Philosophy: What is an opinion?

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Kinch59
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Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Kinch59 » Tue May 29, 2012 5:08 pm UTC

This is my first time posting on this forum. I come here in an hour of dire need; all of my usual fora and channels of information have failed me, and, sensing this to be the sort of intellectual platform where I may even get the answer I'm looking for, I turn here as a last resort. (Since there is no philosophy board on here and I've detected a few threads on similar topics to mine, I thought this would be the place to go.)

I have a question. The easiest way for me to present it, I think, is simply to quote the way I recently posted it on Yahoo! Answers (the answers were of... mixed quality):

What is an opinion?

Lately I’ve been concerned with the concept of opinions, and I’ve realized that I don’t know what the term ”opinion” means.

I should clarify to begin with that there is a sense of the word which I understand reasonably well, namely a medical opinion, which means something to the effect of a factual medical evaluation by a doctor. My confusion is with the common, non-technical one – the one involved when people say things like, ”Well that’s just your opinion”.

Almost everyone I ask about this type of opinion gives a different answer, and – surprisingly – despite much searching on the Internet, I’m none the wiser.

People seem to think there is a significant difference between opinions and facts, or rather, between opinions and factual statements. For example, between the sentences ”Henry is an accountant” and ”Henry is handsome”, people tend to say that the former is a factual statement whereas the latter is an opinion. What is the difference?

Is an opinion either true or false (is it a proposition)? Can it be neither? Both?

Is it possible to argue for or against an opinion?

Can an opinion be proved or disproved?

Sometimes people will explain that the difference is that opinions are ”subjective” and factual statements are ”objective”. As far as I can see, however, this just redefines the terms of the question; what is the difference between ”subjective” and ”objective” statements?

So there it is. This has been bugging me for a long time now. Hopefully someone will find the prospect of solving it as tantalizingly tantalizing as I do.

EDIT: Thanks to corrections from schmiggen and TheGrammarBolshevik (in particular, I think) I've been able to home in on what I actually wanted to talk about. I'd like to give a sort of updated synthesis of the questions I'm looking for answers to:

- What is the definition of an "opinion"?
- Is there a legitimate distinction between an "opinion" and a "factual statement" (for lack of a better term)?
- If yes, is this the same distinction as the one between the "subjective" and the "objective"?
- What makes the distinction(s) in the first place?

I think that's more or less it.
Last edited by Kinch59 on Fri Jun 01, 2012 6:23 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Azrael » Tue May 29, 2012 5:33 pm UTC

Kinch59 wrote:Sometimes people will explain that the difference is that opinions are ”subjective” and factual statements are ”objective”. As far as I can see, however, this just redefines the terms of the question; what is the difference between ”subjective” and ”objective” statements?

This conversation isn't going to go very far in a productive fashion if you're coming in unable to differentiate between the basics of objective and subjective.

Objective: A phenomena that is observable with identical results, independent of the observer. Things that are observed objectively are things that are factual. These are things that are true (Tricky word, that one. Try not to over think it yet) for everyone.

Subjective: Everything else. Opinions are a personal belief, view or judgement that are held despite their inability to be proven to be true; thus they are inherently subjective. You cannot prove that someone is handsome, or that a piece of art is beautiful. You can only collect a consensus.

Unfortunately for the precision of language, we also call things that reach a sufficiently common consensus true or factual despite them not really meeting the definition.

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Ormurinn » Tue May 29, 2012 5:40 pm UTC

The way I always thought of it is that opinions are subjective, while facts are objective. The waters are muddied a little because opinions are presented as fact in order to lend an argument support through assosciation. The easist way to spot this to my mind is to discount value judgements - for instance.

"Ethnic nationalism is wrong!"

That is a value judgement, it's not adding anything to the discussion, nothing falsifiable was said, it is a statement of opinion. The only possible response to this by an opponent is "Nuh uh!" and the only possible response to this is "Yuh uh!"

"Ethnic nationalism denies people opportunities based on things they can't change"

Thats a factual statement, since it's falsifiable and objective. You can have a dialogue based on this statement. someone might reply "Yes, but the benefits conferred by kin preference outweigh this" and might then cite a study showing higher rates of public investent in nations with more homogeneous populations. You can have a dialogue based on this statement, because it makes a factual claim that can be either refuted, rebutted or confirmed.

Trouble is, that the two would norally be conflated in an argument, "Ethnic nationalism is wrong, because it denies people opportunities based on things they can't change," so to argue logically, you have to divorce the argument itself from the emotional bubble wrap.

Sorry if this isn't an appropriate answer, I'm happy to delete if this wasn't what you were looking for.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue May 29, 2012 5:41 pm UTC

I don't think those definitions are standard, Az. Usually when a philosopher says that something is "objective" she means that it is mind-independent, regardless of whether it can be observed. So, you can think that mathematical claims, moral claims, or claims about cause and effect are objective without thinking that we can observe their truth or falsity.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Azrael » Tue May 29, 2012 5:43 pm UTC

As I said, the basics. Which, despite the philosophy tag, it what that question really is. Especially so when appealing to common definitions and usages.

What's funny is that I was considering adding a parenthetical "if there even is one" after the observer bit. Guess I should have.

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue May 29, 2012 5:52 pm UTC

I don't think your definition is more basic, though. It's essentially the definition that I gave with an erroneous qualifier.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Kinch59 » Tue May 29, 2012 6:13 pm UTC

Azrael wrote:
Kinch59 wrote:Sometimes people will explain that the difference is that opinions are ”subjective” and factual statements are ”objective”. As far as I can see, however, this just redefines the terms of the question; what is the difference between ”subjective” and ”objective” statements?

