If you already believe something, should you attend to the opinions of naysayers, complexifiers, and qualifiers? It depends on whether you’re coming to an issue for therapy or truth. And the quality of the second opinion matters. Every liberal should read the neoconservative journal Commentary, and every conservative should read The New York Times. Otherwise, you’re in danger of falling into epistemic closure and confirmation bias. Even though I’m emotionally invested in many (all?) of the things I believe, I know that I better give a fair hearing on a regular basis to the best arguers and arguments on the other side. Every theist should read Dawkins; every atheist William Lane Craig. Orwell wrote, “To see what is in front of one’s nose requires a constant effort.” It’s an effort because there is always the temptation to come to an issue for therapy, not truth; to, like Oedipus, pluck out your eyes because you can’t face the truth. Every person should actively seek out disconfirming evidence and opinions when truth is the goal, though this is very, very hard because we are human and don’t want to be like Hamlet, unable to make up our minds and act (“To be or not to be; to do or not to do, to think or not to think.”) But shunning Hamlet is a danger, for certainty and an excess of confidence are temptations of hubris (a theme of classical Attic tragedy). So on any question where you want the right answer, it’s wise to ask, “Have I really and fairly weighed alternative explanations about this matter, and come to the best explanation?” Sometimes we cannot do this because we are frightened, and frightened people too frequently outsource their thinking to people they trust or to experts they trust, ignoring the other side. They don’t want to think about it. But it’s good to think. And to doubt. Doubt is a good thing.
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