Thursday, July 15, 2010

Quod scripsi scripsit or "I'm inflexible and refuse to consider evidence"

After writing his insightful analysis of Charles Pierce’s sophomoric article entitled “What I Believe” which appeared in the Boston Sunday Globe Magazine, Joe Sacerdo invited Mr. Pierce to his Blog to comment and to clarify his views. Mr. Pierce responded by writing, “Thank you for giving the piece such a careful reading. I’ll pass, I think….I’ll let the piece speak for itself. Quod scripsi scripsit, as someone once said.” (See here).

That someone was Pontius Pilate. The same bright light who quipped, “What is truth?” and walked away without waiting for answer (John 18: 38). This is the attitude of the ideologue, the person who refuses to reconsider his opinions and who prefers to live without self-criticism. In his allegory of the cave (Republic 8.514-17), Plato compares this desire to believe what is convenient and to act on false opinions with living in a cave, a world of shadows and illusions rather than the world of daylight, of reality.

It was Socrates who said that “an unexamined life is not worth living.” Which is why Dignitatis Humanae of the Second Vatican Council tells us that, “It is in accordance with their dignity as persons – that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility – that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth.” (Dignitatis Humanae, No. 2).

The ideologue rejects this notion. Crippled in personality, he stubbornly refuses to change his mind even when presented with objective truth. He is inflexible rather than certain. Dr. Montague Brown explains the difference between certainty and inflexibility thusly: “Certainty pertains to knowledge: it is knowing without doubt that something is so. Certainty is a result of having considered the matter thoroughly and having found sufficient evidence to justify our position. Although certainty is something that I have within me, it is outward looking. That is, I appeal to objective criteria to substantiate my position. If I refuse to change my mind, it is because no objective evidence has been given, nor can I conceive of any, that would shake my certainty. Certainty is not a consequence of being proud or overbearing; rather, it is the result of being humble before the truth….

Inflexibility pertains to will: it is a decision not to consider that we might be wrong. It is a refusal to be convinced by any amount of evidence against our position, no matter how overwhelming it may be. Unlike certainty, which is outward looking, inflexibility is a turning inward. That is, my understanding of objective truth does not cause my inflexibility; it is caused by a subjective attitude: my desire to be right. The reason I do not change is that I do not want to change. Since my inflexibility is not based on evidence, even if new evidence surfaces that proves me to be mistaken, I still will not change.” (The One-Minute Philosopher, pp. 6-7).

This is a teaching moment for Catholics in and around Boston and beyond. Joe Sacerdo has examined Mr. Pierce’s article with fairness and objectivity. Even Mr. Pierce acknowledged this when he wrote, “Thank you for giving the piece such a careful reading.” But Mr. Pierce refuses to examine evidence which might prove him wrong. Therefore he writes, “Quod scripsi scripsit” – What I have written I have written.

Some people prefer to live in Plato’s cave.

Related reading: Making an accusation and failing to support that accusation with sufficient evidence.


Ellen Wironken said...

Pierce has said that: "The zealot is very often the hardest person to argue with, because he doesn't know what he doesn't know, but he knows what he believes. Because so much of what our discussion of almost everything important takes place on television, we've moved the focus from your technique of arguing into the techniques of salesmanship -- which are terrific if you're trying to get people to buy soap, but really bad for making public policy. Your ideas are not superior -- your sales technique is. I think that's a very dangerous way to run a democracy."


How ironic that he meets his own definition of zealot.

Betty said...

Paul, been enjoying your posts! What's going on in Boston is a crying shame. We look forward to seeing you in Nashua and catching up with events in your area. Susan and Diane will be at the house. The prayer group in Mason won't be meeting this weekend but will resume on the 24th.


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