Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Facts, opinions, and rights

The fact-opinion distinction, along with the idea that you have a right to your opinion, is the bane of my existence as a philosophy instructor. Intellectual rat poison.

46 comments:

Starhopper said...

Victor, could you give us an example? Or would that be unethical? (Student's rights, and all that.)

Kevin said...

I'd have to have an example too. There's a lot of space between fact, opinion, perception, experience, and so on.

bmiller said...

This may help.

What is one person's fact may be another's opinion, but if your entitled to your own opinion, does that mean you're entitled to your own facts?

Starhopper said...

Only if they are "alternative facts".

oozzielionel said...

Philosophy tends to be about interpreting reality (facts) so the fact/opinion threshold could be quickly crossed. Examples would be helpful to the discussion.

Victor Reppert said...

Even very early in my teaching career, I was asked "Do you want our opinions." If you say yes, you are likely to get a bunch of "I feel" papers with no arguments to support them. If you say "no, I don't want your opinions" then you get book reports. Both the term "fact" and the term "opinion" are fatally ambiguous. The idea that there can be well-defended opinions and unsupported opinions is lost on people who buy in too completely to "fact and opinion." The idea gets into people's heads that either there is a clear and well-defined way to prove something, or else it's just a matter of how you feel, and since you have a right to your opinions, if I give you a bad grade for giving me a pile of poorly defended opinions, I could be accused of violating the poor student's rights.

David Duffy said...

This sounds like a very difficult dilemma. I hope it is not compounded by "the poor students rights" identity into a victim group.

Starhopper said...

There was once a militant atheist, who regularly posted to this blog. (He hasn't shown up for more than a year now.) It was almost impossible to have a rational discussion with him, because no matter what you wrote, he'd respond "But you have no evidence for what you're saying." He regarded himself as the sole determiner as to what constituted evidence. I bring this up, because such attitudes further complicate this issue. An argument that one person might consider to be "well defended" could very well be thought of as "unsupported" by another.

Kevin said...

The idea gets into people's heads that either there is a clear and well-defined way to prove something, or else it's just a matter of how you feel, and since you have a right to your opinions, if I give you a bad grade for giving me a pile of poorly defended opinions, I could be accused of violating the poor student's rights.

This honestly doesn't seem too big a deal, unless I'm missing your point. Can't you frame it in a manner so that you are asking the student to express his beliefs (a subjective larger framework) and then defend them to the best of his abilities (objective data)?

A single objective data point can be used to support multiple, even contradictory, conclusions, so asking for what is essentially a subjective opinion supported by objective data seems a good strategy.

Starhopper said...

"asking for what is essentially a subjective opinion supported by objective data seems a good strategy"

Ahh.. but that is no longer possible. We now live in a post-fact world, where objective data can be challenged by "alternative facts", where facts that you don't like can be dismissed as "fake news", where ad hominem is no longer considered to be a logical fallacy.

bmiller said...

I agree with Kevin.

Perhaps the assignment needs to be set up such that the students are asked for their opinion on a topic but it must be backed up with arguments that are likely to persuade people with different opinions.

Of course that may be enlightening to find out that they think that anyone who has a different opinion than theirs must be a racist.

Starhopper said...

Or a "Leftist".

Kevin said...

We now live in a post-fact world, where objective data can be challenged by "alternative facts"

I think what this boils down to isn't so much the rejection of data one doesn't like - though this does occur - but rather not trusting the source of the information presented.

To use myself as an example, I do not believe a word either party says unless I can independently verify it. I do not believe CNN or Fox News or MSNBC unless I can verify it from a different source, particularly one on the other side of the ideological divide.

Why am I like this? Because both sides LIE. Not just blatant falsehoods, but omitting relevant facts, coloring the report to make it an editorial instead of news, choosing to emphasize one convenient story and refusing to cover another less convenient one, and so on.

Most people have picked up on this, which is why so many simply dismiss what the other side says as untrustworthy, but unfortunately far too many people seem to forgive this behavior from their own side, which simply perpetuates the cycle of misinformation.

