Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More Reflections on Logic: "It's Just an Opinion"?

As for the fallacy, this is simply an opinion, not a debate; Forensic Rules are not in place and throwing out logical fallacies becomes tiring very quickly. I am just as entitled to an opinion as the protesters.

—Comment from an objection to a statement I made on a logical fallacy


Comments like this show the problems with reasoning in modern society.  Because something is said to be an opinion we can ignore the rules of logic.  The problem is, we cannot.  If I should say, for example, I was of the opinion that Obama was promoting certain programs because he would want to promote socialism in America, and because he is a Socialist he promotes these programs this would indeed an opinion.

It would also be the fallacy of Begging the Question.  My reasoning would be muddled using two opinions as proof of each other when both need to be proven.  Any person reading what I advocated would be able to say "This guy is pretty irrational, and his opinions lack any reasonable basis."

Unfortunately, people no longer consider whether what is said has basis of truth for it.  We see slogans like "Bush Lied, Kids Died" or "Guns don't kill people, people with guns kill people" or "It's the economy, stupid" and accept it as true without considering "IS it true?"

Opinions are always opinions about something.  This means that their accuracy is based on how well they conform to the facts.  If I am of the opinion that the Sky is green, it is an opinion of the color of the sky.  However, if the sky is not green, my opinion is based on an error of fact.

Likewise, if I were to argue that "Hitler restored National pride to Germany, made the economy stronger and restored security after the chaos of the 1920s, therefore he was a good leader." I would be making an opinion about the nature of Hitler's regime.  However, that opinion would have to be measured up against the facts of the regime.  A person objecting to my opinion could (justly) point to the Holocaust and the Aggressions of Germany leading to war to argue (very justly) Hitler was NOT a good leader for the country.

To argue something is "good" or "bad" is not merely an opinion (though today we tend to use it when we mean we approve or disapprove of something).  It is, from a theological perspective, a statement of fact.

Today we view "good" to mean "to be desired or approved of; pleasing."  However, properly used, good should be understood to mean "that which is morally right; righteousness."

St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote on good leadership, saying:

I answer that, as stated above (Q[90], A[1], ad 2; [1992]AA[3],4), a law is nothing else than a dictate of reason in the ruler by whom his subjects are governed. Now the virtue of any subordinate thing consists in its being well subordinated to that by which it is regulated: thus we see that the virtue of the irascible and concupiscible faculties consists in their being obedient to reason; and accordingly "the virtue of every subject consists in his being well subjected to his ruler," as the Philosopher says (Polit. i). But every law aims at being obeyed by those who are subject to it. Consequently it is evident that the proper effect of law is to lead its subjects to their proper virtue: and since virtue is "that which makes its subject good," it follows that the proper effect of law is to make those to whom it is given, good, either simply or in some particular respect. For if the intention of the lawgiver is fixed on true good, which is the common good regulated according to Divine justice, it follows that the effect of the law is to make men good simply. If, however, the intention of the lawgiver is fixed on that which is not simply good, but useful or pleasurable to himself, or in opposition to Divine justice; then the law does not make men good simply, but in respect to that particular government. In this way good is found even in things that are bad of themselves: thus a man is called a good robber, because he works in a way that is adapted to his end.

(Summa Theologica I-II Q 92. A1)

If we keep something like this in mind, we can realize that when offering opinions on whether something is Good or not Good, it has to have some basis in fact if it is to be a reasonable opinion.

Therefore we can see the problem with the claim of "Well, that's just your opinion."  The question remains however: On what basis does one hold an opinion?

  1. If I hold an opinion which is logically sound and supported by the facts, it is an opinion which is justified.
  2. if I hold an opinion which has no basis other than my own preference, it is an uninformed opinion.
  3. If I hold an opinion which is illogical and runs against the facts, the opinion is wrongly formed.

However, we tend to throw around the phrase "Well that's just your opinion" as a negation, a denial of absolute truth.  If I make an argument as to why something is wrong, and the rebuttal is "That's just your opinion," the rebuttal fails to rebut.  It just says "I disagree but have no basis for it other than what I like."

The problem is, if everything is just "an opinion," then my opposition to slavery, to racism and to genocide is "just my opinion," and who am I to push it on others who think it is a good thing?

We can see the problem of ignoring logic and seeking to use "opinion" as a word to either protect one's own view from scrutiny or to deny another's statement without proving it to be false.

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