Since I was a teenager, I noticed when people discussed an issue or topic that was contentious and heated, the typical style was to attack the person and not the topic. This is called argumentum ad hominem. As I became slightly more sophisticated, I realized that, in many cases, one was not simply attacking the character of the other person but simply dismissing their side of the argument by considering that what they were arguing was just not right. In respond to this observation, I coined the phrase, “your opinion is wrong.” My friends and I began to use this non-sequitur as a weapon against anyone arguing against us.
Now, what makes it a non-sequitur (see the link for a definition) is the absurdity of the phrase itself.
How can someone’s opinion be wrong?
It cannot be, for each is entitled to his or her opinion. Now, an opinion can be based on incorrect, outdated or incomplete information, but in and of itself, an opinion cannot be wrong.
Take for example, recent discussions here on Mormon Matters. There are certain topics that engender (an ironic use of the word, I suppose) heated discussions. Homosexuality and Same Sex Marriage (SSM) are at the top of the list.
With regard to permitting SSM, if you are against it, you are labeled a bigot, if you are for it (and a member of the LDS Church), you are borderline apostate and if you practice it, you are labeled a deviant. All the while the conversation states that people are entitled to their opinion and free to do, say and think what they choose.
But not really. Not if you read the comments and the discussions that transpire.
In many cases, the unspoken phrase, “your opinion is wrong” permeates the comments. Again, the opinion may be based on religious, societal, biological or even incorrect information or views. But, it is just that, an opinion.
Some opinions carry more weight than others. A court “opinion” may carry the weight of law. An opinion of an ecclesiastical authority may result in Church discipline and the opinion of a teacher may result in a particular grade. In some cases, opinions count for almost nothing, like the countless, endless discussions you hear on TV and radio talk shows. And, pretty much for most of the discussions here.
So how many times have you evoked the phrase, “your opinion is wrong” in the course of your discussions?”
BTW, if you disagree with anything I’ve said in this post, yes, you guess it, “your opinion is wrong.”
I think people generally say “your opinion is wrong” for their own benefits, not the benefit of the person they’re arguing with.
Reminds me of the book “I am right and you are wrong.” 😉
I was one of those people who commented on the SSM post you reference. And yep – you told me “Your opinion is wrong!” See my comment (#34) and your response (#36) if anybody is interested in deciding who’s opinion is more wrong.
My beef is with those who have strong opinions who don’t recognize them as such. You’d think they’d proven a hypothesis or something.
Anyway, that said, I personally believe everybody has a right to my opinion.
I like your posts because it stimulates reflective thought about so many varied subjects.
This one PROVES we HAVE to have OPEN minds and hearts. Agency is golden and law.
Get over it.
It is an eternal RIGHT, and I grant it to every soul, even if you think it is WRONG !!!!
That’s MY opinion.
Love to all.
Just as in war the first casualty is the Battle Plan….
So frequently when a controversial subject is postured (SSM, Prop 8, etc.) that civility is the first thing to be dispensed with. It’s just human nature. We project our offense and outrage on those that disagree with us, and frequently take it personal.
For example, in other posts, my stridency regarding so-called “gay marriage” is well known. Yet in all honesty no gay person has actually hurt me in contracting said marriage(s) in jurisdictions where allowed, and certainly no one has directly harmed me by voicing an opinion contrary to mine. I do keep this in mind and focus on the (mis)behavior and not its practioners and/or advocates. I may disagree like hell with those favoring gay marriage but I would be far more opposed to seeing their voices crushed. Indeed, they MUST be heard, for without opposition, my views mean nothing.
On a different note, can SOMEONE please tell me (an email to use is email@example.com, it’s what I let the “spammers” have so flame on…) how to start a new post? Thanks.
One thing I noticed came up in one of the last Prop. 8 kerfuffles:
An argument was advanced that even if a supporter of Proposition 8 stated his case in the most courteous and civil way possible, his underlying position — characterized as stripping others of their fundamental rights — was so uncivil, that no mere courtesy in the execution could make up for it. Therefore, opponents of such a person’s position were justified in being as uncivil as they wanted, short of violence.
