Wednesday, August 10, 2011

First Principles

Intelligent men often cannot agree on the most basic of matters. Irreconcilable opinions are common in debates, where both sides do not change their opinions in the slightest.
Why do people’s opinions rarely, if ever, change? Are people just too stubborn to change? Or is there something deeper underlying their stubbornness?
Both of these answers are correct, in a way. Quite literally, it’s a matter of first principles.
First principles are the starting points in every person’s argument. They are the assumptions on which people base their opinions and thought processes.
Often, two first principles of people are diametrically opposed. Thus, while two separate arguments may be completely logical, they are often based from different starting points – and thus logical arguments often come into conflict with one another.
Any successful debater must logically address the first principles of another person’s argument in order to win a debate. Ignore the first principles of an argument, and the argument still stands. But a house without foundations cannot stand. Similarly, an argument which has illogical first principles cannot survive under close scrutiny.
But first principles are a core of people’s beliefs – and even if they are proven to be illogical, many people will still cling to them. Most people will vehemently defend their core beliefs – many, even, with their lives.
This is why conversion – in a religious, political, or intellectual sense – is so rare. People are unwilling to give up their core beliefs – even if their initial premises are proven to be completely illogical. 

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