On Foolishness and Facts
On Foolishness and Facts by Doc Holiday
The statement “awareness is drawn to any conclusion we may come to” is where we find so much to think about when considering what is and is not foolishness
Awareness may be drawn to any conclusion we happen to arrive at, this is true. But we are taught in classes in critical thinking and in scientific reasoning to be careful about some of those conclusions, for some of them could be mistaken.
Conclusions that stand a high chance of being mistaken are sometimes called foolish or just not well considered.
We learned in classes on critical thinking and scientific reasoning to be careful that we have some very good reasons for being drawn to THIS conclusion rather than to THAT conclusion. Not just any conclusion will do in most cases when we reach conclusions.
Without a justification for selecting WHICH conclusion we will let ourselves be drawn to, how will we select between this or that conclusion when there are several or even many to select from?
Consider the case of a journalist estimating how many persons are involved in some hypothetical secret and nefarious political scheme hypothesized to have already happened.
It seems to this reader that when someone says there is some exact upper limit with regard to how many persons were involved in such a scheme, as in saying there were “at most” X number involved, a listener might wonder–might wonder, that is, if one uses some method of justification in order to select among the many conclusions possible with regard to how many were involved in a supposed scheme–one might wonder “how can someone KNOW an exact upper limit is X and not some other number, such as Y?”
The operative word in that question is “KNOW.” How can one know an upper limit?
Knowing is not the same as having an opinion.
And so, when someone says, the upper limit cannot be more than X, is this an opinion or a statement of knowledge? We are free to have our own opinions, but all of us can and often do seem foolish when we claim do have our own facts. We can choose our opinions but if we choose our own facts, we risk looking foolish. And I believe–it is my opinion–that we all do take this risk more often than we realize.
So often people who seem to be asserting a fact are actually expressing an opinion, a guess, a speculation, a hunch. We all slip into doing this now and then, in my opinion.
I wish we all could acquire the habit of being more explicit when expressing opinions by not giving the impression they are stating facts.
That is, I wish for the day, which is almost certainly a foolish wish, when the majority of leading opinion makers in the media, which means journalists of every stripe, were in the habit of saying “it is my opinion that…” or “it is my guess that…” or “my hunch is that…” or “I am speculating when I say that..” or “I have an opinion on this but it is just my opinion that…”
I wonder what sort of world it would be if leading opinion makers were in the habit of saying these things each time they state opinions but state them in ways that appear to be statements of fact–or, that is, when they appear to be making statements of knowledge where there is only opinion.
I wonder what the world would be like if all persons in any position of leadership made it clear when they are expressing an opinion rather than claiming to have knowledge. My guess is (which is to say it is my opinion and which is also to say that I am clearly speculating) that it would be a world where much less foolishness is heard or written. It is also my guess that such a world will never exist because we are all very fallible human beings and we all do perhaps enjoy foolishness more often than we realize. Our opinions so often seem so compelling to us; so therefore we have a difficult time understanding why others could possibly regard them as mere opinions. But this is all surely just my opinion. So I would hope that many people will object to my opinion while offering their own contrary opinions.
J D Holiday Ph.D is a retired psychologist, director/producer of Bostonred and Bostonred on the World.