People have different beliefs, philosophies, and ideologies. These people, despite not agreeing, go about their lives thinking their beliefs are right. There usually isn’t anything that will happen that proves one person is right over the other, so people tend to stick to what they think.
The choices they make based on these beliefs might either work, or seem to work despite them being so different from each others’. People with different or even opposite beliefs might live their lives doing things completely differently and think their way is correct without ever noticing any issues. Meanwhile groups will look at each other and say the other group believes incorrect things and lives wrongly or make mistakes because of it.
There are some things that can be done in many different ways without them being right or wrong, such as subjective tastes and beliefs. However there are other things that may have a wrong answer, or at least be partly wrong. A clear example is curing a disease or injury. Cauterising or bandaging a wound will stop bleeding, but prayers will not (to the best of my knowledge). Neither will crystals or dilute homeopathic solutions. However, some people will pray for a wound to heal, and over time it might. They may then think their prayers worked, and continue to live believing that, even though it’s wrong.
One country may execute criminals while another only imprisons them, and they both reduce crime but one thinks the other is barbaric and they think the other is inefficient and soft. With lives ended and ruined, we cannot simply say that each country should be allowed to continue because they have the right to govern themselves. They do both of course have that right and we should not force them to do anything necessarily, but we cannot leave the matter at that if we believe that they are making a huge mistake. It is not just our moral duty to point this out to them, but it is beneficial to them and to us to discuss the matter and resolve the dispute with reasoning so we can be certain about what actions to take in this matter. It could be that they had a good reason to execute criminals that you might agree with, so no action is needed, or it could be that you show them why it is inhumane to execute people, so they would be willing to try to change how the law works.
To clarify this situation:
- Person A believes in one way of doing something, and does things based on that.
- Person A thinks their ways are correct, and that their ways provide good results.
- Person A thinks B is doing things wrongly, and sees their methods as resulting in failure.
- Person B believes in another way of doing something, different than person A, and does things differently based on that.
- Person B thinks their way of thinking is correct and that it leads to positive outcomes.
- Person B thinks A is doing things wrongly, and thinks the failed results of A’s methods show how wrong they are.
- Despite A thinking that B is failing, B thinks that their own methods result in success.
- Even though B think that A fails, A thinks that they are successful.
So how is it that A acts on their beliefs and gets a result that they think is successful while B thinks that A failed?
If this is a matter of right or wrong, then A either failed or they didn’t, it cannot be both. Despite that, A and B look at the same thing and one views it as failure, and the other success. Again, it could be that A thinks they succeeded because they have a different idea of what “success” is, compared to what B thinks it is, but that situation is not the one we are talking about.
Examples: (you may wish to skip this section)
Consider different religions that claim each other are sinning. Each side might be appalled at the other, or pity them. This results in a situation where person A pities person B because they think person B is in a terrible situation, but person B thinks their own situation is just fine. Person B would not understand why person A is pitying them. The same applies in reverse.
A religious person might think that an atheist is sad and cynical without a god, and that they are missing so much in their life and not realising that they are sinning, while the atheist might think that a religious person is hateful and dogmatic, believing lies, and that they are missing so much truth in their life that could free them from the pointless constraints they have. We don’t know who is right because we don’t know for sure if their god exists, but either the god does or doesn’t exist. Existence isn’t subject to each person.
This also happens very often with differing political beliefs. A country running under a fascist government might satisfy people from the right wing, while people from the left wing think the government is doing everything wrong. A communist government might have the same issue with right wing people. Regardless, each group might have undergone the same treatment and thought oppositely about it. When a new government needs to be elected, they might not be able to agree on which type of government is better despite having the same evidence and experiences. One group might point to an effect of the government they don’t want and show that it had negative effects, while the other group might point to the same evidence and effects as positive. Both groups will look at the same events and will have opposite opinions on it.
There are some people who like bull fighting, despite the movement to ban it because it is inhumane. There may be some who want to compromise, but to simplify the argument let us focus on the people who have mutually exclusive and opposite points of view on the matter. One country might ban bullfighting while another does not and practices it with pride. The country who banned it are glad that they no longer are torturing bulls, and the other is glad that they have maintained their tradition. There is both an argument to be made for humane treatment of animals as well as for not forcing people to surrender their traditions and culture.
One could treat the matter as subjective and allow both countries to continue with their view. This is only valid if it is in fact a subjective matter, but in this case there are animals being brutally forced out of their habitat, taunted, tortured, and killed for the amusement of a crowd. One cannot simply disregard the disagreement as subjective when there is so much at stake. Instead we need to ask whether or not keeping a tradition alive is worth the horrible treatment of the animals involved. The answer to that question will determine whether or not bullfighting should continue.
Whether or not that question is answered, both countries would go on doing things their own way, seeing the other country’s way as wrong and their own as right.
So why does this matter?
It has been established that one group’s lifestyle choices may be seen as correct for some but incorrect for a group that makes different choices which the first group thinks are wrong. Despite both groups thinking they are right and that each other are wrong, they go on as they are, without either group ever failing like their opponents claim.
There is a sort of expression, if you could call it that, which is simply “you’ll see”, “you’ll learn”, or “you’ll regret this”. This expression is used when one person wants to tell another that they are wrong, and they will eventually find that out because their supposedly wrong methods will lead to failure. For example, a student might apply to only one university because they’re sure they’ll get in, while their parents might warn them to apply to more just in case. If the student gets in, they might think their choice was correct an they might continue to make choices like that, but if they don’t, they realise they were being unnecessarily risky, “learning the lesson” their parents warned them about.
There are at least three reasons that opposing views can stay unresolved:
- It is entirely possible to do things incorrectly and still get good results. This is however a bad idea because it usually depends on luck or circumstance. While it may work sometimes, it is not reliable, and it is worse than doing things correctly.
