Current Events & Hot Topics

Featured Posts
SlightlyPerfect
Shut up. You're not "entitled" to your opinion.
October 9, 2012 at 8:55 AM

No, you’re not entitled to your opinion

Every year, I try to do at least two things with my students at least once. First, I make a point of addressing them as “philosophers” – a bit cheesy, but hopefully it encourages active learning.

Secondly, I say something like this: “I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion.’ Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself, maybe to head off an argument or bring one to a close. Well, as soon as you walk into this room, it’s no longer true. You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for. [SlightlyPerfect's emphasis! big smile mini]

A bit harsh? Perhaps, but philosophy teachers owe it to our students to teach them how to construct and defend an argument – and to recognize when a belief has become indefensible.

The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.

Firstly, what’s an opinion?

Plato distinguished between opinion or common belief (doxa) and certain knowledge, and that’s still a workable distinction today: unlike “1+1=2” or “there are no square circles,” an opinion has a degree of subjectivity and uncertainty to it. But “opinion” ranges from tastes or preferences, through views about questions that concern most people such as prudence or politics, to views grounded in technical expertise, such as legal or scientific opinions.

You can’t really argue about the first kind of opinion. I’d be silly to insist that you’re wrong to think strawberry ice cream is better than chocolate. The problem is that sometimes we implicitly seem to take opinions of the second and even the third sort to be unarguable in the way questions of taste are. Perhaps that’s one reason (no doubt there are others) why enthusiastic amateurs think they’re entitled to disagree with climate scientists and immunologists and have their views “respected.”

Meryl Dorey is the leader of the Australian Vaccination Network, which despite the name is vehemently anti-vaccine. Ms. Dorey has no medical qualifications, but argues that if Bob Brown is allowed to comment on nuclear power despite not being a scientist, she should be allowed to comment on vaccines. But no-one assumes Dr. Brown is an authority on the physics of nuclear fission; his job is to comment on the policy responses to the science, not the science itself.

So what does it mean to be “entitled” to an opinion?

If “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion” just means no-one has the right to stop people thinking and saying whatever they want, then the statement is true, but fairly trivial. No one can stop you saying that vaccines cause autism, no matter how many times that claim has been disproven.

But if ‘entitled to an opinion’ means ‘entitled to have your views treated as serious candidates for the truth’ then it’s pretty clearly false. And this too is a distinction that tends to get blurred.

On Monday, the ABC’s Mediawatch program took WIN-TV Wollongong to task for running a story on a measles outbreak which included comment from – you guessed it – Meryl Dorey. In a response to a viewer complaint, WIN said that the story was “accurate, fair and balanced and presented the views of the medical practitioners and of the choice groups.” But this implies an equal right to be heard on a matter in which only one of the two parties has the relevant expertise. Again, if this was about policy responses to science, this would be reasonable. But the so-called “debate” here is about the science itself, and the “choice groups” simply don’t have a claim on air time if that’s where the disagreement is supposed to lie.

Mediawatch host Jonathan Holmes was considerably more blunt: “there’s evidence, and there’s bulldust,” and it’s no part of a reporter’s job to give bulldust equal time with serious expertise.

The response from anti-vaccination voices was predictable. On the Mediawatch site, Ms. Dorey accused the ABC of “openly calling for censorship of a scientific debate.” This response confuses not having your views taken seriously with not being allowed to hold or express those views at all – or to borrow a phrase from Andrew Brown, it “confuses losing an argument with losing the right to argue.” Again, two senses of “entitlement” to an opinion are being conflated here.

So next time you hear someone declare they’re entitled to their opinion, ask them why they think that. Chances are, if nothing else, you’ll end up having a more enjoyable conversation that way.

Read more from Patrick Stokes: The ethics of bravery

Replies

  • Clairwil
    October 10, 2012 at 4:59 AM
    Quoting Clairwil:

    • Everybody has a different experience of life.  They have either lived in different places, met different people or have had different things happen to them.
    • Therefore, in any particular debate, anybody may have a piece of information or perspective, relevant to the topic, that is new to the other debaters, whatever their age, IQ or educational background.
    • Therefore everyone is worth listening to, because you don't know for sure in advance who will turn out to have a missing piece of the puzzle.

