The Ethics Of… Being Entitled to Your Opinion

As always, excellently argued and wonderfully expressed.

The Ethics Of

Every time a new set of migrants moves into Australia, every time the gay and lesbian community makes a statement, and every time a religion figure says something idiotic, the same phrase gets trotted out again and again.

I’m entitled to my opinion.

Whenever there is a clash of values, this seems to be the standard defense. These are my opinions and I’m entitled to them, regardless of what you might think of them. Just because they are different to yours doesn’t mean they’re any better or worse.

So what if that guy disagrees with climate change? Everyone’s entitled to their opinion! Who are you to say your beliefs are any more valid than someone else’s? If a Muslim woman wants to wear a hijab, then that is her right and you can keep your arguments to yourself.

Or as a certain, highly influential entity once said: Thou shalt…

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6 thoughts on “The Ethics Of… Being Entitled to Your Opinion

  1. Swarn, I grieve for you. That article, in my opinion, was terrible. Without tolerance there is tyranny. As much as we might like for everyone to be able to accept that they might be wrong, we can’t expect it or force it. If two people that love each other deeply get married and later divorce for reasons of irreconcilable differences, how can we expect an entire society to “get over themselves”? It’s absurd and so we protect freedoms of speech, expression, and association, expressly because people aren’t willing to question their own beliefs and acknowledge their own fear, uncertainty, and ignorance.

    In addition, the premise for the argument was based on a quotation from Jesus (misinterpreted, in my opinion). Well, unless you accept Jesus as an authority on how you should live your life, it has no weight and hardly measures up as the best available evidence.

    Unless it was satire, in which case it was quite humorous and very profound.


    1. Perhaps this is where we fundamentally differ. I don’t think tolerance is incompatible with the idea of having questioning our beliefs. Even love is made stronger by asking questions and seeking answers to those question. Just as those questions may lead you to realize that you are no longer compatible.

      “Getting over ourselves” is actually something we can expect from society, because it’s another way of saying “be humble” which I firmly believe is being a fundamentally important human trait. Inherent in the idea of being humble is that you might be wrong or that at the very least new things might be discovered or revealed to you that might change your mind about something. Being humble is what can make you work out a marriage, because it can lead to compromise and the recognition that somebody else may at least be partially right. As the author of the blog says there are few instances where somebody on one side of an argument is 100% right or 100% wrong.

      And I strongly disagree that the reason we protect freedom of speech is for the people who aren’t willing to question their own beliefs and acknowledge their own fear or uncertainty. The reason we protect freedom of speech is precisely for the questioning of authority, especially when authority becomes mired in dogmatic beliefs and does not self-correct. I actually grieve for you if you think freedom of speech is to protect those who are ignorant. Freedom of speech is so that all ideas can be heard and evaluated. So you have the freedom to say something wrong, and others have the freedom to critique it. We let the Westboro Baptist church speak their mind, so that those ideas are exposed and in the open, so that people can evaluate them. The Westboro Baptist Church is much more dangerous when cloistered and allowed to grow under a mask of political correctness. Freedom of speech is what allows the press to expose corruption, freedom of speech is what allows academics to critique government and other institutions for which society depends on. Freedom of speech is what allowed for women to vote, ended segregation, banning of interracial marriages, and will in the end lead to marriage equality for all people.

      I also completely disagree that the inspirational message of Jesus Christ carries no weight. Jesus has a lot of valuable lessons to teach and was a compassionate individual who fought for equality and against poverty and oppressive government? How does that have no weight? Jesus doesn’t even have to be seen as divine to be seen as an inspirational and positive human being. None of us our divine, and I think Jesus actually carries more weight as a human figure than as a divine one. In fact if you accept Jesus as the only authority as to how you should live your life, this is more likely to lead to intolerance of other people’s opinions and beliefs. Because if Jesus is the only message that matters, than all others become weaker or less valid. And that simply isn’t true.


      1. I don’t think I said that tolerance is incompatible with questioning our beliefs. The author of the article advocated less tolerance and more sitting down and working it out. My point is that less tolerance can only work if people are actually willing to work it out, and if so many married couples cannot do it, how can we expect that business partners, friends, strangers will be able to?

