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Shut up. You're not "entitled" to your opinion.

SlightlyPerfect
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Chanting. "4 more weeks."
36 minutes ago
Posted by on Oct. 9, 2012 at 8:55 AM
  • 148 Replies
5 moms liked this

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

slightlyperfect

by on Oct. 9, 2012 at 8:55 AM
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Replies (1-10):
romalove
by Roma on Oct. 9, 2012 at 9:01 AM
6 moms liked this

 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.

Meadowchik
by Silver Member on Oct. 9, 2012 at 9:21 AM
1 mom liked this

I find it disingenuous. 

Yes, everyone is entitled to an opinion.

The OP seems to gloss over the obvious as if it is a superfluous foregone conclusion, when in fact it's fundamental.  It means that everyone has a right to think what they want to think.

 

lga1965
by on Oct. 9, 2012 at 9:27 AM
3 moms liked this

 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?

UpSheRises
by Platinum Member on Oct. 9, 2012 at 9:28 AM
1 mom liked this

People are entitled to their opinions they just can't use them as arguments.

jhslove
by Bronze Member on Oct. 9, 2012 at 9:31 AM
6 moms liked this

I think everyone is entitled to an opinion, but they're not automatically entitled to have others agree with them or condone their actions. If you can't back up your opinion with fact-based arguments and solid reasoning, then you have to be prepared to be alone in your opinion and you can't get all pissy when no one agrees with you or someone calls you out on your errors in logic.

When did "entitled to my opinion" become "entitled to say whatever I want without any consequences or disagreement"?

mikiemom
by Ruby Member on Oct. 9, 2012 at 9:33 AM

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, however if your opinion is bigotted and hurtful you can keep it to yourself. If your opinion is clearly false, then you are entitled to them but we are not required to respect or take your opinion seriously.

Lizardannie1966
by on Oct. 9, 2012 at 9:38 AM

I believe everyone is "entitled" to their own opinion and to have the freedom to state that opinion.

However, it depends on what type of discussion that the opinion requires that factual "back-up" or not.

A topic starting with, "which do you prefer...?" wouldn't necessarily require that back-up.

But one that has those involved in the discussion arguing a current issue or problems, perhaps a little back-up might help in order to have that opinion taken seriously.

stacymomof2
by Ruby Member on Oct. 9, 2012 at 9:43 AM
3 moms liked this

I agree with this, although "entitled" (that oh so ugly word) seems to be the sticking point.  Sure you are entitled to your opinion, free country and what not.  You are not entitled to everyone's agreement with your opinion, especially if you can't back it up.

Another problem I see in these online debates is that people think facts are debateable.  If you call them out and say well, the facts are thus, you will get some people who say that that is an opinion and they are entitled to their opinion.  It is simply not true.

butlerro1013
by Bronze Member on Oct. 9, 2012 at 9:44 AM
3 moms liked this

Everyone is entitled to their opinion...what their opinions are not entitled to in respect.

krysstizzle
by DeepThought on Oct. 9, 2012 at 9:46 AM

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.


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