How would you describe the term; what is an opinion? How broad is an opinion's scope? Where is the border between an opinion and a fact? What is a fact? Is there something between an opinion and a fact? Is an opinion always subjective? What is the difference between subjective and objective? Are opinions good and bad, objectively? If 99% of people think A and the 1% think B, is the 1 percent's opinion still an opinion, or is it just an unsound judgement? What is the difference between an opinion and a judgement? How much is an opinion related to knowledge, experience, and intelligence?

Finally, is your answer to this topic an opinion?

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6 votes
Nov 26, 2015

A "fact" must be true. That's a tough issue since we disagree on objective truth.

A "factual statement" or an "empirical statement" must be a statement that only aims to describe the nature of reality, with no value-laden baggage.

To me, the surest sign of an "opinion" is when someone expresses what should be or ought to be, what people should do, if a particular state of affairs is bad or sad or cruel or good, etc.

In common usage, we use "opinion" to mean this and also an uninformed factual statement that is based on little evidence. The latter use is purely pejorative and heavily subjective.

In my view, an opinion that evinces a lack of compassion or empathy, a lack of proper thought or deep relation, or a lack of passion about the issue is likely to be a bad one. I believe that, if we don't really care enough about an issue to really at least consider it from a few different angles, we really have no pressing need to share it.

Moreover, I believe that we all must be a lot better at indicating the strength of our opinions and our estimation of their importance to us. For example: When I talk about the existence of God, I say that I believe in a pantheist God because of my life experiences, but do not have any evidence for that assertion and actually do not find it all that important to my life. To me, it was the experiences gaining a broader sense of consciousness, joy and awareness that mattered, not one of the specific conclusions I drew.

The popularity of an opinion is totally moot to its soundness. The reason why we discuss the percentage of experts in a field who believe X versus the general public is because there is an implicit argument beyond the popularity: "The people who actually did the work, read the arguments, ran the models, they believe this. The general public is virtually by definition not experts in the field, and thus are likely to be incompetent at making the judgment in question". However, in practice, we do see minorities that have opinions tend to be more likely to be people who have to shield themselves from logic contrary to their preferred view; who acquired that view only as a result of being born with it or some encounter (like a Scientology encounter) where they got drawn into a belief system for reasons not very related to a truly sound and compelling argument drawing equally from pathos, logos and ethos.

A "judgment" has, again, two distinct meanings: An opinion with some kind of additional implicit moral sanction or forgiveness, some kind of excoriation or applause; and an assessment of complex evidence combining an executive-level overview with one's gut instinct.

An opinion is certainly related to knowledge, experience, education, intelligence, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, empathy, etc. etc. Our opinions are based on our worldview and who we are.

In my view, there's an additional rub: Vantage points. How one looks at an issue can be dependent on who or where one is. That's true in physics with relativity and it's true in life. If we say "Rising housing prices are good for the economy", for example, that statement may be defensible, but they're not good for people looking to buy houses right now. Different stakeholders can have directly opposed needs. When discussing an "opinion", then, it's cognizant to be aware of what perspective one is implicitly using for that opinion: If one is speaking in one's capacity as a theologian, scientist, scholar, Buddhist, martial artist, sociologist, or economist; if one is taking a big-level view or a small-level view. Where a lot of opinions become contentious is when a person is incapable of ever adopting a different vantage point: A MRA concerned about false rape accusations being unable to drop that political commitment to actually be kind to a victim; a feminist concerned about abuse of women being unable to recognize that her male friend may be in serious trouble. We are altogether too good at letting real people fall into the cracks of our ideologies.

My answer to this topic is of course 100% an opinion. Still, I think most people could agree with my general layout here.

5 votes
Nov 29, 2015

Great question. Fred BC gave a fantastic answer, and I agree with everything he said. However, I'm still going to try to put my own thoughts into words.

Description of reality seems like a good definition of "fact," but it cannot be the only part of the definition, especially because so many things that are not strictly "descriptions of reality" are considered to be fact. For example, the statement. "I think Obama is doing a great job" is a fact. Whether or not what you think is true, it is objectively true that you think it. This doesn't fit strictly within the "description of reality" definition, as it's an objective descriptions of a subjective internal, unverifiable feeling. But then again, it all depends on how you define reality, so based on the definition of reality, this definition can still hold true.

An opinion, on the other hand, is arguable. If there is an argument to be made against it, then it is an opinion. But when I say argument, I don't just mean denial. I mean a legitimate disagreement with a legitimate basis. "Obama is a good president" is an opinion. I could counter it with an argument attacking his drone attack policy as morally unjust, and therefore he is evil. I could also make the argument that because he's black, he cannot possibly unite the country in any legitimate way. Neither argument is good, and one is outright offensive. But because these arguments, very simply, can be made, we must give the original statement that status of "opinion."