This conversation isn't going to go very far in a productive fashion if you're coming in unable to differentiate between the basics of objective and subjective.

That's definitely a popular persuasion. If I did understand the "basics of objective and subjective", however, I wouldn't be asking this question. The reason I'm asking it is precisely that I've come to realize that the distinction I thought I knew--and which I've read many descriptions of by now--is fuzzy or ill-defined. I'll try to show you what my problem is with responses like yours, and maybe it'll be enlightening; who knows.

Azrael wrote:Objective: A phenomena that is observable with identical results, independent of the observer. Things that are observed objectively are things that are factual. These are things that are true (Tricky word, that one. Try not to over think it yet) for everyone.

The problem is precisely that I don't know whether there is such thing as a proposition that is "true for everyone". Don't people's perceptions vary? Sure, there are propositions whose truth value is less likely to be disagreed upon, but I wouldn't feel comfortable proclaiming anything that I think everybody at all would agree with.

Azrael wrote:Subjective: Everything else. Opinions are a personal belief, view or judgement that are held despite their inability to be proven to be true; thus they are inherently subjective. You cannot prove that someone is handsome, or that a piece of art is beautiful. You can only collect a consensus.

But isn't every belief a personal belief, view, or judgment? After all, wouldn't I be deluding myself if I thought my belief that the Earth is a spheroid wasn't just my personal belief or view or judgment based on the data I'm familiar with?
You say that an opinion is a belief that cannot be proved. But it cannot be proved that no abominable snowman has ever lived on Earth; does this make it an opinion?
Since you talk about proof, it seems like you agree that opinions express propositions; do you think opinions are either true or false but simply can't be proved one way or the other for whatever reason? If so, what is the reason? What makes them so different from factual statements?

Ormurinn wrote:The way I always thought of it is that opinions are subjective, while facts are objective. The waters are muddied a little because opinions are presented as fact in order to lend an argument support through assosciation. The easist way to spot this to my mind is to discount value judgements - for instance.

"Ethnic nationalism is wrong!"

That is a value judgement, it's not adding anything to the discussion, nothing falsifiable was said, it is a statement of opinion. The only possible response to this by an opponent is "Nuh uh!" and the only possible response to this is "Yuh uh!"

I understand where you're coming from trying to use "value judgments" to discern opinions, but consider this: Doesn't every statement contain at least a tacit value judgment? After all, the fact that I am writing these words right now stems from my belief that my computer exists, but I believe that my computer exists because I embrace certain epistemological values, such as empiricism. Why are ethical values different? Also, what do you say to ethical naturalists who claim ethical propositions express as factual statements as any?

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Usually when a philosopher says that something is "objective" she means that it is mind-independent, regardless of whether it can be observed. So, you can think that mathematical claims, moral claims, or claims about cause and effect are objective without thinking that we can observe their truth or falsity.

The problem with "mind-independence" is of course the whole realism/idealism business. My thoughts are, since we can never really solve the deadlock between those two metaphysical propositions, what reason do we have to believe that mind-independence is actually a thing? This would seem to weaken the whole subjective/objective distinction, wouldn't it?

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Ormurinn » Tue May 29, 2012 6:17 pm UTC

Kinch59 wrote:
Ormurinn wrote:The way I always thought of it is that opinions are subjective, while facts are objective. The waters are muddied a little because opinions are presented as fact in order to lend an argument support through assosciation. The easist way to spot this to my mind is to discount value judgements - for instance.

"Ethnic nationalism is wrong!"

That is a value judgement, it's not adding anything to the discussion, nothing falsifiable was said, it is a statement of opinion. The only possible response to this by an opponent is "Nuh uh!" and the only possible response to this is "Yuh uh!"

I understand where you're coming from trying to use "value judgments" to discern opinions, but consider this: Doesn't every statement contain at least a tacit value judgment? After all, the fact that I am writing these words right now stems from my belief that my computer exists, but I believe that my computer exists because I embrace certain epistemological values, such as empiricism. Why are ethical values different? Also, what do you say to ethical naturalists who claim ethical propositions express as factual statements as any?
[quote]

Hmm. I guess the epitemeological worldview has to be agreed upon by both participants in a conversation before the conversation is joined in order for there to be a distinction. Maybe thats why arguments over religion always go tits up - people are using different definitions of "true".
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Kinch59 » Tue May 29, 2012 6:27 pm UTC

Ormurinn wrote:Hmm. I guess the epitemeological worldview has to be agreed upon by both participants in a conversation before the conversation is joined in order for there to be a distinction. Maybe thats why arguments over religion always go tits up - people are using different definitions of "true".

I've thought the exact same thing. But then what if ethical values were agreed upon from the get-go? It seems like you either have to say that epistemological values are like ethical values, and thereby admit that every statement is a subjective opinion, or say that ethical values can't function as opinion-signifiers, and thereby bring us back to square one.

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Ormurinn » Tue May 29, 2012 6:29 pm UTC

Kinch59 wrote:
Ormurinn wrote:Hmm. I guess the epitemeological worldview has to be agreed upon by both participants in a conversation before the conversation is joined in order for there to be a distinction. Maybe thats why arguments over religion always go tits up - people are using different definitions of "true".

I've thought the exact same thing. But then what if ethical values were agreed upon from the get-go? It seems like you either have to say that epistemological values are like ethical values, and thereby admit that every statement is a subjective opinion, or say that ethical values can't function as opinion-signifiers, and thereby bring us back to square one.


