Merits and Motives behind an Idea
Copyright © 2005, David A. Epstein.
All Rights Reserved.

October 29, 2005

One of the hallmarks of an open society is the emergence of new ideas that lead to constructive change or growth in that society. Frank and honest discussion about the worthiness of any new idea or argument will help to determine if the idea should be adopted in practice. This discussion should primarily be focused upon the alleged merits of the idea, and the tools that must be imployed in this endeavor are logic, reason, critical analysis, observation, lucid thinking, and creative insightfulness. Furthermore, the idea should be benchmarked against the world of experience, for even if it passes the test of validity, it could very well be faultily implemented in the world, and hence result in being a miserable failure (if the idea is a reincarnation of a previous one, then it should be judged by its past results).

Analyzing the merits of an idea should be done in isolation from any knowledge or information about the following:
1) The intentions, motives, and agenda of the originator of the idea.
2) What group, if any, the idea's originator represents.
3) The past history of the individual or group he represents.

A separation between a critique of the idea and consideration of information about its author is essential to granting a fair hearing in the courtroom of rational thought. The idea should stand or fall on its own, either supported by its merits or toppled by its unsoundness. The only way to insure this will happen is for the author to submit his or her idea anonymously. Only after the idea has been given a fair hearing should the author's identity be revealed. At that point, then the author should be put on intellectual trial.

How can this be achieved? After all, ideas are presented in books, publications, newspapers, periodicals, online, and so forth. The author of any article is always known. That's the main problem, for immediately the reader will formulate an opinion about the the idea based upon his knowledge of the author. If  he likes the author, he will be more predisposed to accept the idea, and if he doesn't like the author, then he will be more inclined to reject it. Only if he doesn't know who the author is, assuming he's not prejudiced against "new authors", will he be able to give it an unbiased and fair trial. Now, it's certainly possible that even if an article is submitted anonymously, an experienced reader might recognize the author based upon his style of writing, vocabulary, and content that he's written about in previous pieces. To lessen the probability of this occurring, the author should alter his style and approach if at all possible.

What are we getting at here? In an ideal world, I would propose a computerized information banking system that contains submitted articles by anonymous authors. For any given article, the reader would have to digest the entire article and take an exam; he would not merely recite the author's conclusions, but would be asked to identify and discuss the premises, dependencies, conditions, development, rationale, and foundation upon which the idea rests. An integral part of this exam would be the reader's critical evaluation of the idea. Once the reader has submitted his answers to the bank, and "passed" the exam, then the author's identity would be revealed. Everything about the author and the group he represents would then become known. And to prevent the dissemination of the articles to others, the "banking system" should disable file transfer, printing and email capabilities, and regularly change article account passwords. The remainder should be left for the reader to abide by a contractual obligation, a pledge to not reveal the identies of authors to people who have not read these articles.

The intent is to analyze an idea without knowing the motives (if any) behind the idea, and then later to critique any motives or agenda of the author or group he represents. This could conceivably lead to a situation where the reader supports the conclusions of the idea while at the same time actively opposes the policies of the author or group. Could you imagine supporting an idea proposed by a racist extremist? Personally, I would find that abhorrent; but if it did occur, I would reluctantly accept it, for if not, the system would collapse from its own weight of hypocrisy. Alternatively, it might lead to a situation where the reader supports the author's viewpoints but rejects the idea he proposes. This might be disturbing to the reader; but in this system, these situations would actually be the test of the system's workability and soundness, for if it holds true in the most extreme of circumstances, then it will hold true under any condition.

Included in the "banking system" would be analysis of generalized assertions like "there are no such things as value-free ideas", "there are always hidden motives behind the dissemination of any idea", and "all worthy ideas are devoid of motives". For the system to properly work, these assertions must first be analyzed on their merits. Then, the motives of the revealed authors can be questioned. Hence, the reader could very well respond to the assertion that "any good idea will be motive-free" with either the witticism that "the author's only motive was to make a motive-free assertion" or the retort that "the author has ulterior motives in presenting his 'good ideas'".