10. Epilogue
from Clear Thinking by R W Jepson

TRUTH is hard to come by. This much you must have gathered from the preceding chapters, if you have gathered nothing else. Language is an obstacle. It is not yet a perfect vehicle for our thoughts. It is difficult to make ourselves understood; it is no less difficult to understand others. Words tend to remain fixed; what they represent tends to change. The stream of information is often arrested or diverted or even polluted on its course. We allow ourselves to be flattered, cajoled, bullied, stampeded or drugged into ways of thought without much resistance. Our moral and intellectual make-up is a medley of vague aspirations, reason and prejudice. We would like to know, but we shrink from the effort; we would like to see, but prejudice blinds us. We are at the mercy of our feelings and we allow our primitive instincts to run away with us in moments of excitement. We are easily swayed by rhetoric and deceived by sophists who "make the worse appear the better reason.

Such are the dangers that beset the path to Truth. But if we know the dangers, we can, if we have the will, guard against them.

We cannot entirely overcome the difficulties inherent in language, because however much we strive to fix the meaning of words, they will always have different associations for different people; they will always arouse different emotions in different breasts. But we can and ought to make efforts to reach simplicity and accuracy and precision, and to avoid vagueness and verbosity; we can sharpen our definitions, make our distinctions more clearly cut, and refuse to allow a desire for elegance or picturesqueness to distort reality.

In forming our opinions we can fight against the temptation to take the line of least resistance. We can refuse to have our opinions cut to a standard pattern arid manufactured for us like a reach-me-down suit of clothes. A knowledge of the ways of propaganda will at any rate put us on our guard against being imposed upon. A knowledge of the working of suggestion will make us less susceptible to its influence.

Similarly, the knowledge of our liability to prejudice will help us to neutralise its effect. We can accustom ourselves, when faced with a particular problem, to a self-examination of this kind :

"How far are our views, or our conduct, actuated by self-interest; how far by a disinterested examination of available facts?"

A more valuable line of inquiry would be to ask ourselves what is the exact point at issue, to put the fundamental question in as simple and definite terms as possible, and to strip it of all other questions that are of secondary importance or merely confuse the issue. Again, we can acquire the habit of putting to ourselves "the other fellow's point of view" as forcibly as we can; we can ask ourselves what kind of a case we could put if we were in his position. Lastly, we can be less ready to impute prejudice to anyone who differs from us; we shall be more likely to come by the truth if we examine his arguments on their merits; for even if they are based upon prejudice, they may still be sounder than our own.

Again, if we know and can recognise the errors that are commonly made in reasoning, the source of each and the different forms each may take, we shall be less likely to deceive ourselves or to be deceived by others; we shall be on our guard against the plausible arguments or dishonest tricks of too ardent proselytisers or unscrupulous axe-grinders.

In fact, if we tackle our problems in an intelligent and reasoning way, we are more likely to reach a solution of them. But we must first wish to solve them; we must first refuse to acquiesce in things as they are and be inspired by the vision of things as they should be; we must be discontented with a divine discontent; we must be idealists. Clear thinking will not help us to form our ideals; it will help us to show how far they are feasible, how they can be attained, how far they are compatible with one another; it can inform our ideals, it may transform them, but it cannot create them.

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