My circumstances this weekend have allotted me some spare time for reading and watching videos on my computer. My content intake included the fifth DVD in the series Planet Earth, “The Future,” which addresses questions of conservation and sustainability of our planet. Of course I also made time for Wendell Berry, reading “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine” and “Solving for Pattern,” both in The Art of the Commonplace. Both Planet Earth and Wendell Berry reminded me of an epistemological commitment I have: sometimes we know something is true simply because it makes sense.
A couple of weekends ago a friend doubted the usefulness “it just makes sense” for gaining knowledge. He likes evidence. I do too. But “it just makes sense” is a form of evidence, I contend. It’s an epistemological tool that smart people (I reveal my bias and pride all at once) use. Yet is is not a tool for the lazy. Believing in something that “just makes sense” takes a lot of work. Here’s why.
When we say that something “just makes sense” what we are actually saying is something closer to this, “As I take in this new information, all that I know to be true and expect to be validated affirms that I ought to believe in this new information. On that basis of knowledge and expectation, I’m going to believe this new information because it just makes sense.”
Now I hear, for example, a lot of both sides of the environmental debate. As a Christian, many of my peers are skeptics of our environmental problems. They feel like the science does not support things like global warming. I’m suspicious that they get their information mostly from the likes of Rush Limbaugh. As a Christian who dislikes Rush Limbaugh, I’ve tried to get my information about the environmental debate from the likes of Planet Earth or World Resources Institute or books or magazines. I say all this to make a point. “Sense” is directly proportional to the quality of the knowledge and expectation that invokes it.
Thus “it just makes sense” is an epistemological tool that works for the hard working knowledge-seeker and fails miserably for the lazy knowledge-wanter. Knowledge-seekers work hard to develop their discernment. They take in a lot of information from a lot of sources and check and double check that information. And so they are able to develop a sense of what seems true. Knowledge-wanters let another person do their work for them. Knowledge-wanters usually rely on one (or very few) sources for their information, and thus dull their discernment.
Look, what’s my point here? Don’t be lazy! Don’t just consume because so-and-so says to consume. Look around a bit more. Find out if other people think that consuming is not helpful. Don’t just write off environmental concerns because so-and-so says it’s bunk. Find out if there is genuine reason to be concerned about the environment. Work hard. Pretty soon things might start to “just make sense.”