How Good Are Your Opinions?
To me truth is precious. . . . I should rather be right and stand alone than to run with the multitude and be wrong. . . . The holding of the views herein set forth has already won for me the scorn and contempt and ridicule of some of my fellow men. I am looked upon as being odd, strange, peculiar. . . . But truth is truth and though all the world reject it and turn against me, I will cling to truth still.
Stirring words, those. You can envision their author bravely facing legions of reactionaries intent on imposing their narrow dogmas on him. In the background you can almost hear a chorus singing “Stout-Hearted Men.” Stand tall, brave hero. Never give in!
But wait a minute. Just who is the author? And what exactly is the opinion he is valiantly defending? His name is Charles Silvester de Fort. The quotation is from a booklet he wrote in 1931. And the opinion is—are you ready for this?—that the earth is flat.
但是等一下。这个作者到底是谁？他勇敢捍卫的观点究竟是什么？他的名字是查尔斯·西尔维斯特·德·弗特（Charles Silvester de Fort)。这段引文出自他于1931年写的小册子。这个观点是（你准备好了吗？）：大地是平的。
People have always taken their opinions seriously, but today many people embrace their opinions with extraordinary passion. “I have a right to my opinion” and “Everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion” are common expressions. Question another person’s opinion and you’re likely to hear, “Well, that’s my OPINION.” The unspoken message is “Case closed.”
Is that a reasonable view? Is it inappropriate to challenge the opinions of others? The answer depends on the kind of issue involved. If it is a matter of taste, then the standard is the undemanding one of personal preference. If Agnes finds Reginald handsome and Sally disagrees, there’s really no basis for a meaningful dispute. Ditto if Ralph drools over an orange Camaro with brass wire hubcaps and purple upholstery and Carla is repulsed by it. Some people put catsup on hot dogs, while others prefer mustard or relish, and perhaps at this very moment someone, somewhere, is slathering a hot dog with mayonnaise or blueberries or pureed brussels sprouts. So what? Vive la différence!
这是一种合理的观点吗？质疑其他人的观点是不妥当的吗？答案取决于所涉及问题的种类。如果是个人喜好的问题，那么，标准就是要求不高的个人偏好标准。如果艾格尼丝发现雷金纳德英俊，而莎莉不同意，那就的确不存存什么有意义的争辩的基础。同样，如果拉尔夫对有黄铜丝轮毂盖和紫色内饰的橙色雪佛兰Camaro轿车垂涎三尺，而卡拉对此表示反感，则情况也是如此。一些人把酱涂在热狗上，而男一些人更喜欢倒上芥末或调料，也许此时此刻某人在某处正往热狗上涂抹大量的蛋黄酱、蓝莓或球芽甘蓝。那又怎样？差别万岁！（原文系法语Vive la difference-译者注）
However, consider this very different use of the term opinion: A newspaper reports that the Supreme Court has delivered its opinion in a controversial case. Obviously, the justices did not state their personal preferences, their mere likes and dislikes. They stated their considered judgment, painstakingly arrived at after thorough inquiry and deliberation.
In the context of critical thinking, the term opinion refers to expressions of judgment rather than to expressions of taste.* In some cases, unfortunately, it is not clear whether someone is expressing taste or judg ment. A friend might say to you, as you leave a movie theater, “That was a wonderful film,” which could mean “I liked it” or “It meets a very high standard of cinematography.” If she is merely saying she liked it, and you didn’t, the disagreement would be over personal taste, which is pointless to debate. However, if she is making an aesthetic judgment, you could reasonably challenge her, citing specific film standards the movie failed to meet.
Is everyone entitled to his or her opinion? In a free country this is not only permitted but guaranteed. In Great Britain, for example, there is still a Flat Earth Society. As the name implies, the members of this organization believe that the earth is not spherical but flat. In this country, too, each of us is free to take as bizarre a position as we please about any matter we choose. When the telephone operator announces, “That’ll be ninety-five cents for the first three minutes,” you may respond, “No, it won’t—it’ll be twenty-eight cents.” When the service station attendant notifies you, “Your oil is down a quart,” you may reply, “Wrong—it’s up three.”
Being free to hold an opinion and express it does not, of course, guarantee favorable consequences. The operator may hang up on you, and the service station attendant may respond unpleasantly.
