如何避免愚蠢的见识

怀有各种各样愚蠢的见识乃是人类的通病。要想避免这种通病,并不需要超人的天才。下面提供的几项简单原则,虽然不能保证你不犯任何错误,却可以保证你避免一些可笑的错误。

如果一个问题但凭观察就可以解决的话,就请您亲自观察一番。亚里士多德误以为妇女牙齿的数目比男人少。这种错误,他本来是可以避免的,而且办法很简单。他只消请他的夫人把嘴张开亲自数一数就行了。但他却没有这样做,原因是他自以为是。自以为知道而实际上自己并不知道;这是我们人人都容易犯的一种致命错误。我自己就以为刺猬好吃油虫,理由无非是我听人这么讲过;但是如果我真的要动手动脚写一部介绍刺猬习性的著作,我就不应该妄下断语,除非我亲自看见一只刺猬享用这种并不可口的美餐。然而亚里士多德却不够谨慎。古代和中古时代的著作家谈起麒麟和火蛇来头头是道;但是他们当中的谁也没有觉得,既然如此自己从未见过任何麒麟和火蛇,那就必须避免武断。

许多事情不那么容易用经验加以检验。如果你像大多数人一样在许多这类事情上有颇为激烈的主张,也有一些办法可以帮你认识自己的偏见。如果你一听到一种与你相左的意见就发怒,这就表明,你已经下意识地感觉到你那种看法没有充分理由。如果某个人硬要说2加2等于5,或者说冰岛位于赤道,你就只会感到怜悯而不是愤怒,除非你自己对数学和地理也是这样无知,因而他的看法竟然动摇了你的相反的见解。最激烈的争论是关于双方都提不出充分证据的那些问题的争论。迫害见于神学领域而不见于数学领域,因为数学问题是知识问题,而神学问题则仅是见解问题。所以,不论什么时候,只要发现自己对不同的意见发起火来,你就要小心,因为一经检查,你大概就会发现,你的信念并没有充分证据。

摆脱某些武断看法的一种好办法就是设法了解一下与你所在的社会圈子不同的人们所持有的种种看法。我觉得这对削弱狭隘偏见的强烈程度很有好处。如果你无法外出旅行,也要设法和一些持不同见解的人们有些交往,或者阅读一种和你政见不同的报纸。如果这些人和这种报纸在你看来是疯狂的、乖张的、甚至是可恶的,那么你不应该忘记在人家看来你也是这样。双方的这种看法可能都是对的,但不可能都是错的。这样想一下,应该能够慎重一些。

有些人富于心理想象力。对于这些人来说,一个好办法便是设想一下自己在与一位怀有不同偏见的人进行辩论。这同实地跟论敌进行辩论比起来有一个(也只有一个)有利条件,那就是这种方法不受时间和空间的限制。圣雄甘地就对铁路、轮船和机器深表遗憾,在他看来整个产业革命都要不得。也许你永远没有机会真的遇见一位抱有这种见解的人,因为在西方国家里大多数人都把现代技术的种种好处视为当然。但是如果你确实想同意这种流行的看法乃是正确的,那么一个好办法就是设想一下甘地为了反驳现代技术的种种好处而可能提出的论据,从而检验一下你自己想到的论据。我自己有时就因为进行这种想象性的对话而真的改变了原来的看法;即令没有改变原来的看法,也常常因为认识到假想的论敌有可能蛮有道理而变得不那么自以为是。

对于那些容易助长你狂妄自大的意见尤宜提防,不论男女都坚信男性或女性特别优越。双方都有不可胜数的证据。如果你自己是男性,你可以指出大多数诗人和科学家都是男子;而如果你是女性,你可以用大多数罪犯也都是男子来反唇机讥。这个问题本来就根本无法解决,但是,自尊心却使大多数人都看不到这一点,不管我们属于世界上哪个国家,我们大家总是认为我们自己的民族比所有其他民族都优越。既然每个民族都有自己特有的长处和短处,我们就把自己的价值标准加以调整,以便证明自己民族的长处乃是真正重要的长处,而其缺点相对来说则微不足道。在这个问题上,一位明白事理的人也一定会承认,它没有明显正确的答案。由于我们无法和人类之外的智者辩论清楚,所以要处理这个人之作为人的自高自大的问题就更加困难了。就我所知,处理这个普遍存在的人类自高自大问题的唯一方法就是,要经常提醒自己,在茫茫宇宙中一个小小角落的一颗小小星球的生命史上,人类仅仅是一个短短的插曲,而且说不定宇宙中其他地方还有一些生物,他们优越于我们的程度不亚于我们优越于水母的程度。

