September 5th, 2009 by ftobia

Why do people place so much value on consistent systems of beliefs?

In a formal system, sure, you want consistency. If a formal system is inconsistent then you can use it to prove anything — it’s effectively useless. But our minds are not formal systems. Humans don’t exist simply to prove things (unless you’re a mathematician I guess).

Let’s say you believe two contradictory axioms. What’s to stop you from voluntarily relaxing one or the other as the situation demands? I suppose then you aren’t being “principled”. Your choice may seem arbitrary, and lead to arbitrary results. But it could be that you don’t know what you should believe, until you’re faced with a difficult situation that stretches your belief system. Life is full of gray areas. Sometimes you just do what you think is best, and reform your belief system later to compensate.

Many consider hypocrisy a vice. I used to feel the same way, until I questioned that assumption and couldn’t provide a good justification. Let’s say I get mad at a house mate for not cleaning up his dishes, and then I go ahead and leave my dirty dishes in the sink. He has every right to get mad at me, assuming he doesn’t like dirty dishes left in the sink. But should it be any worse that I’m violating my own rules, in addition to his? I am not so certain.

I’m very willing to hear counter arguments, though.

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2 Responses to “Inconsistency”

  1. Cathryn Gorlinsky Says:

    I think our belief systems are based on expected outcomes. Grey areas alter what we perceive to be true and are advantageous in that they bring about the reevaluation and continuing development of these systems. I’m wondering if rather than reforming or altering our current belief systems, we just build upon what already exists and then adhere to the expanded set of beliefs. I think hypocrisy is multifaceted. What if, when paired with some sort of objective, for example learning, it can become become beneficial? For example, if the only way of effectively conveying a message is through shared experience (such as dirty dishes in the sink). Based on this, I want to believe that hypocrisy without purpose is a vice, and hypocrisy with purpose is just another means of communication.

  2. Rosary Says:

    It would be way helpful if you could expand the example or use something more pertinent. I agree that it has to do with expectations – and understanding them in advance so you can affect the outcomes more beneficially (to you).

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