There are many safeguards to protect the life and property of human beings but very little protection in the realm of ideas. It is much easier to exploit the thinking of a man without suffering any penalty than it is to swindle him out of his goods. Congress can enact laws to defend the citizen against physical harm, but legislation can do little to protect him against erroneous ideas.

Error makes its way by appearing reasonable and by concealing its specious character. We apply the term “plausible” to ideas or situations that seem to be reasonable and proper but are deceptive in appearance and false underneath. One of the best ways to defend against such deception is to encourage alertness against “the peril of the plausible.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sounded such a warning when he spoke these words: “Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” This admonition of Jesus, like many of his figures of speech, is objectively simple in its language but, like those which follow it, is profound and far reaching in its application. Jesus’ words might be paraphrased to say, “Beware of false principles which come to you in a guise of plausibility, but underneath are fallacious.” Jesus cites a number of these fallacies in the discourse which follows, using simple metaphors from common life.

One such fallacy underlies the hearty affirmation that “anything the majority of the people want is good enough for me.” This has a ring of plausibility and seems to be a vote of confidence in democracy. The processes of democracy do operate on the majority principle; hence this seems like a sound basis for making individual decisions. Majority opinion is commonly equated with correctness. ...

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