Is it possible to be truly unbiased?


I was pondering this question: Inductive Argument Against Believing Anything

I his argument, the OP suggests that, in the position of choosing a system of belief where there are multiple, large followings of different ideologies, even after hearing all the arguments, perfectly thinking it out, and confidently taking a position, it is still perfectly likely to choose wrong. He suggests that ultimately a person's biases or other limitations may be what influence their stance, which gives them no more reason to be confident in their opinion than the many other people that are confident in an opposing opinion, but are in fact incorrect.

My question is, is it possible to formulate a perfectly unbiased opinion? Can you take a position on something as secularly uncertain as say religion or as controversial as social policy and NOT be influenced by feelings or "other limitations" that may make you biased in some form?


Posted 2014-08-13T19:25:02.280

Reputation: 216

1Sure. As a thought experiment, I can decide ahead of time that you'll present me with a moral dilemma and I'll flip a coin. You ask, and I reply according to my coin flip. I am therefore an unbiased responder to your question. Now, if you mean something else, like "not answering randomly," well then ... what do you mean? I think your question is harder to pin down than it looks. What does "unbiased" even mean? – user4894 – 2014-08-13T19:57:38.513

You aren't formulating an opinion by flipping a coin. The question is can you be unbiased after going through a process of research and consideration. – ShemSeger – 2014-08-13T20:04:45.547

How could an observer tell the difference? For all you know the Supreme Court justices flip a coin after reading their law books. I'm happy to stipulate that before flipping my coin, I read the collected works of Bertrand Russell, including Principia Mathematica. Then I flipped a coin. – user4894 – 2014-08-13T20:20:03.787

Read the question that I have linked to in my question, I have a feeling that you don't understand what it is I'm trying to ask. – ShemSeger – 2014-08-13T21:01:42.380

I'm giving you my unbiased opinion. The problem is that you are unable to recognize it as such. That's my concern with your question. How would you know an unbiased opinion from a biased one? – user4894 – 2014-08-13T22:09:45.943

@user4894: Being unbiased would mean to me that I make a decision based on facts that should be considered, and not on any opinion that I formed before deciding, or on any facts that shouldn't be relevant. That would mean that deciding solely based on the throw of a dice would be 100% biased. – gnasher729 – 2015-08-31T17:10:30.577



I would argue that there is an implicit trade-off between bias and decisiveness, similar to trade-offs between accuracy and precision. I take the following to be an unbiased statement.

There may or, equivalently, may not be some manner of supreme being or beings.

I would hold this statement to be relatively non-biased. It is certainly less biased than:

There is a supreme being.

And also less accurate.

I would argue that by not believing in anything you are protected from bias.

Whether it is possible to have no opinions or beliefs is perhaps another question, but I believe by having no opinions to be biased about, it would necessarily result in no bias.

Can you take a position on something as secularly uncertain as say religion or as controversial as social policy and NOT be influenced by feelings or "other limitations" that may make you biased in some form?

Oh no, you asked an extension question about taking a position. Well that makes this harder.

I would argue that being sufficiently informed to produce a position on any issue will necessarily introduce non-zero bias. However, we may be able to further refine our answers. For example, perhaps we can eliminate one of the above cases with the following definition:

A supreme being is taken to be supreme iff superior to all other beings in every way.


There may or, equivalently, may not be some manner of supreme being or beings.

reduces to

There may or, equivalently, may not be some manner of supreme being.

Now, should the added definition be considered as a bias? Perhaps, perhaps a clarification, perhaps it is meaningless. These are open questions. However, to me this suggests it is possible to refine statements beyond no position, to some position, to a certain extent, without introduction bias. I would argue that this continues only up to a certain point. To me, religion is beyond that point, but I do believe it may be possible to get down to a single a religion.

I'm tempted to say only time will tell, but I'm worried that may carry with it my internal bias for optimism and progress.


Posted 2014-08-13T19:25:02.280

Reputation: 563

There could be an infinite chain of beings, each one superior to the previous (and thus no supreme being) =) – Petr Naryshkin – 2018-02-27T15:44:58.510


As with the question you refer to, I would start by appealing to the philosophy behind Bayesian inference. From that framework, I agree with Calvin, that a state of ignorance is an unbiased one. Jeffreys wrote about precisely this, when he wrote that someone coming to a new problem should use the uniform (unbiased) prior to represent their ignorance.

Since Bayes Law describes how a rational agent updates belief based on new knowledge, one can conclude that the only way for a rational agent to remain unbiased is to not know anything about the issue - you cannot remain unbiased. Your bias may shift toward believing something to be unknowable, but even that is a bias toward the question. So it seems a rational person cannot formulate unbiased positions.

To show two practical examples:

  • Russ Roberts is an economist in the tradition of Hayek. He often will admit a bias explicitly and go on to say that he doesn't think a particular thing (for example, if a government policy was helpful) is knowable.

  • Consider three people who have studied a lot of theology: one is theist, one is atheist, the other is agnostic. It is pretty clear that the first two are biased (though one may be right!). The agnostic is not generally "unbiased" though - he has a strongly held position that the question of God's existence is unknowable.