But then we run into a statement like "global warming exists and is currently occurring." That is a fact, yet are there not many who argue against it? Sort of. The arguments against global warming are hardly argument at all. Why? Because they are not based on, or represent an objective misrepresentation of, fact.

And that's ho we identify what an argument is and is not. For my purposes in this definition, an argument is, at its core, an interpretation of/conclusion drawn from solid fact.

Example: Neighborhood X has above average gun crime and above average gun ownership. Fact.

Argument: Gun ownership should be restricted in X to try to reduce the gun crime rate.

Alternate argument: Gun ownership should be expanded in X to allow people to protect themselves from the rampant gun violence.

Both arguments, both basis for wider opinions and opinions in-and-of-themselves, and most importantly, both based off of fact.

But with global warming?

Fact: The planet is getting warmer.
Fact: The planet goes through climate cycles.

Argument: This warming period is simply a natural warming cycle.

At first, it appears to be based off of fact. However, in reality it is simply a representation of fact. There is no third "fact" tying these two together. In reality another "fact," that the current warming cycle does not align in any way with normal warming cycles, shows that this "argument" is actually based off of a misunderstanding of fact, and is therefore not an "argument" at all.

So in order to judge something as an opinion or not, you must look at, "Is it arguable?" and "Are the arguments to be made legitimate fact-centric arguments?"

This sort of answers another question posed above as well. An argument serves sort of a as a mid-way between fact and opinion. An argument can be an opinion in-and-of-itself, but more often the word "opinion" implies the amalgamation of all arguments that an individual ascribes to on a particular subject to form the individual's holistic view of the subject. An opinion, then, is a tiny chunk of worldview. That is the main differentiation between argument and opinion (although, again, they do not block each other out, and one "thing" can be both argument and opinion):I can flipflop arguments all day long, as long as I have the fact on which they are based and the skills necessary to draw multiple logical conclusions. But even though I can feign it, I cannot flipflop an opinion as easily. Because it is a piece of how I view the world.

That is why it is easy to beat someone's arguments, but difficult to change their opinion.

So therefore, if an opinion is simply a chunk of worldview, then yes, an opinion must always be subjective. And the difference between subjective and objective? Objective shares the definition of "fact," but it also expands to statements that are basically never argued (at least that is the implication). "Total anarchy is bad" is an opinion, but it is one that can be considered basically objective. Subjective refers to all that exists within a person's head, including their interpretation, by the senses or otherwise, of the objective world around them.

As to whether they are good or bad, objectively? Well, to say so would 1) inherently be subjective, because I am only me, and not everyone and everything, and 2) be an opinion in-and-of-itself. Therefore this question is unanswerable by conventional means and is self-defeating.

This question is interesting: "If 99% of people think A and the 1% think B, is the 1 percent's opinion still an opinion, or is it just an unsound judgement?"

Referring to the anarchy example above, we can only call something "objective" once basically everyone is in complete, unarguable agreement on it. That means that opposition is negligible. 1% is not negligible (in my view), so this question doesn't directly apply to that example.

However, "opinion" and "unsound judgement" are not separate things, not entirely, because judgement has a large overlap with opinion II see judgement as largely the action aspect of opinion, the way it manifests itself). The 1% may have an unsound judgement/opinion, but that doesn't mean that it is not a judgement/opinion.

Furthermore, the 99%, or even the 99.9%, does not decide what is and is not sound. Logic and factual basis decide that.

As for how our opinions are related to knowledge, experience, and intelligence? Well the greater the knowledge, experience, and intelligence of a person in an area, the stronger, more thorough, and more well-developed their opinions, judgments, and arguments will be in that area (and any relating areas as well).

And yes, because it is based off of legitimate arguments, and can itself be argued through legitimate arguments, everything said in this response is an opinion.

4 votes
Dec 1, 2015

Not an easy question. Fred BC and noah364 both make some good points.

I am going to work backwards, starting with the practical aspects of opinions vs facts, and then end with the philosophical.

Practically, an opinion is a view, belief, or judgment about a particular thing or claim, and it can be based on impressions, philosophy, previously held beliefs, observations, or any combination of these things. Opinions can be closely related to facts, or outlandishly antithetical to facts, as we view them.

A fact is what we call a claim that has been verified as accurate to a high degree of probability. The verification must occur on a minimum scale of measurement on which most would agree. There must be a ruler by which to measure the claim.

Very simply, the difference between facts and opinions is functional. Facts always work and remain constant, even if new evidence is introduced. Opinions do not always work, or it cannot be independently verified that they work consistently. New facts may expose an opinion as faulty, at which point logic would dictate a change in opinion is warranted.

