arrogance, agnosticism & holding a view

It is not arrogant to think that you are right and that someone else is wrong; in other words, to hold a view.  Arrogance comes not from holding a view (neither from holding it strongly!), but from holding it with a posture of self-importance and (to coin a term) ‘from-on-high-ness’.

I think I’m right about this, too!

After all, we all think we’re right, don’t we?  I mean, who holds a view that they know to be wrong!?  If you knew you were wrong, you’d either change your mind, or refrain from holding any particular view.

And (without delving too far [for me at least] into epistemology!) it is not ‘agnostic’ to merely refrain from holding a view.  Indeed, it could be precisely because of some knowledge ‘x’, which you take as pretty trustworthy, that you refrain from holding view ‘y’.

  • There is the  lower-case ‘agnosticism’ (that all humans necessarily have about at least some things) which says “I don’t know…”
  • …and there is the upper-case ‘Agnosticism’ (which few, if any in my view [!!], can sustain without stumbling upon something they think they know) which says “Nobody can know…”

So when it comes to conversations about various topical topics, if someone has a view and the other is ‘agnostic’, they are not automatically humble, patient and peaceful and the other arrogant, impatient and divisive.  One can be a very arrogant, impatient and divisive brand of agnostic.  I know some.  And one can hold a view with great conviction while still being humble, patient and peaceful.  I try (and fail often) to do this with any strong views I hold.

42 thoughts on “arrogance, agnosticism & holding a view”

  1. I do believe it’s called strong and weak agnosticism. I take kindly to the weak strain.

    I agree, gnosticism or lack there of has no direct bearin the arrogance or humility of a person. More so, I think the objective vs. subjective morality thing does :D (the horse is getting a good flogging, not sure if dead yet though).

    If one believes their views/opinions on morality are objective/factual/this way or the highway/one size fit all type thing – they tend to (no surprises here) come across as being arrogant, indeed, “having an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance” – e.g. what they think or do is objectively for everyone more important/enjoyable/appropriate/more ‘right’ than what another might think or do.

    However if one recognises their views/opinions for what they are. Views and opinions stemming from their mind (subjective) as a result of their upbringing – they tend to remember their place in society – one among many, all with differing opinions on differing matters. They tend to be humble, indeed, “having or showing a modest or low estimate of one’s own importance” – e.g. what they think or do is to them more important/enjoyable/appropriate/more ‘right’ than what another might think or do.

    Objective Morality – This is how it is and this is how it should be! Agree!
    Subjective Morality – This is how I think it is and how I think it should be. Agree?

  2. Ryan,
    I think objective and subjective types can “tend to… come across [emphasis mine] as being arrogant”. One can hold a view that, say, a given action is ‘binding’ upon all people at all times. And they can hold that view in an arrogant way or a humble way.

    For example, I think it can, therefore, also be:
    Objective view – I believe this is true for all people, etc. What do you believe and why?
    Subjective view – We’re all just making up our subjective ideas and you are so arrogant and wrong if you think otherwise!

  3. so there seem to be four possibilities for the subjective and objective view-holders:

    arrogant objective
    humble objective
    arrogant subjective
    humble subjective

  4. I’m not convinced how a humble person, who by definition does not hold their opinion to be super more important than others, could think their way is the ‘binding’ upon all people at all times.

    Bit of a… hmmmm… nope… pieces aren’t fitting together in my mind..

  5. Cognitive dissonance to view your opinion both as more important than someone elses (objective) and of equal or lesser importance (humble).

  6. you seem to be not distinguishing between what is held and the way it is held.

    for example, a repentant rapist could believe that (for example) rape is always wrong for all people, and she could discuss it in a humble manner with an ethical subjectivist who was himself a bit of a self-important jerk who wouldn’t listen to anyone who thought it was always wrong…

    Again, big difference between what is believed and how it is discussed

  7. No no I can fully see the difference, views vs. discussion personality. But I cannot, myself, resolve the

    Ryan: Cognitive dissonance to view your opinion both as more important than someone elses (objective) and of equal or lesser importance (humble).

