This time, we look into thinking skills aspect of general infallibility. Hence, the title, “I think, therefore, I’m mistaken, and changed my mind.”
Nobody can judge anybody
Those who believe in general infallibility tends to think that one has the right to judge anybody else for their opinions in a certain context. And the concept of general infallibility seems to finds its roots in modern liberalism, sociology and economics.
While no one doubts that people can make mistakes in tasks like predicting the weather or offering medical recommendations, people often don’t extend that capacity for error to other people’s preferences. For instance, when it comes to predicting our economy, the odds of an “expert” prediction to be true are as good as flipping a coin.
“Assuming that another person’s opinions are immune from criticism is not a marker of respect. It is, in fact, dehumanizing.”
Many consider people’s tastes and opinions immune to scrutinization. However, this worldview shuts down rational discussion. People’s errors in judgment show that they’re thinking human beings.
General Infallibility and Cultural Relativism and Theory of Revealed Preference
General infallibility spread its roots in sociologists’ belief, in cultural relativism and economists’ theory of revealed preference. When studying other cultures, anthropologists need to combat ethnocentrism* and avoid thrusting their own values on a different culture.
* ethnocentrism: evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture.
However, 20th-century anthropologist Ruth Benedict was one who continued to insist that morality was relative. “Mankind has always preferred to say, ‘It is morally good,’ rather than ‘It is habitual’,” she said in 1934, “but historically, the two phrases are synonymous.”
“Only by recognizing that people are capable of error can we properly value anyone’s goals or engage in rational debate.”
However, if no one should question a society’s moral system – because that society can’t err in deciding what’s right for itself – the next logical step is to assume that individual people deserve the same freedom to decide what’s right for themselves as individuals. Such relativism is false. The fact that people do change their minds and can be persuaded shows that beliefs aren’t implacable.
“We are capable of making mistakes precisely because we are thoughtful, intelligent beings with complex goals and sincerely held values.”
Economist’s Concept of Preferences
General infallibility also developed out of economists’ concept of preferences. Economists like Paul Samuelson have asserted that people reveal what they truly want through what they buy. Those revealed preferences can them help guide economists in predicting what will happen when prices fluctuate or financial policies change.
But are People’s Preferences are Irreproachable?
Much like the extreme end of cultural relativism, the theory relies on the assumption that people’s preferences are irreproachable*. Yet, revealed preference fails to account for consumers who regret their purchases. If people feel afterwards that they’ve made a wrong choice, then their purchase didn’t reveal their true preference.
* irreproachable: beyond criticism; faultless.
The capacity to reason makes people more susceptible to error. Humans aren’t mere slaves to their impulses. They sometimes make mistakes in pursuing their goals, and sometimes the goals themselves deserve scrutiny. People shouldn’t treat other people’s preferences as unbendable facets of their owners’ identities. It’s not disrespectful to try to persuade others. Engaging critically with others’ views is a crucial part of any debate.
For further readings on Thinking Skills, click HERE.