    However, having said that, let me see if I can now state the other side of the argument, in a way that makes sense to you...


    • For any particular debate, not everyone will start off with the same number of puzzle pieces.   For example, if we were discussing Ming Dynasty chinese musical instruments that's something I know nothing about, whereas you might have spent 10 years playing lead guqin in a reenactment orchestra.
    • Quite often, if you only have a few pieces of the puzzle, or the pieces you have came from a source that had an interest in biasing you towards a particular point of view, the conclusions you come to based upon the information available to you may be widely different from the conclusions that you (or most people) would have come to if they'd had more pieces, or a more randomly selected sample of pieces.
    • Therefore, while everyone is worth listening to, it isn't always a good idea to give an equal weight to the different conclusions that different people arrive at.
  • stacymomof2
    October 10, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    Perfectly stated!  

    Quoting Clairwil:

    Quoting Clairwil:

    • Everybody has a different experience of life.  They have either lived in different places, met different people or have had different things happen to them.
    • Therefore, in any particular debate, anybody may have a piece of information or perspective, relevant to the topic, that is new to the other debaters, whatever their age, IQ or educational background.
    • Therefore everyone is worth listening to, because you don't know for sure in advance who will turn out to have a missing piece of the puzzle.

    However, having said that, let me see if I can now state the other side of the argument, in a way that makes sense to you...


    • For any particular debate, not everyone will start off with the same number of puzzle pieces.   For example, if we were discussing Ming Dynasty chinese musical instruments that's something I know nothing about, whereas you might have spent 10 years playing lead guqin in a reenactment orchestra.
    • Quite often, if you only have a few pieces of the puzzle, or the pieces you have came from a source that had an interest in biasing you towards a particular point of view, the conclusions you come to based upon the information available to you may be widely different from the conclusions that you (or most people) would have come to if they'd had more pieces, or a more randomly selected sample of pieces.
    • Therefore, while everyone is worth listening to, it isn't always a good idea to give an equal weight to the different conclusions that different people arrive at.


  • lga1965
    by lga1965
    October 10, 2012 at 9:36 AM

     Wow, now I don't know if I belong here because this is all so highly intelligent and so far above my head that I am stunned. I feel rather stupid now....LOL..don't think I have the ability to continue to post or comment. Seriously.

    This is too heavy for me.I highlighted a couple of sentences in red....I have no idea what Clairwil is talking about. I have never heard of that.

    I come to CM to just tell how I feel about a subject/post. And this makes my head spin.LOL. As I asked in a post yesterday, do I need facts and proof to back up my "feelings" and "opinions" ? If so, maybe I shouldn't even comment anymore? LOL.

    Yup, its way too much for me.

    Wow....maybe I will just go to the Entertainment Group and stay there?

    Quoting stacymomof2:

    Perfectly stated!  

    Quoting Clairwil:

    Quoting Clairwil:

    • Everybody has a different experience of life.  They have either lived in different places, met different people or have had different things happen to them.
    • Therefore, in any particular debate, anybody may have a piece of information or perspective, relevant to the topic, that is new to the other debaters, whatever their age, IQ or educational background.
    • Therefore everyone is worth listening to, because you don't know for sure in advance who will turn out to have a missing piece of the puzzle.

    However, having said that, let me see if I can now state the other side of the argument, in a way that makes sense to you...

     

    • For any particular debate, not everyone will start off with the same number of puzzle pieces.   For example, if we were discussing Ming Dynasty chinese musical instruments that's something I know nothing about, whereas you might have spent 10 years playing lead guqin in a reenactment orchestra.
    • Quite often, if you only have a few pieces of the puzzle, or the pieces you have came from a source that had an interest in biasing you towards a particular point of view, the conclusions you come to based upon the information available to you may be widely different from the conclusions that you (or most people) would have come to if they'd had more pieces, or a more randomly selected sample of pieces.
    • Therefore, while everyone is worth listening to, it isn't always a good idea to give an equal weight to the different conclusions that different people arrive at.


     

  • Sisteract
    October 10, 2012 at 11:08 AM


    ITA!

