Opinionated Opinion

More on the issue of opinion and individualism.  In their Developing Reflective Judgment, Patricia King and Karen Kitchener offer a number of interviews with students to clarify the idea of reflective judgment.  In the following two interviews, students are asked to express their opinions (italics are aspartamemine).

“The following comments were made by a high school student.

I: Can you ever know for sure that your position that Nutra­sweet is safe is correct?
R: No. I don’t know for sure because I don’t manufacture it.
I: OK. Do you think we’ll ever know for sure?
R: If somebody more or less had the guts to stand up and go and do all the research on it and find out.
I: So you think someday we’ll know?
R: Yes.
I: When people disagree about the safety of chemical addi­tives [in foods], is it the case that one opinion is right and the other is wrong?
R: Some people’s opinion is right, and they can more or less prove that they are right, and the other people that are wrong.

The following excerpt from an interview with a graduate student illustrates this reasoning style.
I: Can you ever say you know for sure that your point of view on chemical additives is correct?
R: No, I don’t think so. I think given that any theorem has to start with assumptions that are not necessarily true, then even if the internal argument in your system is completely consis­tent, it might be that the assumptions are wrong. So, just from this standpoint, we can’t always be sure. I think we can usually be reasonably certain, given the information we have now and considering our methodologies.
I: Is there anything else that contributes to not being able to be sure?
R: Yes. Aside from assumptions, it might be that the research wasn’t conducted rigorously enough. In other words, we might have flaws in our data or sample, things like that.
I: How then would you identify the "better" opinion?

R: One that takes as many factors as possible into considera­tion. I mean one that uses the higher percentage of the data that we have and perhaps that uses the methodology that has been most reliable.

I.And how do you come to a conclusion about what the evidence suggests?

R: I think you have to take a look at the different opinions and studies that are offered by different groups. Maybe some studies offered by the chemical industry, some studies by the government, some private studies, a variety of studies from a variety of different areas. You wouldn’t trust, for instance, a study funded by the tobacco industry that proved that cigarette smoking is not harmful. You wouldn’t base your point of view entirely upon that study. Things like that have to be taken into account also . . . you have to try to interpret people’s motives and that makes it a more complex soup to try to strain out.”

End of quotation.  That’s a bit of a read, but I think that two distinct attitudes towards opinion are illustrated here.  They are worth looking at in some detail.  But for the moment, I ask: “How does a student get from position A to position B?”  My answer is that the student must develop intellectually and emotionally.

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