General Question

whiteliondreams's avatar

Is the "unrestricted right" to believe in anything justifiable or dangerous?

Asked by whiteliondreams (1698 points ) August 13th, 2012

“The ‘belief’ that people are entitled to believe whatever they wish to believe no matter what and no matter where” (Pecorino, 2008). The “cloak of immunity” is the tool used to protect their belief against something challenging or discomforting. The cloak rejects all claims countering their belief under any circumstance. The evidence can be in front of them and in an extremist fashion, will ignore or reject it.

Have you met anyone like this? How safe are these people? Does this not relate to this forum in the sense that respecting or tolerating someone’s irrational or illogical belief can result in ”[undermining] the ability of society to maintain and further social cohesion”?(Pecorino, 2008)

Here are some examples:

I believe that a mind is separate from and can operate without a brain.

I believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old.

I believe that human beings are completely free of the influences of their prior experiences and their environment in their decision making.

I believe that science does not provide knowledge of the physical universe.

I believe that because science does not answer all questions that science can answer no questions.

I believe that because humans do not know everything that humans then know nothing.

I believe that because humans do not have total truth that humans then have no truth.

I believe that because humans do not have objective knowledge of everything that humans then have no objective knowledge.

I believe that because humans make mistakes then humans never get anything correct.

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18 Answers

Sunny2's avatar

How on earth would you control what someone else thinks?

CWOTUS's avatar

To follow up on @Sunny2‘s perfectly valid rhetorical question, the only way that I see to prevent “unrestricted right to believe” whatever one wants to believe is… another Inquisition.

And just because someone recants what you or the other Inquisitors believe to be a “heretical” or dangerous idea doesn’t mean that the idea is now gone and non-functional. It only means that you no longer know of it. The revolution, when it comes, will be painful (and surprising) to you, in the way that the Inquisition will have made the status quo to “heretics”.

The reason to allow freedom of conscience, and the freedom of speech that naturally follows from that, is to allow all ideas into the marketplace of ideas. There they can compete with one another to win converts or “buyers” and developers of those ideas. The best ideas don’t always win in the short run, but they seem to do all right in the long run.

TexasDude's avatar

What they ^ said.
Who will be the great enlightened master who stands up and determines what is “safe” to think and what is not? That’s one slippery slope I’d rather not take a tumble down, though I’m sure someone will be along shortly to argue why it would be a great idea.

Nullo's avatar

Try finding ways to apply possible restrictions to your own beliefs, for perspective. You know how you know that you’re right? It’s like that for us religious types, too.
I suppose that it’s dangerous to the popular ideologues of the time, but, you know, fire is dangerous too. And it’s kept us advancing as a civilization for about 6,000 years.

wonderingwhy's avatar

It’s not so much the belief in ”{x}” as the actions that (can/are expected to) flow from that belief. The extent that manifesting those beliefs ought occur is defined by society as a whole as is their general embrace, acceptance, and tolerance. The “safety” (in terms of the danger the belief {x} represent) is relative to the goals of society at high level and to the individuals environment and the tolerance exhibited at a lower level. Clearly some beliefs if widely adopted can be quite detrimental individually or to a functioning society but each must be considered in individual and social contexts.

Coming back to the question of whether unrestricted belief is justifiable, sure. But once it goes beyond an exercise in thought, each case must be determined by context.

bolwerk's avatar

Yes, thinking is dangerous. Cunning, dangerous people succeed because they think.

But not thinking is more dangerous, and is how especially dangerous people become powerful. It is how we end up seriously discussing things like Satan planting fossils, women being extracted from ribs, the morality of killing infidels, and whether Romney/Ryan should be elected.

thorninmud's avatar

People want to think of themselves as being motivated by reason, but for the most part we’re motivated by feelings. Beliefs are our way of giving some kind of rational framework to account for and justify our feelings. The feelings shape the worldview. They determine what we will and won’t admit into our sphere of awareness, so that we end up seeing the world that agrees with our feelings (which is not to say that we see the world as we want it to be).

This means that trying to manage people on the level of beliefs is futile. The beliefs are just a spinoff of a more fundamental process.

Blackberry's avatar

Uh, we had a system of government systematically oppress minorities, and it was totally legal. I would say it’s dangerous.

So many problems could be fixed with more logic and rationality. This won’t change, so we’ll be dealing with the honor killings, oppression of demographics and terrorism until we all die. Yipee.

whiteliondreams's avatar

@Sunny2 Do you have children?
@wonderingwhy Exactly. So not only should we respect other peoples ideas and thoughts, but if they are a hazard or are fallacious, should substitute actual evidence with rubbish. Splendid.

