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Authority And Intuition As Key Ways Of Understanding Virginia O'Hanlon's Editorial

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Ways of Knowing

In the letter Virginia O’Hanlon sent to The New York Sun was a wonderful example of showcasing the ways that a child can learn and think about the world. The editorial that Francis P. Church wrote in response was a great answer to her question, if a bit wordy for an 8-year-old. However, it did not set a good example of how to justify your beliefs, as it outright rejected logical reasoning and the scientific method, and went on to explain the existence of Santa Claus through pure intuition.

Virginia is a great example of how children tend to justify and think. In her letter she doesn’t try to reason with the editor or look at the issue from a logical perspective – she relies purely on the authority of the grown-ups and her peers. She’s asked her friends about the existence of Santa Claus, and when they gave a negative answer, she went to her father. Her dad also trusted authorities to provide answers for him; his justification of “if you see it in The Sun it’s so” doesn’t rely on logical reasoning, the scientific method, or even intuition – it transfers the burden of proof to the people he trusts to know the subject better. Therefore, it’s not hard to understand why Virginia is also not trying to find the answer on her own, but turns towards authority figures – she’s just a kid, and everyone surrounding her does the same thing.

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However, the editor takes a slightly different approach in his answer to the girl. While he doesn’t trust authority (he’s trying to represent it), he also doesn’t use the scientific method or logical reasoning – in fact, he outright rejects them, saying “nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus”, basically arguing that empiricism doesn’t matter. He believes that things like Santa Claus exist, but you can only know that by sensing them, by using your intuition: “only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond”. And while he is probably referring to the idea of Santa Claus as a personification of childhood innocence and wonder, it’s still a troubling message to send an impressionable 8-year-old, who will believe it word-for-word. Intuition is not the best way to support your arguments, and yet Francis P. Church is saying exactly that, as if you don’t need concrete evidence to prove your point – you just need to have a deeply held belief.

In short, the ways of knowing that are most prevalent in the editorial are intuition and authority. Logic and the scientific method are either not mentioned (in Virginia’s case) or outright rejected. And while that’s okay for an author who is making a case for Santa Claus representing childhood happiness, it’s not really the best method to use in real life, where empiricism, logic, and science are the best methods to support your theories.

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