  8. It’s entirely in the realms of possibility for someone to present themselves as humble (discussion personality) whilst still being arrogant (views)

  9. I don’t agree. I think that views/ideas/truths/memes themselves are neither arrogant nor humble. It’s people that are arrogant or humble. And I know of no better example than the ‘repentant rapist’ one above. Have we reached the “get off the carousel” moment for this convo? :)

  10. The view that one is more important than another or that one has objectively ‘better’ morals than another person is an arrogant view by definition. The person who holds that view might not exude arrogance in every field of thought or action, all the time.

  11. Ryan,

    Ryan:
    The view that one is more important than another or that one has objectively ‘better’ morals than another person…

    No, I dont think, for example, our “repentant rapist ” is arrogant merely for believing her view is superior in right-ness. Again, unless one refrains from taking any view, the one they take they think to b right. Believing you are right and having too much

  12. Agreed, no more than I am arrogant for thinking my own view superior. But the ‘objective’ claim is taking it to the arrogant step. Claiming that not only do you think your view is superior, but that it actually and indisputably IS superior regardless of what anyone thinks. The ultimate in arrogance if you ask me..

    And the repentant rapist is all yours, friend. None of this ‘our’ business. :D

  13. OK that comment got cut off…

    Believing a) you are right (as all who take a view do), and b) that your view is (following from ‘a’) therefore right for everyone, and thus, c) superior to other views, does NOT mean that you think you as a person are arrogant. One can do a, b and c and be quite humble, patient and peaceful.

  14. Haha of course no one’s gonna think of themselves as arrogant! Arrogance is a trait called out by… wait for it… interlocutors :D

    And I’ve never been saying it makes the person as a whole an arrogant chap. I’ve merely been saying that the ‘objective’ view is an arrogant one to hold by definition.

  15. I doubt you’d think a maths teacher is always ‘arrogant’ when correcting a student who has not yet grasped the lesson. She might be, if she’s an insecure jerk and says “Why aren’t you as smart as me, you dumb child!?” Now mathematics is pretty ‘objective’ right? So one can – in principle – have an objective view and not be arrogant.

    I think you’ll find that arrogance is a quality discerned in humans, not in ideas, and that it has to do with the person’s view of themselves, and not whether or not they believe in universal or ‘objective’ truths (whether mathematical or moral). And speaking of ‘by definition’, ‘objective’ means true ‘regardless of what anyone thinks’. I think you confuse (again) someone who believes their view is objective (or “true-whatever-anyone-thinks”), without thinking too highly of themselves and someone who has the same view, but does think too highly of themselves.

    The phrase ‘whatever anyone thinks’ is helpful for our discussion. It relates to the point I’ve raised about my ‘mero-gnosticism’ in our other chats. Because those who believe morality has an ‘objective’ grounding do not claim omniscience, they believe that they don’t know the objective truth in an objective way. If they did, they would not only (IMHO) be very wrong, but then they would truly be arrogant, because they would have too high a view of their selves in terms of their epistemic ability. So as long as one doesn’t think they ‘know it all’, then they aren’t an arrogant ‘know it all’ (literally ‘omniscientist’).

    A further point to make about arrogance would be this. If someone does indeed have an ability that is better or more developed than another person, this does not make them arrogant. It just makes them ‘better at hockey’ or whatever. Michael Phelps is a better swimmer than I, and I am a better swimmer than Thomas (at the moment). If I held myself to be an olympic quality swimmer, I’d be arrogant. But I’m not arrogant to say I’m a better swimmer than Thomas. Similarly, I see no reason why someone who has a superior view on ‘x’ is necessarily arrogant. Like swimming ability, human knowing (in general) or moral knowledge (in particular) might be on a spectrum from uninformed, to very well informed. If there is such a thing as objective truth, it is not arrogant for someone to think they are closer to it than my 3.7 year old son. It is, however, arrogant for anyone to talk as though they have God-like knowledge of a topic. So all this really comes down to the observation that there seems to be at least one very easy way to judge if someone is arrogant: if they are acting like a know it all. George Wieland comes to mind, because in his NT classes at Carey, he genuinely expressed a desire to learn from us his students. This demonstrates an appropriate self-awareness of his knowledge of NT studies: that although he has a PhD, etc. he is not omniscient, and one of us could stumble upon an observation that he had not yet seen. This comment is already long enough, and I hope the slightly longer reflection has helped you see the distinctions that I think have to (yes, for all people, all topics, and in all places and times – haha) be made. :)

  16. My lord… I should have said ‘objective’ claim, specifically in morality

    So scratch your first paragraph…

    Second paragraph? To me (which I’ve said a lot) a person who thinks too highly of themselves is the person that thinks their view (on morality) is true not matter what anyone thinks (objective).

