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In any issue where there is scope for disagreement there are only two people who you should challenge. The first is anyone who champions a view you agree with. The second is anyone who advocates a view you might agree with. Every other view is irrelevant.

This two item list (you may have noticed) does not include people who disagree with your views. That is intentional. Life isn’t about who we disagree with and why they’re wrong. There are always people who will disagree. Engaging them is unlikely to change their minds. If anything, an argument will reinforce the clash; making you sure of your views and them sure of their views. If they’ve defended their view and opposed yours, they wouldn’t want to feel like they’ve misspent their energy. Conveniently, you wouldn’t like to think you’ve misspent yours either. They’ll write-off your views to naivety, ignorance and fear. Conveniently, you’ll do the same to their views. Neither side will benefit.

It’s much more critical to find out what you believe, and why you believe what you believe. This is the truest form of self knowledge. There are two main reasons why. First, it’s better to know why you believe what you believe then to know why others are ignorant. The power to do something negative (attack the ‘false’ knowledge of others) is not  useful if there is no true knowledge that can be imparted in its place. Second, it is better to have in your mind the honest admission that the views you hold may be false, or, at least, to understand under what limited conditions they continue to hold true then to dogmatically assert their universal truth to others.

You should be sure that you are satisfied with your views. This requires you to challenge them by identifying their weaknesses, their logical leaps, their articles of faith and their embedded assumptions about the world. And to decide whether you are comfortable with every link in that reasoning chain. In truth, I have yet to find any useful views that comes with a fully intact chain of support. There is always some leap of faith involved before you can arrive at a thing worth believing. The question is whether that step into the darkness is one you are sufficiently satisfied will not lead you astray.

The search for the necessary satisfaction requires opposition. This is not a process that can be carried out independently. There are some, rare, people who can enter into this by themselves and proceed sure-footed until they derive satisfactory ultimate conclusions.  But, for most of us, opposition is essential.

Opposition is essential for two reasons. First, for the majority of us, our understanding is clarified by discussion with opposition. We learn through conversation forced contemplation. The process of hearing an argument, articulating why it might be wrong and listening to any reply is the strongest way of disassembling any viewpoint. It will identify the darkest points in the reasoning and why you ought to disregard those blemishes. 

Second the process of opposition separates out the factors that are rationally connected to the decision from our own prejudices, preconceptions and preferences. A view you hold because you like the person who argues it, if that view does not satisfy your critical scrutiny, would be revealed to be a wrong view. Your irrelevant preference was blinding you to its flaws. Only your decision to challenge that view helped you identify the irrelevant preference.

I accept that this is an unorthodox approach. Most people ascribe to people the views they favour in argument. Therefore, if you argue against a point of view that you think might be true, you may well be perceived as a person who does not hold that view. That is a concern. However, it’s more important to come to the right answer for the right reasons. And opposition will help you discover both.

But then, this is merely my own, asserted, view. I hope you will challenge it. Especially if you agree with it.

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