Good Little Cartesians

In chapter one of In Praise of Prejudice, Dalrymple cites the Oxford Shorter Dictionary, which defines prejudice as,
A previous judgement, especially a premature or hasty judgement. Preconceived opinion; bias favourable or unfavourable; prepossession…usually with unfavourable connotation. An unreasoning predilection or objection.
He goes on to point out that nowadays the idea of prejudice is usually associated with race (“the word race and prejudice go together like Mercedes and Benz, or Dolce and Gabbana”). Surely in this connection prejudice is a vice to be diligently avoided. But does it follow from this that all prejudice is vicious? Is it really possible to live without preconceived ideas? Are all preconceived ideas necessarily wrong?

The man without prejudices, or rather, the man who declares himself such, is a man who is terrified to be thought first bigoted, and second, so weak of mind, so lacking in individuality and mental power, that he cannot think for himself. For his opinions, he has to fall back on the shards of wisdom, or more likely unwisdom, which constitute prejudice. Every proper man, then, is a Descartes on every subject and every question that comes before him. In other words, he seeks that indubitable Cartesian point from which, and from which only, it is possible to erect a reasonable opinion that is truly his own and owes nothing to unexamined pre-suppositions. The answer to every question, therefore, has to be founded on first principles that are beyond doubt, or else it is shot through with prejudice. Whether the person who declares himself free of prejudice knows it or not, whether or not he has ever read the Discourse on Method, he is a belated Cartesian [i.e., one refuses to accept anything as true except what has an indubitable rational basis]. (p. 4)


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