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“I’m not a better person than you, but my opinions are better than yours” — Really?

Posted on Jun 9, 2014 by Tom Gilson

Here’s postscript to my post Saturday on truth and humility and blogging.

I’m convinced it’s possible to think, with no contradiction, “I am no better person than you, but my opinions are better than yours.” It sounds arrogant, but on a closer look there’s nothing necessarily wrong with it at all. By the end of this post I’ll have a question for you, though: is it possible for someone to know that his or her opinions are better than others’?

Of course it’s easy to see how someone could think that and be wrong: if their opinions are unstudied, tainted by bias, prejudiced, ethically or morally wrong, or if they’ve tripped into any of a thousand other traps, then their opinions could very likely be worse (less accurate or good) than others’.

So it’s a very risky thing to say. But is it wrong? Not necessarily, and not always.

No Better Person

On the one hand I can recognize that I have strengths and weaknesses, and added up on a scale they all weigh as much as everyone else’s. I can see that we all have equal worth in the eyes of the Creator or (whatever “worth” means on that view) as the result of what nature has done. Believers in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures can see that we’re all on equal plane morally: humankind was created good but fell. Christians believe that “all have sinned and fall short,” and that there is no distinction. If one’s morality is better than another’s, it is by the grace of God in him.

Whoever you are, then, I am no better person than you. Christ in me makes me far better than I would be on my own, without him, so whatever credit anyone gets, it belongs to him.

Better Ideas

On the other hand, I can’t help preferring my ideas and opinions over those I disagree with.

That doesn’t have to apply to every opinion, in fact it really shouldn’t. If I’m wise I’ll know I don’t have to land with a judgment on every opinion. I don’t have to think every one of my opinions is better than others’.

Every person has views, though, that we’ve looked into enough to have an informed position on them. When we get to that point, we’re bound to think our opinion is better than others’—after all, we’ve considered those other views and rejected them! How could we not think the view we’ve chosen is better?

Some People Are Right

So I can be a person who recognizes I’m no better than others, but who thinks my opinions are. So can you. So could anybody. And depending on what opinion we’re talking about, one of us is bound to be right! So yes, it’s possible to think that you’re no better than others, and yet accurately believe your opinions are better.

The trick is to be that person: to know where to look for what’s true, reliable, and trustworthy; to overcome both ignorance and bias; to be willing to follow the truth where it leads.

The Question

Now, here’s the question. I think it’s plainly obvious that a person can believe he’s no better than others but his opinions are, and be right about it. It has to be possible, since someone’s opinion has to be closer to the truth than others’.

I wonder, though: can that person know that he or she is that person? I have my views even on this, and I think those views better than other views. Can I know that? Or can I only believe it?

This question is not limited to religion.

What do you think?

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23 Responses to “ “I’m not a better person than you, but my opinions are better than yours” — Really? ”

  1. David Martin says:

    I think one important element is the ability to understand the other person’s view and how they arrived at their conclusion. I see it often on both sides of many discussions, that people don’t really understand each other’s views. If you can explain your perception of someone’s view back to them in a way that they can say “Yes, that’s what I believe and why”, that’s one indicator that you understand their position. I also find that, when the other person is reasonable, I find myself thinking, “I can see why they think that” about some of what they’re saying, even though I believe I have good reasons to disagree with them.

    I’m sure there are other good indicators, but this is one that I find pretty intuitive. If I can’t understand why someone thinks the way they do, yet I can’t convince myself that they’re being unreasonable, then I need to examine both their view and mine more closely.

    Of course, all of this depends on my attitude. If I’m unwilling to see my own faulty reasoning when it is shown to me, then that’s an indicator that my attitude is not right. If I have been willing to change my views and practices in the past, that is an indicator to myself (but certainly not proof!) that my attitude is right.

  2. Nigel Owen says:

    That some opinions are closer to the truth than others is certainly true.
    If we hold to a world-view where there is a God who created the world we live in and is the ultimate source of all truth. Then there is an absolute standard against which an opinion can be judged.

    However the problem that occurs is: That to make an accurate judgement one needs an accurate and complete understanding of this truth and how it applies. This is something none of us possess.

    So to say that we know for certain that one opinion is better than another I believe would be quite arrogant.

    However absolute certainty is not the level we operate at for most things.

    So one could argue that it is possible to have sufficient knowledge and understanding about a subject to reasonably believe your opinion is better than someone who has a lesser understanding.

    For example someone who has studied all the available evidence in a murder trial is in a position to make a better judgement on whether or not the chief suspect is guilty; than someone who has only read about it in the newspaper.

