Surety of opinion is often derided as arrogance, mischaracterized as close-minded certainty.
But confidence in the righteousness of one’s beliefs is not a trait which should be discouraged as insipid vanity nor a condition which ought to discredit an individual from being taken seriously as a voice of reason.
Surety of opinion is a necessary condition of evolution. The caveman who tentatively approached his foe was surely not he who crafted the bromide “He who hesitates is lost,” as it is not likely he survived to impart this lesson to his progeny.
Survival, at a basic level, demands some degree of certainty. Rational egotism uses analytical assessment to form conclusions that, if they are not absolutely sound, in no way contradict the best information available in the moment. Certainty is not a state of mind; it is an empirical process of careful reasoning. The man who is truly confident of his opinions is only so because he is constantly analyzing the world around him to ensure that his conclusions are still sound. Belief in the righteousness of one’s opinions, then, is not arrogant close-mindedness, but extremely liberal as it demands one always consider the possibility that new information has led the believer astray, forcing him to correct is course.
Consider now the moralistic implications of righteousness. This, in particular, is reviled. But, philosophically, what is the point of belief if the adherent does not see it as the only rational path towards salvation, be it in body or spirit?
Again, certainty in this regard does not mean there is no room for debate or growth. In fact, certainty demands debate as there is no way an individual can be sure of the rightness of their reasons unless they have considered and rejected all alternatives as inferior or in error in some way.
Belief for any other reason that an absolute certainty in an idea’s righteousness is hollow. There is some regard, not for truth and the rational process by which it is discerned, but for the social context through which beliefs are mediated. Belief is no longer a medium through which individuals assert their sovereignty and personality but a transaction where principles and the soul are sold for the affection of the mob.
Certainty still matters, but is relativistic, determined solely by the opinion of the majority. And, whereas individually-determined certainty is flexible and demands a constant internal dialogue which checks belief against available facts, it is only the soft tyranny of power which is relevant to the righteousness of the collective.
Also published on Medium.