Philosophy: What is an opinion?

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Qaanol
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Qaanol » Sat Jun 02, 2012 3:56 pm UTC

Yes yes, and when you say, “I believe my computer exists”, I reply, “I believe I heard you say you believe your computer exists” because a hearing-you-say-that impression formed in my mind.

To which you are inclined to reply, “I believe I heard you say you believe you heard me say I believe my computer exists” because a hearing-me-say-that impression formed in your mind.

And this continues ad infinitum. Thus, as shorthand, you merely say, “My computer exists” and the rest is understood.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Twelfthroot » Sat Jun 02, 2012 7:01 pm UTC

I think there's a difference in semantic content between "It is true that I believe X" and "I believe it is true that X". For instance, I happen to like the smell of skunk from a distance. I might say "To me, skunks smell good." I would not say (or mean to say) "Skunks smell good," because to me this implies "I think that the smell of skunk, if not in itself good, is good by some standard which a majority of people share or which I believe a majority of people should share", which I do not believe. On the other hand, I might make such a claim that "Beethoven's 9th symphony is a masterpiece", and not just "It is my opinion that (etc)". In doing so, I claim that not only do I appreciate the symphony, but that anyone whose manner of appreciating music would lead them to converge in opinion with a certain group that includes me would hold the symphony in very high regard, and that anyone whose metric did not lead to such a conclusion is failing to consider or properly weight what I consider important properties of music. I see that as a much stronger claim, and perhaps even "less subjective" -- if only in the sense that you can "defend it" by finding how many people whose taste in general you respect also share the opinion. No, it doesn't make it "objectively true" or give any property to the symphony independent of minds, but it's also not beyond contest or refutation. If I'm the only person in the world who claims "X is beautiful," I should be expected to defend my reasoning. If I'm the only person who claims "I find X beautiful," then good for me, I can be as not-even-wrong as I want.

If this weren't the case, I don't think people would take it so personally when people dislike their favorite bands or movies. You're not just holding a contrary opinion; you're contending that their metrics of evaluation are flawed, and many people consider their sense of beauty to be quite central to their personal characters.

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sat Jun 02, 2012 7:46 pm UTC

Kinch59 wrote: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".

Whether or not people understand this, the question is whether there are any mind-independent facts that could make the inserted predicate obtain.

The answer is no.

Kinch59 wrote: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.

Or, the first makes it look like she's regarding something as fact that can't be. The reason that people say "That's just your opinion" is precisely because they recognize that "X is beautiful" is not truth-apt.

Kinch59 wrote:Even if I say something like, "My computer exists", what I really mean is, "I believe my computer exists".

This may be true of you, specifically, but most people do not think of things that way. This is why Moore's paradox is a paradox: the three properties listed in the introduction of the Wikipedia article would hold only if "I believe it's raining" and "It's raining" do not mean the same thing.
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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby muphart » Sun Jun 03, 2012 7:48 am UTC

What is an opinion?
This is really not a philosophical issue at all. This is a language issue within a social structure. If someone is an accountant, then that means that is their job title or professional designation based on the standards of their community. Even if that person is lazy and incompetent, they are still an accountant as a matter of "fact" because they fall under the accepted definition. However, their angry coworkers might consider it a matter of opinion, because they are defining an accountant as someone who actually does their job well in addition to having the job title, thus extending the definition.

So...if you are working off a standard, like a dictionary, then something is a fact. If you are working off an idea that isn't necessarily accepted within your society, then it's an opinion, as far as the society is concerned.

If there are standards within the art community as to what makes a painting beautiful, then it is a fact whether a painting is beautiful, with respect to those standards. If one is not using those standards, it's an opinion. (Though it may be a fact according to some other standards, however, generally to be considered a fact, the standards have to be quite universally accepted.

All language used is with respect to some language structure. All confusion regarding fact vs. opinion comes from misunderstanding the context in which the language is being used. The same statement could be either a fact or opinion depending on how it's interpreted, but there is still a clear difference between the words "fact" and "opinion".

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby Kinch59 » Sun Jun 03, 2012 8:43 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Kinch59 wrote: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".

