I love following trains of thought.
I was staring at a fireplace listening to music. I had the following progression of thoughts:
- The bass line in this song is really awesome.
- It’s a very active bass line. I don’t know much about music and almost nothing about good bass playing. Any active bass line is going to sound good to me.
- Does that mean that, since I don’t know much about music, none of my opinions about music matter?
- I have strong opinions about music. Favorite albums, artists, songs, instrumentalists. To someone who knows a lot about music, those opinions must seem superficial and misguided.
- This is true even if we agree that taste is subjective. Even among matters of subjective taste, some taste is refined and some misses all the nuances of the form. Some is based on understanding the medium and some is based on irrelevant associations.
- Does this mean that all of our opinions about subjects in which we are not experts are misguided?
- Actually, even if we’re experts, we can always assume that there’s another expert who knows the subject more, or we can imagine one in the future who will. That person’s opinion is based on more and better evidence than mine. Shouldn’t I just automatically adopt his position?
- Does this mean we shouldn’t believe any of our beliefs? Should we assume all our beliefs are wrong? Should we just believe what the most knowledgeable expert beliefs?
My train of thought took me to radical skepticism, as they often do. That final question is one I find genuinely fascinating. All kinds of questions come up, like: How do I know who the most knowledgeable expert is? Is there an expert on experts who holds a special place in our knowledge system? Can I ever trust myself to know which expert to believe, though there may always be an expert on experts who knows the subject more?
I’ll consider these issues closely in another post. They’re related to the paradox of the preface and other epistemic paradoxes. For now, I just wanted to share my train of thought. It’s not often I catch every step of one.