How important are the opinions of experts in the search for knowledge?
How important are the opinions of experts in the search for knowledge?
Man is a social animal who needs company and advices He is distinguished from others creatures by his deep search of knowledge. Knowledge is a deep concept. It is no such thing lying around to be picked and learned. It can only be understood through our experience. It is created by us through the four ways of knowing namely-sense perception, language, reasoning and emotion. But since these ways of knowing can sometimes be misleading, man staggers in his journey to knowledge We are not living in the Garden of Eden where grows the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man has to distinguish between what is right and wrong, in this context I feel that opinions of experts are necessary.
Man shows huge faith in the power of the so called experts. An expert is a person who has a formidable authority in the subject concerned. He is experienced enough to enlighten the mind of others through his expert advice. Man has to rely on expert opinion to ascertain truth and also to justify many of his knowledge claims. In this modern world the opinions of experts in their respective fields have been very important to us. Teachers, preachers, doctors engineers and other professionals influence our lives to a great extent, and we follow their opinions blindly. For example at the hour of health problems, we consult a doctor, adhere to his opinions, following his advice, and consume the prescribed drugs never ever doubting that his advice may sometimes be detrimental, and the drugs fatal. But is a physician always right? For our career we have to seek the expert guidance of a counselor. We approach him in good faith and follow his opinion to the letter. Thus opinions are very important.
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In the opinion of the moralists the more we torture the body the more we please the soul. We follow rites and rituals, keep fasts, undergo stringent penance strategies so as to keep a check on our temptations. But we never doubt whether such opinionated perceptions will be contributive to our search for knowledge or not. Does a soul exist? Can these opinions ever help us establish the existence of God? Can they be constantly conducive to knowledge? Indubitably the experts have shown us the way to progress but we should remember that the opinions of an expert can be both boon and a bane. I belong to India where most of the people are still stuck in the tentacles of superstitions and backwardness remember that only last year the son of my driver fell severally ill with a mysterious sickness. The driver sought expert opinions from all such people who hold authority on the issue of sickness. A priest advised him to organize prayers as according to him the reason behind the sickness was his son’s sins in the previous life. The exorcist advised him to sacrifice a goat, and dip his son in its gore. An apothecary suggested that the son be fed with the ashes dry basil leaves. An astrologer advised that an amulet made of turquoise be tied on his arm. Whose opinion sounds better? Is it not the irony of human fate that he thought of taking his son to a specialist doctor only when the child was dead? Thus opinions can be dangerous as well.
It is the fundamental right of a man to speak and express his opinions freely. But opinions are only opinions; they represent the belief and perception of man. They cannot always be held true. Moreover opinions vary from person to person, and knowledge is not based on opinions. Knowledge requires a justified true belief. Moreover being simple man of flesh and blood these so called experts can be prone to cultural bias, racial thinking and discrimination. It is the irony of human fate that man shows an inherent tendency to become what he believes. And such beliefs may sometimes be prejudicial to human interest.
The knowledge claims in Ethics as an area of knowledge help us distinguish between right and wrong; good and evil. It is such an area where the advice of the experts thrusts us into a dilemma as the opinion of the expert is always sought after in the absence of any rulebook about what is right and wrong. Ethics is an issue that is opposed to the scientific spirit. Cloning, abortion and euthanasia are a few issues on which moralists look with contempt as they consider these scientific advancements as an attempt to reverse the role of nature. In my opinion these inventions are revolutionary and can never be lightly. I feel ethics is a field where the belief and faith of a person is what matters most. We should use our reason and rationality before implementing the opinions of the moralists in our lives.
Religion is another area of knowledge that is highly opinionated, and here the opinions of priests and pundits are sought after. To show the glory of god, these experts claim that the universe was made by god out of chaos around 6000 years ago. The carbon dating techniques used by scientists reveal that out universe is at least four billion years old. According to them there was no divine intervention in the cosmic formation; it was rather the effect of the Big Bang. The priests claim that god is omnipresent and omniscient, and it was He who created man and woman from clay and rib. But in the opinions of scientists and particularly Charles Darwin life evolved on earth through organic matter and man through apes and monkey through a process of natural selection over millions of years1. And there are other experts whose opinions on the evolution of life differ from their predecessors. According to them life came to earth from space through extra terrestrials! Now whose opinion sounds more perfect when the existence of aliens like that existence of God’s is still on the anvil of doubt from time immemorial! Moreover all preachers opine that only their religion is true. So whose opinion should be considered the most rational given the fact that there are hundreds of religions teeming on our planet! Thus I feel that if opinions pave the way to knowledge they create conflicts as well.
In the field of religion the opinions of the priests, clergymen and elders are equally misleading. According to them natural disasters such as volcanoes, floods and droughts are not natural. They are a means of divine dispensation in the wake of the ascent of mortal sins on earth. For example the priests quote a mythical story from the Bible of a Great Flood sent by god to destroy humanity. And this idea of divine punishment is so universal that the flood myth is found in every religion and culture. But the scientific enquiry has an entirely different explanation to such natural disasters. I think that the experts of religion play with the sentiments of people keeping them in fear of god so as to enjoy nectar at their expense. The priests also claim that people are black because they committed sins in their previous lives. But science has established that the color of skin has nothing to do with sins, it is rather based on the concentration of sunlight in the area. What I feel is that all religious dogmas are based on belief and faith. These opinions are far from truth and are highly personal in nature. Like ethics these opinions too need to be tested on the anvil of truth and evidence. And only our reason and rationality are the tools that can be instrumental in assessing their validity.
As a ToK student I have tried to evaluate that opinions do not contribute to knowledge invariably. Ethics and religion are areas of knowledge that are unlikeliest to offer any empirical evidence in support of the opinions of their experts. Only our ways of knowing are not sufficient in deciding the efficacy of an opinion. Unlike them, Science as an area of knowledge is based on empirical evidence rather than wild guesses and superficial opinions. It is the ultimate justified belief -the certain way of knowing. It is there with us to help ascertain the cogency of an opinion.
My conclusion is that although the opinions of the experts have been revolutionary in enhancing the human lot, yet they cannot be always relied on. The opinion of an expert should be considered his personal viewpoint and not a fact. Mere opinions lacking empirical evidence can be detrimental in our quest of knowledge. A person can be an expert in a particular field, but his views may not be relevant in other areas of knowledge. For example Sigmund Freud may be an authority in the field of psychology, and Einstein in science. But what will happen if their roles are reversed? We have to be wary lest a false opinion should become our belief and belief our principle.