  3. Hi Tom.

    I think judging opinion better than another is a different thing to judging an opinion more correct than another. You can be right about something but have no good reason to that opinion. If the Christian God exists, and someone believes it through no evidence (I will refrain from saying believes it solely on faith) then they can be correct and yet their opinion will not be better than my own opinion that there is no good reason to believe in the Christian God which is based on my own careful and detailed examination of all the evidences put forward. In that scenario I would say I have the better opinion, but the Christian with no evidence has the correct opinion.

    “I wonder, though: can that person know that he or she is that person? I have my views even on this, and I think those views better than other views. Can I know that? Or can I only believe it?”

    I will also say that no-one ever thinks they are wrong. They can’t. It is impossible to believe something/have an opinion that you don’t actually have. 3 things can happen if you gather evidence (assuming evidence can be found) related to your opinion. You can accumulate evidence that supports your opinion. You can explain/ignore/dismiss evidence that refutes your opinion. You can change your opinion. The opinion with the most (all) evidence supporting it is the better one because it is most likely to be the correct one, as expressed by the ratio of the evidence for and against.

    Can you know that your opinion is a better one instead of just believe? I know that my opinion that there is no causal link between Vaccines and Autism is the best opinion to hold. All the current studies show there is no link, apart from one that was shown to be fraudulent/full of errors. Anyone who believes there is a connection holds an inferior opinion because the studies don’t support that opinion. Of course a woman with an Autistic child can know that the vaccine caused it, and know that her opinion is the correct one because she experienced it first hand, studies be damned.

    Conversely, my opinion orange is the best colour is just something I believe, and I can’t know that it truly is. Actually, I think typing this has cemented the question for me. Opinions can not be better than others because opinions are subjective things. Evidence supporting one side of a proposition can be better the evidence for the opposing side. This is no longer opinion, though, and is fact. In the Autism example, we have studies examining a large sample of children that show rates for autism for vaccinated and non-vaccinated are the same. The distressed mother has a sample of one, albeit her own. The evidence against a causal link is obviously far greater than the evidence for. This is not opinion, this is fact.

    So I would say you cannot know that one opinion is better than another. You can know which proposition is most supported by the facts/evidence.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  4. scblhrm says:

    Shane brings up a good point. Naturalists are now being forced to declare that all which we call physics, all that is Cause, all that is Effect, is or must be some sort of hologram or illusion or “something”. It can’t be real. Else God. All which we see and are cannot exist, for reality just is a causeless, effectless, unchanging, static sphere of some sort. The necessary and sufficient cause of all effects just has to be the static “effect/cause” simultaneously, void of any “flux”. The words “cause” and “effect” are to be tossed out. Else God.

    So there is evidence, and then there is interpretation. The facts support Cosmic Intention, however, the depending on various cultural structuring, it may be the more correct belief to hold to naturalism.

    Ultimately all knowledge, even the uniformity of nature, ends in absurdity on naturalism. Deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, and so on, all die a circular death. This is another window into the “why” of why the uniformity of nature (physics) cannot be real, and just must be a hologram (or some sort of something). Else God.

    And so the naturalist can never have a reasonable claim to any confidence about anything.

    His presuppositions preclude such. But, of course, he is forever contradicting his own presuppositions, and himself, and makes quite emphatic truth statements all the time.

    The presuppositions of Theism of course present a whole different substrate. One that permits us to say Gravity is a cause and the ball falling is an effect. Or that we reason.

    And so on.

    Once we have our presuppositions on the table, we can begin to talk about Truth and Accuracy and Precision and Measurement.

    It’s odd though. The naturalist just jumps into all these conversations and speaks as if we reason, circular staircases to absurdity be damned.

  5. scblhrm says:

    In being a better person:

    Immutable Love manifests within Time and Physicality and makes of Himself our Helper, our Servant, our Rescuer.

    His Knowledge is – of course – greater than ours, His thoughts higher, His ways more robust.

    He is a better Person.

    He is correct in His Knowledge.

    And yet He sacrifices Self. And this He does for an Other who is in fact an inferior sort of person, for an Other who is in fact a person full of fractured information, wrong beliefs, and fragmented knowledge.

    We find then that being right may entail a kind of intentional sacrifice …..the currency of Love’s Kingdom being a rather peculiar currency….. Some forms of Knowledge – He tells us – will fade, be done away with, while other forms will remain, endure.

  6. Hi scblhrm,

    “So there is evidence, and then there is interpretation.”

    This seems to be the crux of it.

    “The facts support Cosmic Intention”

    Your interpretation here highlights the point nicely.

    Cheers
    Shane

  7. scblhrm says:

    Yes, as I see it, cause/effect exists.

    You know, like selective pressure and evolution.

    Apparently now Naturalism’s paradigm seems unfriendly to such “motion”.

    The motive behind considering such solutions to the facts is a desire for truth. Some truths are unthinkable.

    If I had a reason to believe such a reach, I wouldn’t be able to believe it – for I too would be part of the “motion”. Circular staircases…..

