Thursday, January 8, 2009

Countering Pervasive Bulverism

C. S. Lewis recognizes the need for reason in searching for the truth in his essay on “Bulverism.” Lewis does this in two areas. In the opening paragraphs he exemplifies the necessity of distinguishing between tainted thoughts and non-tainted thoughts. Lewis provides examples of Freudian and Marxist logic that begins on the assumption that all thoughts are tainted by psychology or ideology respectfully. He then clearly refutes the argument that all thoughts are tainted by showing how such an argument would be invalidated by itself. Lewis then comes to the conclusion that the only argument that can still made is that some thought is tainted and others are not, and through reason one can partition thoughts into these two categories. Further on in the essay, Lewis shows how reason is required to argue against reason and to “bulverize.” Thus, reason is a necessary component or argument and thought.
The heart of Lewis’ essay is found between these two arguments on reason. It is here that Lewis establishes explains the idea of “Bulverism.” According to Lewis, the foundation of man’s reasoning is a practice of assuming that an issue is wrong and to focus one’s argument on why the proponent of the issue is “silly.” Such a tactic distracts from the issue of validity and focuses on the character of the one who holds the issue. Lewis’ also asserts that this type of argument is pervasive: it creates a level playing field for all members of society and all participants in discussion.
Lewis’ analysis of 20th century arguments is also true of many of today’s arguments. Even on an issue of religion it is common practice to accept those ideas which parallel one’s own convictions as truth without seeking further evidence of their validity. It is a common side effect of pride that people assume the validity of their own beliefs and refuse to entertain any logical argument against those beliefs.
Lewis presents several actions which can be used to combat the “bulverism” that pervades our society. His first suggestion is that people learn humility. Humility will allow the analysis of arguments that counter one’s personal beliefs before judging the truth of that counter-argument. Without humility it is impossible to accept that one’s beliefs might be wrong. This connects to Lewis’ insistence on the presence of humility in order to gain wisdom in “Meditations in a Tool Shed.” The second way to counter “bulverism” is to change the purpose of discussions and debates. If our goal in debates is to be right and thus win the argument then we will naturally revert to attacking the validity of our opponents rather than the validity of their logic. Thus, our goal in debates should be to discover the truth together. If debates are a means to discovering the truth then any logical reasoning can be analyzed.
I believe this essay properly admonishes its readers to set aside our assumptions, biases, and pride in a search for truth.

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