About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
The most important question ever
YES! My daughter is getting the idea that whenever someone pronounces a truth, big or small, the best question you can ask is "how do you know?," or, in scientific terms, "what's the evidence?"
A few hours later I got my chance to use her same tactic on her. At dinner, she asked me to imitate some Marx Brothers routines (don't ask!), and one of her favorites is the scene from A Night at the Opera in which Groucho and Chico are arguing over the details of a contract. At one point, Groucho lists a standard clause, to which he refers to as the "sanity clause." Of course, Chico answers (approximately), "Oh no, you no fool me, there ain't no Sanity Clause."
Good, so that let me to ask Caley (who is 8) whether she still believes in Santa Claus, which she does. I then asked her the magical question: "well, how do you know he exists?" That led to a fascinating round of claim and counter-claim on the possible pertinent evidence ("he ate my cookies and milk"; "how do you know it was him who ate your cookies and milk?", etc.). At last, she ran out of reasonable "evidence" to butress her case (all of this, mind you, while laughing and joking -- she wasn't traumatized by the experience of having dinner with a skeptical daddy!). So, I repeated my initial question, "why, then, do you believe in Santa?" "Because I want to" was the frank answer, delivered with the most disarming smile. If only most adults were that clear on which of their beliefs are rational and which are just wishful thinking!