Can opinions be wrong?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 November 2013, 12:22 pm
In the previous thread there evolved a discussion whether opinions can be wrong, and I argued that they couldn't be. But then, just like in that previous thread, it all depends on how you define the word itself. Wikipedia says about opinion that "In general, an opinion is a judgment, viewpoint, or statement about matters commonly considered to be subjective, i.e. based on that which is less than absolutely certain, and is the result of emotion or interpretation of facts. What distinguishes fact from opinion is that facts are verifiable, i.e. can be objectively proven to have occurred.".

That was pretty much the definition I had in mind. Thus the example of people having the "opinion" that the Holocaust didn't happen, or that Earth is flat, or whatever, doesn't meet the definition. These people simply got their facts wrong. It is *because* opinions are subjective and can't be wrong that these people would like to present their beliefs as a different opinion instead of a pig-headed denial of well-established facts. Sometimes certain world views or believes clash with reality, and some people have found it easier to deny facts than to change their view of the world.

If you do a training on management, you might come across a funny test where you are given a series of statements and need to decide whether they are factual or judgmental. That is surprisingly difficult to get right on the first go, as it is extremely hard to make a statement without using judgment or inference. Once you did the exercise you quickly realize that pretty much every statement made on the internet is subjective, a judgment, viewpoint, or in short an opinion. We don't put "In my humble opinion ..." in front of our sentences because if we wanted to do it right, we'd need to put it in front of ALL of our sentences.

If I say "World of Warcraft has millions of players", that is a statement of fact. But would I use such a statement of fact in a blog post? Because it is a very well-known fact, it isn't very interesting. Most people would consider that statement so blindingly obvious, that they wouldn't even consider it to be a very good argument. Thus I would be more likely to use a more judgmental statement like "World of Warcraft is very successful". And then the arguing starts. Because "success" is subjective, my statement is just a statement of opinion, and somebody can have a very different opinion on the subject. For example I have heard it argued that a game with a few hundred thousand players which is still growing was "successful", while World of Warcraft which is losing that many players every quarter is not. Would that opinion be "wrong"? I don't think so. Not that I would agree with it, because I tend to think in absolute numbers and economical concepts like profits rather than in terms of trends. But because I am aware that concepts like "success" are subjective (unless you define success criteria before measuring the results), I can only say that it is an opinion I disagree with, not that it is strictly speaking "wrong".

Of course we do get into choppy waters if we consider that "right" and "wrong" are words which have *both* an objective meaning and a subjective meaning. There are opinions which I would consider morally wrong, even if they are subjective and not in denial of any facts. If somebody makes a statement that "we should bring slavery back", most people would consider that opinion "wrong". But it is not about facts at all. It is a subjective judgment where the majority of humanity happens to agree that slavery is a bad thing, so anybody with a different opinion just feels wrong. That goes so far that modern films about historical characters might represent that character in a way which is factually wrong in order to make him look morally right.

I would say that everything I write on my blog is my opinions. And those opinions aren't "wrong" or "right". But they can be more or less convincing, and more or less well argued. Which is exactly why some people react sometimes extremely badly to my writings: I state an opinion which they disagree with, but they lack the rhetorical skill to argue properly against that opinion. There is nothing worse than somebody making a very convincing case against your core beliefs. No wonder these people then are foaming at the mouth and shoot off all sorts of insults in the comment section, or on their blogs, or on Twitter.

The one thing I don't understand is why some of them keep hanging out on my blog to fire off the occasional hate comment. There are lots of blogs of evil little bastards where I just can't stand the opinions being argued; and that problem was extremely easy to solve by me not visiting those blogs once I realized it isn't just one disagreeable post but many of them. I would very much recommend some of readers to do the same. If you *know* that I hold opinions you very much object to and repeatedly write about them here, why would you want to hang out here?
Tobold's Blog

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