Friday, June 02, 2006

On Changing One's Mind

Twice now in the last couple of weeks, I've been accused of an unwillingness to change my mind. Now as a philosopher, I take great affront to such a charge; we are, after all, supposed to be willing to go wherever the best arguments lead us. I suspect that, in both cases, the person in question confused my defending the position that I think is conclusion of the best arguments with my holding a position (for whatever reason) and refusing to give up on it no matter what. That the discussions in question were philosophical ones and that I might in the course of my professional career happened to have already run into and rejected the arguments that my interlocuters were raising seems not to have occurred to either.

Anyway, the conversations led me to think about the beliefs that I have changed. And since this is my space for thinking out loud, here is the list.
  1. Theism. I was raised in a Christian fundamentalist home and attended fundamentalist church-affiliated schools for most of my pre-college education. I was a committed theist, really, up through just a few years ago (my almost four-year-old son was baptized an Episcopalian). But the more I considered the problem of evil, the free will defense, and the problem of reconciling free will with omniscience, I discovered that I simply can no longer square that particular circle.
  2. Cosmopolitanism. This one is also of pretty recent vintage. Not so long ago, I rejected the very idea of having states as a silly eighteenth-century holdover. But I have begun to see the appeal of federalism. Partly this has to do with the virtues of exit as a political strategy. Mostly, though, I'm persuaded by a roughly Millian line that different political experiments are the best route to the truth.
  3. Egalitarianism. Many of the arguments for egalitarianism I still find fairly persuasive. Indeed, I think it fairly problematic that success in the world should turn so heavily on what are really just matters of luck. That said, I'm less convinced that externally-imposed corrective measures are likely to help very much. Perhaps it really is a better strategy simply to make everyone rich enough that inequalities aren't all that relevant any longer.
  4. File-sharing. There are some arguments to be made against the practice; there is a sense in which a film or a piece of music belongs to the person who created it. Articulating what exactly that amounts to is not especially easy to do, but the intuition remains. That said, it strikes me that I am the one who owns the CD or DVD I just bought. If it really is my property, then I ought to be permitted to do with it as I wish. If that includes copying it and sharing those copies with 10,000 of my closest friends, well, then that's totally my call.
  5. Meat-eating. My brother and sister-in-law spent a couple of years as vegetarians and I picked on them without end for doing so. I rather regret that now. At the time, I continued to eat meat on the grounds that animals have no rights. I still very much believe that. (I'm a consequentialist, remember? I don't think that anything really has any rights.) I do, however, think that one ought not inflict needless suffering. Given that it's perfectly possible (if less enjoyable) for me to live a life without eating animals, and given that factory farming does in fact cause considerable suffering, it seems to me that I ought not eat animals.
Those are the big ones that I can think of offhand. I'm sure that there are a number of others (like many, I had to revise a number of my beliefs when I got to college and encountered, you know, actual facts). All the views that I have listed, however, are positions that I have changed within the past, oh, three or four years. Enough to get me off the hook as close-minded?


Anonymous Bob Loblaw said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I can say to this, Joe, is that I better not make it onto this list ;)

11:08 PM  
Blogger Joe Miller said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Joe Miller said...

I think that I can swing that.

11:45 PM  
Blogger Joe Miller said...

Bob's comment and my response were deleted at Bob's request.

12:55 AM  
Anonymous Mitchell Ullman said...

Most interesting.

6:04 PM  

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