December 28, 2015

No, you're not entitled to your opinion

No, you're not entitled to your opinion

Patrick Stokes, Deakin University
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.”
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 not 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
The Conversation
Patrick Stokes, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Deakin University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

October 18, 2015

Laurel & Hardy dance to Santana

Laurel & Hardy dance to Santana

Posted by Lynda John Sudia on Wednesday, September 22, 2010

July 2, 2015

Might I live long enough?

Our Independence Day holiday is almost upon us and the “conservatives” are in full feather. Xenophobia is oozing out of every crack and crevasse of the Internet; almost all of it baseless and more than a fair share of it bald-faced, cable news, hate radio lies. Immigrants and “teh gaze” are the conservative Republican hateed du jour, but that is today. Seems that they've always got some new target lined up for their hate and bigotry once they lose their current attempt as spreading discontent. 

I suppose it's due to the season, but the big argument has turned to what it takes to be an authentic American, and to be that one must have been born here, look like the gallery at the Masters, and be a genuine, evangelical xian. If you ain’t from here, and you ain’t like me… you fail the test.

This is highlighted by the recent Public Religion Research Institute poll that asks questions about what it takes to be a real American. Number one qualifier is that one should be capable speaking English. 89 percent of those polled said this was the deal maker/breaker, born here or not. I don't disagree that if you're going to live here you should speak the predominant language, but we have no official language so barring citizenship based on this is nothing short of bigotry.

A finding that crinkles my brow, considering our history, is that 58 percent believe that being born in the United States is prerequisite. Even more disturbing is that 69% percent said that a belief in God is required, and fully 53% percent believe that must be the Christian god. Hindus and Buddhists need not apply. 

The only bright spot is that the number of those polled claiming no belief in any god, commonly called the "nones," has gone from 15% just three years ago to 23% today. This is attributed to the number of Millennials who are getting quickly fed up with the regressive attitudes of the Christian Right (who are seen as neither Christian nor right) and a Tea Party overflowing with southern bigots.

Looking at it with that perspective, and considering the disarray within the old establishment of the national WASP Party (Republicans), I’m beginning to think it may only be a matter of time before we hit critical mass and throw off the shackles of nationalism once and for all. 

Other countries (Finland, Norway) have reached that point already. Why not us?

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May 25, 2015

Memorial Day

As a student of American history it has become my opinion that since the Big War, only a very few of our brave women and men in uniform have lost their lives for our freedom. Many have died or returned crippled, but not for our freedom as the pundits and politicians would have us believe.

Every conflict since September 2nd, 1945 has been a war of our own making. We have allowed a wicked and selfish class of humans to flourish and to profit from spilled blood. I'll not live long enough to see it, nor will most of the people whom I call friend... but I long for the day when Americans finally wake up and see how we have been pawned by feckless politicians and soulless panderers of yellow journalism. If that day ever comes, perhaps we will witness the interment of greed, the dethronement of the ruling class... and see the last of the mangled bodies of our children.

Today I shall sadly view well manicured fields dotted with the white marble of gravestones with somber or crying men, women and children clutching tiny flags... and I will wonder just how many of the dead lost their lives so that some plutocrat could sketch in another zero on a balance sheet tally and grease the palm of another politician. These children did their duty as they are sworn to do... and they sacrificed their lives on orders from above... orders soaked in greed.

I'll see the photos on Facebook and the blogs of the young spouses, the children, parents, best buddies, brothers and sisters, clutching handkerchiefs and consoling one another. My heart will break a little every time I see the images. Too many people believe the lies. Even those who died believed the lies. There is nothing in my lifetime that I can do to change that.

Other than that I'll go about my day as usual. Friends are having a get together and as usual I'm bringing some food. So for an old man with a heavy heart, life just goes on. What other choice do I have?

February 21, 2015

Getting the Cart before the Horse

Modus Ponens versus

Likely the most commonly witnessed failure of logic when debating the intransigent political fanatic or the fundamentalist religious extremist is known as affirming the consequent. Unless put into perspective this fallacy is a bit difficult to comprehend, but once defined the logical failure becomes evident.

Affirming the consequent is categorical in nature and essentially relies on reversing the argument to make available evidence fit or confirm a bias. A recent example is the contorted ballyhoo that followed the Department of Defense announcement that vintage chemical weapons had been unearthed in Iraq. The right wing machine went into full tilt boogie proclaiming that the Bush/Cheney justifications for invading that country had been vindicated. This in spite of the DoD stating in the very same report that the shells were completely useless and had been for decades.



The premise in such an argument is actually valid, yet there is a glaring error between the premise and conclusion. The motive of the right-wingers is to foment the false assumption that the premise (Saddam had WMDs) is actually the conclusion. In truth, the premise is only one of several conditions required to prove the conclusion. Let’s look at it from a child’s eyes so that even the most biased, bigoted extremist might be able to understand.

To state that ducks are birds and that ducks swim in the water is the primary premise. The secondary premise would be to state that chickens are birds. The false conclusion would come by stating that since both ducks and chickens are birds, and ducks swim in the water, that chickens also swim in the water. Of course we know this to be incorrect because experience tells us that swimming is neither necessary nor a sufficient condition to define a bird.

We call this “getting the cart before the horse”, and it seems to be the ultimate in confirmation bias… a last port in the storm for the bigoted.

Let’s take this to politics.

Obama nationalized health care by passing the Affordable Care Act. The Nazis had nationalized health care. Therefore Obama is just like Hitler. It is difficult to understand how so many Americans cannot understand that nationalized health care is insufficient evidence to define Nazism. This is especially true since every country that fought against the Nazis now has nationalized health care, with the exception of the U.S.

Now let’s consider religion, specifically creationism.

Because of the backlash by rational, scientific thinkers, the fundamentalists prefer to call it Intelligent Design. In what has become known as the watchmaker analogy, the creationist tries to prove that just as a watch could not accidentally come to exist, so neither could a human being. Every creationist argument will find roots in the watchmaker argument.

Probably the best known of these arguments comes from Michael Behe, who calls it “Irreducible Complexity.” In his book, Darwin’s Black Box, Behe posits that certain systems are so complex that they cannot be explained by the accidental nature of evolution. He uses a mousetrap as his example. Ken Ham is fond of using a banana. Bill O'Reilly rather bizarrely uses the tides.

The premise is that a mousetrap (banana, the tides) was created… that it is the product of intelligent design… that it is an irreducibly complex object composed of several parts, all of which contribute to the function. The universe, and particularly humans, are also composed of several parts and almost unimaginably complex… therefore an intelligent designer must be involved.

By now you have figured out how to decipher attempts to affirm the consequent, so I suspect you can finish the story.


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February 11, 2015

Mr. Deity says it all

Mr. Deity​ says it well enough that my comments are not required.
#fucktheviolence



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January 25, 2015

Girl sings the blues

Beth Hart has a nice set of pipes. This cover of Sam Cooke's Change is Gonna Come was recorded five years ago in Los Angeles.


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