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Blupete's Weekly Commentary


April 29th, 2001.

"On Prejudice."

Truth is a state of mind free of error, a state of mind which is an accurate reflection of things in existence. A belief is a mental acceptance of a proposition or a statement of a matter that is beyond observation. The great multitude comes to its beliefs by adopting the opinions of those with whom they rub up against; and, the lot of them, have no particular bases for their opinion, other than, -- well, that the rest of their number hold the belief even though there be no authority nor evidence ever offered in support of these beliefs. An unsupported opinion is but a prejudice which needs to be examined for its truthfulness. The sad and dangerous fact, is, this: most people come to their beliefs -- not by study, observation and reflection; but by simply adopting the feeling of the ignorant crowd. Should you have an opportunity to test the clinging opinions of others, or, indeed of one's own, be not surprised that the great majority of opinions held cannot be supported in any meaningful way.

There is not one of us without prejudices, we pick them up as we hike along life's trail; they stick to us like the prickly flower-heads of the burdock. A prejudice is an unfounded opinion, and the expression, prejudice, carries an unfavourable connotation. But, in many instances, prejudices serve a valuable purpose as William Hazlitt points out in his brilliant essay, "On Prejudice" a small quote from which I set forth:

"Prejudice is so far then an involuntary and stubborn association of ideas, of which we cannot assign the distinct grounds and origin; and the answer to the question, 'How do we know whether the prejudice is true or false?' depends ... Whether the subject in dispute falls under the province of our own experience, feeling, and observation, or is referable to the head of authority, tradition, and fanciful conjecture? Our practical conclusions are in this respect generally right; ... it is in trusting to others (who give themselves out for guides and doctors) that we are ... at the mercy of quackery, impudence, and imposture. Any impression, however absurd, or however we may have imbibed it, by being repeated and indulged in, becomes an article of implicit and incorrigible belief. The point to consider is, how we have first taken it up, whether from ourselves or the arbitrary dictation of others."

If we wish to undo or rather to unlable a prejudice, all we need do is but recognize a prejudice for what it is. It was De Quincey who wrote that when "a prejudice of any class whatever is seen as such, when it is recognised for a prejudice, from that moment it ceases to be a prejudice. Those are the true baffling prejudices for man, which he never suspects for prejudices."1

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NOTES:

1 The OED cites, "Philos. Herod. Wks. 1858 IX. 204."

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Peter Landry

April, 2001 (2011)