Saturday, October 16, 2010

What does it mean to say we are entitled to our opinion?

What does it mean to say that someone is entitled to their own opinion? People say that a lot, but I am not sure what they are saying when they say it. To say I am entitled to something, I take it, implies someone might want to take it away from me, and either shouldn't or shouldn't be permitted to. But who might be taking out opinion away from us, and what kind of protection do we need from whoever it is that is trying to take our opinion away from us? Further, it isn't clear what an "opinion" is in this context. That can mean a personal preference that can be neither true nor false (country music is better than rock-n-roll), or it can mean a claim which can be true or false, and for which there can be evidence, but is not completely settled to everyone's satisfaction. Consider the "opinion" of Kirilov in Dostoyevsky's The Possesed, who believes that "he who kills himself, becomes God." Is this something that Kirilov is "entitled to," even if it may lead him to suicide (and did, in the novel).
And then we can look at the various means that people might use to get people to stop holding an opinion. We can torture someone to make them change their minds, we can disown them or give them a lot of disapproval and make them feel bad for believing what they do, or we could try to give them reasons why their beliefs are false. Does our being entitled to our opinion mean that no one should attempt to give another person a logical reason for rejecting what he or she currently believes? I would say, certainly not.

This essay is entitled "Sorry, but you are not entitled to your opinion."

I believe I have linked to it before.


Leah said...

Completely agreed, thanks for posting. If you think someone's wrong, it's more respectful to point it out and explain why than to 'respect their opinion' by letting they continue in error.

--Leah @ Unequally Yoked

awatkins909 said...

Couple of problems here. 1. Rock and roll is better than country music. 2. You don't read The American Conservative instead.

awatkins909 said...

But in all seriousness, in some contexts, it seems to be the case that we really should respect someone and leave them in their error, even if it is completely illogical. For instance, a terminally sick person who would suffer greatly from knowing they would die soon has convinced themselves that they will get over this and live and not suffer death. If it would cause them to suffer less, and nothing could would come out of them from knowing the truth, shouldn't we encourage them, or at least not rigorously debate them?

Ken said...

Victor says: "I believe I have linked to it before."

And I may have responded with this before:

"If I am a fool, it is, at least, a doubting one; and I envy no one the certainty of self-approved wisdom." - Lord Byron (1788-1824), English poet

DL said...

The interesting thing is that this sentiment typically used to be applied to someone else: "He's entitled to his opinion" meant something like "He's probably wrong, but it's not worth arguing with him." ...the implication being that the issue was not particularly important, although (especially if said in a sarcastic tone) it could also imply that the person was too ornery or too thick to appreciate the facts. When somebody says this of himself, though — well, I guess anyone who admits that he's probably wrong but not worth the effort of arguing with is probably right.

Bobcat said...

Not a huge fan of Jamie Whyte.

Have you read his section on the logical problem of evil in Crimes Against Logic? He just gives Mackie's argument and says it's irrefutable and moves on. Now that I think about it, the book is well-titled!

Mr Veale said...

Well, I disagree, but you're entitled to your opinion

Mr Veale said...

A terrible joke, I know, but someone had to make it...I think you'll find that Kant said that terrible jokes are a categorical imperative!

guy said...

While some people clearly use the phrase for different reasons, i take the entitlement claim to express a disapproval of some level of thought control. Perhaps during a time when a church had political power to try and enforce assent to their creeds, or perhaps on occasions where those in power trying to enforce a belief upon those under their power believed they had no obligation to try and provide any evidence or reason for adopting that belief--in such circumstances a phrase like the opinion-entitlement claim expresses a denial that an individual is morally or politically obligated to forego their freedom to weigh and consider the evidence for themselves and come to their own conclusion. Is there something basically illogical or problematic about that?


James M. Jensen II said...

I'm get more annoyed at this article the more I read it. Let's start with the first three sentences:

"I DON'T believe in astrology but many people do. About half the women I meet ask me my star sign. I used to try to explain why they shouldn't believe in it but I have given up."

So, wait, is he really saying (as I'm reading this) that he tries to explain this after they've just met?. I can only And he wonders why they get offended?

And the bulk of the article is a case study in trying to be clever through overanalyzing. Clearly he has the makings of a true ladies' man (not).

More seriously, did it ever occur to him that the term "right" may have a different sense here? Does anyone think we're actually talking about a right enforceable in a court of law here, besides him apparently?

He also doesn't seem to follow up on this (most admirably correct) point:

"Does your right to your opinion oblige me to listen to you?

No, I haven’t the time. Many people have many opinions on many matters."

Because logically that entails that the astrologers he harangued don't have to bother listen to him, either.

And his exposition on "Does your right to your opinion oblige me to let you keep it?" is severely wrongheaded. Long story short: Yes, sir, it does entail that.

The counter-example he gives is really unpersuasive. Two problems:

1. "You" in the example have not expressed an interest in not having opinion changed.
2. It's an emergency situation. Emergencies weaken rights.

Finally, we have his obvious implied disdain for people who are reluctant to have their opinions challenged. Well, okay, he can feel how he likes about the issue. (This is interesting in itself: skeptics talk as if skepticism is obligatory, yet most of them reject objective morality. In which case, all they're saying is "Ick!")

But is it realistic that we act as he wants? Not at all.

First of all, we haven't the time to debate with everyone about everything. In practice, the love of truth never extends to all truths equally: we all pick certain questions to try to answer, to the exclusion of others. We should at least be given a reason to bother about any given belief (consequently, I don't think atheism, strictly speaking — that is, solely on the issue of god(s), divorced from other, more practical issues associated with religion — should be taken very seriously: if it's true, why bother about it?).

Second of all, we risk committing the opposite error of giving in to a bad argument that only looks good on the surface, especially when the other side is engaging in ridicule and intimidation. (I invite you to go to YouTube and search for "religion" or "atheism" if you doubt that there's a lot of this out there.)

Thirdly, you can't always justify yourself to someone else. There seems to be this disturbing groupthink mentality among a lot of skeptics where if you can't prove it to them, you shouldn't believe it, either. While I agree that intersubjective agreement and the ability to persuade others has a lot to do with justification, it's not the whole of it.

James M. Jensen II said...

Oh, wow, my last comment was full of grammatical errors. Forgive me; it was a long comment and a lot of the errors are just where I started to change the way I expressed an idea but didn't finish updating text.