Alonzo Fyfe on your right to your opinion.

“Everybody has a right to their opinion.”

Right?

Wrong.

Not even close.

Yes, it’s another entry from Alonzo Fyfe, the Atheist Ethicist, that’ll probably have you rethinking something you’ve probably said more than once yourself. I know I have. Not sure I’m in complete agreement, but it got me thinking and that’s always a good thing. Go read it now.

9 thoughts on “Alonzo Fyfe on your right to your opinion.

  1. I’ve read it and responded to it. I don’t agree with Alonzo on this one; freedom of thought is perhaps the most basic and most important liberty we humans have.

    There are many common opinions that I do not understand or that I find repugnant. As I wrote in my response to Alonzo, two positions that simply baffle me are the anti-abortion/anti-contraception and the anti-gay stances. Fyfe has elsewhere made good points about how such positions are harmful to other people in society (see this amazing post) if acted upon, and I would agree wholeheartedly.

    Nonetheless, I still believe that everyone does have a fundamental right to her/his opinion regardless of what that opinion is or whether or not that opinion is harmful if acted upon. To tell others that they do not have a right to their own opinions simply strikes me as authoritarian and, well, wrong.

  2. I still believe that everyone does have a fundamental right to her/his opinion regardless of what that opinion is or whether or not that opinion is harmful if acted upon.

    Alonzo is much smarter than this fucker but there’s something wrong with your statement of belief.
    I think it’s that tiny little worm-hole that lies between Opinion and Harmful if acted upon.

    I’d have thought that you, as a young bi … woops … woops LOL witch would tend more towards ‘Harm None’.
    I believe that thought generates some sort of ethereal power and, bad thoughts then, generate a negative something, somewhere.
    I have no empirical proof that this is so although Rupert Sheldrake mentioned in Synchronicity that he’d done an experiment with the NYTimes Xword where he had 100s of people doing it one day and then next day he had 100s of others, not having seen it, doing yesterday’s Xword and completing it in measurably less time. http://www.painterskeys.com/clickbacks/morphic.htm

    There’s still a bit of stuff we don’t know. confused
    Then again who are we gonna elect to be the thought police?  oh oh Yeah. Okay, I’ll go along with you.

  3. This is the sort of moral quandary you land in if you insist that there is an absolute line to be drawn between right and wrong, as Fyfe seems to do.  Obviously, some opinions (“He looks guilty”) are going to affect some actions (“The jury finds the accused guilty”) and must be considered inappropriate.  The same goes for his example of the rapist who says “In my opinion, I did her a favor”.  This is repugnant, and probably an indication of a future danger.

    But when one starts talking about having no “right” to certain opinions, what does that mean?  That you should be thrown in jail for saying or thinking the “wrong” thing?  This is not as cut and dried as it may seem, either way.

  4. No, I do not believe that people with a “wrong” opinion—who express those opinions only in words and not through harmful actions—should be thrown in jail. I have spend a fair amount of effort in my blog arguing that the proportional response to bad opinions expressed only in words is with counter-words. Yet, those counter-words can and should include moral condemnation—claims about the moral character of those who would accept such beliefs.

    However, the instant they start to express their opinion through harmful actions, then jail (or worse) becomes a distinct possibility.

    Every action a person takes is an expression of the agent’s beliefs and values. Every action that we throw people in jail for is an action that expresses beliefs and values we reject.

  5. Oh, and Zilch, I do not believe in any type of “absolute” morality.

    I believe that moral claims are relative. And, yet, they are also objectively true or false.

    This is true in the same sense that I do not believe in any type of “absolute” location.

    I believe that location claims are relative (you cannot tell me the location of anything except in terms of its position relative to some other thing), and yet location claims are objectively true or false.

  6. Thanks for contributing here, Alonzo.  It’s always good to hear a reasoned argument about morals.  That said-

    I believe that moral claims are relative. And, yet, they are also objectively true or false.

    What’s the objective standard for whether moral claims are true or false?  I don’t know of any, and that is exactly the problem we have in creating viable societies.

    This is true in the same sense that I do not believe in any type of “absolute

  7. Zilch:

    Well, the first problem we would have is that, even if we agreed that a moral claim is “an opinion about the rightness or wrongness of some position or action”, we need not necessarily agree about what “rightness” or “wrongness” mean.

    Here, I will go back to an earlier discussion whereby the fact that astronomers do not agree on the meaning of the term ‘planet’—and will answer the question as to the term’s meaning by the executive decision of a committee who will effectively do nothing but assert a preference—does not imply that astronomy is not objective. Questions of meaning are irrelevant to the issue of objectivity. Any set of definitions is as good as any other, as long as we agree to use them consistently.

    Now, the analogy to location was only meant to show that the possibility of objective non-absolutes exists. This possibility defeats the inference, “morality is not absolute; therefore, it is not objective,” or “Fyfe believes that moral claims are objectively true or false; therefore, he must believe that there are moral absolutes.”

    Now, you seem to be offering two additional criteria for inferring non-objectivity.

    (1) “not simple or uncontroversial”. Certainly, several location statements are ‘simple and uncontroversial’. However, to make this into an argument against objectivity, you need to assert that objective statements—not just location statements—are ‘simple and uncontroversial’. Yet, I suspect that you would agree, this is not the case.

    It is not even the case that all location statements are simple and uncontroversial. It depends on how precise you want to be in your statement. At some level of precision, even location statements are neither simple nor uncontroversial.

    (2) “not universally agreed upon”. Of course, many objective claims are not universally agreed upon. Therefore, the inability of everybody to agree on something is no proof of non-objectivity. Nor is it the case that we universally agree on HOW to answer all objective questions. The proposition, “God exists” is true or false. Yet, not only do people disagree on whether it is true or false. They disagree on how to determine if it is true or false.

    Now, none of this proves that morality is objective. However, it defeats four arguments used to show that it is not.

    “no clear meaning of terms therefore not objective” is false. Like the astronomers, we simply need to create a common vocabulary, but any vocabulary will do as long as we use the terms consistently.

    “not absolute therefore not objective” is false.

    “not simple and uncontroversial implies not objective” is false.

    “not universally agreed upon implies not objective” is false.

  8. LuckyJohn: I’d have thought that you, as a young bi … woops … woops witch would tend more towards ‘Harm None’.
    I believe that thought generates some sort of ethereal power and, bad thoughts then, generate a negative something, somewhere.

    You’re right that bad thoughts contribute to negative energy (and what a nebulous concept that is). But I think there is still more harm in a “thought-police” mentality (not that I am accusing Alonzo of advocating anything remotely Orwellian—not by a long shot).

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, this witch is peckish.  wink

  9. Alonzo-  I agree with your defenestration of these four arguments against the objectivity of morality.  But as you say, that does not constitute a demonstration of the objectivity of morality, which remains to be proven.  I would be very surprised if you, or anybody, could come up with an “objective” claim about the morality of, say, depriving spotted owls of their habitat, or loggers of their jobs.

    And I don’t see how simply agreeing on definitions changes the objectivity issue at all.  For instance- deciding on what shall be called a planet is not objective, and has very little to do with the part of astronomy that is objective.  In fact, since there are no astronomical lines that can be drawn between planets and nonplanets, and Pluto has a history involving people’s feelings, whether or not to call Pluto a planet is actually a moral problem- a rather trivial one, since no lives are on the line, but still one that cannot be answered objectively.  Agreeing to call Pluto a planet as a matter of definition does nothing to make the judgement objective.

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