Thats sophistry, no?
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue May 29, 2012 6:32 pm UTC

Kinch, I'm a little confused. I had thought you wanted someone to explain the difference between the meaning of the word "opinion" and the meaning of the word "fact." But now it seems like what you really want is an argument over whether all and only opinions are facts. Which is it?
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Kinch59 » Tue May 29, 2012 6:35 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Kinch, I'm a little confused. I had thought you wanted someone to explain the difference between the meaning of the word "opinion" and the meaning of the word "fact." But now it seems like what you really want is an argument over whether all and only opinions are facts. Which is it?

Are the two mutually exclusive? I'd like to arrive at a definition of the word that I'd be satisfied with, if there is one. A discussion seems like a good way to get there.

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby schmiggen » Tue May 29, 2012 6:36 pm UTC

Kinch59 wrote:
Azrael wrote:Objective: A phenomena that is observable with identical results, independent of the observer. Things that are observed objectively are things that are factual. These are things that are true (Tricky word, that one. Try not to over think it yet) for everyone.

The problem is precisely that I don't know whether there is such thing as a proposition that is "true for everyone". Don't people's perceptions vary? Sure, there are propositions whose truth value is less likely to be disagreed upon, but I wouldn't feel comfortable proclaiming anything that I think everybody at all would agree with.

It seems to me that you do understand the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity, and really what you want to ask is "this distinction between objective and subjective things... is it legitimate?"

The thing is, to use either word you kind of need to have framed things as if there *is* an objective world, i.e. something separate from what people perceive, and that differences in perception boil down to differences in ways of perceiving or interpreting perceptions. This also reveals that things can be "true" regardless of whether anyone perceives them, or can perceive them, in any way. But ultimately, to have this discussion you need to assume that there is such an objective world. Otherwise the words don't mean anything anyway, and you'll spiral to even more confusion.

As far as what an opinion is, the objective/subjective distinction is not enough; one can have an opinion whose content is "objectively true." In other words, any belief or positive statement that someone would feel confident in saying is true is an opinion. Its "objective" truth value simply isn't relevant. To say "that is just your opinion" is to emphasize that the fact that the opinion is held has no bearing the truth value of the statement in the (assumed to exist) objective world.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue May 29, 2012 6:40 pm UTC

Kinch59 wrote:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Kinch, I'm a little confused. I had thought you wanted someone to explain the difference between the meaning of the word "opinion" and the meaning of the word "fact." But now it seems like what you really want is an argument over whether all and only opinions are facts. Which is it?

Are the two mutually exclusive? I'd like to arrive at a definition of the word that I'd be satisfied with, if there is one. A discussion seems like a good way to get there.

That's not the point. The problem is not that you first asked for a definition and now want a discussion. The problem is that the discussion you keep bringing up isn't really about a definition: instead, it's about what things fall under that definition.

You're suggesting that we haven't explained what an opinion is until we've also exhaustively and incontestably demonstrated which things are opinions and which things are not. This is a mistake.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Kinch59 » Tue May 29, 2012 6:57 pm UTC

Ormurinn wrote:
Kinch59 wrote:
Ormurinn wrote:Hmm. I guess the epitemeological worldview has to be agreed upon by both participants in a conversation before the conversation is joined in order for there to be a distinction. Maybe thats why arguments over religion always go tits up - people are using different definitions of "true".

I've thought the exact same thing. But then what if ethical values were agreed upon from the get-go? It seems like you either have to say that epistemological values are like ethical values, and thereby admit that every statement is a subjective opinion, or say that ethical values can't function as opinion-signifiers, and thereby bring us back to square one.


Thats sophistry, no?

I don't see how. I certainly didn't intend it to be.

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Kinch59 wrote:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Kinch, I'm a little confused. I had thought you wanted someone to explain the difference between the meaning of the word "opinion" and the meaning of the word "fact." But now it seems like what you really want is an argument over whether all and only opinions are facts. Which is it?

Are the two mutually exclusive? I'd like to arrive at a definition of the word that I'd be satisfied with, if there is one. A discussion seems like a good way to get there.

That's not the point. The problem is not that you first asked for a definition and now want a discussion. The problem is that the discussion you keep bringing up isn't really about a definition: instead, it's about what things fall under that definition.

You're suggesting that we haven't explained what an opinion is until we've also demonstrated which things are opinions and which things are not. This is a mistake.

I think you're right. Maybe the question I really mean to be asking is more like this: "What is an opinion, and is there actually such a thing?" (I do think the question of what an opinion is and what things the term applies to are basically the same question.) Schmiggen pointed out something similar:
schmiggen wrote:It seems to me that you do understand the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity, and really what you want to ask is "this distinction between objective and subjective things... is it legitimate?"

I have one little addition though; I don't feel entirely sure that I do understand the subjective/objective distinction in the sense that I'd know how and when to employ which term, and why. Other than that, apologies for the ambiguity.

schmiggen wrote:As far as what an opinion is, the objective/subjective distinction is not enough; one can have an opinion whose content is "objectively true." In other words, any belief or positive statement that someone would feel confident in saying is true is an opinion. Its "objective" truth value simply isn't relevant. To say "that is just your opinion" is to emphasize that the fact that the opinion is held has no bearing the truth value of the statement in the (assumed to exist) objective world.

Does this mean that you think an opinion is the same as a factual statement, or a truth claim? This is interesting to me because, as I wrote in my first post, people give widely varying answers to the question.

An interesting thing I'd like to mention is that I read one place that an opinion is something to the effect of "a statement that can be argued for but never proved". I'm not exactly sure how to square this with the rest of what I've heard about the term.

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue May 29, 2012 7:00 pm UTC

Kinch59 wrote:I think you're right. Maybe the question I really mean to be asking is more like this: "What is an opinion, and is there actually such a thing?"