How to Avoid Foolish Opinions

Bertrand Russel

To avoid the various foolish opinions to which mankind is prone, no superhuman genius is required. A few simple rules will keep you, not from all error, but from silly error.

If the matter is one that can be settled by observation, make the observation yourself. Aristotle could have avoided the mistake of thinking that women have fewer teeth than men, by the simple device of asking Mrs. Aristotle to keep her mouth open while he counted. He did not do so because he thought he knew. Thinking that you know when in fact you don’t is a fatal mistake, to which we are all prone. I believe myself that hedgehogs eat black beetles, because I have been told that they do; but if I were writing a book on the habits of hedgehogs, I should not commit myself until I had seen one enjoying this unappetizing diet. Aristotle, however, was less cautious. Ancient and medieval authors knew all about unicorns and salamanders; not one of them thought it necessary to avoid dogmatic statements about them because he had never seen one of them.

Many matters, however, are less easily brought to the test of experience. If, like most of mankind, you have passionate convictions on many such matters, there are ways in which you can make yourself aware of your own bias. If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do. If someone maintains that two and two are five, or that Iceland is on the equator, you feel pity rather than anger, unless you know so little of arithmetic or geography that his opinion shakes your own contrary conviction. The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic, because in arithmetic there is knowledge, but in theology there is only opinion. So whenever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, be on your guard; you will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants.

A good way of riding yourself of certain kinds of dogmatism is to become aware of opinions held in social circles different from your own. When I young, I lived much outside my own country—in France, Germany, Italy, the United States. I found this very profitable in diminishing the intensity of insular prejudice. If you cannot travel, seek out people with whom you disagree, and read a newspaper belonging to a party that is not yours. If the people and the newspaper seem mad, perverse, and wicked, remind yourself that you seem so to them. In this opinion both parties may be right, but they cannot both be wrong. This reflection should generate a certain caution.

For those who have enough psychological imagination, it is a good plan to imagine an argument with a person having a different bias. This has one advantage, and only one, as compared with actual conversation with opponents; this one advantage is that the method is not subject to the same limitations of time and space. Mahatma Gandhi deplored railways and steamboats and machinery; he would have liked to undo the whole of the industrial revolution. You may never have an opportunity of actually meeting any one who holds this opinion, because in Western countries most people take the advantages of modern technique for granted. But if you want to make sure that you are right in agreeing with the prevailing opinion, you will find it a good plan to test the arguments that occur to you by considering what Gandhi might have said in refutation of them. I have sometimes been led actually to change my mind as a result of this kind of imaginary dialogue, and, short of this, I have frequently found myself growing less dogmatic and cocksure through realizing the possible reasonableness of a hypothetical opponent.

Be very wary of opinions that flatter your self-esteem. Both men and women, nine times out of ten, are firmly convinced of the superior excellence of their own sex. There is abundant evidence on both sides. If you are a man, you can point out that most poets and men of science are male; if you are a woman, you can retort that so are most criminals. The question is inherently insoluble, but self-esteem conceals this from most people. We are all, whatever part of the world we come from, persuaded that our own nation is superior to all others. Seeing that each nation has its characteristic merits and demerits, we adjust our standard of values so as to make out that the merits possessed by our nation are the really important ones, while its demerits are comparatively trivial. Here, again, the rational man will admit that the question is one to which there is no demonstrably right answer. It is more difficult to deal with the self-esteem of man as man, because we cannot argue out the matter with some non-human mind. The only way I know of dealing with this general human conceit is to remind ourselves that man is a brief episode in the life of a small planet in a little corner of the universe, and that for aught we know, other parts of the cosmos may contain beings as superior to ourselves as we are to jelly-fish.

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