In Catholic just-war theory, there are two criteria for qualifying as a just conflict, known as jus ad bellum and jus in bello. The first phrase refers to the underlying justice of the cause for which one goes to war: There needs to be a cause that justifies resorting to force. The second concept refers to the means by which the conflict is conducted. Even a just cause, if unjust means are used (say, wholesale slaughter of an enemy civilian population), becomes ultimately unjust.
I think there’s a useful comparison here to our arguments. While it may be true that we are justified in arguing more forcefully when fundamental rights are at stake, it still remains our duty to maintain an appropriate level of civility. Having right on our side doesn’t excuse us from violations of the <jus in argumento rule.
Is that really true?
Is the opinion of a person who has completely lacked diligence in forming his opinion, equally entitled to respect as a person who has made a proper effort to inform herself?
I’m not a huge fan of damning people for mere heresy. We’re all heretics somewhere or other, because none of us has unlimited time to gather all the facts — and even if we did, we all have some uncorrectable residue of bias that will sometimes lead us to weigh the evidence improperly. But although a person is morally justified in following the dictates of his conscience, there is a duty to properly inform his conscience, and an opinion shaped by willful persistence in error, cultivation of bias, or inexcusable ignorance is not entitled to equal respect as a properly-informed opinion.
That said, none of us is usually in a great position to determine what a person has done to inform his thinking, or the standard against which to measure whether, for that person, he’s satisfied his own personal duty to properly inform himself. So the “Your opinion is wrong” line is almost always going to be improper. If it’s wrong, tell us why.
Unlike bragging rights, blogging rights here are by invitation only. It’s a little different than a chatroom. If you wish to offer a guest post, one of the admins may send you an e-mail and offer to read it if they have time.
However, the easiest way is to START YOUR OWN BLOG using any of the popular engines like wordpress or blogspot. As people notice your work, they’ll decide on that basis whether you have something to say they’d like their own audience to see.
Good luck. In the meanwhile, we’ll certainly enjoy your comments here.
“I was one of those people who commented on the SSM post you reference. And yep – you told me “Your opinion is wrong!” See my comment (#34) and your response (#36) if anybody is interested in deciding who’s opinion is more wrong.”
Nope, I was only offering a different opinion from yours.
“Is that really true?
Is the opinion of a person who has completely lacked diligence in forming his opinion, equally entitled to respect as a person who has made a proper effort to inform herself? ”
As was said above, folks are entitled to use as much or as little fact-based information on which to base their opinion. They can even come to a stupidly ridiculous conclusion from the evidence that may be contrary to the preponderance of the facts or the opinion of the vast majority of the universe. Think Holocaust deniers.
Still they are entitled to their opinion.
Re #6– For example, in other posts, my stridency regarding so-called “gay marriage” is well known. Yet in all honesty no gay person has actually hurt me in contracting said marriage(s) in jurisdictions where allowed….
Here’s the problem. Prop. 8 and its federal big brother, the Defense of Marriage Act, have hurt me. You see, my partner is not a citizen of the U.S., and like a lot of people he has unexpectedly been laid off from his job in the recent economic downturn. This means that he will not be able to qualify for permanent residency in the U.S. since his immigration status is based on employment. Soon we are going to be forcibly separated from each other and permantently separated by a very large ocean. However, if he were a woman, there would be absolutely no problem– one of the benefits of civil marriage is the right to reside in the U.S. if your spouse is a citizen. If you want to understand how we feel about this, just imagine how you would feel if men with handcuffs, dogs and firearms came at night and dragged your spouse away from you forever and there was absolutely nothing you could do about it. The terror, panic and sense of disbelief that this could be happening are all there for us, just as they would be for you in a comparable situation. This is not an exaggeration.
So here’s the question: What harm would it cause you to give my partner and me legal recognition of our committed relationship? By your own admission, nothing. On the other hand, for us the lack of such recognition is almost a life-and-death matter.
If some of us appear invested in the topic of SSM, I hope you can understand where we’re coming from. I mean this sincerely and not in any confrontational way.