Uh, perhaps you mean to ask whether there's anything that isn't an opinion? Unless you're going to claim that something like the tasty-ness of licorice isn't an opinion...
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Kinch59 » Tue May 29, 2012 7:12 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Kinch59 wrote:I think you're right. Maybe the question I really mean to be asking is more like this: "What is an opinion, and is there actually such a thing?"

Uh, perhaps you mean to ask whether there's anything that isn't an opinion?
Two sides of the same coin; if the opinion/factual-statement distinction is equivalent to the objective/subjective distinction, then you could just as well ask "Is there such a thing as an opinion?" as "Is there such a thing as a non-opinion?" if your goal is to find out whether the distinction is legitimate. I understand your point, though.
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Unless you're going to claim that something like the tasty-ness of licorice isn't an opinion...

Is it, though? This is precisely what I'm interested in. My search is spurred in large part by the answers other people have given me when I've asked them about opinions. Take, for example, two sentences like the ones I used in my first post: "The moon is round" vs. "Licorice is tasty". I'd like to know what it is that makes people say that the latter is an opinion whereas the former is not. I'd also like to know why some people say they're both opinions. This is because, in the end, I'm not sure whether there actually is a difference between those two statements of the type that people think there is.

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby setzer777 » Tue May 29, 2012 7:40 pm UTC

In absolute terms: you can't prove anything to be true about the external world. You can't disprove solipsists and nihilists.

In practical terms related to how humans actually communicate: using the word "opinion" vs the word "fact" is inviting an entirely different kind of discussion, with an entirely different set of rules.

I can debate opinions with someone (such as "is video game X fun") by using evocative language, trying to make them see things in a new light, and by drawing comparisons to preferences they already hold. If we're debating fact there's a stricter set of rules at play. Even here there are different rules based on the context: in one context repeated experimentation is required, in another context citing a reliable news source is considered sufficient evidence that something is a "fact".

So in terms of actual human behavior that's the difference in claiming something as an "opinion" or as a "fact" - what kind of justification for your statement you're expected to provide.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Qaanol » Tue May 29, 2012 7:47 pm UTC

If we start by assuming that there is an objective reality, and that everyone uses a common language, then we can focus on the question of how to distinguish statements of opinion from statements of fact. At a basic level, opinions are statements whose truth-value depends on internal characteristics of the speaker.

Since everyone speaks a common language, we all agree on the meaning of “round”. Similarly, we all agree on the meaning of “moon”. Those meanings do not depend on the person making the statement. Thus, by looking at the characteristics of the moon, we can determine whether the moon qualifies as round. That depends only on the meaning of “moon” and “round”, not on anything internal to the person making the determination.

On the other hand, even though we all agree on what “licorice” is, and what “tasty” means, different individuals may still assign different truth-values to the statement “licorice is tasty”. That is because “tastiness” implicitly refers to the judgment of the person doing the tasting.

For a “practical” method of identifying opinons, if a given statement can be rephrased to use the word “good” or “bad”, then it is (almost certainly) a value-judgment that depends on the person doing the judging, hence it is opinion. “He is handsome” corresponds (roughly) to, “He looks good (in a certain pre-defined sense)”.

However, in real life, there are situations where we do not all agree on the definitions of words, or our senses give us inaccurate information relative to those definitions. Hence, it is possible for “The car is blue” to be one person’s opinion, when “The car is green” is someone else’s opinion. Those statements really mean, “I believe the car is blue” and “I believe the car is green”, which then explicitly contain self-reference.

Neither of those admits a rephrasing in terms of “good” or “bad”. However, in this case it is possible, given rigorous definitions of “blue” and “green” for one person’s opinion to be objectively correct, and another person’s opinion to be incorrect.

It seems likely to me that statements which cannot be phrased in terms of “good” or “bad” (so, everything that is not a value-judgment) are likely to have an objective truth-value (True, False, Ambiguous, or Paradoxical). People can still have opinions on those topics, but some of those opinions may be right and others wrong.

With personal value-judgments, each individual assigns their own truth-value to the statement, hence there cannot be an objective answer even if everyone is in consensus.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby gmalivuk » Tue May 29, 2012 7:59 pm UTC

Kinch59 wrote:Take, for example, two sentences like the ones I used in my first post: "The moon is round" vs. "Licorice is tasty". I'd like to know what it is that makes people say that the latter is an opinion whereas the former is not. I'd also like to know why some people say they're both opinions. This is because, in the end, I'm not sure whether there actually is a difference between those two statements of the type that people think there is.
The difference is that roundness is an objective trait, while tastiness isn't. When people use the adjective "round", they refer to a characteristic which is part of the object independent of anyone perceiving it (or a characteristic they believe to be so). When they describe something as "tasty", on the other hand, they implicitly include dependence on a taster. Something cannot be tasty independent of someone tasting it, because tastiness is inherently about perception, while roundness isn't.

Kinch59 wrote:Doesn't every statement contain at least a tacit value judgment?
No, absolutely not. There is no value judgment in the sentence, "Bachelors are unmarried". There is no personal view or belief in that sentence, nor is there any empirical claim about what things exist in the world or what their characteristics are. The sentence is true by virtue of the definitions of the words therein and nothing else. It is objective because perceptions don't matter to its truth, and thus the fact that people's perceptions vary is irrelevant.

Kinch59 wrote:wouldn't I be deluding myself if I thought my belief that the Earth is a spheroid wasn't just my personal belief or view or judgment based on the data I'm familiar with?
Fact/opinion and objective/subjective don't depend on how a claim or belief is *justified*, though, or what it's based on. "Earth is a spheroid" is a claim of fact whether it's true or not, whether you're justified in believing it or not, and whether anyone actually perceives it as a spheroid or not.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Azrael » Tue May 29, 2012 8:12 pm UTC

schmiggen wrote:As far as what an opinion is, the objective/subjective distinction is not enough; one can have an opinion whose content is "objectively true." In other words, any belief or positive statement that someone would feel confident in saying is true is an opinion. Its "objective" truth value simply isn't relevant. To say "that is just your opinion" is to emphasize that the fact that the opinion is held has no bearing the truth value of the statement in the (assumed to exist) objective world.