    Of course there are objective, universal-to-all-humans (at least provisionally) truths like facts and figures and stats and evidence based findings. I just don’t think morality has absolutes, I think it is more like cinema, poetry, art, music. Different people find different things moral on the spectrum of human thought and action. And the consensus dictates what moves forward through the ages.

    Third paragraph. EXACTLY. Dude, I have no problem with you saying “I think morality is objective, because *insert reason Ryan thinks is irrational/non sequitur here*” Where I squint my eyes like diCaprio in the Inception meme (look it up) is when people say “”I know morality is objective”. Cause like you say

    Dale: If they did, they would not only (IMHO) be very wrong, but then they would truly be arrogant, because they would have too high a view of their selves in terms of their epistemic ability.

    Fourth paragraph – mostly more rambling based on a misconstruing of my ‘objective’ comment. But some bullet points nonetheless:
    1 – Of course some swimmers are objectively and measurably faster than others – we define this as being a ‘better swimmer’. How do you define someone as being a ‘better person’? A ‘more good’ person than someone else? You attempt to measure their moral actions. This becomes difficult as people have differing opinions on the morality, they same way it becomes difficult to measure a ‘better film’ a ‘better song’ a ‘better work of art’.

    2 –

    Dale: It is, however, arrogant for anyone to talk as though they have God-like knowledge of a topic.

    This is what anyone who speaks of ‘objective morality’ sounds like to my ears.

    3 – George Wieland is cool. I like him.

    4 – Yes, that comment was long, perhaps unnecessarily, but never mind. You like writing :)

    5 – Distinctions? Remain the same. You raised a lot of distinctions I was already aware of and wasn’t even trying to amalgamate. I still don’t see a distinction between someone claiming to know that ‘an objective standard of morality’ exists and that person as a result holding an arrogant view. I’m not saying they’re in all places at all times to all people an arrogant person. I’m saying I think that view is a particularly arrogant view to hold by def.

  17. aha… so it seems it comes down to this:

    You are saying it is arrogant to “claim to know” objective moral claims. So it’s not just about epistemology in general, but about moral epistemology, or really about ‘knowing’ any metaphysical (and thus unmeasurable) qualities.

    There are (at least) two claims I think I can sustain:
    1) that there can be just as much potential for arrogance by those who (arrogantly) deny that we can know any metaphysical qualities, and that we can only have confidence in quantitative measurements of the world.

    2) that, whether or not they use the word ‘know’ (which may be a distraction for our conversation), one can ‘believe’ in ‘objective’ ground for ethics and still pursue learning, discussion and sharpening of their knowledge in a very non-arrogant way.

    ((that’s as brief as I can put it. I deleted extra stuff!)) :)

  18. three Humble options:
    H1 – I believe in an objective ground for ethics, and enjoy talking with and learning from people who disagree!
    H2 – I don’t know what I believe re a ground for ethics, and I enjoy talking and learning also!
    H3 – I believe ethics is entirely subjective, and make that three of us who enjoy talking and learning!

    three Arrogant options:
    A1 – I believe in an objective ground for ethics, and don’t waste time with those who disagree!
    A2 – I don’t know what I believe re a ground for ethics, and I don’t waste time with those who do know what they believe!
    A3 – I believe ethics is entirely subjective, and don’t waste time with those who think otherwise!

  19. Let me put it stronger?

    three Humble options:
    H1 – I believe firmly that an objective ground for ethics is so reasonable, intuitive and consistent with the language and behaviour of humans (even moral relativists!), that I would even say (in popular langauge) that I ‘know’ it, but I also ‘know’ I’m not omniscient and have a l0t to learn, and thus always enjoy talking with and yes, learning from people who disagree!
    H2 – I don’t know what I believe re a ground for ethics and I have yet to understand anyone who does know what they believe, but I enjoy talking and learning also!
    H3 – I believe so firmly that ethics is entirely subjective that I would even almost claim it’s a ‘fact’, but make that three of us who enjoy talking and learning!

  20. I’m convinced that human morality is derived from an ever evolving inter-subjective consensus. I’m convinced of this due to it’s consistency with the language and behavior of humans (even moral realists!) over the years.

