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.
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.
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?