Acting on our opinions carries even less assurance. Consider the case of the California couple who took their eleven-year-old diabetic son to a faith healer. Secure in their opinion that the man had cured the boy, they threw away his insulin. Three days later, the boy died. The parents remained unshaken in their belief, expressing the opinion that God would raise the boy from the dead. The police arrested them, charging them with manslaughter. The law in such matters is both clear and reasonable: We are free to act on our opinions only as long as, in doing so, we do not harm others.
Opinions Can Be Mistaken
We might be tempted to conclude that if we are free tohave an opinion, it must be correct. That, however, is not the case. Freesocieties are based on the wise observation that people have an inalienableright to think their own thoughts and make their own choices. But this fact inno way suggests that the thoughts they think and the choices they make will bereasonable. It is a fundamental principle of critical thinking that ideas areseldom of equal quality. Solutions to problems vary from the practical to theimpractical, beliefs from the well founded to the ill founded, arguments fromthe logical to the illogical, and opinions from the informed to the uninformed.Critical thinking serves to separate the more worthy from the less worthy and,ultimately, to identify the best.
Evidence that opinions can be mistaken is allaround us. The weekend drinker often has the opinion that, as long as hedoesn’t drink during the week, he is not an alcoholic. The person who continuesdriving her gas guzzler with the needle on Empty may have the opinion that theproblem being signaled can wait for another fifty miles. The student who quitsschool at age sixteen may have the opinion that an early entry into the jobmarket ultimately improves job security. Yet, however deeply and sincerely suchopinions are held, they are most likely wrong.
Research shows that people can be mistakeneven when they are making a special effort to judge objectively. Sometimestheir errors are caused by considerations so subtle that they are unaware ofthem. For example, before Taster’s Choice coffee was introduced, it was testedand sampled with three different labels—brown, yellow, and red. People whosampled the brown-labeled coffee reported that it was too strong and kept themawake at night. Those who sampled the yellow-labeled coffee found it weak andwatery. Those who sampled the red-labeled coffee judged it to be just the rightstrength and delicious. All this even though the coffee in each jar was exactlythe same. The people had beensubconsciously influenced by the color of the label.
Opinions on Moral Issues
The notion that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion is especially strong in the area of morality. Questions of right and wrong are presumed to be completely subjective and personal. According to this notion, if you believe a particular behavior is immoral and I believe it is moral, even noble, we are both right. Your view is “right for you” and mine is “right for me.”
This popular perspective may seem eminently sensible and broadminded, but it is utterly shallow. Almost every day, situations arise that require reasonable people to violate it. Have you ever heard anyone claim that burglary, spousal abuse, or rape is morally acceptable for those who believe it is? When someone is convicted of child molesting, do citizens parade in front of the courthouse with banners proclaiming “Pedophilia may be wrong for us, but it was right for him”? If your instructor discovers you cheating on an examination, will she accept your explanation that you believe the end justifies the means? If a Breathalyzer test reveals that your classmate was driving with a blood alcohol level higher than his grade point average, will the police officer commend him for living by his moral conviction?
Virtually every professional organization and every corporation has a code of ethics that specifies the behaviors that are required or forbidden. Every country has a body of laws with prescribed penalties for violators. There are even international laws that govern affairs among countries. All these codes and legal systems don’t appear out of thin air. They are the products of moral judgment, the same mental activity individuals use in deciding everyday issues of right and wrong. And they are subject to the same limitations and imperfections. Opinions about moral issues, like other opinions, may be correct or incorrect.
Are there criteria we can use to increase the chance that our moral judgments will be correct? Definitely. The most important criteria are obligations, ideals, and consequences.*
• Obligations: Obligations are restrictions on behavior, demands that we do or avoid doing something. The most obvious kinds of obligations are formal agreements such as contracts. Others include professional and business obligations, and obligations of friendship and citizenship. When two or more obligations conflict, the most important one should take precedence.
• Ideals: In the general sense, ideals are notions of excellence, goals that bring greater harmony within ourselves and with others. In ethics they are also specific concepts that help us maintain respect for persons. Some noteworthy examples of ideals are honesty, integrity, justice, and fairness. When two or more ideals conflict in a given situation, the most important one should be given precedence.
• Consequences: Consequences are the beneficial and/or harmful results of an action that affect both the person performing that action and other people. Any examination of consequences should consider the various kinds: personal and societal; physical and emotional; immediate and eventual; intended and unintended; obvious and subtle; and possible, probable, and certain. Actions that achieve beneficial consequences should be preferred over those that do harm.Whenever the consequences are mixed (some beneficial, others harmful), the preferred action is the one that achieves the greater good or the lesser evil.