Whether or not people understand this, the question is whether there are any mind-independent facts that could make the inserted predicate obtain.

The answer is no.
Kinch59 wrote: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.

Or, the first makes it look like she's regarding something as fact that can't be. The reason that people say "That's just your opinion" is precisely because they recognize that "X is beautiful" is not truth-apt.

I think I agree with this. But wouldn't you then say that the tendency to say "I think X is beautiful" or "X is beautiful" is a sort of failure of language? Put in another way, it's certainly my experience that if there is a boundary between the subjective and the objective, this boundary doesn't appear clearly in our language. I can assert "X is beautiful" as fervently as I can assert "Y is triangular". There's nothing in the syntax of the two statements that separates one from the other; my knowledge that one predicate is fundamentally different from the other must come from something external to language.

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Kinch59 wrote:Even if I say something like, "My computer exists", what I really mean is, "I believe my computer exists".

This may be true of you, specifically, but most people do not think of things that way. This is why Moore's paradox is a paradox: the three properties listed in the introduction of the Wikipedia article would hold only if "I believe it's raining" and "It's raining" do not mean the same thing.

I'm a philosophy scrub, so I've never heard of "Moore's Paradox" before, but just reading about it now, it strikes me as extremely odd that those three properties in the introduction should be true of Moorean sentences. It's obvious to me that "It's raining but I believe that it is not raining" is self-contradictory; for you to assert that something is true in the present tense is logically equivalent to asserting that you currently believe that it is true, isn't it?

muphart wrote:What is an opinion?
This is really not a philosophical issue at all. This is a language issue within a social structure.

In my experience, many philosophical issues are linguistic issues. Ethics, aesthetics, and epistemology, for example, are largely concerned with discerning what it is people mean when they say the words "good", "beautiful", or "know".

muphart wrote:if you are working off a standard, like a dictionary, then something is a fact. If you are working off an idea that isn't necessarily accepted within your society, then it's an opinion, as far as the society is concerned.

Twelfthroot wrote:I think there's a difference in semantic content between "It is true that I believe X" and "I believe it is true that X". For instance, I happen to like the smell of skunk from a distance. I might say "To me, skunks smell good." I would not say (or mean to say) "Skunks smell good," because to me this implies "I think that the smell of skunk, if not in itself good, is good by some standard which a majority of people share or which I believe a majority of people should share", which I do not believe. On the other hand, I might make such a claim that "Beethoven's 9th symphony is a masterpiece", and not just "It is my opinion that (etc)". In doing so, I claim that not only do I appreciate the symphony, but that anyone whose manner of appreciating music would lead them to converge in opinion with a certain group that includes me would hold the symphony in very high regard, and that anyone whose metric did not lead to such a conclusion is failing to consider or properly weight what I consider important properties of music.

I think these two points veer very close to something I've considered myself: Is it possible that some concepts, such as geometric shapes, just have very simple meanings and their interpretations thus don't vary much between individual people, whereas others have complex, ill-defined meanings and vary widely between people? This would entail, for example, that when I say, "X is circular", the word "circular" connects almost unfailingly to the same concept in the minds of my audience; but when I say, "X is beautiful", the predicate is interpreted in hundreds of different ways. It seems to me that this distinction could correlate to the subjective/objective distinction: "objective" predicates are those with simple, clear, unmistakable definitions, and "subjective" predicates are those with ill-defined, much-disagreed-upon definitions.

If this "discrepancy of definitions" hypothesis for the subjective/objective distinction were correct, it could dispel this:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:"X is beautiful" is not truth-apt.

If everyone has a kind of internal dictionary where the meanings of some words may not map exactly on to the meanings of the same words in everyone else's dictionary, a statement like, "X is beautiful" could be truth-apt; it would simply mean, "According to my definition of the word 'beautiful', which is almost certainly not identical to yours, X is beautiful".

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Re: Philosophy: What is an opinion?

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Jun 03, 2012 9:56 pm UTC

Kinch59 wrote:my knowledge that one predicate is fundamentally different from the other must come from something external to language.
Sure, inasmuch as the meanings of words are "external to language".
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