Also, you are all looking at it at a controlled perspective. What is being stated by Dr. Pecorino is that in order for society to advance logically and rationally, we must be rational and logical. What rush is there to answering something that has no proof or evidence as opposed to the consequences of answering it falsely and endangering people? This goes without saying that this is done now as we speak with and without “evidential” “truth”.

CWOTUS's avatar

Huh? You used a lot of words there to say… exactly what?

“Controlled perspective”?

Who says that “society… [should] ‘advance logically and rationally’”? And what, exactly, does that mean? In what ways does society “advance”?

I can’t even begin to parse “What rush is there to answering something that has no proof or evidence as opposed to the consequences of answering it falsely and endangering people?” Aside from responding first on one of these question threads, what is the “rush” to “answering something that has no proof or evidence”. And aside from the fact that some people’s beliefs blindly direct their actions – not a majority of anyone that I’ve ever met – who really endangers people with “false answers”? (And answers to what, again?) The final sentence there again makes no real sense.

To my way of thinking, society is “the marketplace of ideas”, and it’s the place where we get to buy ideas of various quality to adopt as our own, or if we’re some kind of original thinker (or salesman) to sell what we want others to buy. (Buying and selling in this case being sometimes figurative and sometimes literal.) Ideas compete. Some win, some seem like they should never win, and yet they seem to attract a following, year after year.

Despite some people’s belief in thoroughly discredited “technologies” such as astrology and homeopathy, they haven’t been killed off yet.

YARNLADY's avatar

There is a great difference between believe in and act upon. I don’t think we need to control what people believe, but certainly when they believe in anti-social things their actions should be controlled.

zenvelo's avatar

Anyone can believe anything they wish to believe. It’s the attempt to have others listen that is contemptible and open to righteous disdain if it is patently false. And it is foisting your errant beliefs on others that is open to societal isolation.

Who the hell is Pecorino? Blogs have no standing in my opinion. Sounds cheesy.

athenasgriffin's avatar

I think @YARNLADY said it best. People should be allowed to think (and, to a certain degree, say) whatever they like. Their actions, however, should be curbed if they begin to harm society.

I mostly think that if people voiced their harmful opinions in an area where they could be contested by a wide variety of people with lots of different opinions, most harmful beliefs would be eradicated more quickly. People who don’t see other races or genders or religions as equally human would be challenged in ways they aren’t in their mostly homogeneous network of people.

DaphneT's avatar

The unrestricted right to believe in anything is both justifiable and dangerous. It is not always smart, not always ‘normal’, not always useful. However, it is the right we grant to people under the auspices of Freedom. And that is a multi-way transit: for you to be Free to think as you please, you must grant that I be Free to think as I please and that other person’s right to be Free to think as they please and so on. And vice versa.

Social Conundrum of the 15th 16th 17th 18th 19th 20 21st century: how do we all get Freedom and still continue to exist?

Possible solution: Give up some freedoms as exchange for those we consider most valuable.
Your Dr. Pecorino posits what is actually a tipping point in societal structural development. When the societal structure reaches a state of logical and rational relationships, it may exist in that state for a period of time. It then moves into another state. Perhaps into violence and overthrow of that societal structures ‘norms’, perhaps into soft hippie-type overthrow of that societal structures ‘norms’, perhaps wild swings between both extremes, perhaps something else entirely.

Logic has yet to manage the vast extent of human variability

whiteliondreams's avatar

@CWOTUS We’re on the same page, but not on the same page. You agree with me, but you don’t agree with me and that is because you aren’t looking at the whole picture, you are looking for details.

@zenvelo He’s a Dr. of Philosophy at CUNY.

@DaphneT What you said is right and I have a problem placing thoughts into words. You’re right.

the100thmonkey's avatar

I would agree that you can’t limit what people believe – and therefore they should have an unrestricted right to believe anything – because belief is not volitional. “Choosing” to believe in the truth of a proposition is an illusion.

Beliefs can be challenged, and sometimes changed, with evidence or rhetoric (in the Cicero sense), yet often they can’t.

Naturally, there are, and must be, limitations on action.

kess's avatar

The only thing Dangerous is the thought that there is the possibility of Danger.

Every one will be what they are, based of how they think and manifested is what they do.
If you think that there is danger in a man being what he is, to the same extent you become dangerous to yourself.

Bill1939's avatar

Laws limiting actions that cause harm to or that infringes upon the rights of others are warranted. However laws that force moralities arising from certain beliefs should not be permitted. For example, the right of individuals to control their bodies should not be regulated by law. When the beliefs of others are forced upon me what is wrong is not their belief, but their forcing me to act as though I believe it. Sharia type laws, Christian or other, have no place in the United States of America.

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