What Would Descartes Think About Twitter?
Twitter seems to have a lot of garbage on it. There’s a lot of disagreement, hostility, and opposition. Can we save it?
This does not prevent serious intellectuals to be on the platform such as Steven Pinker, Daniel C. Dennett, and Peter Singer.
Twitter is on the frontline when it comes to engagement between public figures and their audiences. Whether that is Philip DeFranco asking his YouTube followers what trending news they’d like to hear about next, or whether it’s Casey Neistat promoting smaller channels.
Twitter is where all the controversy is at.
This led me to think, as I was in one of my philosophy classes discussing Descarte’s Cartesian Method of Skepticism:
What would Descartes think about Twitter?
For Descartes, a rationalist (someone that believes that reason can be entirely created through the Method of doubt — “I think therefore I am”), there are three conditions of knowledge:
- One must believe that what one claims to know is true.
- What one claims to know must be universally true.
- The claim must be fully justified in order for it to be true. Fully justified simply means, with absolute certainty.
Use the method of doubt when it comes to Twitter. Before you accept a position to be true, acknowledge that you may be incorrect about an issue, seek to understand the opposing view, and then express yourself after being sure that you are completely sure of what it is that the other individual is trying to get across.
Descartes went so far as saying we know very little to be true.
Rene Descartes (1596–1650)
“In just the same way those who have never philosophized correctly have various opinions in their minds which they have begun to store up since childhood, and they therefore have reason to believe may in many cases be false. . . . They can then go over each belief in turn and re-adopt only those which they recognize to be true and indubitable.”
Descarte’s aim was ‘A unified science of nature.’ He wanted to come up with certain understanding of the Universe through science (the most objective source of knowledge according to some).
- A unified certain knowledge
- A unified consistent method
Next time when you are on Twitter, consider Descarte’s system of doubting. Don’t believe anything to be true, maybe even doubt your own side, for they too can show signs of bias.
Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind deploys, similar agnosticism towards certain knowledge:
“In moral and political matters we are often groupish, rather than selfish. We deploy our reasoning skills to support our team, and to demonstrate commitment to our team” (91).
10 Questions to Ask Yourself
- Are you first believing a premise to be true and then trying to find arguments in defense of it?
- How many people do you follow that you disagree with (politically, religiously, and ethically)?
- When was the last time you engaged in civil discourse and disagreement?
- Can you agree with the opposing political party on straight-forward matters that are of mutual concern?
- Do you find yourself to be blaming the nation’s problems on the opposing political party?
- How often do you give them the benefit of the doubt?
- How often do you disagree with people? Do you see patterns in your engagement that are potentially harmful.
- Do you appreciate questions?
- Do you show hostility towards discourse (thinking that it is unproductive and won’t lead anywhere)?
- Have you ever been content with getting angry over tweets that are only meant to bring you down?
I hope you enjoyed this. If you want to read an article I wrote about how to “Debate Well” on Twitter, you can read it here.
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I write to keep you thinking and to keep me thankful and reflective. Cheers cheers cheers and until next time,