Can Opinions Be Wrong?
Today the Bones Blog brings you the answer to one of the most commonly posted debate tactics on BZP. This is answered already in the Debate Terms Guide, but the answer is somewhat spread out over many entries there and that length can be daunting to read. So this blog entry addresses the idea directly. For clarity, key points will be bolded; don't confuse the bolding for emotionalism.
Can Opinions Be Wrong?
One of the most common ideas I encounter in debate is this: "These are my opinions. You can have yours too, but in no way am I going to change mine." [Slight paraphrase from a current debate.]
Usually this comes from someone who posted an opinion that was worded as if saying "I am right, others are wrong", that I or others had then disagreed with. The idea sounds good--that "I have a right to my opinion." Sure! But what if someone uses this to stick to an opinion that logic clearly shows is incorrect? Such as the opinion that the sky is orange, when it is in fact blue, as one example? Well, the answer is more complicated than you might think--what if what they really meant was they wished the sky was orange? That would be okay, right?
The fundamental question is not whether you have the right to your opinion, but whether your opinion makes sense. The question is, can opinions be wrong?
Two Kinds of Opinion
The answer is, "Depends on what they mean by 'opinion.'" We must understand that the word "opinion" is occasionally used where really the word "taste" would be clearer. There are basically two kinds of "opinion":
When you talk about what you like, or dislike, or feel, or what your preferences are, that's taste. That is unique to everybody, and nobody should feel that they are wrong for having theirs. These are not about the outside world, but about you. Therefore the outside world shouldn't change your view of who you are and what you prefer. If you dislike a set that was popular, you should not pretend that you liked it or feel pressured to like it. Same if you liked one that was unpopular. Sometimes I call this "taste opinion" to be clear, and it can also be called just "taste" or "preference" in standard English. Taste opinions cannot be wrong--they are individually unique.
When you talk about what you think; what you say makes logical sense or is somehow a universal rule or definate truth, that's an opinion. These are not about you, but are basically theories about outside reality. These can be wrong. For example, if you have the opinion that a set didn't sell well, and sales prove you wrong, your opinion was wrong. And thus, you should change that opinion. I call this a "LEGO should" opinion, a "thought-opinion", or just a "logic-opinion" to be clear. Logic opinions can be wrong--truth and logic is not subjective.
This is a basic principle of logic (which is the study of human mental processes). Issues of fact and theory, rules, morals, objective quality, common sense, storyline logic, debating, study of majority and minority tastes, sales results, methods of art, and so many others all fall under "logic-opinion".
In contrast, personal statements of preference; of taste; statements worded similar to "I like/dislike this" are considered by logicians to be outside the realm of logic, and are not logically debatable. They fall under "taste-opinion".
So the answer is this. "If you mean your tastes, then you're right to refuse to change your opinion. However, if you mean a 'logic-opinion', then you should be willing to consider you might be wrong, and if you're proven wrong, admit it and change the opinion."
If it does turn out that the member is holding a "logic-opinion" that someone disagrees with, then that is the time to carry out a debate, look at evidence, and get into what I call "truth-seeking debate". That is, for both sides to be willing to change their minds if it turns out they are wrong. Because in those cases, either one side is wrong and the other is right, or both are wrong and the truth is something else entirely. However, if it turns out they were really holding a "taste-opinion" then there is no reason to debate that taste.
Clarity -- Which "Opinion" do you mean?
What most people debating me do not realize off-the-bat is that I'm not putting down your tastes. Instead, I am challenging you to word things more clearly, while I'm asking you to clarify your point. To reconsider how you originally worded your opinion, or to try, in the future, to make it clear when you mean your tastes.
This can be done in many simple, easy ways. It's done by simply adding a "marker" phrase like these in your statement:
"I don't like this"
"In my tastes" (I often abbreviate this; "IMT" to differ from "IMO")
"In my preference"
"In my personal tastes"
"Tastewise, I feel"
"Please note, this is just me"
Unfortunately, some people mistakenly think "opinion" is one of these words. It is not--it is confusing, since it can mean both things. If "taste-markers" aren't used, the member often must be asked to explain their point more clearly. As a logician, that rarely confuses me, however, others who aren't logicians often misunderstand, and this can trigger unneeded debating, and sometimes even flame. This is usually how flame wars are started, often without any actual ill-intent by the person who started it! Just a big misunderstanding caused by unclear wording. When you state your tastes as fact or logic-based arguments, it comes across as putting down others' tastes and saying yours is superior, even if that's not what you meant. This can be especially true of younger members, but believe me, it's not limited to age--the same confusion causes flame wars on forums for adults/teenagers too, and I've witnessed this.
In short, if you mean your tastes, say so!