Monday, August 18, 2014

Yes, you're entitled to your opinion

Like everyone else I'm for herd immunity, and like some people I believe the Holocaust of six million Jews was a sad and real historical event and that Al-Qaeda organised the September-11 attacks. But when it's appropriate to respond to Holocaust deniers or such like, we should do so with reasoning, not ad hominem attacks. John Dickson linked to this article by Philosopher Patrick Stokes; which was meant to argue that people who have opinions should defend them with arguments. However what Stokes really does is argue for "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." He says as much here: "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." No Stokes, amateurs and experts alike can weigh up the validity of arguments.


Anonymous said...

It's not about experts and non-experts weighing up arguments, but about asking those who nothing for their opinion, and valuing it.

Anonymous said...

That should have been "know nothing".

It's about valuing the opinions of those who know nothing. For example, asking a pop star about the effects of global warming. It's unlikely they can provide as good information as a climate scientist, but you'll see the pop star (or lay person of any sort) on TV far more than the expert.

Luke Isham said...

Hi Anonymous,

Please identify yourself, even with a pseudonym, for future comments, so that we can keep track of who says what and so have a good discussion. Thanks!

But if the argument is valid there should be no difference between who makes it, pop star or climate scientist. That's the danger with saying (not that you were directly) only experts can have informed opinions is that you privilege the arguments of a few, when truth and reasoning are egalitarian tools.

Mike Westerman said...

Luke there's truth in the statement that "truth and reasoning are egalitarian tools" but like any tools, it also has to be acknowledged that the same tool in the hands of anyone will not produce similar results. I think your own Holy Writ differentiates between the words of the wise and of fools. Hopefully the difference is that the expert can make clear the strong arguments in defense of a position, where as the fool can only regurgitate their private opinions. I would not spend the same time waiting for an amateur to gain expertise in a task, I would go to the expert. Likewise there is little to be gained from the opinion of fools, regardless of what right they may have to them.

Luke Isham said...

Hi Mike,

Well spotted wisdom is different from foolishness. I agree that "expert" is shorthand for qualification and that qualifications *should* be based on experience but that isn't always the case in our broken and corrupt world. Additionally qualifications and experience are often more suitable for practical tasks, such as landing an airplane, replacing stitches or lowering control rods into the whatever it is in a reactor. As for the why of air travel, the suitability of stitches or the need for nuclear power, all more ideological questions, the argument should be up grabs.

Does that make sense? I guess you pin pointed my unstated premise, some things are more practical some more ideological and some an even mixture. Which complicates the argument "that the arguments of experts (whatever they are) should always be trusted over non-experts (whoever they are)."

Mike Westerman said...

Luke I don't buy the dualist view of matter or mind as I don't think our minds nor our world are like that even as a metaphor. But the real argument is whether one subscribes to a process for accumulating reliable knowledge or not. So many of those defending opinions deny that process and grope only for subjectivism as their guide.

Luke Isham said...

No, no please don't see it as Dualist, ugh I'd hate that. It's a spectrum, some things are very practical eg digging a grave or loading a rifle, some things are a mixture eg deciding on the location of an airport or sentencing a criminal while other things are very ideological, eg defining success in life or the best thing for a marriage. Think of everything plotted on a graph with each thing being somewhere on the ideological practical scale. Experts are good at tying knots but everyone should be able to decide whether or not to tie up whatever is being tied.

Mike Westerman said...

Well that's reassuring Luke. So if knowledge can be thought of as being on a spectrum from from I would call conjecture thru to empirically universally accepted, it stands to reason that in expressing an opinion, you would delimit it as much as possible to what is well supported rather than whatever comes first to mind. Whether in regards to "what" or "why" opinion will be better informed and better served by referring to "better supported" knowledge, and hence to those better versed in it, than by referred to random passers by or random thoughts dropping into mind. This is why I preference expertise (ie that which is better informed by what is better supported) over opinion, and counsel anyone with an opinion to test it against knowledge that has been more thoroughly tested.

PB said...

The cult of the expert mistakes credentials for wisdom. A pop star, like anyone else, has the potential to be wise about a topic for which she is not credentialed. And there are plenty of credentialed fools.

Which means, for one thing, it's worth establishing the value of a credential. At many first tier Uni's and Colleges, especially in the humanities, the credentialing process has gone awol, and the credential is worthless.

More importantly though, b/c you don't want to reverse discriminate (even someone with a worthless first tier degree can escape with wisdom), it would be more valuable to establish if a given pop star/person is a fool. I'd be wary to trust Lady Gaga on any given topic b/c she has already proved herself untrustworthy to me. A general principle of course, but more helpful than falling into the trap of trusting credentials/the cult of the expert.

PB said...

That's one side of the coin - how we "passively" evaluate the merit of anyone's arguments.

The other side of the coin is when we actively seek wisdom on a given topic. In that case, I wouldn't actively hunt down the pop star on a topic outside pop music, unless someone had flagged to me she was a good person to ask. I'd actively canvass the folks with apparent experience in the topic.

So, the passive evaluation is an innocent until proven guilty approach, and the active evaluation is a discerning start with experience (if not credentials).