Why should I believe you?

Because my speaking the truth is part of the best explanation of why I said what I did.

You should believe nothing I say, including this.

You should not believe me unless I offer you, or you have independent access to, compelling reasons to do so.

In fact, I think that you’ll find that, so far, most of the responsesthat have been posted to the questions on AskPhilosophers.org have notaimed at persuasion–at getting to you believe something. Instead, mostof us have described ways of thinking about particular philosophicalissues which we ourselves have found helpful or interesting. Certainquestions that used to be very puzzling now seem much less so once wenotice certain conceptual distinctions, certain ambiguities inlanguage, or certain tempting fallacies of reasoning. Equally,questions that initially seemed pretty straightforward can be shown tobe much more complex, and so much more puzzling, once we noticecounter-intuitive implications of the straightforward or common-senseanswers to these questions.

Professor Gentzler's "You should not believe me unless I offer you, or you have independent access to, compelling reasons to do so" seems cynical. Why not, instead, the more sociable and cheerful, "You should believe me unless I offer you, or you have independent access to, compelling reasons not to do so"? Should we assume others are fundamentally liars (even about whether they are liars) or fundamentally truth-tellers. I suppose it depends on the context. Some of us are experts at knowing when to believe others, unless there is good reason not to, and when not to believe others, unless there is good reason to. But some of us lack this skill. Then we are either gullible, being too sociable, cheerful, foolish; or we are paranoid, not trusting anyone, not even our own mothers.

Fair enough, Alan. Based on my experience of human beings, the more sociableand cheerful attitude that you suggest seems appropriate as ageneral day-to-day attitude toward others. I’m generally not worriedthat people are lying to me.

But I understood the question differently– not as directed to humanity in general, but at usin particular, the panelists on AskPhilosophers. I took the questionernot to be wondering whether we were lying but whether we knew what wewere talking about. There are a lot of people out there promisinganswers to life’s big questions, and skepticism seems to me to be aperfectly healthy response to these promises. It was for this reasonthat I tried to assure the questioner that we aren’t making any suchpromises.

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