Even Experts Can Be Wrong
History records numerous occasions when the expert opinion has been the wrong opinion. In ancient times the standard medical opinion was that headaches were caused by demons inside the skull. The accepted treatment ranged from opening the skull and releasing the demons to giving medicines derived from cow’s brain and goat dung. (Some Native American tribes preferred beaver testicles.)
历史多次记录下专家意见是错误的意见的情况。在古代，标准的医学观点是头痛是由颅骨内的恶魔造成的。 治疗方法是从打开颅骨并释放恶魔到提供取自牛的大脑和山羊粪的药物。 （一些美洲原住民部落偏爱海狸睾丸。）
numerous ['njuːm(ə)rəs] adj. 许多的，很多的
occasions n. 场合；机会（occasion的复数）；理由v. 致使；引起（occasion的第三人称单数）
ancient [ˈeɪnʃənt] adj. 古代的；古老的，过时的；年老的n. 古代人；老人
ranged v. 排列；把…分类；射程为…（range的过去分词）
When the idea of inoculating people against diseases such as smallpox first arrived in the colonies in the early 1700s, most authorities regarded it as nonsense. Among them were Benjamin Franklin and a number of the men who later founded Harvard Medical School. Against the authorities stood a relatively unknown man who didn’t even have a medical degree, Zabdiel Boylston. Whose opinion was proved right? Not the experts’ but Zabdiel Boylston’s.
inoculating [医] 接种，灌输（inoculate的现在分词）
nonsense ['nɒns(ə)ns] n. 胡说；废话adj. 荒谬的int. 胡说！
smallpox ['smɔːlpɒks] n. [内科] 天花
authorities [ɔː'θɒrɪtɪz] n. 当局，官方（authority的复数）
In 1890 a Nobel Prize–winning bacteriologist, Dr. Robert Koch, reported that he had found a substance that would cure tuberculosis. When it was injected into patients, though, it was found to cause further illness and even death.
bacteriologist [bæk,tɪrɪə'ɑlədʒɪst] n. 细菌学家
substance ['sʌbst(ə)ns] n. 物质；实质；资产；主旨
tuberculosis [tjʊ,bɜːkjʊ'ləʊsɪs] n. 肺结核；结核病
In 1904 psychologist G. Stanley Hall expressed his professional opinion that when women engage in strenuous mental activity, particularly with men, they experience a loss of mammary function and interest in motherhood, as well as decreased fertility. If they subsequently have children, the children will tend to be sickly. Today this idea is laughable.
engage [ɪn'geɪdʒ; en-] vt. 吸引，占用；使参加；雇佣；使订婚；预定vi. 从事；答应，保证；交战；啮合
strenuous ['strenjʊəs] adj. 紧张的；费力的；奋发的；艰苦的；热烈的
mammary ['mæmərɪ] adj. 乳腺的；[解剖] 乳房的
motherhood ['mʌðəhʊd] n. 母性；母亲身份；母亲们（总称）
fertility [fə'tɪlɪtɪ; fɜː'tɪlɪtɪ] n. 多产；肥沃；[农经] 生产力；丰饶
subsequently ['sʌbsɪkwəntlɪ] adv. 随后，其后；后来
Between 1919 and 1922 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City bought seventeen gold vessels that experts determined were authentic treasures from a 3,500-year-old Egyptian tomb. In 1982 the vessels were discovered to be twentieth-century fakes.
Metropolitan [metrə'pɒlɪt(ə)n] adj. 大都市的；大主教辖区的；宗主国的n. 大城市人；大主教；宗主国的公民
vessels ['ves(ə)lz] n. 血管（vessel的复数）；船舶；容器n. (Vessels)人名；(英)维瑟尔斯
authentic [ɔː'θentɪk] adj. 真正的，真实的；可信的
treasures n. 宝物（treasure的复数）v. 珍爱（treasure的第三人称单数）；储藏
Egyptian [ɪ'dʒɪpʃ(ə)n] adj. 埃及的；埃及人的n. 埃及人；古代埃及语
In 1928 a drug called thorotrast was developed and used to outline certain organs of the body so that clearer X-rays could be taken. Nineteen years later, doctors learned that even small doses of the drug caused cancer. In 1959 a sedative called thalidomide was placed on the market. Many physicians prescribed it for pregnant women. Then, when a large number of babies were born deformed, medical authorities realized that thalidomide was to blame.