Note the language used in the follow up response, and what it means to your definition:

"No, it is not just my opinion", which may indicate that the opinion is common.
- or -
"No, it is not just my opinion", which indicates that the expression is not an opinion, but factual.

This usage (along with every established definition you'll ever find) suggests that objective factual statements cannot be a subset of opinions. The two are different and non-intersecting subsets within "Things people hold to be 'true'" -- or whichever title you'd like for the set of inputs that create a worldview. "Things I personally say are true", if you'd like. The salient point is that whether or not a stance has factual basis is a defining characteristic of being an opinion or not.

You've fallen victim to the common poor usage that refers to opinions as facts, and have subsequently mixed up the actual definitions.

Kinch59 wrote:An interesting thing I'd like to mention is that I read one place that an opinion is something to the effect of "a statement that can be argued for but never proved". I'm not exactly sure how to square this with the rest of what I've heard about the term.

Things that can be proven are, by definition, facts. Opinions are not inherently factual.

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue May 29, 2012 8:28 pm UTC

Kinch59 wrote:Two sides of the same coin; if the opinion/factual-statement distinction is equivalent to the objective/subjective distinction, then you could just as well ask "Is there such a thing as an opinion?" as "Is there such a thing as a non-opinion?" if your goal is to find out whether the distinction is legitimate.

Not so. Suppose, for example, that everything is an opinion, and I ask "Is anything an opinion?" I investigate and find that the answer is "Yes." Now, I know that there is at least one opinion, but that doesn't tell me that the distinction is legitimate: for the answer would also be "Yes" if some claims were opinions and some were facts.

If, on the other hand, I ask "Is anything a non-opinion?" I'll get the answer "No." This tells me that the distinction is illegitimate, where the previous question did not.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Twelfthroot » Tue May 29, 2012 8:31 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:There is no value judgment in the sentence, "Bachelors are unmarried". There is no personal view or belief in that sentence, nor is there any empirical claim about what things exist in the world or what their characteristics are. The sentence is true by virtue of the definitions of the words therein and nothing else. It is objective because perceptions don't matter to its truth, and thus the fact that people's perceptions vary is irrelevant.

This is certainly true, but I would argue that "Bachelors are unmarried" is a statement of a different nature than "Earth is a spheroid". Or rather, there are two ways of interpreting either (or any) statement -- to be validated by virtue of definition or observation -- and that as presented I would assume the former uses the former and the latter the latter. That is, if we take "bachelor" to be defined as "unmarried person", then "X is a bachelor" implies "X is unmarried", where X is a variable and does not refer to any physically manifest entity. On the other hand, If we do want to refer to a person who "exists", then we can't recourse to a priori logic (or, I argue, if we do, we are no longer talking about an observed reality but of an abstract, logical "bachelor"). A contrived example: my friend Ted is a bachelor, but he's been married for years. This is how I use these words, and my circle of discourse understands this to be a true claim, because Ted "acts like" a bachelor in all important ways aside from being married. (If this is too contrived to accept, consider a clock that does not tell time (it's broken), a dog with two legs that doesn't breathe air (it died in a tragic accident), or a two-horned unicorn (genetic abnormality).) I think the only way you can claim I'm "wrong" is to say that I'm speaking metaphorically. My argument, which I'd prefer to leave undefended for now just to get it out there for consideration, is that all claims which refer to physical reality, and depend on observation of reality for their verification, are in essence metaphorical.

Is the Earth a spheroid? Not perfectly, no, that's impossible. Do we describe it as a spheroid? Yes, and it is a very accurate description. But unless we take "Earth" to mean "a spheroid object, third from the sun, etc, etc" rather than to refer to the entity we're sitting on, I don't think we can say that "the Earth is a spheroid" is true in the same sense that "all circle have the same ratio of radius to perimeter" is true. It is true to the extent we agree on what the Earth is and what spheroids are, no more, no less. With sufficiently agreed-upon definitions and measuring techniques, we can evaluate a claim to an arbitrary degree of accuracy, but not to "certainty".

All that said, I am not arguing that all truth which refers to reality is subjective. I would say the difference is that with "objective" claims, we have an agreed-upon method of evaluating and measuring their truth. The line from objective and subjective is fuzzy because no claims about reality are, in a mathematical sense, "well-defined". They can be, I'd prefer to say, "arbitrarily well defined".

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue May 29, 2012 8:42 pm UTC

Twelfthroot, as far as I can tell you're only giving examples where logical implication breaks down because you equivocate between meanings in two different premises. If you say you know a bachelor who is married, then you're using the word "bachelor" differently from how it's used in the sentence "Bachelors are married." If you use the same sense of the word "bachelor" throughout, either you'll accept that your friend isn't a bachelor or you'll reject the idea that all bachelors are married.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby gmalivuk » Tue May 29, 2012 8:45 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:If you say you know a bachelor who is married, then you're using the word "bachelor" differently
Similarly, to the OP: if you seriously claim that "licorice is tasty" isn't an opinion, you're using at least one of "tasty" or "opinion" differently.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby setzer777 » Tue May 29, 2012 8:48 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:If you say you know a bachelor who is married, then you're using the word "bachelor" differently
Similarly, to the OP: if you seriously claim that "licorice is tasty" isn't an opinion, you're using at least one of "tasty" or "opinion" differently.