        I agree that humility is a fundamentally important trait. I disagree with the author’s assertion, at least as I understand it, that I am not entitled to my opinion because others should be humble. That’s too idealistic.

        Yes, I agree with what you say about freedom of speech. I worded that poorly. If you’re not entitled to your opinion, doesn’t that mean you don’t have freedom of speech? How is the article not an attack on free speech?

        Certainly, you don’t need to agree with everything someone says to think that some things they say are insightful; however, the quote from the article “…in the same way you judge others, you will be judged…” is not self-evident. For it to have weight, you need to accept it on Jesus’ authority. Typically, only Christians would do that.


    2. I don’t think the author admits any of it being easy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthy goal to strive for. I am no sure why you use the example of married couples as a comparison of what we can and cannot do. I don’t think there is any reason to think that a married couple should or should not stay married. The fact that a married couple might not be able to work it out and get divorced, does not implied that they haven’t tried. People are dynamic and change with time. The person who they were in love with before is not necessarily the same person now, and because people change, they may simply see that they are no longer compatible. There are some things in which one can easily have an opinion about that is neither right or wrong it just is. I like strawberry ice cream more than vanilla. This is a fine place for an opinion. Perhaps if one feels that their spouse is no longer compatible with themselves and they should divorce is through much discussion of their views and wants in the relationship, and so there is evidence that they aren’t a good match. Perhaps they didn’t really think things through properly when they got married in the first place. Now that they are thinking things out they realize that divorce is the best course of action. In could be that there is no evidence either way, but its just the way they feel towards each other. In this case I don’t think there is any reason they have to work it out if they don’t want. Their decision may just impact them. Now if the decision impacts a child, perhaps there is more value in working it out. Or at least talking about it. Two incompatible people who cannot find a way to get along may actually cause more harm to bringing up the child if they are fighting all the time. Again I am not sure that this is the type of situation the author was getting at.

      You said in your initial statement that without tolerance their is tyranny. I don’t think tyranny can be so easily summed up. Because the tolerance of the people to accept that tyranny, or other nations to not make sanctions against a country that is violating it’s citizens human rights is not actually helpful. What does help is intolerance. Jesus could be said to be intolerant towards the Romans. Martin Luther to the Holy Roman Empire, Gandhi was intolerant to the British, Martin Luther King, JR was intolerant towards the law of the government. Intolerance is the main way in which society progresses. Perhaps intolerance is part of tyranny, but so is brutality, fear, and hate. The author of the blog argues that as long as we still have compassion towards people, we can still be intolerant to incorrect beliefs and ideas and challenge them. An opinion is not in a bubble and does impact other people for many issues. I for instance cannot be tolerant towards people’s views towards vaccinations, because the reasons for such opinions or beliefs are faulty, and the choice not to immunize their child endangers my child. Should actual evidence come to light that shows children are in much more danger being vaccinated than not, I can change my views. My views are based on evidence, and I am willing to change them if presented contrary evidence. This is the argument the author is making. While not easy, it can be learned. If we truly are striving to be humble, if we truly apply the same standards to ourselves that we apply to others, then we will naturally move towards a mode of thinking that is not mired in our own individual biases. This is important in a society.

      Let me give you another example. When Maggie told my mother-in-law that we got Dhyan circumcised, she was aghast and accused us of mutilating our baby. Should I simply tolerate that opinion. What if she told others that circumcision of the male penis is equivalent to child mutilation? When Maggie’s sister talk to her mom about it, we found that she had misread a Wikipedia entry that said “while male circumcision shares the same name as female circumcision, they are NOT the same”. However she equivocated it to female circumcision, which is mutilation. Upon finding out she was wrong, she softened her views, even though male circumcision is not common in Poland. I can be understanding of how she might have obtained her views having read something incorrectly and I don’t hate her for her incorrect view, but I certainly should not be tolerant towards somebody that is badly misinformed.