thalidomide [θə'lɪdəmaɪd] n. 萨力多胺（一种安眠药，镇静剂）
prescribed [prɪ'skraɪbd] adj. 规定的
pregnant ['pregnənt] adj. 怀孕的；富有意义的
deformed [dɪ'fɔːmd] adj. 畸形的；丑陋的；残废的v. 使...残缺，使...变形（deform的过去式和过去分词形式）
In 1973, using refined radar mapping techniques, scientists decided that their earlier claims about the surface of Venus were wrong. It was not smooth, as they had thought, but pockmarked with craters.
refined [rɪ'faɪnd] adj. [油气][化工][冶] 精炼的；精确的；微妙的；有教养的
pockmarked ['pɑkmɑrkt] adj. 有痘疮的v. 使有痘痕；使有凹痕（pockmark的过去式）
craters n. [地质] 火山口；[天] 环形山（crater复数）v. 形成坑；毁坏（crater的三单形式）
In the 1980s and 1990s one of the hottest topics in the publishing and seminar industries was co-dependency. Anyone related to an alcoholic or drug addict was considered to be a contributor to the problem, chiefly by unconsciously encouraging the person’s habit or enabling the person to indulge it. Soon the idea of co-dependency became the diagnosis of choice for any situation characterized by out-of-control behavior. Co-dependents were urged to buy books, attend seminars, and join their troubled family member in counseling. Then one curious researcher, Edith Gomberg, examined the scientific research base on which the movement was founded. She found . . . zip, nada, nothing. In her words, “There are no surveys, no clinical research, no evaluations; only descriptive, impressionistic statements.”
publishing ['pʌblɪʃɪŋ] n. 出版；出版业adj. 出版的；出版业的v. 出版；发行（publish的现在分词形式）；发表
seminar ['semɪnɑː] n. 讨论会，研讨班
contributor [kən'trɪbjʊtə] n. 贡献者；投稿者；捐助者
unconsciously [ʌn'kɑnʃəsli] adv. 不知不觉；无意识地
indulge [ɪn'dʌldʒ] vt. 满足；纵容；使高兴；使沉迷于…vi. 沉溺；满足；放任
urged vbl. 怂恿；催促v. 怂恿；催促
counseling ['kaʊnslɪŋ] n. 咨询服务v. 建议；劝告；商讨（counsel的ing形式）
zip [zɪp] n. 拉链；活力，精力；尖啸声，撕裂声；一种程序压缩的档案文件格式. (Zip)兹普（人名）vi. 拉开或拉上；以尖啸声行进vt. 给...以速度；拉上或拉开拉链
nada ['nɑdə] abbr. 美国汽车经销商联合会（the National Automobile Dealers Association）n. n. (Nada)人名；(塞、葡、俄、阿拉伯、英)娜达(女名)，纳达，nothing 无物
surveys [sɚ've] n. 调查（survey的复数）
clinical ['klɪnɪk(ə)l] adj. 临床的；诊所的
impressionistic [ɪm,preʃə'nɪstɪk] adj. 印象派的；印象主义的；给人深刻印象的
statements ['stetmənt] n. 声明；报告；陈述句；状态说明（statement的复数形式）
For most of the twentieth century, the universally accepted scientific opinion was that stomach ulcers are caused by excess stomach acid generated by stress. Then Barry Marshall demonstrated that ulcers are caused by bacteria and can be cured with antibiotics.
universally [juːnɪ'vɜːsəlɪ] adv. 普遍地；人人；到处
excess [ɪk'ses; ek-; 'ekses] n. 超过，超额；过度，过量；无节制adj. 额外的，过量的；附加的
ulcers ['ʌlsɚ] n. [病理] 溃疡，疡（ulcer的复数）
antibiotics [,æntɪbaɪ'ɒtɪks] n. [药] 抗生素；抗生学
Remember the brontosaurus with his head stretching to the treetops in Jurassic Park? That scene reflected the traditional scientific opinion that the big dinosaurs dined on leaves thirty or more feet off the ground. In 1999, however, Michael Parrish, a northern Illinois researcher, experimented with a computer model of the neck bones of large dinosaurs and discovered that they could never have lifted their heads above the level of their bodies. If they had, their neck vertebrae would have collapsed. They couldn’t have stood on their hind legs, either, because the demands on their blood pressure would have been excessive.
