“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” – Harlan Ellison
What an outrageous statement to make! Everyone is entitled to an opinion, to voice out their convictions and what they feel strongly about. It is almost attractive these days to be an individualist, to be unconventional, a non-conformist, even a rebel. No one could fault you for having jarring opinions because you are entitled to your opinion.
In our very first class in boot camp, back in February 2021, my Professor warned the class against this very belief. He told the class this, which is still deeply etched in my mind: “In my class, you are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to what you can argue for.” Though it shocked me, it resonated with me. I personally thought the same even prior to coming to Law school. I had thoughts like these running through my head in the past: How can everyone’s opinion be valid? What if the opinion is grossly incorrect? Do we not need to test our opinions to see if it is well-founded? If people do not want to test their opinions, how can their opinions be truths? I started thinking about these questions because, living in this day and age, everyone has an opinion and wants to voice it out.
Being entitled to your opinion simply means being allowed to hold a certain view or judgment. This belief is problematic because it is almost like saying “I can say and think whatever I want”. Can you really? This phrase has been used way too often as a shield for fundamentally wrong beliefs which should have been forsaken and corrected. It feels almost wrong to challenge or question someone else’s beliefs because that person “is entitled to his/her opinion“.
Before we go further, we should establish that there are different types of opinions. There are opinions derived from your personal inclinations and preferences. There are also opinions from experts in their relevant fields. Going further, there are also opinions that come from years of studies and numerous peer reviews. These are just to name a few.
I think it is perfectly fine to voice your opinion for your preferences. For example, I am a fan of mint chocolate chip ice cream, and I obviously am of the opinion that it is delicious. However, I think many others have an opposing opinion that mint chocolate chip ice cream is disgusting, almost abominable. Am I still entitled to this opinion that mint chocolate chip ice cream is delicious? Yes, of course. It’d be a never-ending (and a truly unnecessary) debate if someone wants to change my opinion about my preference.
Let’s use an unsound and illogical opinion to set out a jarring contrast. Our blood is, for a fact, red in colour. Someone may have a differing opinion that our blood is not red, but blue (no, this person is not colourblind). Can this person still be entitled to his opinion? The test to check the soundness of his opinion should kick in now; can he argue for his opinion and prove it? If he is unable to, is this opinion worth listening to when it is so obviously incorrect?
Everyone has their own opinions and they want to tell them to the world.
Opinions are not always truths. If being entitled to your opinion simply means that you have the freedom to think a certain way; sure, you are entitled to your opinion. However, if being entitled to your opinion means that you have the rights to have your opinions treated like truth, then you are not entitled to your opinion. It is simple. If you want your opinions to be treated like the truth, your opinion must be informed and be based on true premises. It must be valid, be able to withstand multiple tests, and not be refuted or knocked down. Living in a world surrounded by so many differing opinions, it is of utmost importance to weed out the illogical and invalid opinions. We have to be extremely cynical and sceptical about opinions and never fear or shy away from testing them.
Law school is so glamourised on the television dramas we watched growing up. It created this illusion that lawyers are opinionated and argumentative. Yes, I will not deny that lawyers are, indeed, argumentative. But a person who went through law school will be argumentative because they were trained to question and test every single thing they hear or read. They are not merely arguing for their own preferences.
Many times, lawyers have to even argue for things they don’t even personally believe in. How will you argue for something which is fundamentally untrue and that you yourself do not believe in? Never mind the Court; you will not be persuaded by your own argument. This sentence is even truer in the context of Law school. As students training to eventually become lawyers, we must practice and cultivate the habit of forming sound arguments, arguments that are free from logical fallacies, that are not baseless and ill-founded.
I am sure many people stepped into Law school thinking that they can get through school by being opinionated and speaking their mind. If you enter Law school with this mindset, you will be in for a rude shock because your opinions don’t matter if you cannot argue for them.