  8. Hi scblhrm,

    “Yes, as I see it, cause/effect exists.”

    That seems indisputable.

    “Apparently now Naturalism’s paradigm seems unfriendly to such “motion”.”

    This is where your interpretation comes in. Feel free to explain your interpretation, if you’d like the dialogue to continue.

    Sincerely
    Shane

  9. scblhrm says:

    Shane,

    I’m not sure what you area saying.

    “Indisputable”?

    On inductive reasoning?

    On the uniformity of nature?

    Hume’s problem is your problem: the circular staircase to absurdity.

    Real (our observational) Time is imaginary, and ontological Time is some sort of non-motion – Stasis – within a Sphere.

    This too though suffers the death of inductive reasoning.

    And ever downward…..

    And so with every utterance…..

    The Metaphysical regressions of that Anselmian Maximally Great – Necessary – Being housed within Being’s inherent realationality to what is necessarily In/Self and Out/Other in amalgamation ends ad infinitum in what is Trinity with the ever cogent Hard Stop of an ontological paradigm void of circularity in what is both Truth and Love. We find there the caution of His Words to us that what we call “language’ and what we call “knowledge” are both temporal and also fragmentary, though not illusion, and will fade as they are subsumed by – not eradicated by – the larger Whole which remains, endures – which is Love – referring of course to the End of Regress: God, Who “is” Love.

    The continuous cutting of the ontological chain midstream between A and Z which Atheism must employ to salvage cogency just is blind axiom’s circularity from A and back to A, never able to find Z, as with each attempt all that is coherence is eradicated rather than subsumed.

  10. scblhrm says:

    There more I follow Atheism’s paradigm outward, ever outward, the more all that is Reasoning fades to non-entity, the more all that is Ontological Coherence fades to non-entity, the more all that is Truth fades to non-entity, the more all that is the Worth of Person fades to non-entity, and the more all that is Love fades to non-entity.

    The price of the Atheist’s opinion is high as such must surrender even the ability to utter “truth”.

    The more I follow the Metaphysical regressions of Christianity, of Trinity, of that Anselmian Necessary Being, the more that paradigm is followed outward, ever outward, the more all that is Reasoning solidifies, the more all that is Ontological Coherence from A to Z actualizes, the more all that is Truth forms, the more all that is the Worth of Person comes into focus, the more all that is Love manifests within Time, Physicality, and all other Vectors.

    Unfortunately for the Christian, the Truth of Reality is what the One Who is Right does with all of us who are less right: He is found ever debased that we may be ever built up, glorified. An intentional kind of Sacrifice of Self seems inherent in that bit about “being right”. All such lines are – in Atheism – absurdity, and there we find the Cross, Love’s Eternal Sacrifice Of Self, the Truth that is unthinkable within the circular deaths of Atheism’s paradigm.

  11. Hi scblhrm,

    I guess I get what I deserve for asking you to clarify what you mean.

    Shane

  12. scblhrm says:

    “Can” we know / “better” knowing… Hume, inductive reasoning, uniformity of nature….

  13. Hi scblhrm,

    Are you asking or telling? Still not sure of the point you’re trying to make.

    Shane

  14. scblhrm says:

    Shane,

    The OP is – in part – about making Truth statements. And it is – in part – about such statements as they link to, or fail to link to – necessarily – the worth of all that is Person.

    As I said, I have no idea what a naturalist bases “indisputable” on. And, there is no link to Worth in the naturalist’s Truth statements, as opinion and observational reality end no regressions.

    “Indisputable”.

    Is that Inductive reasoning?

    Is that the Uniformity of Nature?

    The Static Sphere isn’t a challenge, just an example of yet another step on that circular staircase.

  15. Bill L says:

    From Shane:

    I guess I get what I deserve for asking you to clarify what you mean.

    I could not help but laugh.

    But now I wonder, it is just the non-believers who can not make sense of most of scblhrm’s writing, or do the believers find him lucid?

    His opinions may be better; I just don’t know how I could know that.

  16. Tom Gilson says:

    Lucid? No. Meaningful, yes, though not without some effort. I can work usually through what he’s saying and figure it out.

    I have to say, it’s improved since a month or so ago.

  17. scblhrm says:

    Thank you BillT.

    Shane, I’ll defer you to Hume’s insightful question on inductive reasoning and nature’s uniformity in how we know truth etc.

  18. Bill L says:

    scblhrm,

    You’re welcome. But I’m Bill L (the agnostic) not BillT (the very well read).

  19. scblhrm says:

    Yes Bill – I didn’t note/edit in time.

  20. scblhrm says:

    Shane,

    When I asked,

    “I’m not sure what you area saying. “Indisputable”? On inductive reasoning? On the uniformity of nature?” in # 9 (and again in 14)

    It was I guess too subtle for you and I do apologize for that. I must tell you though that I’m surprised as your adept skill here is both obvious and enjoyable to read – I thus assumed such a question non problematic.

