Panlogism.

(Notes on a proposed moral principle and/or virtue.)

Panlogism is the doctrine that rational thought can be found in an amazingly wide variety of places, and that rational thought should be valued, supported, encouraged and celebrated wherever it is found. Panlogism defines rational thought as thought that follows whatever methods most tend to lead to the fullest and deepest and truest understanding of whenever it is is being studied. Thus, for Panlogism, the term "rational thought" includes creativity, humility and imagination as well as logical rigor and careful attention to all available relevant evidence. If you genuinely agree with this, and honestly make your best efforts to understand and discover rational thought wherever it may turn up, and do your best to encourage rational thought wherever you find it, and advocate to others that they do the same, then you just might be a Panlogist.

A Panlogist doesn't necessarily have any particular beliefs about the universe, although as someone who values rational thought she will probably tend to have a lot of beliefs that are well supported by the evidence and argument available to her. The surest sign as someone is really a Panlogist is the practices she follows in dealing with other people and the views and arguments those other people espouse. I have tried to sum up those practices in the following set of rules.

Rule 1. (The cheerleader rule.) The most obvious rule of life following from the basic tenet of Panlogism is that whenever you find someone who is genuinely doing the best thinking they can do, you should verbally and otherwise support that person in some appropriate manner. Even if this is a brief flash of good thinking peeking out from the middle of a mountain of bad thinking, it is a Panlogist's duty to point out that here, at least, good thinking is going on. I fully understand that this kind of thing is almost always a thankless task, and is very easily misinterpreted as providing support for that person's bad thinking, but nevertheless, good thinking always deserves praise.

Rule 2. (The context rule.) When you judge a person's thinking, always take into account the evidence and argument presently available to that person. (This is a tricky rule, and you may need to study critical thinking before you can apply it effectively, but you should always do it as best you can.) A person who reaches a particular conclusion by ignoring evidence and misconstruing arguments is not thinking well, but someone who reaches the same conclusion because he has genuinely never heard of those arguments and evidence, and thinks rationally about the evidence and argument he does happen to have, is thinking rationally. A judgment of rationality can never depend solely on whether or not a person reaches a particular conclusion. It must depend on whether or not that person deals rationally with the evidence and arguments presently available to him or her.

Rule 3. (Cromwell's rule.) Oliver Cromwell was a nasty, evil man, but he has been quoted as saying something like "please always be willing to consider that you may be wrong." If we are to find rational thought wherever it may turn up, we have to be willing to find it in the thinking of people who we radically disagree with. For instance, believers must be willing to find rationality in the thinking of various Atheists, and vice versa. Evolutionists must be willing to find rationality in the thinking of various creationists, and vice versa. And most particularly, skeptics must be willing to find rationality in the thinking of various astrologers, and vice versa. We prejudice ourselves when we look at a line of thought with the assumption that because it appears to contradict our own thinking, it must necessarily be wrong. Cromwell's rule gives us cognitive and emotional space to rationally consider the thinking of our opponents by putting our own firm commitments aside for the moment. Cromwell's rule does not require anyone to go over to his opponents views, it just asks you to be willing to give the other side a break. (Of course, we have no evidence that Cromwell ever followed Cromwell's rule.)

Rule 4. (Galileo's rule.) Before Galileo, people who were reckoned to be wise men by European society were not generally given to admitting ignorance. They would make up answers, or change the subject, or talk nonsense, or anything rather than admitting ignorance. Galileo, on the other hand, specifically told his students that if they did not know the answer to a question, they should explicitly say that they did not know. This is still a good rule. If you don't know the answer to a question, admit that you do not know, and go on from there. (If anyone gives you a hard time for admitting ignorance, see the "Gloves-Off" rule below.) The same goes for admitting that you were wrong about something. Openly and thoroughly correct your own mistake, even if nobody else caught it.

Rule 5. (Cognitive economy.) Genuine intellectual inquiry requires you to follow your own nose wherever it leads. You are the final arbiter of what you should study, how you should study it, and when you should go on to something else. Obviously, Panlogism requires you to do this on the basis of the best reasoning you can do, but that's for you to judge also. No one else has authority to tell you what to study. Nothing in Panlogism requires you to give up your own aims and purposes in favor of other people's ideas. If you have made up your mind about something on the basis of a thorough investigation of all the relevant arguments, no one has a right to demand that you put in more time on the subject. You may do so if you are interested, but if you are bored with a subject, or have reason to believe it has nothing more to offer you, no one has the right to say you're doing anything wrong if you go on to something else. You have a limited amount of time to spend thinking about stuff, and you have the right to decide how you spend it. Period.

