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Let people change their minds

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Everyone does it. Some people do it several times a day. Others, weekly, monthly, or even just a few times in their lives. We would be suspicious, and rightly so, of someone who claimed never to have done it. Some have even become famous for doing it. Making a public show of it can make or break a career. But how often is too often? I’m talking about changing one’s mind. As philosophers, we are often surprised when one of us reverses position on an issue. Hilary Putnam, for example, was famous for changing his mind, and this fact is mentioned in nearly every article about him. But why is this really so remarkable? Indeed, isn’t the really surprising thing that we’re not changing our minds more often? Think about it: We spend our professional lives discussing and assessing arguments against our position. We have lots of intelligent colleagues. Indeed, I think many philosophers are not only as intelligent as I am, but more intelligent. Of this group, some have given more thought to the issues than I have. As a result, there are very strong arguments out there against my position. And this isn’t just because I happen to have a weak view; the same can be said for virtually any interesting philosophical position (if no one disagrees with your view, you should worry—it’s not a good sign). Given this, and given that our profession is predicated on the view that arguments should and do affect our opinions, the question remains. Why is it so noteworthy when philosophers change their minds? Maybe changing one’s mind frequently is a sign of taking positions too quickly, without sufficiently attending to, or waiting for, evidence. If I find myself changing my mind about an issue, it is a sign that I made up my mind prematurely to begin with—I should have waited to hear more arguments on the issue. Maybe. But not necessarily. One could end up endlessly flipping and flopping precisely because one takes belief formation very seriously. While some changes of heart might happen. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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