Friday, July 23, 2010

The Importance of Hypotheticals

It's annoying how easily many people dismiss the importance of hypothetical situations. Here are some of the situations I have in mind that bother me:

"I don't kill people because the Bible/the law tells me not to."

"So if the Bible/the law didn't say you shouldn't kill people, you'd kill people or think it was okay to kill people?"

"I'm not going to answer hypothetical questions."


Ugh. It's especially irritating if they have a WWJD wristband on, since asking, "What would Jesus do?" is a hypothetical question.

Can you imagine if a child tried that defense?

"But mom, all my friend's are doing it!"

"If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do that?

"I'm not going to answer hypothetical questions, mom."

I can't even imagine what planning for the future would be like without any hypothetical questions. Like if I asked my friend what his plans were for the future, and he told me he was going to win the lottery. If I then ask him what if he doesn't win the lottery and he says he is not going to answer any hypothetical question, he's very poor at planning for the future (to say the least).

Too many people confuse not-real with being not-relevant or not-useful. Hypothetical questions are great for figuring out inconsistencies in our intuitions and principles. That is not to say that there aren't bad hypothetical questions or situations, but be careful of anyone who won't respond to hypothetical questions simply because they are hypothetical. There is a good chance they are not responding because they don't know how to answer the question, or they do know how to answer the question but it will make them look bad/wrong.

Further, if you get the chance, listen to them as much as you can and see if they use any hypothetical questions or situations to support their view. I've noticed many who won't answer hypothetical questions when it will make their view look bad will still use hypotheticals when they're able to use them to support their view.

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