Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Fallacy of Appeal to Age

Something has been bothering me lately about popular views regarding age. Given a proper epistemology the only difference between a teenager and a senior adult would be that of the amount and complexity of their knowledge, not that of validity. However, the popular conception of age is that kids somehow are certain to hold onto a significant number of falsehoods in their mind until those falsehoods "somehow" become corrected by the process of aging. In practice adults who adhere to this view tend to dismiss and take unseriously those significantly younger than them, and also tend to assume themselves to be in possession of a greater wisdom regardless as to whether or not they've actively pursued knowledge and applied it to their life or if their "knowledge" consists of random memorizations.

Not only is this unjust, but it also leads to problems for all involved.

Adults that adhere to this view and apply it accordingly will observe that younger people will take them less seriously and even go so far as to disrespect them. At any and all ages people do not like it when they believe or know they're being treated unjustly, and will pay back the person in the same currency they believe they're being handed. Even if the adult is fully justified in calling a certain young person foolish it does no good to make it explicit to the young person unless he's being immoral and/or self-destructive, since what could be a better way to make to make a person stubbornly adhere to his beliefs than to be rudely provocative?

Teenagers and young adults who have to face older adults who adhere to this view will find their relationship with them become increasingly strained and less valuable. The person who has a lower estimation of your intellect than it actually deserves either has a bad sense of judgment or cannot be considered a valuable, just associate. Youth is a time for developing convictions, so to have one's supposed "role model" ignore this and resort to saying "you'll know better when you're older" is to be deprived of serious intellectual guidance and support.

In truth age tells us very little except for how old we are, what stage of biological development we're at, and how complex our knowledge may be. Nothing more; nothing less. To say a person's ideas are false simply because they're too young "to know better" is a fallacy, as the validity of one's ideas is completely independent of one's age. Youth does not imply falsehood and maturity does not imply truth. It is possible for a young person to be more learned and wise than the adults in his life, and in this age of epistemological corruption that isn't a very difficult feat. It is true that we may not take seriously (and with some justification) the credibility of a youth given the current complexity of his knowledge, but we must nonetheless always ask in the end "Is it true?" rather than "Who said it is true?" (I'll discuss the issue of determining credibility over at my other blog sometime soon.)

At any age the only judgment a person is going to follow is his own. To judge a person based upon their age is fallacious and counterproductive. Those who do judge a person on their age may not only be engaging in a fallacy, but looking for any excuse not to think.

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