The fear of being wrong

He who thinks great thoughts often makes great errors.

– Heidegger

That may be so, but what ethic are we to take from it?

Are we to doubt ourselves more and become more reluctant to express our views? I think that would be a tragedy.

Rather, we ought to embrace the potential for error and misinterpretation, yet bravely adventure in thought and expression; to act out in faith.

The fear of being wrong is the fear of alienation, of losing status amongst the group; it is the folly of the inauthentic self; it is herd behaviour; it is the obsession with ‘they’.

To become bogged down in doubt and hold back from expressing ourselves until we have done the ‘due diligence’ of reading and examining our subject matter to the nth degree would lead to the mindless scholaticism so often found amongst academics. Not that doubt is itself a bad thing; indeed, doubt and questioning is essential to the philosophical task. Furthermore, the ‘need to be right’, which is one reaction to the fear of being wrong, can often lead to great errors, as oneself may become dependent on the views of authority figures, who themselves have made great errors.

What Heidegger fails to mention here is that great things can often come from great errors. Innovation is found in exploring perspectives (through dialogue, aphorism, metaphor, example and so on), regardless of whether those perspectives are faithful representations of ‘the truth’ or the views of authority figures. An example is Nietzsche’s ‘Birth of Tragedy’. Nietzsche was a brilliant philologist, but his book pissed off the academics due to its lack pretence to the academy (footnotes, etc.). However, it has had a profound, positive influence on the shaping of many lives. This despite it being a ‘great error’ in the minds of some.

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