I would say that in one sense, even Holocaust deniers are “entitled to their opinion,” in that nobody has a right to forcibly deprive them of it. But in another sense, they are not morally entitled to their opinion, and I can legitimately impute moral fault to them for holding it.
This could take us way back into the natural-law underbrush, but my way of thinking is that the language of rights and entitlements are ultimately rooted in objective moral principles if they are to have any genuine meaning. So to the extent a person is “entitled” to an opinion, like Holocaust denial, that I believe takes inexcusable willful ignorance to entertain, the entitlement flows not from any inherent right to that opinion itself, but rather as a collateral effect of other people’s moral obligation not to presume to have sufficiently clear judgment to make a determination, sufficient to base upon it a legal or other coercive restraint, as to whether a person has or hasn’t done the mental due diligence to be entitled to an opinion on a subject.
A comparison is the notion that people are “innocent until proven guilty.” No, a guilty person is actually guilty from the minute he does something. “Innocent until proven guilty” is simply a presumption that the law uses, to determine whether the State — as opposed to individuals — may treat a person as guilty. A guilty man is only “entitled” to the presumption of innocence as far as the State is concerned. He is not “entitled” to innocence itself, or to be regarded as innocent by the rest of us. Likewise, an immorally ignorant person is only “entitled” to his opinion as against the State, or other coercive force. The ultimate question of moral entitlement is different.
Of course they are entitled to their opinion, because the entitler is their own mind. The question is whether an opinion can be wrong. In economics for example, there is no dearth of opinion as to the effects of government intervention in markets, or manipulation of money supply, etc. My “opinion” is that the economy is not a “thing” which is always consistent, but instead a word to define the way people behave in markets. How we handle, trade, production, wealth distribution, etc. All these things are largely dependent upon social attitudes, and personal desires, etc. Some would argue on the contrary, that the economy is a predictable machine that reacts to artificial stimuli in predictable ways. There are many other opinions as well. In spite of this, we can conclude at given moments, whose theories seemed to have been most accurate based on outcomes. While effect does not necessarilly imply cause, we can at least look at these scenarios to get a sense of who had the right idea, and who seemed not to, issue to issue. The correlations are often close enough that reasonable inferences are justified.
Conversely, let’s look at SSM. Some argue that it is “bad” or “good” for society. What does that mean? We have everything from the general, it threatens the traditional family, to the extreme ideas that ultimately SSM would piss God off enough to directly result in tempests, and earthquakes, and tumultuous noises in diverse places. How do we assess who is “right”. When we take a cause and effect, as per God, out of the equation and deal strictly with ethics, then the matter of whose opinion is “right” becomes even more subjective. For example, let’s assume that SSM does in fact diminish the effectiveness of family influence. Is that a bad thing? While many of us would agree that it is, we cannot prove that it is unless we understand and perfectly agree on specifically what the family is supposed to accomplish in society. This may vary person to person, and the actual effectiveness would also vary family to family. Another opinion of mine is that there is such thing as absolute truth in many aspects of life. When two equally matched individuals dispute over these truths and ultimately reconcile to part with differing opinions, they do so not because in reality both are right (most of time), but because they lack the sophistication, expertise, or technology (or energy) to ascertain the truth more rigorously. But not because a singular truth does not exist. Age of the earth for example.
Re #6– For example, in other posts, my stridency regarding so-called “gay marriage” is well known. Yet in all honesty no gay person has actually hurt me in contracting said marriage(s) in jurisdictions where allowed….
Here’s the problem. Prop. 8 and its federal big brother, the Defense of Marriage Act, have hurt me.
“But in another sense, they are not morally entitled to their opinion, and I can legitimately impute moral fault to them for holding it. ”
Again, yes, you can do that, but that is YOUR own value judgment on their opinion. That same argument an be used in multiple ways.
You can even think their opinion is misguided based on facts AND morality, but still it is not WRONG.
16 – Jeff, I agree. Said another way, they are entitled to their opinion as much as I am entitled to disagree with it.