      The point the author of the blog perhaps failed to mention is that really he is asking for more personal responsibility. In a society it is not permissible to go about doing or saying something that is demonstrably incorrect. Many who argue against climate change say they are just being skeptical, like one ought to be, but there is a difference between skepticism and uninformed skepticism. There are many valid points to bring up about climate change in the name of skepticism, but these are rarely (if ever) used by the typical climate change. deniers. One is entitled to form an opinion, and one is entitled to express that opinion, but what the author argues is that one is not entitled not have that opinion be challenged as faulty, nor is one entitled to maintain that opinion despite contrary evidence. Again an opinion may not be 100% wrong, but an opinion should still be modified once presented with additional information that negates part of an argument. At best you can say the author is idealistic, but he’s not wrong. I am much better at forming new opinions now and accepting I am wrong, then I was 20 years ago. It takes time and training to learn how to evaluate evidence and it takes time to listen to others who may have more experience or knowledge in something than you do.

      Finally I think that Jesus’ quote about judgment is absolutely self-evident. It’s not much different than “do unto others as they do unto you”. It’s something that has appeared in other religious text and by others throughout history. It makes perfect sense. I cannot harm others and then expect to be immune from harm myself. If I judge somebody else for their actions, then someone has the right to judge me as well. That is why the Bible also says “he who is without sin, cast the first stone”. And whether the blog author is right or not in his interpretation of that verse, I think it’s okay to hold others to a certain standard as long as you hold yourself to the same standard. So when Phil Robertson condemned gays as sinners, where was his condemnation of himself for not doing more to help the poor. The bible says a lot more about the evil of money and wealth than it does about the evils of homosexuality. This is an example of someone who expects people to leave him alone because of freedom of speech, when criticism and judgment in return is also others exercising their freedom of speech. Many people, like Phil Robertson, expect immunity for their opinion when they judge or criticize others. It would very much be like me saying, I want to critique peer-review papers of my colleagues before they get published, but my papers don’t need to be critiqued and should be published right away. The bible has a lot of things that are completely self-evident and you don’t need to believe in Jesus to know that being kind and compassionate to others is a good idea. Jesus was far from tolerant though, he was however extremely forgiving. Intolerance is far from the root of all evil.


      1. It took me a few days to build up the courage to reply to such a long comment.

        The author of the article says that you do not have the right to be entitled to your opinion and that you do not have the right to hold faulty beliefs. He or she then advocates sitting down and calmly and rationally settling disagreements. This my basic understanding of the article and everything I’ve written assumes that.

        Settling a disagreement or discussing a difference of opinion takes a fair amount of energy, empathy, patience, and compassion (and likely other virtues). I have the most amount of this for my spouse. I have the least for the guy behind me at the football game. Assuming that most people operate on a similar sliding scale and assuming that many marriages break down due to disagreements and differences of opinion that could not be reconciled, it is unreasonable to think that some kind of agreement could be met with most of the people we come in contact with when it is already difficult to achieve this with my spouse. If I think global warming is a big problem and action is required and my wife thinks it’s just what the earth feels like doing at this moment, I am willing to expend a considerable amount of energy to reconcile our differing views. If the guy behind me at a football game disagreed with me, and I thought his views were dangerous, perhaps it is my responsibility to say something, but after one or two exchanges, if there is no movement, I’ll just think, “You’re a tool. Have a nice life.”

        As for tolerance, I think we are operating from slightly different definitions. I understand tolerance to be allowing behaviour that you do not condone. I agree that intolerance is called for in the face of oppression and often intolerance itself, but to advocate for less tolerance, I think is dangerous. It assumes that you are right to begin with. You mentioned vaccinations. Unless you are forcing people to vaccinate, then I would say you are tolerating those who choose not to. Speaking up for what you believe and challenging beliefs that you perceive to be faulty is not intolerant. I know some people that don’t vaccinate their children. I think it is irresponsible and immoral. I believe the consequences for their choices will be the death and crippling of children. But I don’t think they should be forced to do it; even at such a cost I think it is more important to live in a society that doesn’t legislate morality.

