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Everybody is entitled to their own opinion?

Its a stupid line in a discussion of any issue since it (the ability of anyone to express a view) is almost never the issue being discussed.  I discussed the fallacy of this reasoning years ago on this blog but the erroneous thinking still arises and still bugs me.

I notice the issue is discussed over at The Conversation but I think the author Patrick Stokes does not get it quite right.   Its not that this line can be used to justify silly or unreasoned views – although that is certainly true – but essentially that the claim is irrelevant to what is being argued.  If, for example, the argument concerns the ethical case for legal abortion, and those arguing put a series of reasoned claims but then one party closes with a defiant “everybody is entitled to their own opinion” then this resolves nothing.   The argument is not whether people have the right to an opinion but whether, in fact, abortion is ethical.  The discussion is won by the person who provides the best reasons for their respective view – the claim that one party has the right to “express themselves” is irrelevant.

3 comments to Everybody is entitled to their own opinion?

  • Jim Rose

    JS Mill discussed the distribution of truth as follows:

    if the righteous majority silences or ignores its opponents, it will never have to defend its belief and over time will forget the arguments for it.

    As well as losing its grasp of the arguments for its belief, Mill adds that the majority will in due course even lose a sense of the real meaning and substance of its belief.

    What earlier may have been a vital belief will be reduced in time to a series of phrases retained by rote. The belief will be held as a dead dogma rather than as a living truth.

    Beliefs held like this are extremely vulnerable to serious opposition when it is eventually encountered. They are more likely to collapse because their supporters do not know how to defend them or even what they really mean.

    Mill’s has scenario involves both parties of opinion, majority and minority, having a portion of the truth but not the whole of it. He regards this as the most common of the three scenarios, and his argument here is very simple.

    To enlarge its grasp of the truth the majority must allow the minority to express its partially truthful view.

    Three scenarios – the majority is wrong, partly wrong, or totally right – exhaust for Mill the possible permutations on the distribution of truth, and he holds that in each case the search for truth is best served by allowing free discussion.

    Mill thinks history repeatedly demonstrates this process at work and offers Christianity as an illustrative example.

    By suppressing opposition to it over the centuries Christians have ironically weakened rather than strengthened Christian belief. Mill thinks this explains the decline of Christianity in the modern world. Truth is a casualty of the suppression of falsehood.

  • Student T

    “Everybody is entitled to their own opinion?” Often said by the same people who preface “I’m not a racist but…”

  • Jim Rose

    “I am not a heretic but….”

    the catholic church forget how to defend its position so it lost the reformation debate.

    Biologists spent great effort over the many decades to rebut creation science is a cold methodical manner designed to change minds through facts and reasoned arguments.

    Insults and conceit give peoples excuses to not listen.

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