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Friday, 18 July 2008

Of course I think I’m right!

I find it really frustrating when I encounter someone who throws the “you think you’re right” accusation at me and assumes that this obviously makes me arrogant and that I should therefore back down and run away ashamed.

I am sick of it and I want to scream in a Destiny/Jim Peron-esque manner, "enough is enough!" I will not be made to feel guilty for thinking my opinion is right, or worse, for what that entails, that I think opinions in conflict with my own are wrong.

Further, I will not engage in the ridiculous practice of beginning every sentence with “it’s just my opinion, but…” (as if that somehow makes what follows the “but” any less of an assertion that I think my position is correct).

The expectation that I should not believe that I am right and everyone else is wrong, that I should not express and argue that my belief is the correct one in the context of a discussion is a ridiculous standard that even those who trot it out do not hold themselves to. You see, everyone thinks that they are right and that all other conflicting beliefs are wrong. E v e r y o n e.

The statement, “you think you are right” is always asserted by someone who themselves thinks they are right in asserting that I think I am right. If their objection is cogent, then I should reject their objection, but, if it is not cogent then I should reject it anyway.

The person who objects that I think I am right is suggesting that I adopt an irrational stance, that I should believe something that I think is incorrect; but if I think it is incorrect then I am not going to believe it.

(If I lost you just then, perhaps you had to reread the preceding once or twice, then perhaps that should tell you something about the logic behind the assertion you should not think you are right)

People like to pretend they don’t think they are right and dress up their “arrogance” by starting sentences with “in my humble opinion,” but like the emperor's new clothes it’s a crock; it's all smoke and mirrors, because no sane person holds to a belief they think is wrong or inferior to other viewpoints. I mean why would you? You would hardly rank the differing views and then decide to hold the second or third most plausible view? You’d hold the view you thought most plausible and by doing that you tacitly reject the other views.

So why not just admit this? Why do we play these games? Why do we buy into the theory that there is something wrong with thinking we are right? Admitting we think we are right does not mean that we have to paint ourselves into a corner, refuse to be open to other’s counter arguments or to refuse to consider new facts. It’s simply an admission that we hold a position. Is there really something wrong with not sitting on the fence? (Which in and of itself is to take a position to not hold a position but lets not go there.)


  1. Madeleine

    Your comments remind me of an argument made by Leslie Cannold in The Abortion Myth. Where she writes “ The United States religious right, like most religious extremists, believe their political beliefs are actually God’s will. ... [Feminism is opposed] to one religious group’s imposition of its rather narrow version of morality on a pluralistic society. Unfortunately, the arrogant belief of anti-choice supporters that they have exclusive knowledge of the moral is not limited to the United States.”

    There is much that is mistaken in Cannold’s reasoning here. But perhaps part of what Cannold is driving at here is a concern that believing that God shares one’s moral opinions is itself arrogant. God, after all, is infallible, omniscient and good; humans are not. Hence, to claim that one’s own opinions are the will of God on a matter is presumptuous.

    However, this objection is mistaken too. Consider the divine attributes mentioned in this argument, God’s omniscience, infallibility and goodness. It follows from the fact that God possesses these attributes that any action that is morally right will be one that God wills. Moreover, it follows that any belief that is true is one God affirms and any belief that is false is one he denies. If it is presumptuous to affirm that one’s beliefs are God’s beliefs and that one’s moral stances reflect the law of God accurately, it will also be presumptuous to believe that one’s beliefs are true and that one’s normative stances are correct.

    This is an absurd conclusion. Surely, no rational person holds a belief that he or she believes not to be true or accepts a moral stance that he or she does not believe is correct. The very act of accepting such beliefs involves affirming and accepting them. Moreover, if merely thinking that you are right and others are wrong constitutes arrogance, then Cannold’s position is incoherent. Cannold is, after all, criticising the “anti-choice movement”. She is suggesting they are wrong for being arrogant.

    Another suggestion Cannold raises is that certain people “believe their political beliefs are actually God’s will”. She seems to see this as extremist or fanatical. It is unclear why this follows. After all, if God is omniscient then it follows that any view that I hold that is correct is a view shared by God. Similarly, if God is just then any cause I advocate that is just will be the one God supports. From these premises it follows that one’s political views are God’s will purely from the contention that these views are correct. Presumably, everyone thinks that the views he or she expounds are correct. Rational people are not in the habit of believing things they think are false; in fact, to believe something is to think it is true. The upshot of this is that any one who thinks that she or he holds a correct view on a matter and believes God exists and is omniscient should, if they are rational, believe that she or he and God’s thoughts coincide on the matter. Cannold appears committed to the view that any person who is both logically consistent and a theist is a fanatic and an extremist.

    The oddity of Cannold’s claim can be seen by asking what one would think of a devout person who did not believe she or he were acting in accord with God’s will. Surely, it is strange for a person to do something he or she believed was not God’s will or who held to and advocated a belief which he or she thought God disagreed with.

  2. I am really enjoying us having separate profiles now, we should have set them up ages ago!

    I like how you have extended my comments and I think you are quite right. Believing that God agrees with you does not entail that you are not open to the concept that you might be wrong, that you are human, capable of error, which is the only way that you could justly be charged with arrogance for such a thought. Again, merely holding to a position is not something to be ashamed of.


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