  21. Hi scblhrm,

    What I don’t dispute is that there are effects that have a cause. A repetition of a specific cause will result in an identical effect. I don’t understand how you claim that naturalism is unfriendly to that “motion”.

    Cheers
    Shane

  22. scblhrm says:

    A final thought:

    The paradigm that is Atheism grants us no ground which can ultimately endure the weight of any reasoning, inductive or deductive, as all its regressions die an ontological death of circularity – ultimately. As noted, the OP is about – in part – the business of making statements of Truth, and also – in part – about the how and the why of such Truth statements necessarily linking to, or necessarily failing to link to, what we call Worth of all that is Person.

    Hume’s well known and insightful discussion of inductive reasoning, the uniformity of nature, and perception has meaty and helpful fixtures here, as the question of “First Things” or “First Principles” must be addressed before we can even get off the ground – our presuppositions placed on the table – and then – perhaps – we can be so bold as to assert “better knowing”, and so on. Though asked twice to lay such a basic groundwork, in # 9 and # 14, this well-known (and to my mind necessary to this discussion) topic seemed either unwelcomed or incomprehensible. Having to forfeit – ultimately – Knowable Truth perhaps buttresses such avoidance.

    Scripture tells us that all that is language and all that is prophecy and in many vectors all that is knowledge will fade, subsumed by the Total, the Whole, when such comes to us, or we to it, whichever may be the case. In the ontology of God we find that the fragmented condition of our Knowledge and of our Language (of ourselves) is affirmed all the while all such vectors are never banished into sheer delusion as just is the case in Atheism’s paradigm – ultimately.

    On “being right” as it relates to our humanity to one another, we find in Atheism no association between ontological regressions to Truth as that paradigm cannot even reach such a “point” just as we find in that paradigm no ontological regression to Worth of all that is Person as that paradigm has no such thing to offer, I.D. (Indifference-Determinism) being the A and the Z of all its metaphysical regressions. There thus just is no business to discuss in “being right” or in being “humane” in Atheism’s paradigm as all is – at bottom – reverberating fragments of I.D. in a mereological nihilistic ocean of psychic phosphorescence. However, for the Christian, we find a high cost unfortunately – or fortunately if one desires to embrace cogent logical regressions – for the Truth of Reality is what the One Who is Right (God) does with all of us (Mankind) who are less right: He is found ever debased that we may be ever glorified.

    An intentional kind of Sacrifice of Self seems inherent in the business about “being right”. All such lines are – in Atheism – absurdity and therein Atheism finds Christ’s Cross – Love’s Eternal Sacrifice Of Self – the Truth that just is unthinkable within the circular deaths of its paradigm. While all of Atheism’s regressions end – necessarily – in I.D. and thus absurdity, the ontology of God – of Immutable Love – offers quite another paradigm there at the end of ad infinitum.

    Another helpful approach may be in the following quote of Apologetics 315’s book review of Plantinga’s “Warranted Christian Belief” which reads in part:

    “In Warranted Christian Belief….Alvin Plantinga examines the conditions under which theistic and Christian beliefs possess warrant – that which transforms true belief into knowledge. His definition of warrant (defended at length in the prior two books in this trilogy) is as follows: “A belief has warrant just if it is produced by cognitive processes or faculties that are functioning properly, in a cognitive environment propitious for that exercise of cognitive powers, according to a design plan that is successfully aimed at the production of true beliefs.” It is important to recognize that Plantinga’s goal in this book is not to argue for the truth of Christian belief, but for its warrant. Once the reader realizes this, it becomes clear why Plantinga introduces the distinction between de facto and de jure objections to theistic and Christian belief. A de facto objection attacks the truth of Christianity and is hence making a metaphysical or an ontological claim (e.g., God does not exist). Popular de facto objections are the logical problem of evil or that the attributes of God are logically inconsistent. De jure objections are epistemological in nature. For example, a de jure objection might hold that whether or not Christian belief is true, it is nonetheless unjustified or unwarranted to hold such belief. Plantinga sees the book serving two distinct functions: “On the one hand, it is an exercise in apologetics and philosophy of religion, an attempt to demonstrate the failure of a range of objections to Christian belief. …. On the other hand, however, the book is an effort in Christian philosophy…..the effort to consider and answer philosophical questions from a Christian perspective.””

  23. Hi scblhrm,

    “Hume’s well known and insightful discussion of inductive reasoning, the uniformity of nature, and perception has meaty and helpful fixtures here, as the question of “First Things” or “First Principles” must be addressed before we can even get off the ground”

    What first things or principles must be addressed?

    Cheers
    Shane

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