        I think a lot of people when presented with all the facts still hold that circumcision is mutilation. If your mother-in-law had taken that stance, what would you have done then? Would you continue to be intolerant of her view or would you agree to disagree and allow her to be entitled to her opinion?

        I fully agree that people should be more responsible. The article challenged me to think about my own level of passivity. It’s one thing to argue a point on some obscure blog and quite another to challenge someone face-to-face in public. I admire your courage to confront people, as when you blogged But in an article, what’s failed to be mentioned is precisely that. In the face of reality, to be idealistic is to be wrong. Ideally we wouldn’t need to be entitled to our opinions, but in this world, I would not give up that right.

        Jesus said “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, not “as they do unto you”. I think you knew that and just wrote it incorrectly. One is based on reciprocity and a tit for tat mentality, the other compels us to hold our behaviour to a higher standard and not have it be determined by the actions of others. I think it’s self-evident that if more people treated others the way they would like to be treated themselves, the world would be a better place. The quote in question is not like that. As you wrote, I cannot harm others and then expect to be immune from harm myself, but neither can I help and lift up others and expect to be immune from harm. I don’t see a correlation between how people judge others and how they are judged themselves. In fact, it seems to me that often the very people who think less of others are the ones who are elevated in various media. This is why I say that it is not self-evident, because I don’t see people, as a matter of course, being held to the same standard that they use to judge others. That passage only makes sense to me if I understand that God is the one who judges us and holds us to our own standard. Notwithstanding the interpretation, I agree with you and the author that we should judge others only so much as we are willing to be judged ourselves, not that we should withhold judgement completely. My point is that given that the statement is not internally self-evident (because it doesn’t hold with observations of how the world actually operates), it must be taken on authority which seems like a weak argument given the author’s desire for evidence. I don’t know very much about Phil Robertson or what he said, but I suspect that could be its own blog post.

        As an aside, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” is not in the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel. (Although that hasn’t stopped me from using it in an argument from time to time).


        1. Perhaps we do have different definitions of tolerance, perhaps I attribute slightly more of a passive nature to tolerance than you do. I don’t know. And I agree, I don’t think I am going to get up and start telling a few people behind me at a hockey game or something that they are wrong about global warming, and I don’t think that the blog advocates that, because it doesn’t really address strategies for dealing with people with incorrect views.

          I also don’t think the article says that one can’t hold on to any opinions. As I said before, there are many things for which evidence does not exist to make one better than the other they are just simply how you feel. Like flavors of ice cream. Perhaps that’s why I still don’t understand your analogy of marriage completely, because many views on both sides of the marriage may simply be of a non-evidence based nature. Irreconcilable differences are simply those kinds of things. If someone cheats on you and you feel you can’t trust them again, there is no sitting down and working out an agreement. That’s simply how you feel. It’s a preference that is unique to you, for which there is no right or wrong answer. This article deals, and perhaps this is only in my opinion, views for which evidence does exist which should lead to inductive reasoning for forming an opinion.

          I think the key here, and maybe this is because I have read all his blog posts, is that they are all about ethics. And acting ethically is all about personal responsibility. You can accuse people of not acting ethically, but one should always start with themselves. The question he poses is, “Is it ethical to be entitled to your own opinion?” This defense is thrown around in many of the debates today, like vaccination, climate change, evolution, or gun control. You cannot simply ignore evidence and say “Well you are entitled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine.” It isn’t ethical to simply go around and hold an opinion that effects your actions, philosophy, etc that is incorrect, especially when evidence exists that would impact the opinion you hold. It is the ethically responsible thing to always be questioning your own beliefs by openly analyzing new evidence as it is made available to you. Can we ever get to a state where everybody does that? Perhaps not, but I think we can do a better job than what we are doing. Given the access to information we have now, there is no reason for a population to be so uninformed as it is here in the U.S. There is a reason why we have slipped to like the 45th ranked country in terms of the knowledge of our school children.

          That being said, and I have had this discussion with this blogger before, that ultimately what I find is people disagree about what evidence actually is. Which is why I think that ethics doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. We need to first investigate how people think. Why we believe in things, how we learn, what causes us to change our beliefs.


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