When we hold our own side accountable and expect them to act like adults, maybe we will see change. It's apparently more fun to attack the other side.

bmiller said...

I don't know how one would hold a TV news channel accountable other than to not watch them and thereby lower their ratings. But if you do that, then you won't hear any side of any story.

Maybe one reason that we can see today that news sources deceive is that there are actually more than one side now as opposed to the big 3 television stations in the past.

However, I wonder how Victor determines if his students are giving good reasons for their arguments. I hope it's not something like CNN told me so = good reason vs Fox told me so = bad reason.

expect them to act like adults

I think you meant this:
expect them to act like adults should act

We're not having much luck with that lately.

Starhopper said...

"as opposed to the big 3 television stations in the past"

I actually believe that we were FAR better off "in the past" when there were only 3 news networks on TV and print media was more prevalent. Although perfection was never obtained (it never is), there used to be a sincere effort to be objective. When Walter Cronkite or Harry Reasoner said it, you could trust that every effort had been made to ensure that what was being reported was fair and true. Not so anymore. The 3 big networks still strive for objectivity, but all of today's cable networks make no pretense at the same. They are all nakedly biased. And social media is a sewer of conspiracy theory and out and out falsehoods.

The best and most reliable information nowadays comes from books.

David Duffy said...

If, for whatever psychology reasons, someone has settled on an opinion for a topic, they can find an almost unlimited number of facts to support that opinion. This is the information age.

Starhopper said...

... or the misinformation age.

Starhopper said...

The problem with getting your information primarily from social media is that, by its very nature, it is not objective, but rather has a "point of view". People start a blog to get their thoughts out (not somebody else's), and people respond to blog posts to get theirs out. Same thing with Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest. The Comments Section that follows most news stories serve the same purpose. It's all opinion. Rarely does anyone even attempt to back what they say with facts. And the word limit on comments most everywhere doesn't give space to do so. (And most people wouldn't read it. Everyone wants sound bites and not dissertations.)

The newer cable channels more resemble social media than not in this respect. Not only are they biased, they revel in their bias. They don't "admit" their stories are slanted, they advertise the fact. Being biased has become a selling point.

Small wonder that baseless conspiracy theories abound these days. There's no mystery that the Big Lie gets so much traction when nearly everyone lives in an infobubble.

bmiller said...

If, for whatever psychology reasons, someone has settled on an opinion for a topic, they can find an almost unlimited number of facts to support that opinion.

Well said. And it has been well demonstrated here.

David Duffy said...

Starhopper, stop with "The Big Lie" banality. It's a phase used to describe a Nazi. It makes you look foolish. You're too wise for using such idiotic term.

Starhopper said...

OK then, how about the greatest and most dangerous, treasonous falsehood in American history ever? That better?

One Brow said...

Limited Perspective,

Actually, "the big lie" was an anti-Semitic trope first used by Hitler to say the Jews were falsely blaming the loss of WW1 on Ludendorff.

I'm not too surprised that the mass media bought into an anti-Semitic trope quickly, though.

bmiller said...

For CS Lewis fans, a limited release new movie with good reviews.

"The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis" is playing in select markets. For more information on where to find a theater playing it near you, visit: www.cslewismovie.com.

The Trailer

Kevin said...

OK then, how about the greatest and most dangerous, treasonous falsehood in American history ever?

Bush lied, people died.

Starhopper said...

I don't believe that Bush lied. I think he was either misinformed or mistaken.

Remember, "It's not a lie, if you believe it."

bmiller said...

You should know

Starhopper said...

I DO know. Remember, I worked in military intelligence at the time, and witnessed first hand all the total bullshit misinformation that was being passed up to the White House. I was working at the NATO school in Oberammergau, Germany, at the time of the invasion of Iraq, and we all, to a person, couldn't believe the garbage that our president was being fed by our (politically appointed) bosses. I recall the head of the school, a British Marine Colonel, saying the very day before the invasion "If we do this thing, we will have lost from the first moment of combat." Sadly, he was 100% correct.

