Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it. Not even if I have said it, not unless it agrees with your own reason and your common sense.
The quote above is often attributed to Siddharta Gautama, aka the Buddha, in the Kalama Sutta. If that quote were presented to me, I would have an issue with it.
The reason why I would have a problem with it is because “your own reason” and “your own common sense” is not at all very helpful. An asylum full of people have their own reasons and their own common sense for doing things. A schizophrenic person has his/her own reason to stand in the middle of the road and start stripping stark naked – after all, that voice that tells him/her to do things are his/her own reasoning talking back which is simply perceived as an external voice.
It is here that I must pause, and raise a point – I feel that the Buddha had been misrepresented. Of course I am no translation expert but pretty much the experts agree that in the original Kalama Sutta, common sense and one’s own reason are the sources where one should not rely upon – specifically the original Pali * Yes, I have nothing better to do than to learn a completely dead and foreign language to read books. Same reason why I learned German: to read Marx phrase “Ma anussavena, ma paramparaya, ma itikiraya, ma pitakasampadanena, ma takkahetu, ma nayahetu, ma akaraparivitakkena, ma ditthinijjhanakkhantiya, ma bhabbarupataya, ma samano no garu ti” [ref] which translates (as literally as possible to)
- Not because it is repeated information
- Not not because it is tradition
- Not not because it is common knowledge (more in the tune of “it’s common knowledge that…”
- Not not because it is scriptures (literally: not text, but given that the only text back then were scripture, it’s fair to come to this conclusion)
- Not not because it is axiomatic reasoning (or more literally: not because logical inferences are made without support – i.e. surmises)
- Not because it suits one’s beliefs (common translation includes inferences, and conjectures)
- Not because it seems to be right (i.e. common sense)
- Not because of one’s bias to an idea (more literal translation: not because one likes the idea)
- Not because it seems acceptable
- Not because the teacher says so
While I am by no means skilled in hermeneutics * it’s also my personal belief if something needs deep interpretation skills, said text is worthless , I believe the spirit of the sutta refers to one of radical skepticism – i.e. question everything. The latter part of the Kalama Sutta (it’s a very long and tediously repetitive work) says something about after analysing and observing the facts, if the implementation of the idea is good for one and all, then it can be considered a good idea.
It can be read as an early form of peer-review (the phrase “if it’s praiseworthy by the wiser ones”)
Which leads me to another topic – one of respect.
I think respect for people should be treated like respect for ideas. I would not respect creationism because in all aspects of the idea, there is no merit. Science has far more evidence and implications that creationism has (if you’re a creationist you should know that there is not a shred of verifiable evidence that supports the idea).
I think, respect for people should be judged similarly – there are criteria which I use to determine if a person should be respected.For example – I don’t take anyone’s words as they are. I almost always perform research on claims made by people. More often than not, I would also double check by acquiring data on my own and perform similar analyses.
Of course some people think that that’s overkill – I occasionally think so too. So, back to the criteria – if objective evidence is shown to a person, and yet said person rejects the one and only conclusion in spite of the evidence – I consider such a person an idiot and not worth wasting my time upon. Those people are those whose ideas cannot respect. Repeat this scenario for enough ideas, and I may lose respect for the person entirely – that’s the reason why I cannot take some people seriously – I decide if they should get my respect by the merit of their ideas and experience.
A point to note here is that I do indeed make clear a difference between respect and tolerance. I may or may not tolerate the behaviours of a person I do not respect. A person engaging in behaviours that I believe or opine to be not good for the larger whole, I don’t tolerate – and I speak out.
Personally, I don’t believe there is any reason to respect anyone. The need for respect for others simply arose out of simple game theory. Thrun want Thron’s cave. But Thron bigger. Thron hit harder. Maybe Thrun be good to Thron, Thron let Thrun sleep in cave. Respect for authority came out from bullying.
Regardless though, the concept of respect is there now. It’s an emergent concept, but it is there no less. It plays a role in social cohesion – makes society work better as a whole. But don’t expect me to respect you by default (well, there is a level of respect necessary for the functioning of social functions). You better have a damn good reason for me to respect you, and you better be able to prove it to me empirically (or at least be 95% confident), because you can be sure I will be calling you on your bullshit. And the best part is this: you can do exactly the same to me too.
Maybe you, my dear readers, can suggest me reasons to respect a person – other than the reasons I already do (example: John von Neumann has qualities I desire, and hence I admire and respect him)?