I have a good friend who does not participate in political debate because his (perhaps cynical; perhaps honest) view is that those entering a political debate do so only to share their own view, not to listen to the other. So lots of words are spoken and the needle does not move. My personal view is that while the principal’s positions may not change, some observers may change their views as a result of the debate.
My observation is that commentary here at MM is similar: many regular commentators come with a pre-packaged view, and they are likely not to be swayed, regardless how strongly (or even how well) one argues against them. The value (if it is there) is for those who are still forming opinions as it gives them a chance to hear multiple sides of the story.
But that’s just my opinion.
We are all forming opinions all the time, I hope, although some opinions are more rigid in any of us than are other opinions. I’d never thought of the immigration status implications in comment 12, for example.
Now wait a minute. We’re getting perilously close to Derrida’s doorstep here, which is kinda inconsistent with people who are supposed to be in the Absolute Truth business. It’s true that when I make a value judgment about somebody’s opinion, the judgment’s coming from my subjective perspective, and may be in error. Then again, maybe it’s not. Whether the Holocaust happened or not, and whether it’s reasonable for a particular person, having become aware of a certain quantity of evidence, to reject its existence, has an objective answer, if there’s any such thing as truth anywhere in the universe.
One of the ways you can commit fraud (not that the law is always the best expression of morality, but this particular subject is one that’s stood up for a few centuries now) is by declaring something to be true, when you lack reasonable cause to believe it to be true. You are in fact faulted, not merely for being wrong, nor because you didn’t have a nominally honest belief in what you said. You’re faulted because a person is expected, as a matter of objective truth, to respond to a certain quantum of evidence with an appropriate judgment.
In classical philosophy and Scholastic moral theology, prudence is one of the cardinal virtues; it’s known as the “charioteer of the virtues,” because it’s the one virtue that gives a man the ability to apply proper moral judgment to all the other virtues. Folly isn’t just innocent ignorance — it’s neglect of cultivating virtue, which occurs when people are too proud or too slothful to learn, or are too attached to other vices to approach moral reasoning with a clear eye.
Maybe this is just semantics, but when I read that a Holocaust denier is “entitled to his opinion,” I read that as giving that opinion more respect and deference than it deserves. He is entitled to be left alone in his opinion, and to be free from coercion in forming and expressing it, but he has no ultimate moral right to that opinion.
Only if man — and each individual man — is the measure of all things.
If moral rights ultimately flow from a source that transcends humanity, then the entitler is someone or something else, and the Holocaust denier doesn’t have valid title to anything.
#12 “What harm would it cause you to give my partner and me legal recognition of our committed relationship? ”
A Civil Union would solve that problem. You don’t have to call it ‘marriage’.
Jeff: “your opinion is wrong”……. Is it is!
I think we need to distinguish between opinions and conclusions. I think we often argue about whether a person’s conclusion is wrong, which is something different than saying that someone’s opinion is wrong. It is not a non-sequiter to say that a conclusion is wrong. In an arena like this board, I think most often people are trying to express conclusions while implicitly or explicitly inviting discussion as to whether that conclusion is supportable or flows from the premises. When someone falls back on the sanctity of their opinion, it’s often because the discussion of their conclusion as revealed some other logical fallacy, usually one of these gems:
Appeal to Authority
Appeal to Belief
Appeal to Common Practice
Appeal to Consequences of a Belief
Appeal to Emotion
Appeal to Fear
Appeal to Flattery
Appeal to Tradition
Begging the Question
Of course, the nature of religious topics naturally invites belief, tradition, and authority into the discussion, but I think it’s helpful to recognize that the inclusion of these in the discussion as valid means that we aren’t having a straight conclusion-premises discussion anymore.
Thomas 19 – hear, hear!
