DEBATE 101

A philosophy professor explains why you’re not entitled to your opinion

Obsession
2016
Obsession
2016

Mike Pence has a tough job working for Donald Trump. When the president-elect lies, it often falls to his vice president-elect to defend him. For some, his defense can test the limits of logic.

In an interview on ABC News on Sunday (Dec. 4), anchor George Stephanopoulos asked Pence about Trump’s claim that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Stephanopoulos said that the claim was “groundless” and “there was no evidence to back it up.”

“Is it responsible for a president-elect to make false statements like that?” Stephanopoulos asked.

Pence spent a few minutes awkwardly trying to explain what Trump meant. In the end, his primary defense was that Trump was “entitled to express his opinions.” That defense would make philosophy professor Patrick Stokes cringe.

Stokes teaches at Deakin University in Australia, and his message to students on their first day of class is: “You are not entitled to your opinion.” The reason Stokes makes the provocation is in order to teach his students how to construct and defend an argument, he says.

“The problem with ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for ‘I can say or think whatever I like’ and, by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful,” he explained in The Conversation.

“I’m entitled to my opinion,” is considered a logical fallacy. An opinion is a view or judgement about something. So, by definition, an opinion has attached to it a certain degree of uncertainty or subjectivity, and using it as a defense only works in certain situations.

There’s no way you can argue with me if I were of the opinion that ginger tastes horrible. You might actually like ginger’s taste, but my preference against it is beyond question. But you have all the rights to argue with me if I were of the opinion that global warming is a hoax. After all, there is overwhelming scientific evidence to show that there is very little uncertainty in the “opinion” that global warming is happening.

“If ‘everyone’s entitled to their opinion’ just means no one has the right to stop people thinking and saying whatever they want, then the statement is true but fairly trivial,” Stokes writes. “But if ‘entitled to an opinion’ means ‘entitled to have your views treated as serious candidates for the truth’ then it’s pretty clearly false.”

If anyone’s opinion should be treated as a serious candidate for the truth, it’s that of the president-elect of the world’s largest economy. So, yes, Pence is right that Trump is entitled to have an opinion, but only as long as he is able to reasonably argue for it with evidence.

home our picks popular latest obsessions search