I used to believe that the book of proverbs contained wisdom that was far beyond the capabilities of any human to comprehend and that it was only unlocked through spiritual enlightenment.
I have since realized that the ancients had a particular understanding of the way the world worked and that that understanding was primitive compared to the understanding we have now. They were ignorant of certain things that we've since discovered, and that likewise we are ignorant of certain things that future generations will discover. The common knowledge of those days was different from the common knowledge of these days and because of that the context of many sayings is unknown to modern day readers.
An appeal to authority is an appeal to one's sense of modesty, which is to say, an appeal to the feeling that others are more knowledgeable. A type of appeal to irrelevant authority is the appeal to ancient wisdom, where something is assumed to be true just because it was believed to be true some time ago.—
The sayings of the ancients like themselves are ancient. And the older a thing is does not necessarily mean it is wiser. It is the complete knowledge of a thing that makes us wiser about it; where we have clear and distinct ideas of the subject matter and have examined every argument concerning it. Wise sayings are not arguments for or against a particular stance, rather they are the opinions of human beings who were held in high regard by the society in which they lived in for the mental faculties they possessed. It is only when these opinions are applied to the nature of things can their validity be assessed.
Saying a thing is so, is no longer enough for people to believe ; whether it be from a powerful government, a divine book, or a wise man - it must be objectively proven to be so.
If in an argument, we should rely solely on a quotation from Locke, or Aristole, or Cicero, or the Institutes of Justianian, we should be required to prove that the alleged dictum of these or any other wise but fallible men, was an instance in which they wrote wisely, and was not one of the numerous errors into which all men have fallen.—
It is not enough for me to believe whatever somebody says. It is not enough for me to believe what a loud number of people are saying. It is only enough for me to believe those things I have investigated myself to a particular degree of certainty.
Whenever evaluating the veracity of a claim I try to keep a few things in mind:
Just saying it is so is no longer enough for a lot of people to believe
The number of times a particular claim is repeated is not evidence for the truth of the claim. Propagandists rely on the fact that the more people hear a claim, the more likely they are to believe it. It is through an erosion of trust that people stop believing what they hear.
Truth is not determined by a majority vote
The number of people who believe in a particular claim is not evidence for the truth of the claim. It is possible for the majority of people to be wrong. A majority of people on earth once believed that it was flat. A serious investigation into the veracity of a claim will seek out arguments from the minority.
Correlation does not imply causation
The correlation of two events is not evidence for a claim that one event caused the other. It is the reason medical researchers conduct randomized double-blinded placebo controlled studies: to determine the true cause of a particular outcome.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
It takes more evidence to prove something that defies prior knowledge and experience. Supernatural claims require supernatural evidence. In such instances testimonial evidence does not meet the burden of proof required to substantiate the claim.
Accusations are not evidence
An accusation of impropriety is not evidence of an impropriety. It is one thing to prove wrong doing in the court of public opinion and another thing to prove wrong doing in a court of law.
Be willing to entertain offensive ideas
At times it is important to be willing to entertain seemingly offensive ideas in order to come to a correct conclusion about a matter. It may be possible to miss key evidence because it offends our personal narrative.
Each claim must be evaluated individually based on his own merits. We are bombarded with so much information throughout the day and one problem is that we are not always afforded the time we need in order to assess all that information. That is why it is important for us to prioritize what we critically analyze so that the information that has the potential to change our world view significantly is given precedence.