Most internet chit chat consists of stating one’s specious argument more forcefully and eloquently than the other person’s specious argument. When we disaggregate our own opinions, we frequently arrive at 1) a faulty premise (or one that is simplistic anyway), or 2) a baseless foundation (e.g. something unprovable that we have to accept or hold no opinions). And yet, I agree with Thomas that some opinions are significantly better founded than others. As Americans, though, we are taught that free speech (even that which does not ennoble) is a noble virtue, and in a democracy, everyone (even someone stupid) has the right to an equal vote. Personally, I’m not really going to defend to the death someone’s right to say something I think makes the entire human race look ridiculous by association.
“Personally, I’m not really going to defend to the death someone’s right to say something I think makes the entire human race look ridiculous by association.”
I needed a good end-of-the-day laugh! Plus my wife turns out not to have cancer, so it’s a really good day.
I think, in all honesty, I’d have to water down my own personal version of “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” to “I’ll defend your right to blather foolishness up to and maybe including a bloody nose and a couple of bruises, but beyond that you’re on your own.”
In this discussion I think that it’s important to make a distinction between opinion and belief. It’s my belief that “opinion” is often misused. I don’t think that one can have an opinion about something objectively factual. One does not have an opinion about evolution, gravity, or the existence of God, one has a belief about those things. “blue is the best color” however, is an example of an opinion, because it cannot and never will be an objective fact.
You can never attack an opinion because an opinion can never be proven (well, I guess that you could, but people wouldn’t like you).
Just a thought, but then again, you may not believe me.
A good day indeed!!!
“Plus my wife turns out not to have cancer, so it’s a really good day”
I second Firetag, a good day indeed! Hope all is well.
“I read that as giving that opinion more respect and deference than it deserves. He is entitled to be left alone in his opinion, and to be free from coercion in forming and expressing it, but he has no ultimate moral right to that opinion.”
I think you still have the right to think the person a blithering idiot for having that opinion. And you do not have to give any stock to it. All you have to do is allow them to have it. I guess I really do not follow the “moral right” argument since here in the US our constitution guarantees the right to free speech and free expression in most cases.
I suppose someone is entitled to an “immoral opinion”. I think it happens every day.
I think the point of your post is a good one, so I appreciate the post for what I think you’re trying to say, and I applaud your effort.
At the end of the day, I’m on board with Thomas and Hawkgrrrl. And yet, I realize the philosophical problem with the position. See the problem is, there are plenty of convincing philosophical arguments that make it clear there is NO OBJECTIVE thing save our own experience which is, by nature, subjective. If we go down that road, then what Jeff says is entirely true, even to its logical end.
I’m not a fan of going down this road as it leads to a dead end (hyperbolic doubt). I do think there are things that qualify as “objective” even though I recognize that “objectivity” is, in actuality, a measure of consensus of subjective experience. But the take-home point is that it is a continuum of objectivity, not a binary metric. This is why the whole “everyone is entitled to their opinion” muddies the waters significantly. To me, evolution is an objective fact, but I admit this is based on consensus of subjective experience of the proposed evidence (which also is nothing more than a consensus of subjective observations). But to some evolution is still some crazy scientific hubris manifested by a bunch of intellectually narcissistic academicians.
What I don’t understand is why we can’t all just admit that our objectivity is subjective, it’s just that every “opinion” will carry a certain level, or lack of, general consensus, which varies in space and time (and which, as per Thomas, may have severe moral implications). Perhaps our language is not adequate for expressing what we really mean, and hence most of our confusion comes from problems in interpretation.
Like just about everything I encounter in this life, if an ideal, philosophy, religion, etc. is pushed to its logical ends (even logic itself), or you otherwise closely examine the axioms, you find that it isn’t as convincing as you once thought, or at least you find specific outliers where the ideal breaks down.
Dies that suggest that sufficiently universal principles of agreed morality might emerge as an “objrvtivr” limit as time passes toward infinity (“every tongue shall confess”)?
That’s the only solution to a claim of objectivity that might convince me at the moment.
Does that suggest that sufficiently universal principles of agreed morality might emerge as an “objective” limit as time passes toward infinity (“every tongue shall confess”)?
That’s the only solution to a claim of objectivity that might convince me at the moment.
(Sorry for the repost — one of my eyes is seeing my fingers as one key to the left of where they actually are.)