And I knew it was garbage for certain, because not long before, I was on the UN Weapons Inspection Team in Iraq. (For 14 days, I slept in a bombed out warehouse with no power and no running water. Fun!) We found no weapons of mass destruction, and no evidence that there were any. Our findings were ignored.

No, Bush did not lie... his advisors did.

David Duffy said...

One Brow,

I'm not sure what the "actually" at the beginning of the sentence is for. The Big Lie is associated with Hitler and the Nazis. When you use the term "the big lie" you are calling them a Nazi.

I find calling fellow Americans who disagree with you on a political topic a Nazi repugnant and idiotic.

David Duffy said...

Starhopper,

I was involved in intelligence gathering myself lonely West German East German border during the 1980s, although it was electronic and not human int. Our orders were to never speak of it except to a spouse.

I later read about the operation in a book about the NSA. I've always wondered if I just talked about the part of the NSA book and confirmed it, would I be violating the law.

David Duffy said...

"how about the greatest and most dangerous, treasonous falsehood in American history ever"

Sorry Star, I can no longer take you seriously. I'm joining Miller in his scorn.

Starhopper said...

Scorn from supporters of the Big Lie (or even from those who do not condemn it) is a badge of honor. Thank you.

bmiller said...

Limited,

I'm sure some leftists know that what they're doing is sophistry but I think others really can't think straight. It's obvious the left is using the "Big Lie" to accuse anyone that disagrees with them as being Nazi's as you point out and to try to bludgeon out opposition. The left cannot argue persuasively so they are left with dishonesty and force.

But let's remember the original topic. The fact/opinion confusion.

If someone is accusing someone else of lying, then that means that the accuser not only knows the facts themselves, but also that the accused knows the facts and the accuser knows that accused knows the facts and denies the facts. What do you call it when an accuser who doesn't know any of this and yet makes the accusation just the same as if he actually knew the facts and the mind of the accused. I call that bearing false witness, something Christians are called not to do. Maybe the accuser is confused about the fact/opinion question or maybe he is taking advantage of that confusion and uses the mental reservation that he is only expressing an opinion rather than bearing false witness while making it look like he knows it all. Regardless, that person is either evil or confused.

Starhopper said...

Saying using the phrase "Big Lie" is either referring to or borrowing from the Nazis is like saying anyone who says "Come on in" is referring to Ug the Caveman, or whoever was the first to say something like it. A pathetic attempt to divert attention from the colossal and possibly irreparable harm being done to our democracy by those who fraudulently claim the 2020 election was anything but honest and above board.

To deny that Biden is our legitimate president, elected in a fair election, requires either straight up lying, unfathomable ignorance, or verifiable mental illness. Which alternative do you guys choose?

David Duffy said...

Miller,

Thanks for the Lewis movie trailer. Looking forward to watching that with Mrs. Perspective.

On bearing false witness, do you think that is unique to Christianity and Judaism or do you think that is one of the universal arguments from morality for God?

I agree with you that bearing false witness is one of the most destructive things a man can do to his society.

Starhopper said...

"I agree with you that bearing false witness is one of the most destructive things a man can do to his society."

If you truly believe this, then why do you and bmiller not condemn the words of a man (our former president) who lied tens of thousands of times during his presidency, and continues to lie to this day about the outcome of the last election? Talk about destructive!

bmiller said...

Limited,

On bearing false witness, do you think that is unique to Christianity and Judaism or do you think that is one of the universal arguments from morality for God?

I think it's one of the things that Lewis would say was part of "the Tao". Part of the moral code that all people of good will just know inside themselves.

David Duffy said...

Thanks Miller for your thoughts. Have a good weekend and Happy Thanksgiving.

bmiller said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you too Limited.

Kevin said...

No, Bush did not lie... his advisors did.

I will bow to your much greater knowledge of the inner workings of intelligence gathering. That said, Bush sets policy, not his advisors.

Did his advisors lead him to believe failure to invade Iraq would lead to negative consequences for the United States? Or did they provide him a justification to do what he wanted?

