In his 2015 article “The Attack on Truth,” Lee McIntyre, a research fellow at Boston University, argues that the humanity has entered “an age of willful ignorance.” McIntyre (2015) uses the term “willful ignorance” to describe the tendency of humans to base their beliefs on intuition rather than fact, when the humans deliberately decide to remain ignorant. McIntyre (2015) associates this tendency with “disrespecting truth” and explains that this disrespect is rooted into people’s commitment to ideologies which proclaim that they have answers to all questions, even those that have been empirically investigated. McIntyre (2015) relates this disrespectful attitude to truth to the impact of the approach in humanities, “where the stakes may have initially seemed low in holding that there are multiple ways to read a text or that one cannot understand a book without taking account of the political beliefs of its author,” political interests (for example, in the issue of denial of the disastrous effects of the human industry on the global warming) as well as the lack of an inherent ability of good reasoning in human beings.
In order to protect themselves from the detrimental consequences of “willful ignorance,” McIntyre (2015) suggests, people should “fight back” or apply “the principles of evidence-based belief or true skepticism” to whatever they form their opinion about. From Thomas Hobbes’ perspective, Mc Intyre (2015) is absolutely right in his calls to rely on evidence and fact when seeking truth as well as applying skepticism where necessary. In particular, Hobbes himself was a radical skeptic. For him truth was “analytic,” which means it was a property of statements, words, utterances, and language. He wrote, “for true and false are attributes of speech, not things. And where speech is not, there is neither truth nor falsehood” (Hobbes in Krook, 1956, p.7). However, to be true or to be science, knowledge should be “demonstrated” or, in other words, empirically verified. This will help check if the claims are analytically true or false and whether they are meaningful. It is “the experience of the effects of things” that confirms that something is true knowledge (Hobbes in Krook, 1956, p. 8). Hobbes would passionately support McIntyre’s (2015) emphasis on the need to rely on evidence, since he believed that “Evidence is to truth as the sap is to the tree … For this evidence, which is meaning with our words, is the life of truth; without it truth is nothing worth” (Hobbes in Krook 9) Hence, it becomes clear that Hobbes would not call truth derived from intuition as real truth because it is not based on verifiable evidence.
For Mary Wollstonecraft-Godwin, the basis of truth was also rationality and reason. She valued science as a way of acquiring true knowledge. Mary Wollstonecraft-Godwin’s Frankenstein is grounded on her scientific background. Indeed, the story derived from scientific investigations into death and life and knowledge about galvanism, resuscitation, and scientists’ research of possibility of human states between life and death. Born from an atheistic, Enlightenment philosopher Godwin and his wife, radical critic Wollstonecraft, Mary Wollstonecraft-Godwin, would support McIntyre’s (2015) criticism of “willful ignorance” and would argue in favor of using scientific evidence as the basis for discerning truth.
Edmund Burke, who is believed to be the founder of British conservatism, supported the anti-Enlightenment philosophy. He was not committed to science and reason and highly valued religion. Considering Christianity to be the vehicle of humanity progress, he would sharply criticize McIntyre’s (2015) rejection of knowledge based not on fact but on intuition or belief, and would reject his skepticism approach.
Finally, from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s perspective, McIntyre’s (2015) argument is one-sided because it fails to recognize belief as a way of knowledge pursuit in human beings. For Dostoyevsky, man is a mystery and one should not say that he has wasted time even if we spent his whole life trying to solve this mystery. Religion for Dostoyevsky is an area of knowledge where one finds truth in faith in “higher ideas”, for Dostoyevsky, this is Jesus Christ (Dostoyevsky, Lantz, & Morson, 1997, p. 734). Since he based all his philosophy on recognizing the soul’s immortality, Dostoyevsky would oppose McIntyre’s evidence-based vision of truth.
- Dostoyevsky, F., Lantz, K., & Morson, G. (1997). Writer’s Diary Volume 1: 1873-1876. Northwestern University Press.
- Krook, D. (1956). Thomas Hobbes’s doctrine of meaning and truth. Philosophy: The Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, 31 (16), 3-22.