Friday, March 26, 2010

Why "fact vs. opinion" is BS

Does everything have to fit into facts and opinions? I realize many people learned this "fact or opinion" crap in grade school, but if you go by that, either something is cut and dried (we can prove it conclusively), or it's opinion (however anyone feels about it is just dandy). And that leaves out a whole realm of controversial problems where the claims can be true or false, and we have things that can count as evidence one way or another, but we aren't at the point where all reasonable people agree.

Take whether or not there's a God. Do we want to say that's a matter of fact? Well, people have offered "proofs" on both sides, but there's still a debate. Really smart people disagree. Is it opinion? Well, even if there's no proof one way or the other, don't we at least know that either God exists or God does not exist?

Fact vs. opinion is right up there at the top of my list of pet peeves.


normajean said...

I agree. It seems we only have reasons.

Steven Riddle said...

Dear Sir,

I'm not certain I agree. The existence of God true or false IS a fact--our knowledge of it is uncertain, but does not make the matter opinion. When I say Klee is a greater artist than Kandinsky, there is any amount of evidence I can bring to bear objectively, but the judgment is ultimately subjective--an opinion.

Is there not room for a group of facts whose truth we cannot express at this time. Indeed, such seems to be the philosophical side of Goedel's theorem--and perhaps like Heisenberg it is too often incorrectly applied--but within any closed system there will be theorems that can be proposed but cannot be resolved within the system. The truth of said theorems lies outside the system, but the fact that we cannot prove them does not make them opinions.

I'm not certain I disagree with the full proposition you make here which is that fact and opinion are not so cut and dried--I'd have to investigate that further. But I would say that perhaps if we define fact as that which can be proven within the system and opinion as that which lacks definitive proof--then the proposition holds.

Or am I misunderstanding your initial point?



Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

And don't forget the distinction between informed opinion and uninformed opinion. Some opinions are more equal than others.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Some systems of logic are not bivalent, there are three (or sometimes four) possible truth values for every proposition. Steven brings up QM which can make things weird too, from a logical point of view (though this is a very complicated topic I don't know much about and there is reason to doubt some of the claims of the specialness of quantum logic).

Regardless, because of such complications I personally wouldn't use bivalent logic (logic is either bivalent, or it isn' that true?) to make this point.

Generally, though I agree that this opinion/fact thing is overused especially for things that aren't matters of opinion, for which arguments are to be had.

I dont' share the generalized animosity toward the distinction, and don't think it is BS at all. I take it that whether you prefer Ben and Jerry's chocolate or vanilla is a matter of opinion in some legitimate sense.

Anonymous said...


Steve said...

Opinions are opinions about what the facts are, so I think this is a totally ridiculous distinction.

I'd prefer to work with distinctions such as objective/subjective and to talk about degrees of certainty in objective matters.

Of course this makes things more complicated than fact vs opinion, but if the choice of what we teach the youth is either complicated truth to simple absurdity, then I know which I prefer.

Fortunately for us in Britain, this fact/opinion rubbish isn't nearly so common on our side of the pond.

Steve Lovell

Victor Reppert said...

It really reminds me of the stuff Lewis was complaining about in the Green Book.

normajean said...

I misspoke... a little.