The most universally accepted method that humans have devised to see what works and what remains constant is the scientific method, whether it is used formally by scientists or practically by individuals. This does not mean everyone will always agree about the results or their implications, but in the majority of cases in science, people have accepted the findings, used them, and found that they worked consistently and repeatedly. The widespread acceptance and use of the scientific method is why technology and medicine have made such progress in the last 150 years. The results are accepted because they work. I am able to post this online because the various claims of science about electricity, conductivity, computational physics, and many more phenomena work.

For example, very few people consider Newton’s law of gravitation a mere opinion, simply because it works. A great number of experiments and observations repeated over time by a great number of people indicate that there is a high degree of probability that a dropped object will fall to the ground. There are other aspects involved in movement and gravitation that apply outside of Newtonian gravity, but on a daily basis Newton’s law accurately describes how the world around us functions. It is a fact.

So, how do I determine what is true, what the facts are, as opposed to opinions?

Let’s use as an example how various people might view a single event, and inject some philosophical controversy just to make it interesting. An airplane with 200 people on board crashes violently upon landing, and there is only one survivor.

A scientist surveying the wreckage ascertains that the physics and mechanics of the situation would allow such an occurrence. Even though survival in such a crash is improbable, it is not impossible, and so it occurred within the normal laws of nature.

The person surviving sees it is a miracle of God that shows his mercy and power, and believes God suspended the laws of nature to make it happen.

A third observer sees it as evidence that the universe is random and unpredictable, without any power or God in control.

A fourth and fifth observer look at it as evidence of causality: the crash occurred because a series of events preceded it and made the crash inevitable. Observer four believes their is an intelligent power or force that set the events in motion, but observer five believes the accident is due to natural, physical occurrences that preceded the crash, without any guiding force or intelligence needed to set them in motion.

A plane with 200 people on board crashed upon landing, and one person survived. Those are the verifiable facts. All the other claims are opinions. However, not all opinions are equal as far as their relationship to the facts and the probability that they reflect what happened. The best I can do is to determine which opinion or opinions have the greatest probability of accurately reflecting what happened, based on the verifiable facts.

For me, if required to make a judgment on which of the above opinions were justified by the facts, I would have to look at the probability that they could be supported by the evidence in accordance with what we know about how the universe works. I would agree with the scientist that there is a high degree of probability that the laws of physics and mechanics allowed the person to survive. I would agree that there is a high degree of probability the accident occurred because a series of events occurred in the physical universe that made its occurrence inevitable at the point of the accident.

That is as far as my conscience allows me to go with any degree of certainty, based on the evidence and my experience of what works in the universe. Thomas H. Huxley described it as:
“ . . . the validity of a principle, which is as much ethical as intellectual. This principle may be stated in various ways, but they all amount to this: it is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty.”
T. H. Huxley. Essays, Volume V

I would have no quarrel with any of the people who offered other opinions. I would have a quarrel with anyone who demanded that I acknowledge their opinion as a fact.

To address the question of whether opinions are subjective or objective, the question is somewhat misleading. Subjectivity and objectivity have to do with bias. Opinions, by definition, admit to bias, and though opinions may be informed by facts, they include a conclusion based upon the facts, not just the facts themselves. Opinions are always subjective, so the true issue is evaluating the probability that the opinion is accurate based upon all the available evidence.

Finally, from a philosophical standpoint, determining what is factual is a little more complicated. Why? Philosophy 101: the beginning of all discourse must start with an assumption about the nature of reality.

The easiest example is the classic “brain in vat.” Is the observable world that I experience real? How can I prove I am not just a brain in a vat, wired to a computer that is running a simulation that makes me believe I am functioning in the real world? Well, I cannot prove that I am not a brain in a vat being duped by some grand simulation because there is no way for me to step outside of what I am experiencing. I could say “I have hands so I can’t be a brain in a vat,” but my perception that I have hands could simply be a part of the simulation. Since I cannot prove I am not a brain in a vat, I must make an assumption. I chose to assume that the observable universe I am experiencing is real. It certainly seems that way to me, so it is more practical for me to act upon that assumption and get on with my life than continue to debate whether I am a brain in a vat.

Second, is my perception of the real world accurate? Distortions in perception can exist because of the limitations of our senses and our knowledge, and also because of misconceptions already held. The only test about the accuracy of our perception of reality is how our views work in the real world. We can also consider if our perceptions generally line up with the perceptions of others about what works. The shortcomings of both these methods are obvious, but the only other option is to ignore our experiences of what works in reality, and the evidence presented by others of what works, and create a totally abstract view of the universe in our minds. This is also the definition of psychosis - a detachment from reality.

My answer is, of course, an opinion.

3 votes
Dec 8, 2015

The three answers already given exhibit deep thought and philosophical reasoning towards the better understanding of what makes an opinion and opinion, and what makes a fact, a fact. I am in awe by how thoroughly this question has been answered, and how all three questions have hit the mark so well that their opinions don't really collide with each other.

