In considering the six questions of context, question 5 (general context) was left relatively undeveloped. Here, we return to the issue with a series of tool-box questions, which both help us develop some crucial context points, and help us to identify the weak points of claims, in a neat and systematic way.
While modernity has made secularism a familiar notion – especially in academia – religion has provided the primary context of human events since before written history. When religion and religious concepts are examined critically, they can yield a great wealth of useful and interesting ideas, or at least useful warnings about what ideas lead to dead-ends and escalating problems.
Focusing on our own ethnic, cultural, and historical context makes sense and is a good thing. Doing so to the exclusion of other contexts is a problem – because our context is a tiny percentage of the total available. By critically examining diverse sources, we access a far broader field of thousands of years of theories, practice, and trial and error.
A structured system of how knowledge works helps us use it better, and recognize where we may have problems and weaknesses. Understanding the limits of knowledge explains why knowledge alone is not enough to make us act a certain way. (How many med-school students smoke?)
Speaking while ignorant is a common problem. Understanding its causes can help us both recognize ignorant speech and avoid it.
Context can be hard to come by, especially because we tend to project our preconceived ideas and make snap-judgments. We turn to two ideas from classical Chinese philosophy, to fight these bad habits and help resolve some problems they create.
Context lets us read charitably. Reading charitably keeps us from becoming trolls, through decontextualization. We consider three examples of decontextualization, dealing with history, science, and cyber security – and how simple knowledge of context discredits the claims entirely.
An idea without the context is like an answer without the question: generally meaningless on its own. By asking 6 questions, we can establish the context and protect ourselves from bad ideas – our own, or someone else’s.