by Maurizio Bisogno
Is it because we fear the hostility of others that we do not question the status quo? Our capacity to doubt can be shattered by an inner sense that convention of society must have a firm basis, even if we are not exactly sure what this may be. Does it seem unlikely to you that our society could be seriously mistaken in its beliefs? Do you fear you would be alone in noticing that? My suggestion is that you should not suffocate your doubts and follow the flock but turn to the philosophers for help.
You may become an object of caricature if you refuse to accept common sense and choose to investigate its logic instead. They accused Socrates of hyper suspicion toward common sense and of sheltering an unnatural appetite for complicates and ridiculous activities. But it took only the questioning of the ordinary citizen about how to live a good life to reveal the surprising inadequacies of the popular views.
So, what is the Socratic way of thinking? First, you will locate a statement which is clearly attributed to common sense. For example: Do the most important thing first in the morning and you’ll never have an unproductive day. Then, imagine that, despite the self-assurance of the person asserting it, this stamen is false. Could one do the most important thing later in the day and still have a productive day? Or, could one do the most important thing in the morning and then discover that he did not have enough energy other essential things during the day which turned out to be a semi-disaster? Now, because you have found an exception, then the initial statement is false or at least not precise enough. Hence, one could do less important things in the morning, have time and energy to them later in the day and have a productive day. At this point, we could reformulate the initial statement: To have a productive you need to plan well your things to do and prioritize them according to your personal timing and energy flow.
Finally, if one finds at least one exception of the improved statement, then one repeats the previous steps until a statement that cannot be disproved is found. This is a way to find out what the thing expressed by the statement is not that one approximated the truth. In this way, you will adopt belief that are the product of your thinking. The strength of this product resides in that we can also defend it against those who disagree with, because you have reasons and reasoning steps. This is knowledge for two reasons: 1. You know why something is true and 2. You know why the alternative is false.
Returning to our starting point: do we accept the popular beliefs because of the approval of others? Do we not dare to doubt what the common sense tells us to believe because we are afraid to lose the approval of others and therefore, we think we are right because of the majority consensus?
History and reasoning support that your thoughts or your way of life are not proven wrong just because you run into the opposition of the common sense. It is certainly not the quantity of people disagreeing with us but the quality of their reasons that matter to us. It is then the method and the way they reached their different beliefs that matter; it is how sound is their method of thinking that matters in order to decide of the importance to give to theirs disapproval. Instead of just being afraid of being judged negatively by others, following Socrates, ask: How did you reach that conclusion about me? On what basis are you censuring my thoughts and my behaviour?
Authority and number do not make a better thought out of a bad one; it is the logic used to reach a conclusion that give value to it. We can conclude that the respectability of a belief does not derive from the majority who adheres to it but from the proper reasoning on which that belief stands.
Error and truth are not synonymous of unpopular or popular; if you have reached a conclusion following a rigorous and logical method, you should not feel in error because goes against the common sense. The dictate of the public opinion is not a guarantee for truthfulness. The proper reward will come from having followed the reason.