Art Carden  

Kierkegaard on Setting Aside Childish Things: Opinions and Judgment

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One of my favorite passages in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13:11. In the KJV, it reads "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." I was reminded of this passage when Daniel Klein sent me this quote from Kierkegaard's Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, which he quotes as part of the new issue of Econ Journal Watch:

Do you judge like the crowd, in its capacity as a crowd? You are not obliged to have an opinion about what you do not understand. No, on the contrary, you are eternally excused from that. But you are eternally responsible as an individual to render an account for your opinion, and for your judgment. And in eternity, you will not be asked inquisitively and professionally, as though by a newspaper reporter, whether there were many that had the same -- wrong opinion. You will be asked only whether you have held it, whether you have spoiled your soul by joining in this frivolous and thoughtless judging, because the others, because the many judged thoughtlessly. You will be asked only whether you may not have ruined the best within you by joining the crowd in its defiance, thinking that you were many and therefore you had the prerogative, because you were many, that is, because you were many who were wrong. In eternity it will be asked whether you may not have damaged a good thing, in order that you also might judge with them that did not know how to judge, but who possessed the crowd's strength, which in the temporal sense is significant but to which eternity is wholly indifferent.

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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Alex Stewart writes:

I love Kierkegaard. He has a unique individualistic view that I find refreshing, and his ideas on faith I find to be very natural and humble.

Wallace Forman writes:

What's better:

1) Refusing to have opinions where you have some non-zero chance of being wrong

or

2) Having opinions on subjects where you have some sufficiently high probability of judging correctly, even though the chance of being wrong is non-zero.

Eternity could use a little Bayesian rationality, if you ask me. I.e., it would care just as much about your careless lack of opinions as your opinions.

Eric Falkenstein writes:

Isn't this a bit like logical positivism, that only things you fully understand theoretically from logical axioms are 'good' opinions? Yet, as Jon Haidt, or FA Hayek have noted, we know a lot we can't articulate. It isn't helpful, or even possible, to hold all your opinions to this kind of standard.

People know a lot from different sources, including intuition, experience, watching others. Sure at extremes this is suboptimal, but in moderation it's part of leading a good life.

ThomasH writes:

I take this as a warning against what Robin Hanson calls "mood affiliation."

Another kind of intellectual sin is mood anti-affiliation. I seriously believe that the main reason I supported the Iraq invasion, irrational as that now seems, was my total rejection of the argument that it was "about Oil." And I continued to support it for a while because I rejected that Bush "lied" about WMD. Who knows how many other opinions one has picked up because of a rejection of the style of argument of the other side.

Philo writes:

I take my opinions about what various companies are worth from the crowd; i.e., I accept the Efficient Market Hypothesis.

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