Sunday, February 10, 2008

Having Opinions

Another day, another blog. Today's find is Massimo Pigliucci's Rationally Speaking. In his January 8, 2008 posting on Neil Postman's recommendations for how to watch TV news, he mentions something I've often thought about and never heard anyone say before:

“Reduce by one third the number of opinions you feel obligated to have.” What they mean here is that it is better to have fewer, but better informed, opinions, and that it is simply ridiculous to expect to have an informed opinion on every major political or social issue.
I'm often disgusted by on-line opinion polls that ask questions of fact, like "What caused Benazir Bhutto's death?" My mental response is "Who cares what I think? Who cares what anyone thinks? What matters is the truth!"

For many years, I've been reluctant to support political candidates or express my thoughts on public issues because I felt that I knew far too little about the person or issue to be able to make an informed judgment. In my mind, some of the most important issues are also among the most complex. Immigration policy and health care financing come to mind. Many very intelligent and knowledgeable people have struggled with these things, without producing clear solutions. How can I presume to have the answers?

I'm understandably skeptical of people who express strong opinions on issues that are far outside their field of expertise. I think Bertrand Russell said it well:

The scepticism that I advocate amounts only to this: (1) that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain; (2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and (3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.

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