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Shake Things Up

November 17, 2010

Today in lecture and section we talked a lot about Mill’s argument that even wrong opinions should be heard. In section specifically, we discussed Burke’s position on Mill’s argument, with the obvious resounding answer being that he would most likely have been opposed. However, which one is right? Both hold valid points, which one is more productive?

Burke takes that stance that wrong opinions are not productive, and that in fact they will generally hurt a society. He discusses the French Revolution, and addresses the citizens that were uprising as having the wrong opinions, and the founding fathers (ancestors) as having the right ideas for the government. He states “You had all these advantages in your ancient states, but you chose to act as if you had never been molded into civil society and had everything to begin anew.” He is saying that the ancestors gave them the correct mold for a good government, but this uprising broke a good mold. In other words, the wrong opinions ruined the government. This could also correlate with Burke’s view that the politically elite held office for a reason, and that “normal” citizens, such as a blacksmith, did not possess the wisdom for a government.

Mill is the opposite of this. Mill feels that the wrong opinion can strengthen a true, or right opinion. It is at this point that I will offer my view that Mill is the correct theorist. In my opinion, it is ignorant not to innovate and have new ideas come into the flow. Even if these new opinions turn out to be wrong, they may have strengthened the pre-existing opinion. I think that the “wrong” opinions are almost always worth listening to. I would like to think that maybe Burke himself was scared of the unknown factor that the French Revolution brought with it. Although it seemed gruesome, I feel that maybe the French needed it at that point in time in history. Wrong opinions shake things up, and I think very often, for the right and wrong, things need to be shaken up.

7 Comments
  1. mikeking0717 permalink
    November 18, 2010 4:16 AM

    I can’t help wondering if a hybrid of both Burke and Mill would be a good concept when thinking about change. Traditions have established fundamental characteristics of all social structures making it hard to imagine a new abstract idea applicable to society without traces of the ‘old life’ rooted in it. Maybe baby steps in the direction of progress are the most conducive way to bring about a lasting change.

  2. Taylor Fields permalink
    November 18, 2010 2:33 PM

    I agree and support your claim, “It is at this point that I will offer my view that Mill is the correct theorist. In my opinion, it is ignorant not to innovate and have new ideas come into the flow. Even if these new opinions turn out to be wrong, they may have strengthened the pre-existing opinion”. I would further argue that Mill encourages ‘wrong’ arguments, because we never absolutely know what is right. Burke ignorantly wishes to abolish ‘wrong’ opinions, citing that the people of the French Revolution were in the wrong, but who is Burke to say what is right and wrong for everyone. The problem with ‘wrong’ opinions is for someone, that opinion is right. Unless we wish to say I know what is true, I am absolutely right, therefor you are wrong, we cannot abolish ‘wrong’ opinions like Burke would like, because we do not know if we are correct. Rather, Mill’s ideology that we should embrace every opinion is true; until (and we never will) know what is absolutely true, we can never deem another opinion wrong.

  3. neilrab permalink
    November 18, 2010 4:55 PM

    I don’t think that Burke was afraid of the unknown factor that the French Revolution brought with it, but I rather believe he was merely criticizing their citizens and sovereigns for the way they had shaped their nation. He argues that they did in fact have the mold to build a successful society, but out of self interest and the need to restart society instead of improving it, they destroyed it.

    I don’t think there’s one correct answer to who is correct between Burke and Mill. You say you think Mill’s ideas is the way to go, but then aren’t you being hypocritical considering that Mill says you should listen to and ponder about other people’s opinions? Mill would listen to Burke’s argument and use it to strengthen his own in an effort to prove why his is more correct.

    All of these theories, to me at least, are based completely on self opinion and are shaped by the way the philosophers view society. It is impossible to discredit what they are saying because it is how they think the world works and it cannot be proven or disproved by science.

  4. Sara Mitchell permalink
    November 18, 2010 11:59 PM

    I think that a combination of Burke and Mill’s ideas on this matter would be ideal, but I favor Mill’s because I do believe that all opinions, right or wrong, are important. However, I also believe that a wrong opinion, if it is very far-fetched, could be harmful and further digress away from the right opinion, or right answer. Wrong opinions can be very helpful in leading to the right one, but at the same time if it offers something that no one considered beforehand and completely contradicts everything that was thought, it may only lead to confusion and distraction from getting closer to the right answers, or answers closer to the point.

  5. madelineysmith permalink
    November 22, 2010 11:41 AM

    I feel like a lot of times we might say that wrong opinions can be beneficial…until someone has one that is completely opposite of what we believe and even offensive to us. Although often seeing other points of view can be beneficial in strengthening or changing ours, sometimes an opposed view will only make us blindly cling on to our own beliefs. I like what Mill says but I feel like it’s difficult to avoid the action part of an opinion.

  6. Samantha Eisler permalink
    November 22, 2010 12:26 PM

    I happen to agree with Sara Mitchell’s comment that the best way of looking at it is that it is a combination of both Mill and Burke’s ideals. On the one hand, as time progresses change is inevitable and society must adapt to that change. That is why we cannot solely follow tradition because tradition can become somewhat anachronistic. However on the other hand, if we are constantly picking apart tradition, or debating over what is wrong and right, the truth becomes harder and harder to find. We will spend more time bickering then we will trying to uncover the real answer.

  7. jtjrd10 permalink
    November 24, 2010 12:56 PM

    Elaborating on Steven Johnson’s idea made in the video posted by Professor Manty is an example for support of Mill. The video clip is an interview with John where he claims the “liquid network” is the starting point for great ideas. These great ideas go on to benefit society in many ways, but start from a collaboration of bad ideas, experiments, and wrong opinions. To Johnson, the liquid network stemmed from the idea of a coffee shop. Town members all go to coffee shops to “shoot the s***” as we call it now a days. However, this casual talk is actually the starting point to new innovative ideas. Johnson argued, “We gather information from each person we encounter, and eventually mesh all the ideas into one.” In essence, by talking to numerous amounts of people, ideas are shared bad and good. We use the bad ideas and find what is wrong with them, and transform the basis of a bad idea into a creative thought.

    For example, if a bunch of students are in the same class discussing the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, each student is going to have his or her own opinion. By exchanging ideas with one another the students can find evidence that prove their claims wrong, or supporting evidence for the claims. Our discussion groups encourage the same idea. By arguing against each other in a positive atmosphere bad opinions are used in the learning process. I feel that I am more able to learn from the wrong opinions of others because the idea is broken down and explained.

    Relating back to Mill, wrong opinions are as valuable as true opinions. The wrong opinion starts by a group of people exchanging ideas with one another. While sitting in a local coffee shop, one student could share thoughts regarding John Locke, and by interacting with another student of different opinions they can form a solid foundation on the ideas and beliefs of John Locke, the Philosopher. Even if one students opinion on the state of nature is off, the other student could correct the idea with his or her philosophy, thereby creating a valuable interaction and exchange of ideas. The main principle of learning comes from interacting with others and sharing opinions, good or bad.

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