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Methodological Snobbery


C.S. Lewis coined the term “chronological snobbery” to denote the fallacious reasoning of those who judge the truth-value of ideas based on the historical period out of which those ideas arose.

In Surprised by Joy, Lewis describes this fallacy as,

“the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”

A chronological snob assumes that we can know whether a statement is true or false simply by figuring out how long the idea has been around.

This is a fallacy because the viability of a concept exists independently of its initial moment of acquiescence or discovery.

New doesn’t equal true. Ancient doesn’t equal authoritative.

Determining the integrity of an idea by how new or old it is, is no less misguided than drawing conclusions about the integrity of a person by asking for their age.

In my culture, there exists a similar kind of snobbery; a form of prejudice rooted not in our association of truth with time, but in our belief that knowledge is only valid when it’s acquired through the “right” medium.

With the emergence of new tools and platforms for self-education, comes critics who belittle the forms of learning that are taking place in the digital world.

The reverse is also true.

There are those who despise anything that looks, tastes, or smells like it comes from “the status quo” or “the old school.”

I label this dismissive attitude “Methodological Snobbery.”

It boils down to, “I don’t like the way you consume content, therefore I refuse to acknowledge you, engage you, or learn from you.”

Like all forms of snobbery, this attitude achieves one result: it tricks us into thinking we’re smarter than we really are while insulating us from valuable sources of information.

My name is T.K. Coleman and I’m a methodological snob.

The world is forcing me to change and I couldn’t be more grateful.

I’m learning day by day that the value of an idea lies not in where it comes from, but in where it takes me; not in how it’s delivered, but in how it transforms my mind.

This Post Has 9 Comments
  1. You don’t just make me think, you open my skull and shake my brain. This was superbly thought out and presented, the last line so valuable I know that I shall treasure it long after reading it. The more we’re able to surrender our methodological snobbery the more transformative ideas we’ll discover.

  2. Well said! I think time, culture and place do frame the way we think, often subtly; there was always the notion that ‘absolute’ truth existed; more recently, that has been displaced by the notion of relativism. But as you say, the issue is the journey that an idea can take you on.

    1. Thanks Matthew. Well said statement about the cultural influences that shape our minds from behind the scenes. This is why I find the times we live in to be so exciting. Our access to information will hopefully give us an unprecedented ability to peek behind the cosmic curtain so to speak. I hope 🙂

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