Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Everyone has a right to their own opinion?

No, my friends, I am afraid they do not.

I can't stop what goes on in your head (note the Terry Pratchett quote in the side bar), but I only have a responsibility (ie. my side of the contract regarding what belongs to you by right) to consider what comes out of your mouth (or what you write) on the basis of its rationality and its connection with reality.

I also have the right to disagree with your opinion and to engage with it argumentatively. However, this right also exists only to the extent that my disagreement and argument are based on objective reality and rational argument.

In saying this, I do not deny that there are statements - true statements even - which may have nothing to do with rationality or objectivity - such as the statement "I love my wife". But I would hardly regard my love for my wife as an "opinion".

But perhaps the problem lies with what people understand an "opinion" to be. It is my understanding that an opinion is a view of a matter that a person has formed in their own minds on the basis of their own thought and experience. Given this, it should be obvious that I entirely disagree with the Wikipedia definition of "opinion":
An opinion is a person's ideas and thoughts towards something which it is either impossible to verify the truth of, or the truth of which is thought unimportant to the person.
Nor is it my "opinion" that this definition, from The Free Dictionary, is correct:
1. A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof.
I mean, consider this short thought experiment. I say that the world is round. You assert that, in your opinion, it is flat. Now your assertion would indeed be "a belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof", however, my assertion that the earth is flat is also "my opinion" - with the difference that it is based on observable objective reality and rational deduction.

So, in fact, all that can be said for the definition of an "opinion" is that it is a person's "ideas or thoughts about a matter" or "a belief or conclusion held with confidence" by a person. The degree to which I am honour bound to respect your "right" to hold any given opinion is precisely the degree to which it is possible "to verify the truth" of it, that is, the degree to which it may be substantiated "by positive knowledge or proof".

P.S. If you want me to respect your "right" to hold any given opinion, then you have to be ready to try to convince me of it. Do not expect me to respect your opinion if all you can say is: "That's my opinion, and I don't have to defend it."

P.P.S. Always remembering, of course, that on this blog everyone has a right to MY opinion.


At Thursday, September 11, 2008 12:17:00 am , Blogger Joshua said...

As the old Catholic saying had it:

"Truth has rights, error has none".

At Thursday, September 11, 2008 9:06:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Yes, the difficulty with that saying was that it tended to be applied to the people who made truth claims. As in, if you are in error, you have no rights. That doesn't entirely follow, of course, and was certainly not what I was arguing for. I was speaking of a particular right - a "right" to hold an "opinion".

I should point out that this doesn't really refer to religious beliefs either. Freedom of religion is a basic human right. It is possible to hold a religious belief with no basis in objective reality or rational thought. I am not saying that MY religious beliefs are such, but I know that some people's are.

At Thursday, September 11, 2008 10:25:00 pm , Blogger Louise said...

Just thinking off the top of my head: Nobody has the right to believe in lies. Everyone has the obligation to seek the truth and submit to it when it is found. In this sense, I think it's fair to say that people only have the right to an opinion if their opinion happens to be true.

What do you think, David?

At Friday, September 12, 2008 1:26:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

As I said in the blog, we can't stop what goes on in people's heads - that is, people have the right to believe a lie if they really want to - but when it comes to expressing these false ideas, their right to be heard exists to a degree in direct ratio to their ability and readiness to back their opinion up with evidence and rational argument.

Of course, there are also those (and these could be the one's to whom you refer, Louise) who are simply too lazy to subject their opinions to any rigourous critique at all. In other words, simply saying "I have the right to my own opinion" and leaving it at that simply isn't good enough.

At Friday, September 12, 2008 2:36:00 pm , Blogger Joshua said...

Also, their right to speak their mind is dependent on the degree to which their opinions are compatible with public order: no one has the right to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre if there is no fire, for the risk of causing a stampede occasioning injury and death would be great. Similarly, there is no right to blurt out offensive, hateful and vicious comments, or try and teach vile things that corrupt and lead others astray. The public authorities must set due limits to speech least the world become a cauldron of evil.


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