Firetag & Will — Thanks, guys. Just a lumpy sort of scare.
Jmb: “See the problem is, there are plenty of convincing philosophical arguments that make it clear there is NO OBJECTIVE thing save our own experience which is, by nature, subjective.”
It changes a bit if you add God and the “long view” to the mix, which (as per Firetag in #31) I agree is the only way you can approach genuine objectivity.
And Firetag — gio tiye wtwa [caps lock]ew IJ,
It would seem so. But only in the limit as t->\infty (sorry for the geek speak).
Yeah, probably me too, but I suppose it doesn’t do much for us right now does it.
Yeah, my only point is that I think it’s only fair to acknowledge the lack of true objectivity, or at least recast it to a continuum based on the “long view” consensus of many. In essence I’m acknowledging that the idea that each of us has a valid opinion that can’t be objectively “wrong” is true when taken to the logical extreme. But when taken to that extreme we also are left with nothing at all of interest to anyone, and can sight examples (specifically with moral implications) that demonstrate the absurdity of such a “truth.”
Thomas – glad to hear your wife is OK! That’s not a good scare to go through.
Why am I not surprised jmb, Thomas & I are mostly in agreement?
I agree with those who say an opinion by definition cannot be wrong. It is simply an opinion. On the other hand, while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, they are not entitled to their own facts. It is facts, not opinions, that cause people difficulty.
#28, we’ve moved to talking about whether a person has a “right” to a wrong opinion, from the original discussion of whether it’s possible for an opinion to be “wrong.”
And of course you can have a legal right, or entitlement, to do all kinds of things that are morally wrong. And I believe that drawing an unjustified opinion from certain facts, when your opinion is shaped by a culpable failure to properly cultivate your judgment and filter it for bias, is wrong. That said, we’re all so inherently capable of misjudgment, that it’s a very high bar to clear for an erroneous opinion to become actually “wrong.” And like most things where a person’s inner thinking and history are at issue, none of us is really qualified to judge.
Which is why nobody has any business setting fire to heretics, excommunicating the unorthdox (as opposed from removing them from teaching positions, if an organization needs to make it clear it does not accept the alternative view; this is how the Catholics dealt with Hans Kung, who was a heckuva lot further afield than any of the September 6), restraining free expression, or otherwise countering an opinion with anything other than a reasoned refutation. ‘Cept maybe in cases of things like Holocaust denial, where in addition to the sheer obvious pigheaded ignorance of the position, there’s a reasonable basis to presume that the denial is motivated by pre-existing hatred.
“What I don’t understand is why we can’t all just admit that our objectivity is subjective, it’s just that every “opinion” will carry a certain level, or lack of, general consensus, which varies in space and time (and which, as per Thomas, may have severe moral implications). Perhaps our language is not adequate for expressing what we really mean, and hence most of our confusion comes from problems in interpretation.”
I agree with this completely and this is another view of what my post was about. I find in person conversation much easier to deal with because you can see body language, emotion and other things which gage the conversation. And in the end, while two can agree to disagree, here is much common ground to agree on.
In this type of forum, the discussion is inadequate to do that.
“On the other hand, while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, they are not entitled to their own facts.”
A fact, is, by nature a truth. it is in the interpretation of that fact where the trouble lies.
For instance, we can look at a fact about the current state of this country and it is almost a sure bet that Thomas and I will disagree about what that fact really means. 🙂
Two people can look at the same fact and see different things from it. It then becomes opinion.
Opinion is one thing, facts are another. A rather poignant example of this are the contrasting views of ancient Hebrew Priestcraft and the divine precepts and practice of the healing Christ as manifested by Jesus. In my opinion, conventional churchianity and mormonism are joined at the hip in contrast to the one Christ consciousness which lifts human lives from the grave both literally and figuratively. Is my view merely an opinion or an accurate observation of truth in this regard? In my opinion, it is the latter, for I have seen the healing of the sick and the raising of the dead and it was wholly non-mormon and glorious. Everyone see “The Book of Mormon” play. In my opinion, it offers the best theatrics in a long, long time!
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