- Another big problem that can happen is that someone does not realise they are making mistakes, or that their methods result in failure.
- This can happen if someone does not realise that there has been a failed result at all. They might never know about the results of their actions.
- It can also happen if someone knows about the result, but doesn’t realise it is the result of their previous action.
- Lastly, they might see the result and misinterpret their failure as a success.
Someone might be told that they shouldn’t eat something in a certain condition, such as food that has fallen to the floor, or that has been out for too long, or reheated too many times. If they don’t believe that and eat it anyway, they might be fine depending on circumstances, they might get very sick, or they might only get mildly sick. If they only get mildly sick they might not care enough about it to realise that it was because of what they ate. This is especially true if they only get sick many hours after what they ate, since they might have eaten or done many other things in that time, so it would be hard to determine which of those things caused the illness. Alternatively, even if they became extremely ill, they might blame it on a seasonal flu or even wrongly attribute it to something else.
Someone might try to recycle things that cannot be recycled, and think that they are helping the environment, while in fact they are making the recycling process more costly by necessitating more separation and analysis, or just by making the recycled products impure with non recyclable materials. The person might continue doing this wrongly for years, thinking they are doing good, and they might even encourage others to unknowingly make the same mistake.
How does this affect me?
What this all means is that even if you think your ways work and that your beliefs are justified, you might be wrong. The vast amount of different opinions in the world, without any single one of them being obviously better, shows how many different ways of doing things can coexist without them resulting in failure, or at least obvious failure. Some of these opinions and methods are subjective and are not right or wrong, but some are. Some can be improved, and some might work but still be wrong in their theory.
Science uses experiments to figure out how things work, and they are very careful to not get wrong results. A scientific experiment is supposed to be objective. The results are supposed to be measurable and replicable to get as close as possible to an exact answer. And even despite all their care, science can never be truly certain. What is not so clear are what the results mean. Two experimenters can get the same results and derive different theories on how the underlying process and theory work. We can be taught that space is made up of empty space, or fluid like aether, or zero point energy particles, or strings, and any of these might be wrong, but we won’t care or will support the idea until the answer actually matters and we realise we made a mistake. As long as the theory justified the equations we use to calculate things, or that the machines we build based on these principles work, many people don’t care if the theory is flawed.
The problem with not caring about the theory is that our equations and machines are based on the theory. If the theory is wrong but gives the right equations and makes an engine move a vehicle, people get the practical results they wanted and disregard the theory as “useless” to them now. There are twp problems with this:
This is a blatant disregard for the truth.
- That isn’t a moral issue, but it’s logically incoherent, because as we said before, wrong ideas can provide correct results, but it’s based on luck, and it’s not reliable. A much safer and better way of doing things is to care about the truth so you can be sure you’re not just getting by on luck that might run out one day.
- It’s also dismissive of learning. I’m not going to claim that everyone needs to enjoy learning, but it has values that make it enjoyable, if people are willing to try. The truth isn’t just utilitarianly convenient; it has inherent value, not just the value of how useful it is. To reject the truth is to reject reality, which would be just diversion and escapism.
As scientific method shows, we should always be willing to consider that we might be wrong. Even if there is strong evidence to the contrary, confidence can limit you to consider alternatives. We rarely if ever know if we are truly correct, so we should always doubt what we think is true in order to determine what really is correct and what might need further analysis.
The pragmatic and useful point is that we can better learn about how things actually work and make better and more informed decisions based on that improved information, rather than simply relying on what we initially think. This allows us to make fewer avoidable mistakes.
Of the things a person believes which are not subjective:
- Some of the things can be true
- Even some of the overall true things we believe can have details which are incorrect, or be right but have the wrong reasoning.
- We need to be open minded enough to consider evidence and others’ opinions to understand that we were right, but that we came to that conclusion incorrectly, or that we are right overall, but there are some parts of it that may be wrong.
- Some of the things can be false
- Some of these false things may have the right reasoning but are missing some facts or details that would lead to a different result. Some may be partially true but need to be looked at in another way or have incorrect reasoning.
- We need to be open minded enough to consider that we were wrong. A lack of information or flawed reasoning is not something to be ashamed of, it is better to know that you were wrong and fix it immediately.
- Some things we may not know at all.
- We need to be open minded enough to consider new ideas while still being skeptical of them and analysing them to determine if they seem true given what we know.
How you fix this: Arguments and Discussions
This also means that we need to be open about what is objective or subjective.
- People often mistake objective facts as personal beliefs, and claim that no one should argue with them, discuss them, or analyse them.
- People also often mistake subjective beliefs for facts, and try to force them on others.
Instead of simply dogmatically refusing to be open to changing your ideas and refusing to consider others’ ideas, or claiming that they should not question your beliefs, we should listen to their argument and reason with them, not to win an argument or be right, but to determine what is right.
People often avoid discussing things because they feel the other is judging, or analysing, and they don’t like that idea. To avoid discussions or to claim that your beliefs are beyond criticism is close minded and arrogant. It is rejecting the truth and is pragmatically negative. However, just as some people don’t understand the advantages of discussions and try to avoid them, some people do not understand how to properly reason in a discussion, so it might be very difficult to argue with such people. One should always try to have a discussion when there is a disagreement or something to be learned, but it is not always practical, so it is OK to choose not to engage in an argument sometimes.
Arguments help you and the other person by explaining the reasons for what you believe and the evidence that helped you come to that conclusion. Your reasoning or examples may be wrong, or you may be missing information that may or may not lead you to a different conclusion. What matters in a discussion is only what is true and what is false, not who holds the belief.
We should always doubt our ideas and what we believe to separate what is true and what may not be, and be open to new ideas in order to arrive at the truth and avoid mistakes.