Starhopper said...

Kevin,

The latter, but it was an unmitigated disaster all around.

Everyone, Have a great Thanksgiving, and be safe!

David Brightly said...

Victor comments: The idea gets into people's heads that either there is a clear and well-defined way to prove something, or else it's just a matter of how you feel. I fear it's worse than that. Kids just aren't taught what an argument is---they think it's an exchange of views, possibly leading to an exchange of blows. I can remember my delight on coming across proof in elementary geometry aged 11 at grammar school. Wow! you can actually prove things! Later, doing A-level Maths at 16+ we imbibed a bit more logic informally, gradually coming to see that a sound argument from true premisses leads to a true conclusion. And Mathematical Induction meant you could prove an infinity of things in just a few lines. Mega-Wow! Maybe even in STEM subjects some of these principles need to be taught more explicitly. What worries me is that the humanities, now steeped in postmodernism, have lost what rigour they once possessed. What value is a truth-preserving argument when truth itself is abandoned?

Starhopper said...

I disagree strongly that post-modernism abandons truth. It simply asks us to examine conclusions in light of externals - a person's times, culture, background, economic status, position in the power structure, etc.

There's an absolutely wonderful post-modernist book on the (nonexistent) canals of Mars, Geographies of Mars, Seeing and Knowing the Red Planet (2011) by K. Maria D. Lane. She meticulously goes through all the scientific papers of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries on the subject, in the context of what was going on in the world at that time, and demonstrates how astronomers of the time could not come to any conclusion to what they were seeing other than that they were observing the product of an intelligent Martian civilization (a totally erroneous conclusion).

Post-modernism is anything but an abandonment of truth. It is the exact opposite. It is a sincere effort to "rescue" the truth from cultural and other interferences that could lead to false conclusions. If you rescue a drowning man from the water, are you then "abandoning" his life? Certainly not!

bmiller said...

David,

Even STEM is being invaded by Postmodernism.

Postmodernism

Postmodernism is generally defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies associated with modernism, often criticizing Enlightenment rationality and focusing on the role of ideology in maintaining political or economic power. Common targets of postmodern criticism include universalist ideas of objective reality, morality, truth, human nature, reason, science, language, and social progress. Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to self-consciousness, self-referentiality, epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, and irreverence.

What value is a truth-preserving argument when truth itself is abandoned?

You're so 1980's. Truth and science along with objective reality are "Medieval" aren't they? Who thinks that way anymore?

David Brightly said...

SH: I agree with your comment above at 11:23 AM, though I suspect it is somewhat tongue-in-cheek: We now live in a post-fact world, where objective data can be challenged by "alternative facts", where facts that you don't like can be dismissed as "fake news", where ad hominem is no longer considered to be a logical fallacy. Philosophical postmodernism is highly sceptical of knowledge that has to be expressed within some theoretical system, tending to claim that such systems merely serve the interests of their adherents, though it is notoriously blind to its own status in this respect. This would not have caused significant problems had it remained a minority interest within philosophy. But it has been widely taken up by English and other humanities departments across the Anglosphere as a kind of default epistemology---I came across it for the first time in the 1980s through reading the campus novels of David Lodge, then a prof of Eng Lit at Birmingham. As a result it has percolated down to a much wider audience who are oblivious to its philosophical nuances but can see its value as a tool for radical political upheaval. Hence the post-fact world we now find ourselves in.

It's very generous of you to emphasise postmodernism's sensitivity to cultural, social, economic, etc, biases in the production of knowledge. But I'm inclined to think that careful historians, say, have always tried their best to imagine themselves into the mindsets of the people whose story they are telling. It's odd that contemporary moral critics of past actors cannot apply the relativism their epistemology espouses.

BM: Even STEM... Yes, I have been hearing stories. A nice quote in the WP article further down:

Postmodernism, the school of 'thought' that proclaimed 'There are no truths, only interpretations' has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for 'conversations' in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster. Daniel Dennett, 2013.

My formative years were in fact the 1970s :-)

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