Rule 6. (Rational competence.) Well, okay, maybe there is one subject that every Panlogist should study. If we're going to do the best thinking we can do, this would seem to imply that we ought to learn how to do it as well as possible. This implies at least some kind of study of critical thinking. I would recommend taking a college-level class in critical thinking, but not all college-level classes are good, (some are awful), and there are other effective ways to learn critical thinking. So I think that Panlogism implies learning critical thinking at your own pace, in whatever manner works best for you. Take a class, or independently work your way through a textbook, or simply take the time every once in a while to think about whether or not a particular form of argument is a good argument. You can't really claim to be supporting and encouraging rational thought if you haven't taken at least some time to learn the difference between rational and irrational thought.

Rule 7. (Plain speaking.) You will notice that I write in a very colloquial style. I try very hard to be clear. Not all writers try to be clear. Some try to look intellectual, or to look academic, or to look so complicated that the reader will think that their work has intellectual value because the reader has no idea what it is saying. Panlogism implies a duty to be clear, which means making a genuine effort to write in a way that is as easy to understand as possible. Panlogists therefore reject all forms of verbose obfuscation, and anything else that gets in the way of clear communication. Writing should only be as complicated as the subject matter requires. This also means that you are entitled to reject any argument that you genuinely cannot understand. If someone's argument really is too complicated for you to follow, then it is too complicated to support his point. Panlogism does not reject colloquialism, it does not reject slang, it especially does not reject humor, it does not reject sarcasm, it even does not reject obscenity. It merely rejects whenever gets in the way of clear communication.

Rule 8. (Engagement, or the Oh Yeah? rule.) Panlogists have a duty to put their own views forward whenever it is not inappropriate to do so. We don't have a duty to randomly push our views on other people, but we do have a duty to correct irrational thinking as best we can, whenever we find it, and can safely do so at a no more than reasonable cost to ourselves. Basically, never let bad thinking go unchallenged if you can help it. Of course, you may not always feel like doing this, so it's not the kind of duty that requires you to be obsessive about correcting other people's logic. Generally you should be tactful, and I expect there will be plenty of occasions where you will reasonably decide to just let it go.

Rule 9. (The Gloves-Off rule.) Obviously, supporting the rational thought of others will require us to be courteous and respectful, but there's a limit. If someone insists on talking to you, but over and over again refuses to intelligently respond to logic of what you say to him, then Panlogism implies that you have a duty to enjoy your self anyway you can. If rational argument cannot get through, then perhaps humor, sarcasm, insult, deliberate misunderstanding, elaborate fantasy, repeatedly saying "ni" to them, false profession of imaginary but hideously frightening religion, expressive gestures, or relentless logical nitpicking will. And if you don't get through, then at least you're having a good time. (This is also a good thing to do to people who call you at dinnertime to sell you things.) Remember that you should always give these people (except for telephone solicitors) plenty of opportunity to be rational before you unleash your dark side, but if they just won't play nice, then you owe them nothing.

Rule 10. (Fairness rule.) Being fair and even handed doesn't mean pretending that each side in some dispute has an equally strong case. If one side is logically weak, a fair and balanced appraisal of it's arguments will make that weakness abundantly clear.

Innate differences in intelligence exist, but there's no reason to pay much attention to them.

I expect that there are more rules, but I haven't thought of them yet.



More about Panlogism. (If a link is inactive, that means I haven't written the page yet.

Rationality. (What really is the difference between a rational and an irrational way of thinking?)

Panlogism and religion. (Can religious people be Panlogists, and if so, how?)

Logology (Panlogistic Paganism, or Panlogism taken as a religion in itself.)

A Panlogistic Canon. (Books, movies, and other works that can somehow promote more careful and insightful reasoning.)

A New Valhalla. (We can learn a lot about rationality by studying people who risked their lives to fight for rationally justified causes.)

A New Olympus. (We can learn a lot about rational thinking by studying people who were stunningly good at it.)



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