Knowledge Problems

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Persuasion and Coercion

I think one must be deeply skeptical about any set of beliefs that incorporates among it a meta-belief regarding the consequences of nonbelief in the set. Besides the obvious logical problems (i.e., the belief regarding the consequence of nonbelief will only be relevant to those who already accept the belief set), it seems to me that the threats of unpleasant consequences for the nonbeliever and of rapturous consequences for the true-believer just erodes the credibility of the belief set itself. It leads one to think that any argument in favor of the belief set is more one of "bullying" than "convincing". If people must be threatened with unimaginably horrible mental and physical afflictions for themselves and their loved ones in order to be persuaded to subscribe to a given belief set, it can only be concluded that the beliefs themselves must be extraordinarily unpersuasive. This is very much what we see in religion since the Biblical era. Time and time again the flock strays from the path of belief, and time and time again must be terrorized by the prophets with threats of awful punishments and calamities.


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