1.11 The Idea/Person Separation Principle

Back to 1.10 The Second-Hand Principle

1.11.1 This principle is basically the inverse of Ad Homonym. "Ad Homonym" is a logical fallacy whereby a person attacks the character of the person voicing an opposing point of view, as a distraction, in order to avoid addressing his or her arguments on their own merits. The Idea/Person Separation Principle means that arguments stand or fall on their own validity and merits, regardless of how good, evil, smart, dumb, rich, poor, black, white, male, female, gay, straight, tall, short, conservative, liberal, religious, nonreligious, American, un-American, honest, dishonest, fat, thin, young, or old the person voicing the argument is. Not only does this principle keep us from falling for the Ad Homonym fallacy, but it also has some other interesting consequences.

1.11.2 Sometimes, people claim that the original proponents of an idea have dismissed it. Usually this is an attempt to discredit the idea. However, the ideas are either supported or not supported by the evidence and logical argument, regardless. If the originator of an idea later changes his or her mind, he or she may be making a mistake. Once a person creates a new idea, it has a life (or death) of its own. No matter what they say later, they may be wrong and they will have to defeat their own creation with logic and evidence, the same as anyone else would.

1.11.3 Another consequence of the Idea/Person Separation Principle is that we are not allowed to play favorites or idolize any human being. If a janitor had come up with some observations or calculations that refuted Einstein’s theory of relativity upon its publication, Einstein would have to defend relativity and if he could not answer for the discrepancies, and no one else could either, then the theory of relativity would have to have been trashed.

1.11.4 Again, this plays a part in the questioning of authority. No matter how "official" a source is, be it CNN, the government, a major corporation, and expert, etc. they should have to prove their claims in the arena of logic and evidence just like everyone else.

1.11.5 However, this principle may seem to be at odds with the previously mentioned Second-Hand Principle. If we judge a source as either 1) not rational in its approach, or 2) not trustworthy, doesn’t the Idea/Person Separation principle dictate that we still give the claims a fair hearing? There’s a fine interaction between these two principles that should be explained.

1.11.6 The Second-Hand Principle refers specifically to cases where we, as individuals, are unable to check out facts directly and are therefore forced, out of practicality, into accepting a second-hand source of information. In these cases it is impossible to give, or not give, such claims a hearing since we do not have direct access to the information. In these cases, we are forced into trusting another source and therefore can only choose wisely which sources to trust more than others.

1.11.7 The Idea/Person Principle, on the other hand, refers more to those with whom we are on the same playing field with regarding access to information. As individuals, we should not shut ourselves off completely to a claim, solely on the basis of the person making it - but, in cases where we are unable to access the information needed to make an independent judgment ourselves, we should go with the source which is most 1) in line with our epistemology, and 2) trustworthy. If there doesn’t seem to be a clearly defined authoritative source, or if there are several who have not reached a consensus, it is best to suspend judgment altogether.

1.11.8 These two principles, in a way, again demonstrate the dual nature of skeptic philosophy: on one hand, encouraging an open mind to new possibilities while, on the other, stressing the importance of reason and evidence in the judgment of these possibilities.

Continue to 1.12 Personal Experience