Maybe it's a claim about the objectively existing substance of "tastiness" being present or absent in the licorice.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby gmalivuk » Tue May 29, 2012 8:59 pm UTC

Which is not the conventional way "tasty" is used.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby setzer777 » Tue May 29, 2012 9:18 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Which is not the conventional way "tasty" is used.


True, though with some subjective things (such as beauty), I think that in practice many people are actually implicitly claiming the existence of objective properties associated with them.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Twelfthroot » Tue May 29, 2012 10:03 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Twelfthroot, as far as I can tell you're only giving examples where logical implication breaks down because you equivocate between meanings in two different premises. If you say you know a bachelor who is married, then you're using the word "bachelor" differently from how it's used in the sentence "Bachelors are married." If you use the same sense of the word "bachelor" throughout, either you'll accept that your friend isn't a bachelor or you'll reject the idea that all bachelors are married.


What I mean to claim is that you can't use a word in "the same sense" in two propositions if one of those propositions uses the word referring to an abstract entity and the other uses it to refer to a physical entity. Ultimately what I'm trying to say is that all truths which are true by virtue of empirical observation (i.e. all truths about "real" things) are subject to uncertainty whereas a priori logical truths (i.e. all truths about abstractions) are not -- they are not "equally true" truths. Statements about abstractions are discretely, excluded-middlefully true or false; statements about real things can be more or less true, as true as anything else we agree on, maybe true, somewhat true, all the way down to "there is no way to test that claim".

For example: all circles have area equal to π times the radius squared. This is a statement about abstractions, its truth is evaluated logically, and it is certainly true. Now say I draw a circle on a piece of paper. Is it a circle? If you claim it's "a different kind of circle", I think you'll be forced to admit that all things are in the same way "different" from our abstract models of them. (I don't want to get caught up on my own weak bachelor argument, but I might say Ted is "a different kind of bachelor" in the same way that my drawn circle is "a different kind of circle" from their respective logical idealizations.) If you admit it's a circle, then what do you do about the fact that its area is not equal to its radius squared? If it's not a perfect circle (and it can't be), then it's only arbitrarily close. But generally we still say it's true that its area has this relation, because that's the best kind of truth we have regarding physical entities -- measurable, uncertain truth. The area will be closer to πr2 the more "circley" the circle is. If I deform it slightly, we might still continue calling it a circle until a point where it was no longer reasonably a circle, but this line is fuzzy and negotiable. Things that are true of ideal circles will be true of real circles exactly (or 'proportionally', perhaps) to the extent that we use the word circle to describe them. Whenever we test the truth of statements about real things, we are measuring how well we can approximate them with idealized models. The answer cannot be "perfectly"; the moment it is, we're no longer talking about real things.

I am implicitly claiming that no words which refer to physical entities can have "essential characteristics" -- that is, I'm claiming that for any empirically evaluated claim of "all X are Y" where things in category X exist, I can find or imagine an example x such that x is not Y but we would still call x an X and make valid inferences about other properties Xs would have. (e.g. We consider "All men are mortal" to be true, and if we evaluate it logically by defining man as a mortal being (or as an animal with animals being mortal -- whatever allows us to reason a priori) it is logically true, but empirically, we can only say "we have no examples of a man who is not mortal at this time" -- this is not, like the logical statement, a necessary truth. I can imagine immortal men because if we met such things we would call them men thus our words would shift meaning as they do at all times. I cannot imagine three-pointed circles.)

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue May 29, 2012 10:31 pm UTC

Twelfthroot wrote:What I mean to claim is that you can't use a word in "the same sense" in two propositions if one of those propositions uses the word referring to an abstract entity and the other uses it to refer to a physical entity.

Oh, but "Bachelors are unmarried" doesn't refer to an abstract entity. It refers to a bunch of physical entities — bachelors — and asserts of each of them that they are unmarried.

If, on the other hand, that sentence does refer to some really existing universal "bachelorhood," you haven't given a shred of a reason to think that this universal can't be predicated of physical objects.

Twelfthroot wrote:For example: all circles have area equal to π times the radius squared. This is a statement about abstractions, its truth is evaluated logically, and it is certainly true. Now say I draw a circle on a piece of paper. Is it a circle? If you claim it's "a different kind of circle", I think you'll be forced to admit that all things are in the same way "different" from our abstract models of them. (I don't want to get caught up on my own weak bachelor argument, but I might say Ted is "a different kind of bachelor" in the same way that my drawn circle is "a different kind of circle" from their respective logical idealizations.)

Haha, what? You don't want to get "caught up" in your "weak" argument, but you think I'm "forced" to accept it anyway?

I think it's quite obvious, to the contrary, that my friend John, an unmarried man, is a bachelor. If you think that he's not in the class of things we're talking about when we say that bachelors are married, you're going to have to explain why. All you're doing right now is showing that some other person — someone that everyone would agree is not, in the ordinary sense of the word, a bachelor — does not fit the sense of the first word in "Bachelors are unmarried." Well, of course he doesn't. But that's a few billion short of saying that no actual person does.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Soralin » Tue May 29, 2012 10:49 pm UTC

Kinch59 wrote:Does this mean that you think an opinion is the same as a factual statement, or a truth claim? This is interesting to me because, as I wrote in my first post, people give widely varying answers to the question.

I'd say subjective is a truth claim about what exists inside your skull, objective is a truth claim about what exists outside your skull. It is still possible for an opinion to be false(for example, saying that you like something, when you actually don't).

In theory, these could be the same, you could test opinions by turning a powerful enough brain scanning device to point at someone's head, but in practice the division exists because the person who's brain it is, has a much better and more detailed idea of what's going on in it than anyone else. Whereas stuff that goes on outside brains is equally as visible to everyone.

