On Dismissing Ideas Out of Hand

I fully believe some ideas, arguments, and propositions are not worth spending time on.  I don’t think it makes a person more noble or a better intellect to entertain all ideas with equal weight and never dismiss any.  Primarily because it’s not possible.  We all have limited time and mental resources, and we must choose where to apply it.  Equal seriousness on every idea is not an option.  If we pretend it is we are lying to ourselves and everyone else.

The way in which the decision gets made to not give further consideration to an argument is more important than whether or not it gets made.  There is no shame in simply acknowledging the limited resources at our disposal and being honest about which ideas simply do not intrigue us enough to investigate, or areas on which we are content to let our assumptions remain largely untested, or trust in someone else we respect.  There is shame in lying about what we’re doing.  Refusing to investigate an idea for any reason other than an honest acknowledgement that we do not believe it ranks high enough to bump other things down is a bad habit, and does not breed intellectual integrity.

I suspect we’ve all done it.  For some reason we feel embarrassed to simply say, “I’m not going to take the time to look into your argument because I just don’t care that much”.  So we invent other reasons.  We appeal to authority, or lack authority on the part of the person proposing the idea.  We say vague condescending things like, “They need to engage the literature”, without ever risking anything to explain exactly where we think they’re wrong or what “literature” they need to engage.  We want to ignore the idea without admitting that’s what we’re doing.  We need to pretend we never write off anything.  That would be closed minded!  Instead we do worse than ignore it.  We pretend we’ve refuted it while ignoring it.

There are a great many topics we are ignorant on.  Many of those we’ll never take the time to investigate.  That’s a reality we can’t escape, and we don’t need to.  It’s refreshing when someone forcefully presents an argument to be able to say, “I don’t find that credible, but to be honest I’ve never really investigated it and I probably never will.”  We’re better off acknowledging our areas of ignorance and apathy then pretending we have some other reason besides lack of interest to dismiss an idea.

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