A Dialog on Diversity of Opinion



A professor and his star student chatted after class in the hallway.

Professor A had just held forth, in his philosophy class, about the virtues of viewpoint diversity. Professor A argued that conformity of mind is a harbinger of intractable falsehoods, while hearing different perspectives from people who disagree with you can teach you things you otherwise would never know.

Student B stayed after to clarify things a bit.

B: “But if you value the opinion of even people who disagree with you, you’re just saying they can help you see new truths, right? You’re not saying that people who believe falsehoods that you do not believe have something to contribute, are you?”

A: “Yes, everyone’s opinion is valuable to me. Even people who think differently from me are correct about something and need to be heard.”

B: “I disagree, professor. You believe in tolerance. So, I think everyone who thinks differently from you on this point doesn’t value tolerance – and so they are incorrect.”

A: “Well, the people who think similarly to me are correct. But the people who think differently from me on that point are still valuable to me. They’re both valuable to me.”

B: “No, that can’t be right! If you’re saying even the intolerant and close-minded have opinions that are ‘valuable’ and should be heard, you’d have to conclude that conformity of mind is just as good as open debate and reasoned disagreement.”

A: “Yes, I guess so.”

B: “I disagree. Your opinion that intolerance is tolerable is wrong and, even more, it’s dangerous. It would allow the intolerant and close-minded a place at the table, even though they don’t value the opinions of everyone else at the table.”

A: “That’s why I love you – because you refuse to think like me and I value viewpoint diversity.”

B: “That’s creepy. You’re contradicting yourself and praising me for contradicting you.”

A: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

B: “I think I’m dropping out of college to become an electrician. My uncle said it’s a great life.”


Reader response: What’s the moral of the story?

A. Diversity of opinion is even more important than you thought.

B. ‘Viewpoint diversity’ and ‘tolerance’ and ‘open-mindedness’ are code words for close-minded intolerance of incorrect viewpoints, and tolerance or inclusiveness toward only the correct viewpoint.

C. ‘Viewpoint diversity’ and ‘tolerance’ are confused ideals that, if adhered to consistently, lead one into hopeless contradiction and irrationality.

D. Professional philosophy is theoretical and abstract, and therefore pointless while practical professions (such as that of electrician) are concrete and therefore have a point.

E. Practical professions (such as that of electrician) are concrete and so appear more valuable to weak minds incapable of appreciating the higher truth and beauty of the life of the mind.

F. “Disagreement” and “conformity”, like “open-mindedness” and “narrow-mindedness” are value-neutral terms and so should not be used as terms of praise or blame, because one should be open-minded only so long as one does not know the truth, but once one knows the truth, one should close one’s mind on it, like one closes one’s mouth on a bite of food.

G. All of the above.

H. None of the above (please explain):

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