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby gmalivuk » Tue May 29, 2012 11:00 pm UTC

Soralin wrote:I'd say subjective is a truth claim about what exists inside your skull, objective is a truth claim about what exists outside your skull.
So "I am colorblind" is a subjective truth, while "my uncle is colorblind" is objective?

It is still possible for an opinion to be false(for example, saying that you like something, when you actually don't).
No, that would only falsify the claim of fact, "I like apples". A claim of opinion that goes along with it is, "Apples are delicious". This claim can't turn out to be false, it can only turn out to be something I don't in fact believe.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue May 29, 2012 11:02 pm UTC

Yeah, I'd reckon that subjective claims are not things with mind-dependent truth conditions, but rather things without truth conditions at all.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Twelfthroot » Tue May 29, 2012 11:20 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Oh, but "Bachelors are unmarried" doesn't refer to an abstract entity.

There is nothing concrete about bachelors or marriage. People are married iff we agree they are. There is no empirical measurement you can perform on a person to determine their bachelorhood. You could study their behavior and conclude with some nonperfect certainty that they are not married, but the truth of the statement "John is a bachelor" is determined quite simply: do we use the word "bachelor" to refer to John? Yes? Then he's a bachelor. No? Then no. Sort of? Then sort of. Words don't refer to reality by themselves; we use them.

I'm not saying there are no bachelors. I'm saying "John is a bachelor" is not true in the same sense that "The word 'John' has four letters." is true. The latter cannot not be true; it is true because to evaluate its truth we observe the definitions and proceed logically. The former may be true, we can test its truth with experience and observation, but it is only true to an extent. If John gets married, when does he stop being a bachelor? When he says "I do?" -- from whose perspective? When he signs the marriage license -- when, when the pen leaves the page? That can't be determined with certainty. There will always be occasions in which "John is a bachelor" is maybe true, where we cannot agree on its truth. This is not the case with "'John' is a four-letter word." If we want "John is a bachelor" to be definitely, irrefutably true, it can only be so if we say that its truth is determined by whether or not John is, according to us, a bachelor. Or "not married" or however else you we want to arbitrarily define it.

If you like, I am arguing that there are no a posteriori necessary truths. I realize Kripke and other prominent philosophers claim there are. I'm sure I'm not alone in disagreeing. From there all I'm saying is that contingent truths exist on a continuum stretching from "true to the greatest extent of our abilities to determine" down to "we have no method to evaluate this".

Haha, what? You don't want to get "caught up" in your "weak" argument, but you think I'm "forced" to accept it anyway?

All I said is that if you accept that drawn circles and mathematical circles are "different kinds of circles" then you should be prepared to admit that all referring terms come in different kinds -- referring to an ideal and referring to an observable. I would not necessarily state things this way. I then applied that argument to my bachelor argument, while admitting my hesitancy because I knew I'd argued the latter weakly. Unless I wrote unclearly, I did not claim you were forced to admit anything about bachelors.

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Soralin » Wed May 30, 2012 1:04 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Soralin wrote:I'd say subjective is a truth claim about what exists inside your skull, objective is a truth claim about what exists outside your skull.
So "I am colorblind" is a subjective truth, while "my uncle is colorblind" is objective?

Sure, the separation between objective and subjective is a fuzzy one anyway, subjective things can be tested or referenced objectively, with varying degrees of success.

gmalivuk wrote:
It is still possible for an opinion to be false(for example, saying that you like something, when you actually don't).
No, that would only falsify the claim of fact, "I like apples". A claim of opinion that goes along with it is, "Apples are delicious". This claim can't turn out to be false, it can only turn out to be something I don't in fact believe.

I'd say, if you're going strictly literal "Apples are delicious" is always false. Since delicious is a statement which can only apply to what a mind thinks of something, and with no mind, the statement is either false, or as being a malformed statement, i.e. "not even wrong". Now, being a bit less literal, when that statement is made, there should always be the implied statement of "to me", or "to everyone" or such attached to the end of it. But it's possible that someone actually has the thinks that delicious is a property of the object itself, and not their mind's relationship with it, which would simply be wrong.
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Yeah, I'd reckon that subjective claims are not things with mind-dependent truth conditions, but rather things without truth conditions at all.

If you're going by something like the above example, "Apples are delicious", in the way that it's commonly used is a mind-dependent truth condition, it just doesn't look like it due to being phrased in a way that leaves the mind in question somewhat ambiguous. Because without that implied mind, the statement is nonsense, trying to act as if that property is in that object itself.

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Wed May 30, 2012 9:38 pm UTC

Twelfthroot wrote:There is nothing concrete about bachelors or marriage. People are married iff we agree they are.

OK, sure, for that particular case. But how about a claim like "Protons are subatomic particles"?
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Twelfthroot » Fri Jun 01, 2012 2:54 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:OK, sure, for that particular case. But how about a claim like "Protons are subatomic particles"?

I don't really see that as particularly different. I agree that it's true, and the only reasonable interpretation I see of that statement is that it's true a priori. Protons are, by definition, stable positively charged subatomic particles etc. But no term in the sentence is referring to a specific thing or event being observed. I see that statement as being identical in nature to "squares are quadrilaterals". Even if you were to instead say "This proton (that just got ejected from this sample of examplium) is a subatomic particle" -- well, of course it is; that's not even something you're observing or measuring to verify it. If we would call something a proton, we would also call it a subatomic particle, because by definition the latter is a superset of the former, and regardless of any other property of the thing in question. If we weren't sure it was a proton, then we might not be sure it was a subatomic particle.