  21. we can critique the video some other time, here I want to just focus on the question of arrogance and holding strong views. We seem to have reached a point of (at least provisional) agreement that view H1, H2 and H3 (above) can all be humbly held.

  22. Well, ok then, what particularly about ‘Take Stronger’ do you find that causes it to be suddenly over the line of ‘no longer being humble’?

  23. I’ve said it above several times… talk of ‘knowing’ that your way is right for you AND everyone else regardless of what they think still strikes me as an arrogant view to hold.

    I understand how someone can present this view at a discussion table in a humble manner – “Please sir, may I speak…?…”. But to me, the thoughts/views taking place inside their head are arrogant ones, no matter how humble their presentation manner is.

    Yes, I do think that views can be labelled humble and arrogant if the view categorically corresponds with a level of importance of oneself.

  24. I think I’m done on the arrogant/humble topic. I’m really far more interested to hear which one of WLC’s propositions you still hold to despite the video’s thorough rebuttal.

  25. Ahhh… indeed it would “strike” you as arrogant (‘having too high a view of self’ – particularly your knowledge ability) for anyone to believe something that you feel unable to. Just as it would “strike” us as ‘having too low a view of self’ for anyone to deny that the world exists (solipsism).

    But the problem is that you end up viewing someone as arrogant just because they have a different view to you. Surely arrogance has to do with ‘how’ the person ‘holds’ the view with respect to their self-worth rather than merely ‘what’ they believe.

    happy to leave the humble/arrogant thing there, and follow up video on FB (as I have time – there’d be quite a bit of deconstruction as it covers a lot of ground).

  26. Again… you’ve misread me..
    I will change some of your words.. You’ll like the both/and p’raps…!

    Dale: Ahhh… indeed it would “strike” you me as arrogant (‘having too high a view of self’ – particularly your knowledge ability) for anyone to believe know something that you feel unable to is demonstrably a faith-based claim, not a graspable knowledge.

    Dale: But the problem is that you end up viewing someone as arrogant just because they have a different view to you apparently ‘know’ their view is not only right for them but right for you also. Surely arrogance has to do with both ‘how’ the person ‘holds’ the view with respect to their self-worth rather than merely and the nature of ‘what’ they believe apparently know.

    In this instance they are claiming (whether in a humble or an arrogant manner) to ‘know’ that their moral standard is objective and therefore more important than anyone else’s subjective standard of morality.

    arrogant – adj. – over the top sense of importance e.g. “a typically arrogant assumption”

    It seems a typically arrogant assumption to say you ‘know’ your standard of morality is objective – more important than anyone else’s.

    ********

    Look forward to hearing from you re: morality videos.

  27. do you see what you’re doing, Ryan? when you say all that about ‘demonstrably faith-based, not graspable’, you’re labeling some views ‘arrogant’ on the basis of assuming the truth of one epistemological view.

    And I don’t see anything arrogant in principle with thinking your opinion/view/standards are ‘more important’ than another’s. To a person who sees no problem with child prostitution in India, I think my view is better, superior, and more important in all kinds of ways. Not because I have too high a view of myself, but because I have a different set of basic values and beliefs than she (or he) does. It’s OK to disagree. It’s OK to think you are right and the other person is wrong. It’s OK to think your view is better than another persons. In fact, everytime we disagree with anyone, we implicitly think these things. We can be arrogant jerks and have unfruitful conversations, or we can be humble people who patiently defend our view that we believe (at least for the moment) to be superior, etc.

  28. I’ve repeatedly made clear it’s the ‘knowing’ part that makes it seem arrogant to me. But for some reason you think I’m meaning it is ‘believing’ that’s arrogant – which I’m not and never have been..

  29. …missed the two comments after your ‘life goes on’ sign off…

    Yes, and I’ve been pretty specific about the very semantically qualified use of the word ‘know’ throughout. It’s about a belief so strong (i.e. I believe so strongly that I’m not all knowing, that I think I can say I ‘know’ it to be true!) that the word ‘know’ becomes all the more appropriate.

  30. When you ‘know’ something.
    When you ‘are aware something of through observation, inquiry, or information’.

    Otherwise, totes inappropes. Just say ‘believe strongly’ if you believe strongly.

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