    I will also add that searching only for information (biased or otherwise) that supports your POV, while actively avoiding factual evidence to the contrary, is not necessarily the best approach for educating one's self on the issues...or participating in successful debate.

    Emotions seem to often cloud reality.

    Quoting Clairwil:

    Quoting Clairwil:

    • Everybody has a different experience of life.  They have either lived in different places, met different people or have had different things happen to them.
    • Therefore, in any particular debate, anybody may have a piece of information or perspective, relevant to the topic, that is new to the other debaters, whatever their age, IQ or educational background.
    • Therefore everyone is worth listening to, because you don't know for sure in advance who will turn out to have a missing piece of the puzzle.

    However, having said that, let me see if I can now state the other side of the argument, in a way that makes sense to you...


    • For any particular debate, not everyone will start off with the same number of puzzle pieces.   For example, if we were discussing Ming Dynasty chinese musical instruments that's something I know nothing about, whereas you might have spent 10 years playing lead guqin in a reenactment orchestra.
    • Quite often, if you only have a few pieces of the puzzle, or the pieces you have came from a source that had an interest in biasing you towards a particular point of view, the conclusions you come to based upon the information available to you may be widely different from the conclusions that you (or most people) would have come to if they'd had more pieces, or a more randomly selected sample of pieces.
    • Therefore, while everyone is worth listening to, it isn't always a good idea to give an equal weight to the different conclusions that different people arrive at.


  • stacymomof2
    October 10, 2012 at 5:58 PM

    What clairwil is saying in a nice way is that some people do not have the depth of knowledge that others do, therefore their opinions on those matters are less informed.

    I think the issue is not so much someone's feelings or opinions, because everyone may have something to contribute.  On the other hand facts aren't debateable.  Too many people on this site love to debate facts.  For instance, it is a fact that Obama was born in Hawaii.  Someone coming in and saying their opinion is that Obama was born in Kenya, well, that opinion doesn't carry much weight in a debate, because it's not backed up by anything.  KWIM?


    Quoting lga1965:

     Wow, now I don't know if I belong here because this is all so highly intelligent and so far above my head that I am stunned. I feel rather stupid now....LOL..don't think I have the ability to continue to post or comment. Seriously.

    This is too heavy for me.I highlighted a couple of sentences in red....I have no idea what Clairwil is talking about. I have never heard of that.

    I come to CM to just tell how I feel about a subject/post. And this makes my head spin.LOL. As I asked in a post yesterday, do I need facts and proof to back up my "feelings" and "opinions" ? If so, maybe I shouldn't even comment anymore? LOL.

    Yup, its way too much for me.

    Wow....maybe I will just go to the Entertainment Group and stay there?

    Quoting stacymomof2:

    Perfectly stated!  

    Quoting Clairwil:

    Quoting Clairwil:

    • Everybody has a different experience of life.  They have either lived in different places, met different people or have had different things happen to them.
    • Therefore, in any particular debate, anybody may have a piece of information or perspective, relevant to the topic, that is new to the other debaters, whatever their age, IQ or educational background.
    • Therefore everyone is worth listening to, because you don't know for sure in advance who will turn out to have a missing piece of the puzzle.

    However, having said that, let me see if I can now state the other side of the argument, in a way that makes sense to you...


    • For any particular debate, not everyone will start off with the same number of puzzle pieces.   For example, if we were discussing Ming Dynasty chinese musical instruments that's something I know nothing about, whereas you might have spent 10 years playing lead guqin in a reenactment orchestra.
    • Quite often, if you only have a few pieces of the puzzle, or the pieces you have came from a source that had an interest in biasing you towards a particular point of view, the conclusions you come to based upon the information available to you may be widely different from the conclusions that you (or most people) would have come to if they'd had more pieces, or a more randomly selected sample of pieces.
    • Therefore, while everyone is worth listening to, it isn't always a good idea to give an equal weight to the different conclusions that different people arrive at.


