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A Meta-Opinion

December 24, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

I have a lot of opinions on a wide variety of subjects. Some of them are controversial and others are fairly mundane, some are well supported by the consensus of experts and others not so much so, some I am practically certain about and others I have significant doubts about. I think these differences stem from the different types of knowledge areas these opinions exist in.

I have already explained in previous blog posts how I think there are no facts in the real world. We can never be 100% sure about anything except in the fields of maths and logic where some things are true because they are defined that way. For example if A leads to B and B leads to C then A leads to C, or if A leads to B then if not B then not A, etc.

But saying the Sun will rise tomorrow is not a fact because there is a tiny chance that the Earth or Sun could suffer some astronomical catastrophe before then. Of course the contention that the Sun will rise tomorrow is so close to being a fact that we might as well treat it as one, and this applies to many things in science, and I would say that it applies to many of my opinions too.

But not to all. There are areas where I fully realise that I might be wrong or that right and wrong might not even have much meaning. So let’s look at some of my opinions and see just how close to being a fact they are…

First opinion: evolution is the best theory to describe the diversity of life on Earth.

I would call this a fact because the evidence is so overwhelming and there is no serious alternative theory. Note that this doesn’t mean evolution itself is true because there might be another explanation of the phenomenon not covered by a current theory (although this is unlikely). There might also be weaknesses in evolution theory (although there are no serious ones I know of) but the alternatives might be even weaker.

Second opinion: anthropogenic climate change is a real phenomenon and a threat to our future.

This is somewhat less of a fact because there is a significant quantitative factor which isn’t well specified. For example, how much of a threat is it and to whom? Some outcomes might be significant enough to be called threats by some people but not by others. Also, climate change has multiple causes and some are not related to human activity (note that I didn’t specifically claim this in my opinion).

Third opinion: since we know of no greater source of moral standards all moral judgements are effectively opinions.

Some people would debate the antecedent here but if we allow for it to be true I think the consequent naturally follows. I would also point out that the opposite is also true: that if there are absolute moral rules then there must be a higher source (god maybe). So I think this opinion is a fact if we allow the antecedent (that there is no greater source of moral standards).

Note that this can’t be used to prove god exists though, because there is no evidence that absolute moral standards exist (unless you invoke god’s laws and succumb to the logical fallacy of begging the question).

Fourth opinion: neo-liberal economics is the cause of most of the world’s current problems.

This is clearly an opinion and even though I can back it up with a series of facts I also realise that someone holding the opposing view could also demonstrate some facts to support that. Since no controlled experiment has ever been held (and never can be held) comparing different political and economic systems I would say that it might never be possible to say with any certainty which system is best.

I also accept that this statement involves a touch of rhetorical hyperbole. There should be no doubt that neo-liberal economics has major flaws, it’s really just a matter of how significant these flaws are in comparison to alternative systems.

I think it’s important when debating a subject to know what kind of question it is.

Is it a question of logic? If it is there’s probably little point in continuing the debate since the rules of logic are already well established and we are either following them or we are not.

Is it a question of facts about the real world? If it is realise that there are no absolute facts and rejecting a theory because it is only 99% certain is not good debating technique, especially if your alternative has almost no credibility.

Finally, is it a question of complex human behaviour (such as politics or economics)? If it is then there is little chance of reaching any credible conclusion because the system is just so complex and sensitive to unpredictable effects. We should still debate these subjects but finding a final conclusion or point of agreement is unlikely.

Just to finish I wondered what type of statement this blog entry was about (a sort of meta-opinion: an opinion about opinions). It’s a little bit of them all really so conclude from that what you wish!

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