James Kingsbery

Posted 2014-08-13T19:25:02.280

Reputation: 5 868

I guess that depends on what you consider an unbiased position. You seem to equate it with an uniform distribution. But if your position results purely on Bayesian updating from an uniform prior based on hard facts, shouldn't that still be considered an unbiased position? After all, it doesn't depend on your personal believes. Everyone having the same information would get the to the same conclusion using Bayesian updating from an uniform prior. – celtschk – 2014-08-14T20:36:27.657

I suppose it does. I took "biased" to mean "in favor of one particular point of view." – James Kingsbery – 2014-08-14T21:37:02.323

1So "the sun is shining" is a biased statement, even if you can clearly see the sun shine? – celtschk – 2014-08-14T21:42:59.650


I will rephrase your question, as I understand it. Can someone form an opinion on something "new," without being "influenced" by his/her previous accumulation of knowledge? I believe that the answer is - impossible. Our accumulated knowledge is what allows us to understand anything new, and we "interpret" it as our knowledge allows us, so it is impossible to not be "biased" by our previous accumulation of knowledge.


Posted 2014-08-13T19:25:02.280

Reputation: 1 686


Everything that we say and do is all biased. The very statement by saying something is not biased is in fact an opinion, therefore: biased. The things that we experience and see to be true, is again, biased; the things that we go through, the thing that we believe and our opinions are ALL biased. Even if we only tried to look at the facts of something, in the end when we make our decision to agree or disagree with something, we have biasedly made a choice based on what we THINK is correct. After saying this may I pose the question: would life have actual meaning and be fascinating if things weren't biased? This is just a thought... so to directly answer the question: no I don't think there is a way to be unbiased, but then again, this is just my opinion.

lena hewes

Posted 2014-08-13T19:25:02.280

Reputation: 31

Such a biased answer (+1) – ShemSeger – 2018-02-27T04:33:34.450


The question popped up in the feed after 3 years, so I'd give my 2 cents.

I'll posit a rather radical view.

  1. Epistemologically, every bit of knowledge you aquire is based on believing that knowledge to be true/false/real/imaginary/etc, or more precisely, believing that knowledge to be at the very least epistemic (meaning it can have a conscious meaning for you). Hence, we already, in our very essence of thinking, believing, thus being able to be at least slightly biased.

  2. Sociology, economy, biology, physically, your body and brain and mine are being affected throughout your life, even when you're just a new-born, you have the genes of your parents (at the very least). Each experience you have throughout your life shapes you. Shapes your views. This is one of the reasons philosophers have tried to emphasize the "return to youth" state of mind, because that's when you were the least affected by life. This is causing the very fundamental language you're using to be influenced by your past. Formalization of regions such as language have tried to solve these "issues", but even those formalizations can be argued to be influenced by the views of the ones who created them, thus even those aren't "unbiased".*

In conclusion, in my opinion thinking there's any reach for an unbiased statement (itself being biased) is simply impossible. But the real issue here is the nihilistic thinking this "postmodern" cause - the fact that all we say and do is biased doesn't mean it's not real, or that it's meaningless, because it's "not objective enough". The search of objectivism (criticized by Michael Polanyi, and others after him) is the real issue. We shouldn't try and get the "absolute objective", because, as the humans we are, we won't ever be completely objective, and that's fine - we can still discover things about nature, we can still try to find "objectively" better society rules (obviously not objective, but objective in the means that it considers all of the society and not only the single subject). Kant's thing-in-itself is a non-issue for this view, we don't need to try and reach it, we simply need to aspire to make our life on this "phenomenons world" better.

(*note that this goes for the other side of the theological debate too, the atheist is also biased in his thoughts, and the line of thought Calvin shows in his answer for unbiasness "by not believing in anything you are protected from bias" is totally biased by modern thinking. And again, I'm not saying that this biasness is "wrong" or "bad" - it's how we live, it's how we are, and it's what makes us interesting, because that way each and every one of us habe different opinions.)

Yechiam Weiss

Posted 2014-08-13T19:25:02.280

Reputation: 3 468


I would argue that there is no such thing as an "unbias opinion" In fact, "unbias opinion" is an oxymoron. Not only is bias inherent in our opinions, it is in large part the very definition of "opinion". Otherwise, you would be dealing with facts. To be unbias is to be factual. If one is not stating facts, then they are stating opinions. What else is there?


Posted 2014-08-13T19:25:02.280

Reputation: 11

First off, welcome to philosophy.SE. The answer you give is intriguing specifically in the way it uses "fact" It seems like you're mostly making a linguistic argument based on the common use definitions of "fact", "opinion" and "bias". But isn't the claim to fact an opinion? And can't some of the opinions we have also be facts? – virmaior – 2015-08-29T04:02:36.607


I would argue that facts can be opinions at the same time. Example: Person 1 believes that global warming is happening, the other person believes that it isn't. These are there opinions. But since there opinions are absolute one of them has to be correct, therefore a fact. Of course the other person won't agree that the right person is right. But thats besides the point. One of the person opinion is also a fact. Since we don't know which one is true we don't know which one is a fact, they are both opinions.


Posted 2014-08-13T19:25:02.280

Reputation: 11

Hey, welcome and thanks for the answer! Is there any chance you could unpack this a little further? (Why is this answer persuasive to you? What research could confirm it?) – Joseph Weissman – 2017-02-09T22:18:56.097