brontosaurus [,brɒntə'sɔːrəs] n. 雷龙
stretching ['stretʃiŋ] n. 伸长；展宽v. 拉伸（stretch的ing形式）
Northern Illinois ：北伊利诺大学,伊利诺北部,北伊利诺伊大学 ；
vertebrae [ˈvəːtɪbrə;ˈvɜːtɪbreɪ] n. [解剖] 椎骨；脊椎
hind [haɪnd] adj. 后部的n. 雌鹿n. (Hind)人名；(英、芬)欣德
excessive [ɪk'sesɪv; ek-] adj. 过多的，极度的；过分的
For years physicians told us that fiber lowers cholesterol and protects against colon cancer. Eventually, medical research established that it doesn’t lower cholesterol. Then researchers demonstrated that it doesn’t protect against colon cancer.
physicians [fɪ'zɪʃən] n. [内科] 内科医生（physician的复数）
cholesterol [kə'lestərɒl] n. [生化] 胆固醇
Eventually [ɪ'ventʃʊəlɪ] adv. 最后，终于
established [ɪ'stæblɪʃt] adj. 确定的；已制定的，已建立的
colon ['kəʊlən] n. [解剖] 结肠；冒号（用于引语、说明、例证等之前）；科郎（哥斯达黎加货币单位）
To this day, many experts are convinced that the cause of crime is a bad social environment and that the solution is to pour millions of dollars into poor neighborhoods for a variety of social programs. Other experts are equally convinced that the cause of crime is an emotional disorder that can be cured only by psychological counseling. But a leading researcher, Stanton Samenow, disputes both views. Samenow argues that “bad neighborhoods, inadequate parents, television, schools, drugs, or unemployment” are not the cause of crime—criminals themselves are. They break the law not because conditions force them to but because they choose to, and they choose to because they consider themselves special and therefore above the law. In Samenow’s view, the key to criminals’ rehabilitation is for them to accept responsibility for their behavior. Is Samenow correct? Time will tell.
convinced [kən'vɪnst] adj. 确信的；深信的v. 使确信（convince的过去分词）；说服
variety [və'raɪətɪ] n. 多样；种类；杂耍；变化，多样化
psychological [saɪkə'lɒdʒɪk(ə)l] adj. 心理的；心理学的；精神上的
disputes [dɪ'spjʊt] n. 争论（dispute的复数）v. 争论（dispute的单数第三人称）
inadequate [ɪn'ædɪkwət] adj. 不充分的，不适当的
rehabilitation ['riːhə,bɪlɪ'teɪʃən] n. 复原
It is impossible to know what expert opinions of our time will be overturned by researchers in the future. But we can be sure that some will be. And they may well be views that today seem unassailable.
overturned [,ovɚ'tɝn] adj. 倾覆的，倒转的v. 颠覆（overturn的过去式）
unassailable [ʌnə'seɪləb(ə)l] adj. 不容置疑的；无懈可击的
Kinds of Errors
Opinion can be corrupted by anyone of four broad kinds of errors. These classifications, with examples added for clarification, are the following:
Errors or tendencies to error common among all people by virtue of their being human (for example, the tendency to perceive selectively or rush to judgment or oversimplify complex realities)
Errors or tendencies to error associated with one's individual habits of mind or personal attitudes, beliefs,or theories (for example, the habit of thinking the worst of members of a race or religion against which one harbors prejudice)
Errors that come from human communication and the limitations of language (for example, the practice of expressing a thought or feeling inadequately and leading others to form a mistaken impression)
Errors in the general fashionof an age (for example, the tendency in our grandparents' day to accept authority unquestioningly or the tendency in ours to recognize no authority but oneself)
Some people, of course, are more prone to errors than others.English philosopher John Locke observed that these people fall into three groups:
Those who seldom reason at all, but think and act as those around them do—parents, neighbors, the clergy, or anyone else they admire and respect. Such people want to avoid the difficulty that accompanies thinking for themselves.
Those who are determined to let passion rather than reason govern their lives. Those people are influenced only by reasoning that supports their prejudices.
Those who sincerely follow reason, but lack sound, overall good sense, and so do not look at all sides of an issue. They tend to talk with one type of person, read one type of book, and so are exposed to only one viewpoint.
To Locke's list we should add one more type: those who never bother to reexamine an opinion once it has been formed. These people are often the most error prone of all,for they forfeit all opportunity to correct mistaken opinions when new evidence arises.