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Sunday, July 01, 2007


The right to be wrong

The more I read debates and arguments, political, religions, artistic, and so forth, the more I find that some people are absolutely sure of themselves and tend to defend their opinions to the bitter end. Others quietly reverse themselves, hoping no one will notice and without ever admitting that they were mistaken in the first place.

The fact is that we are all born ignorant, and each of us has experiences that shape our opinions. In the course of time, we will all of us acquire beliefs that are incorrect, foolish, and dead wrong, thought we may be entirely confident that we are right.

I've said it elsewhere, so I'll repeat it here. I've been wrong before, and I will almost certainly be wrong again. I'm probably just as certainly wrong now in some things and just don't know it yet. Being wrong is not the same as being evil. At the same time, I respect the right of other people to be mistaken. It happens to the best of us. I do not feel obligated to cram my truth down someone else's unwilling throat.

The humility, the flexibility, to admit that we are ignorant and have been mistaken is necessary for to real learning to occur, and so is the willingness to be persuaded by facts or reason.

This doesn't mean that I change my mind every time someone disagrees with me. I've also found the ability to say "I could be wrong, but I don't think I am, and here is why", to be very useful. I can usually find multiple reasons to belief things I am reasonably certain about. There are certain fundamental I've weighed carefully. I've already heard most of the arguments and found them flawed. But in other things, I've found that the ability to weigh apparently contradictory evidence and form tentative opinions that might be changed on the basis of more evidence to be useful as well.

So, while I don't like to found out I have been mistaken, I've often found it useful to both claim and to grant the right to be wrong.

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