Paul, over at Café Philos, seem to believe that some opinions are as firm as rock. More precisely, he did complain about young people showing their adolescent rebellion in the form of the statement “everything is just an opinion and nothing is certain”. Well, i just thought i had a somehow different experience with the issue.
In Paul’s opinion, denying certainties is an adolescent attitude. Contrarily, when i was younger, i used to assume that people older than me would know what they were talking about. I was very comfortable in taking other’s opinions for facts and not doubt them too much. Paul says that “forming your own opinion” is required part of a healthy education but, for me, adolescent rebellion was always a bore. Even in myself.
It is not that i would blindly accept bullshit if it came from an adult, but if it wasn’t clearly stupid, the very fact that someone else did believe in the thing would make me give more credence to the idea, not less.
On the same vein, i used to think that there were some things that just were. Like, i used to think that there were matters of opinion, where you can like a thing that i dislike, and there were matters of fact, where what is, is, no arguing about.
But it so happens that, as grow older (28.6 here) i get more and more comfortable with this “there are no certainties” thing. I am much less confident in authorities now. Not that i am inclined to go questioning if Dante was a poor poet, but if you say me so, instead of saying “no, he wasn’t” i’ll probably give you the chance to explain this bizarre idea of yours.
That doesn’t mean i’ve become bland and forgiving of intellectual mistakes. On the contrary, i remain as good at detecting bullshit as i ever was, maybe i’ve even improved in this. But i’ve become much more flexible about abandoning things i had previously taken for granted.
Bear with me. Being older, i have a wider repertoire of things i know, and things that i do not need to question and analyse any more. For example, i do not need to analyse the woman-debasing side of the Mona Lisa. I do not think it is. But maybe it is.
I will not spend any energy in exploring whether or not the Mona Lisa is debasing to women. I assume it isn’t. I will also not waste any energy into researching rocket science. Just because i will not spend any energy on it, does not mean the subject is invalid, impossible or unfair.
You can’t take from “everything is just an opinion and nothing is certain” that your personal opinion is beyond external criticism. If someone does this, the problem is not on their slogan but in their intellectual honesty.
Neither can you honestly take from “everything is just an opinion and nothing is certain” that “all opinions are equally as valid”. You can evaluate the validity of an opinion, but the thing is, this evaluation is your opinion. There is no resorting to truth to validate anything. Everything remains opinion, and everything is relative, but this is not a practical problem.
And you also can’t take from “some opinions are more reliable than others” that there is one opinion that is so reliable as to be unquestionable. See, there actually might be such a thing, but i do not know any.
Let me give an example that might sound unrelated. In Autocad you have absolute and relative coordinates. That means that you can either specify a point’s position by it’s relationship with the previous one or to the (0,0) origin. I never saw anyone who actually uses the (0,0) point. Most everyone just starts a drawing from some random point and uses relative coordinates all over. This does not imply that those people abandon geometry, or that the drawings are skewed. It is just easier to keep track of relative coordinates than absolute ones.
In the same way, i used to believe that i need absolute track points for my knowledge, but as i grew older i learnt to rely less and less on certainties, and i began assuming my knowledge is opinion. Not that i trust it any less. I just do not expect it to be absolute or transcendental. Maybe i’m wrong. And you are too. My life goes on.
If we begin discussing political issues (and i use political in the sense of issues that influence concrete measures to our lives) we have to pick some ideas to rely on. And some ideas we deem more reliable than others. Those ideas do not have to be true, or absolute. They have to be effective. Most criticisms of “relativity of ideas” come in the form of political decisions, like saying “if materiality is relative, than strike your head against that wall and see if it hurts”. I choose to believe in the idea that if i strike my head against the wall it will hurt, but just because you force me to make a choice it does not mean this is “truth”.