning authority, thinking for yourself, verifying sources).  And there is a danger in rejecting an argument out of hand just because it is old.  (that’s another fallacy – Chronological Snobbery)

So how do we know when to hold on to tradition and when to jettison it? I don’t think that is the correct question.  For one thing, someone might continue to observe a tradition because it recalls an event precious to the community linked to it.  Generally, if it works and isn’t harmful and those who practice it are blessed by it, then I can see the value in following it.

But when it comes to giving reasons for why you believe something to be TRUE, then that’s a different scenario.  We cannot appeal to tradition in the place of reason to back up an argument.  Therefore, we’re going to have to ‘exercise those little grey cells’ as Detective Hercule Poirot is wont to say:

Hercule Poirot

  • So whether you find yourself abroad, away from your homeland, having to defend your country’s practices
  • Or whether you are asked to give a reason for why you believe what you do about God and the meaning of life
  • Or even if you are asked to justify your choice of a political candidate, your particular diet, method of childrearing or managing a work crew…..

….then it’s best and more impactful to your questioner if you can give a rational reason for what you do.  Besides, the value in examining why you do something might just be in getting you to discard that way in favor of another.  Do you really want to emulate this man?

Tradtion - John Lennon

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