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Clear opinions, weakly held

Recently I encountered the phrase “strong opinions, weakly held” — something advocated in the rationalist community. Some backstory for it is here. I am interested in considering the first part of the phrase and will ignore the “weakly held” portion, as I trust everyone agrees on the importance of being able to change their minds in the face of new evidence.

What could “strong opinions” mean? I see four possibilities:

Definition 1) Narrow priors (or posteriors, if you will — depends on which point of time you are considering)

Definition 2) Strongly stated opinions, in the sense of making a point forcefully

Definition 3) Strongly stated opinions, in the sense of making a point with precise language that accurately conveys one’s beliefs

Definition 4) Having an opinion at all, even if one’s beliefs entertain a wide range of possible outcomes (e.g. a uniform distribution over the entire space)

I can see several possible arguments for or against “strong opinions” in the sense of each of those definitions. Nonetheless, it is wholly unclear to me which arguments are typically made, using which definitions. If at the bare minimum one would like statements to be made clearly, in the sense of Definition 3, presumably there are better ways of putting that. By the sheer number of things it could mean, it is an ironic phrase. Perhaps it is better put as “clear opinions, weakly held”.

One Comment

  • Ben |

    I almost always think of “strong opinions” in the sense of (1). It’s really easy to have *non-strong* opinions, weakly held, by just never having opinions. The hard part is to *simultaneously* have appropriately narrow posteriors *and* move them around appropriately in response to new evidence.