However, my opinion differs from theirs. A word to the wise, my opinion stems from common sense and colloquial reasoning, as opposed to the ways of thinking used in the other answers.

An opinion, to me, is a thought, much like a fact or an idea. I hope there's no disagreement so far, because from here on the field gets tricky, as the difference between thoughts lies completely inside of one's mind, as much as we have tried to standardize it through philosophy and psychology.

Inside of my head (and rooted deep inside the communication system(s) i partake in, some would argue), an idea is a thought applied towards an external thing. For example, "i wonder what the world would look like with pink glasses on my eyes" can be an idea, given that i'm using a thought to [verb] about something out there (the world, in this case)

Likewise, a fact is a thought whose reasoning isn't completely clear to me, and which i accept because something or someone else has told me that it is true, so i choose to believe it/them. For example, if a book tells me that "most plants look green because of clorophyll", why, i'm pretty sure that'd be a fact.

An opinion, finally, is a thought whose reasoning is clear (not necessarily completely clear, but clear nonetheless) to me, and which i can update or fact-ify if so desired. (Maybe there's a better term for it, but what i call "to factificate" is to hold as a fact, that is, solid and unchangeable until forced to do so). For example, "i really disliked the singer's voice on last night's event" is a pretty solid opinion, given that it's very hard to change likes or dislikes unless doing so from the inside (like realizing your own voice isn't much different than the singer's)

Observant minds (or those whose opinions differ from mine and find said difference unpleasant), might realize that facts that come from other person's minds can also be opinions, and to take them as fact would be to misunderstand their nature. Indeed, somebody can tell me that 2+2 =5, and i'd have no reason why not to take it as fact. But here's where everything gets fun. I, as in the me who's writing hypothetical scenarios at 3 AM from my computer, believe 2+2=5 can be a fact as valid as any other. I mean, sure, pure maths and theory of numbers (and what we learned on elementary) tells us that the statement is not right, but that just makes it a wrong fact, not a "not-fact".

Wait, what?

"A "fact" must be true." - Fred BC
"Description of reality seems like a good definition of "fact,"" -noah364
"A fact is what we call a claim that has been verified as accurate to a high degree of probability." - Aahmused

Oh great, now i've gotten myself into a mess. Everybody else agrees on something i don't, how am i going to get out of this?

First of all, do "wrong facts" exist? I know that wrong "facts" exist, or at least google tells me so, with several "You won't believe these 30 "facts" aren't true" or "10 "facts" everybody knows are right (which are totally wrong)" lists easily available online. But there's always a way to avoid calling them fact facts. Instead, they are fake facts, or not-really-facts, or seemingly-facts-but-actually-something-else. So this doesn't really helps my case.

What about disproven facts? A while ago, earth being flat was a fact. Slightly less time ago, the moon being unreachable was a fact. Yet even less time ago, N-rays' existence was a fact. So here we have found some facts that are no longer true. Does this mean they are no longer facts? Maybe. But then what are they? Surely earth being flat isn't an opinion, given that it had tons of scientific backup. What about an idea? N-rays were a pretty cool idea, but their existence, not so much. That is, the existence of something isn't a thought applied towards an external thing, given that it already IS an external thing. You can't really call "existent" something just because you saw it in your dreams. Likewise, you can't prove something doesn't exists because it's not inside of your mind.

So here's the money shot. This is the definition upon which i'm gambling my entire opinion around: A fact is a thought from the outside, but, much like opinions, it can be updated.

So, having said this, the only difference between opinions and facts is that opinions need less deep thought than a fact to be so. In fact, facts need more than thought to be so! They need hard-gathered data from that scary thing outside your mind, the world, with which to compare that thing which you want to make facts about, whereas opinions can be formed instantly, by the very act of reasoning, and which i can use to navigate my social everyday conundrums with various degrees of success, depending on how well my opinion fits with other people's opinions.

And that's it.

Extra query: Are opinions good or bad, objectively?

Opinions aren't objective, and as such, they can't be judged objectively.
In fact, we can make a rule-of-sorts around this. The more objective an opinion tries to be, the less opinion it is, the more fact-i-fied it becomes. As such, maybe a good opinion is that which you hold as an opinion, and update accordingly regarding subjective criteria (likes, feels, other opinions), and a bad opinion is that which is too heavily influenced by external things (like facts, or other people) and/or is taken as a fact.

As usual, the disclaimer goes something like "this whole wall of text is an opinion", but to be honest, it's a pretty bad one at that, following my own parameters stated a few sentences above, given that it's trying to cater to others, or at least, make other opinions look more like my own.
Huh, who would have guessed. Oh well, we can't always be winners.

Thanks for reading!

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