Again, I'm not trying to say there are no certainly true statements. I'm saying all certainly true statements are only true by definition -- that all statements which could not possibly be false are true a priori, logically. Conversely, all statements which require observation of our objective, physically real universe to verify can be, at the very best, "almost certainly true" or "true as far as we can possibly tell", and that this sort of truth -- while still really useful and so apparently true that we use the same word, 'true', to talk about it -- exists on a continuum, with subjectivity on the other end. For all observable truths, like "this cup contains apple juice" or "my puppy weighs ten kilograms", one can imagine a situation in which the truth of the statement would be uncertain (eg all physical measurements), fuzzy, stretched to the breaking point. From this I infer that such contingent truth lies on a continuum -- the alternative is that there is some threshold beyond which "really close to true" discontinuously crosses over to "as true as 2=2", and such reasoning gives you such nonsense as the Sorites paradox.

In full disclosure, I don't think I could defend claiming that the observable proposition "my puppy does not weigh a megagram" is anything but certainly true. All can offer as to how this might not invalidate my claims is that it is intuitively satisfying as analogous to the notion that an example is not a proof but a counterexample is. Or if you prefer, "we can be sure of what things aren't, but not of what they are".

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Kinch59 » Fri Jun 01, 2012 6:14 pm UTC

Soralin wrote:I'd say, if you're going strictly literal "Apples are delicious" is always false. Since delicious is a statement which can only apply to what a mind thinks of something, and with no mind, the statement is either false, or as being a malformed statement, i.e. "not even wrong".

I'd like to try to pick up this ball and run with it. One of the more coherent hypotheses I've come up with for the nature of opinions has to do with preference statements. I'm very fond of the phrasing, "I like apples" because I think it hits the bullseye of what people mean when they talk about an opinion; they mean an I-statement -- a statement that clearly says something about the mind of the person who is making the statement, not about something external to it. This, of course, makes a lot of sense considering the terminology of the subjective/objective distinction. A subjective statement is one that says something about the subject (actually, rather something about the mind of the subject, since I wouldn't call it a subjective statement if I said that my leg was broken). An objective statement is one that says something about (what is thought to be) an object external to the mind of the subject -- it's an it-statement, not an I-statement.

But then, what do we do about statements like, "Apples are delicious"? Here I think you're right in saying that they might be "not even wrong". I think they're I-statements masquerading as it-statements, and it's our language that's at fault. "Apples are delicious" translates more or less directly to "I like apples", but there are subjective statements that aren't preference statements, such as, "The painting is beautiful". "Beautiful" is an expression of something a bit more complex than preference: aesthetics. But I think we'd still agree that it's a subjective statement, so if my hypothesis is correct, it would be more clearly expressed as an I-statement, such as this: "I beautiful the painting". Here I'm trying to make "beautiful" into a verb analogue to "like". The statement now more obviously expresses that I have this or that kind of feeling towards the painting -- not that I am assigning an actual predicate to the painting itself.

Just a couple of crude thoughts.

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Azrael » Fri Jun 01, 2012 11:03 pm UTC

Kinch59 wrote:... so if my hypothesis is correct, it would be more clearly expressed as an I-statement, such as this: "I beautiful the painting". Here I'm trying to make "beautiful" into a verb analogue to "like". The statement now more obviously expresses that I have this or that kind of feeling towards the painting -- not that I am assigning an actual predicate to the painting itself.


The thing is, everyone with a functional understanding of what an opinion is already knows that when you say "The painting is beautiful" it is shorthand for "I think the painting is beautiful". Thus is the tacit understanding when one makes subjective value statements.

The failure here is not so much the language.

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Kinch59 » Sat Jun 02, 2012 10:58 am UTC

Azrael wrote:
Kinch59 wrote:... so if my hypothesis is correct, it would be more clearly expressed as an I-statement, such as this: "I beautiful the painting". Here I'm trying to make "beautiful" into a verb analogue to "like". The statement now more obviously expresses that I have this or that kind of feeling towards the painting -- not that I am assigning an actual predicate to the painting itself.


The thing is, everyone with a functional understanding of what an opinion is already knows that when you say "The painting is beautiful" it is shorthand for "I think the painting is beautiful". Thus is the tacit understanding when one makes subjective value statements.

The failure here is not so much the language.

But "I think the painting is beautiful" doesn't sound much like a subjective statement. If you buy my distinction between "I-statements" and "it-statements", you have to say that it sounds like an it-statement. "I think" is synonymous with "I believe", so that statement translates to, "I believe the painting has <insert predicate>"; it doesn't (clearly) say, "I <experience aesthetic impression> due to the painting".

Also, if everyone intuitively understood that "beautiful" was a subjectivity signifier, I contend that I'd never hear people using the retort, "Well that's just your opinion!" Let me give you an example. If you hear somebody saying, "Twilight is the best movie ever", you'll likely feel more provoked to retort than if she'd said, "I really, really like Twilight". The first makes it sound like she's making a factual error while the second clearly indicates that she's talking about a mental state within herself.

The problem, as far as I can tell, with the I-statement/it-statement distinction is that any and all statements we make actually necessarily amount to I-statements at some level. Even if I say something like, "My computer exists", what I really mean is, "I believe my computer exists". (This is similar to the whole "I think the painting is beautiful" bit.) Last time around I tried to make "beautiful" into a makeshift verb ("I beautiful the painting" = "I think the painting is beautiful"); why couldn't I do the same thing with statements about the existence of something? For example, "My computer exists" = "I exist my computer", or "I computer" (this sounds extremely stupid; bear with me), meaning simply that I experience computer, or that a computer impression arises in my mind.

I don't think this is as convoluted as I'm making it sound.


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