     


  • Kaseyrose21
    October 10, 2012 at 6:09 PM

     Yes, that is exactly what it means. But at the same time your number would probably be lower as very rarely is anything posted that is more then just an opinion. And I like your picture. Smart women do vote for Obama :)

    Quoting lga1965:

     So, OP, I guess that means that more than 50% of the time here at CM, we shouldn't reply. Unless I have facts and can prove my opinion, nobody should have to read my opinion. Or feelings. Or comments. Nothing should be posted unless there are facts to back up our replies,opinions,feelings,comments?

     

  • lga1965
    by lga1965
    October 10, 2012 at 6:20 PM

     Thanks---that makes sense. Sometimes it takes me a while to catch on. :-)

    Quoting stacymomof2:

    What clairwil is saying in a nice way is that some people do not have the depth of knowledge that others do, therefore their opinions on those matters are less informed.

    I think the issue is not so much someone's feelings or opinions, because everyone may have something to contribute.  On the other hand facts aren't debateable.  Too many people on this site love to debate facts.  For instance, it is a fact that Obama was born in Hawaii.  Someone coming in and saying their opinion is that Obama was born in Kenya, well, that opinion doesn't carry much weight in a debate, because it's not backed up by anything.  KWIM?

     

    Quoting lga1965:

     Wow, now I don't know if I belong here because this is all so highly intelligent and so far above my head that I am stunned. I feel rather stupid now....LOL..don't think I have the ability to continue to post or comment. Seriously.

    This is too heavy for me.I highlighted a couple of sentences in red....I have no idea what Clairwil is talking about. I have never heard of that.

    I come to CM to just tell how I feel about a subject/post. And this makes my head spin.LOL. As I asked in a post yesterday, do I need facts and proof to back up my "feelings" and "opinions" ? If so, maybe I shouldn't even comment anymore? LOL.

    Yup, its way too much for me.

    Wow....maybe I will just go to the Entertainment Group and stay there?

    Quoting stacymomof2:

    Perfectly stated!  

    Quoting Clairwil:

    Quoting Clairwil:

    • Everybody has a different experience of life.  They have either lived in different places, met different people or have had different things happen to them.
    • Therefore, in any particular debate, anybody may have a piece of information or perspective, relevant to the topic, that is new to the other debaters, whatever their age, IQ or educational background.
    • Therefore everyone is worth listening to, because you don't know for sure in advance who will turn out to have a missing piece of the puzzle.

    However, having said that, let me see if I can now state the other side of the argument, in a way that makes sense to you...

     

    • For any particular debate, not everyone will start off with the same number of puzzle pieces.   For example, if we were discussing Ming Dynasty chinese musical instruments that's something I know nothing about, whereas you might have spent 10 years playing lead guqin in a reenactment orchestra.
    • Quite often, if you only have a few pieces of the puzzle, or the pieces you have came from a source that had an interest in biasing you towards a particular point of view, the conclusions you come to based upon the information available to you may be widely different from the conclusions that you (or most people) would have come to if they'd had more pieces, or a more randomly selected sample of pieces.
    • Therefore, while everyone is worth listening to, it isn't always a good idea to give an equal weight to the different conclusions that different people arrive at.


     


     

  • Momniscient
    October 10, 2012 at 6:29 PM
    Yes. Yes. Yes.

    And I'll add, you can be 'entitled' to state your opinion but you are not entitled to your opinion being respected.


    Quoting krysstizzle:

    This, exactly. 

    Quoting romalove:

     But if ‘entitled to an opinion’ means ‘entitled to have your views treated as serious candidates for the truth’ then it’s pretty clearly false. And this too is a distinction that tends to get blurred.


    ^^^^^


    This is the problem.  Yes, everyone is entitled to an opinion.  But, your opinion is only as good as your evidence for it, for what you can discuss about it with factual information.  Some things are only opinion; there can't be a proven answer to "which ice cream flavor is most delicious" (although everyone knows it's pistachio lol) and this is totally an opinion item.  Other things, like scientific discussions, your opinion is only as good as the evidence you bring to back it up.  "You" are entitled to any opinion you wish to hold, but that doesn't mean all opinions will be given equal weight and validity.


Current Events & Hot Topics

Active Posts in All Groups
More Active Posts
Featured Posts in All Groups
More Featured Posts