Fact vs. Opinion 101

The Internet has muddied dialogue quite a bit. The conversion of media to an entertainment platform has also caused a series loss of perspective – so much so that I have not heard anyone arguing in defense of its practices. The best it gets these days is “Eh, sometimes the free market is just evil. Free market. Whatchagonnado?”

2013 Como Park Zoo and Conservatory
These penguins are clearly having an argument
(photo by diana rajchel)

There are also a lot of people in abusive relationships who don’t recognize the relationships as such. While I can cascade right into “wake up to your dignity!” in this case I’m going to narrow the focus – because a common tactic by abusers is to manipulate your opinion. If in your opinion you’re not being abused when that person verbally degrades you, then you’re more likely to agree with that person’s opinion that you are deserving of pain when s/he escalates to physical violence later.

In my strong because it is emotionally charged opinion, distinguishing between fact and opinion is at least to some extent a safety issue.

In this case, I’m going to introduce something else into the free market. It’s a lesson I received in elementary school circa 1985, with a few additions from a class taken my freshman year of college, circa 1994.

The lesson? Fact vs. Opinion.

I would LOVE to see someone create a Celebrity Death Match illustration based on the concepts here.

That above is neither fact nor opinion. It’s an expressed desire, with an emotional component.

I. Facts

A.Facts are experiences, observations and things that actually exist. Sharks, for instance, are a fact. Shark Week is also a fact.

It is also a fact that words in the English language have multiple meanings. It is a fact that the word fact has more than one meaning.

B. Suppositions

This definition of fact, however, is nuanced by facts that change. This is because these facts are not facts but are suppositions. Suppositions are extremely important in nearly all dialogues. Without suppositions, many a lively debate would end with, “I dunno. You dunno. Where’s the beer/coffee/cookies?” It is important to understand the difference between supposition and fact. History, science and religion are all riddled with suppositions mistaken for facts. Suppositions are probably responsible for as many wars as greed for oil. Also, sometimes suppositions taken for fact become entrenched – and then are disproven, or become obsolete – i.e. “facts change.”

There are many areas of life where suppositions change and thus alter our total knowledge and demeanor on a given subject. It is not humanly possible for this list to be exhaustive.

In court cases, where evidence – known facts – determine supposed guilt or innocence. Even after a verdict passes, the persons factual guilt or innocence is still unknown and may be overturned.

In academics. New historical evidence and archaeological discoveries alter our understanding of historical narrative on a regular basis. People die, and we find out what they lied about. Women are found buried with weapons and we figure out that they used them, they weren’t just holding them for their husbands. etc. etc.

Rule: A supposition must have a foundation in known evidence to be valid in a given argument.

 

II. Opinions

Opinions can NOT be proven.

You may well dislike boy bands and brussel sprouts. But while your dislike may be demonstrated by your actions, you can not make your dislike a physical object separate from yourself and your control  that others may experience and observe. Other people may consider your opinion and come to concur either based on the observed facts or as an act of empathy but cannot come to it by objective –i.e. non-controlled – means. When you say your “opinion is a fact” it is an ultimate fallacy and in my opinion an abusive behavior.  It may well be a fact that you have a given opinion. It is possible for several people to observe your behavior and form the supposition that you indeed have that opinion.

A fact about opinions is that opinions are the driver behind human action. This action may be political, aesthetic, hedonic, etc. Influencing opinion is the primary means of influencing group action. If more people are of an opinion of agreement about a given subject, more action or inaction around that subject may occur. For example, if more people agree – i.e. have the opinion – that civic participation is important, more people will vote in elections.

Opinions may be swayed through three methods of rhetoric:

A. Logos

Citing observed facts and patterns to point others to a favored (favored = opinion) supposition.

B. Pathos

“All the feels!” A person may be persuaded by appealing to that person’s emotional life. “Don’t you have any compassion for the poor? Look at that little face of that starving child!” Or “Look at these unfair laws! You should be outraged!” Pathos is currently the most popular method of persuasion – and the most in my opinion unethical. A skilled persuader can provoke emotional responses to the point of limbic hijack so that the person is led not just to the speaker’s own opinion on the subject, but on to actions that that person might not ordinarily take.

C. Ethos

This method of persuasion – i.e. guiding opinion – is based on the supposition that the audience shares the same moral guidelines as the speaker. Ostensibly this is the argument used against same sex marriage by lawmakers on the supposition that everyone shares the same moral interpretation of the Bible. People acculturated to the opinion that the Bible is fact are likely to believe the arguments used against certain civil rights are ethos based when in reality they are pathos based. These days, ethical arguments are rare and the few successful ones are best used on audiences that already have an opinion of agreement about civic duty. They also work in private, smaller audiences though in some cases with extreme difficulty. For example, while many Pagan religions loosely agree that they are responsible for creating a better world as a collective ethos, the rules of conduct for going about that creation diverge into multiple codes of ethics.

 

I wrote this because of the pathos state of annoyance. It is my emotional desire of hope that I can use this as a teaching tool later. Dialogue has disappeared in favor of debate. I am of the opinion that there are too many people set on seeing their opinions win and it is alienating those of us that would otherwise like to participate in certain communities because debate excludes and prevents dialogue.

There are a LOT of arguments that are better ended with “I dunno, you dunno, where’s the cookies?” When no lives or livelihoods are at stake, having your opinion of what is right win is not only not important, it’s probably going to do a lot of damage to your long term relationships.