Tobold's Blog
Saturday, November 09, 2013
 
Can opinions be wrong?

In the previous thread there evolved a discussion whether opinions can be wrong, and I argued that they couldn't be. But then, just like in that previous thread, it all depends on how you define the word itself. Wikipedia says about opinion that "In general, an opinion is a judgment, viewpoint, or statement about matters commonly considered to be subjective, i.e. based on that which is less than absolutely certain, and is the result of emotion or interpretation of facts. What distinguishes fact from opinion is that facts are verifiable, i.e. can be objectively proven to have occurred.".

That was pretty much the definition I had in mind. Thus the example of people having the "opinion" that the Holocaust didn't happen, or that Earth is flat, or whatever, doesn't meet the definition. These people simply got their facts wrong. It is *because* opinions are subjective and can't be wrong that these people would like to present their beliefs as a different opinion instead of a pig-headed denial of well-established facts. Sometimes certain world views or believes clash with reality, and some people have found it easier to deny facts than to change their view of the world.

If you do a training on management, you might come across a funny test where you are given a series of statements and need to decide whether they are factual or judgmental. That is surprisingly difficult to get right on the first go, as it is extremely hard to make a statement without using judgment or inference. Once you did the exercise you quickly realize that pretty much every statement made on the internet is subjective, a judgment, viewpoint, or in short an opinion. We don't put "In my humble opinion ..." in front of our sentences because if we wanted to do it right, we'd need to put it in front of ALL of our sentences.

If I say "World of Warcraft has millions of players", that is a statement of fact. But would I use such a statement of fact in a blog post? Because it is a very well-known fact, it isn't very interesting. Most people would consider that statement so blindingly obvious, that they wouldn't even consider it to be a very good argument. Thus I would be more likely to use a more judgmental statement like "World of Warcraft is very successful". And then the arguing starts. Because "success" is subjective, my statement is just a statement of opinion, and somebody can have a very different opinion on the subject. For example I have heard it argued that a game with a few hundred thousand players which is still growing was "successful", while World of Warcraft which is losing that many players every quarter is not. Would that opinion be "wrong"? I don't think so. Not that I would agree with it, because I tend to think in absolute numbers and economical concepts like profits rather than in terms of trends. But because I am aware that concepts like "success" are subjective (unless you define success criteria before measuring the results), I can only say that it is an opinion I disagree with, not that it is strictly speaking "wrong".

Of course we do get into choppy waters if we consider that "right" and "wrong" are words which have *both* an objective meaning and a subjective meaning. There are opinions which I would consider morally wrong, even if they are subjective and not in denial of any facts. If somebody makes a statement that "we should bring slavery back", most people would consider that opinion "wrong". But it is not about facts at all. It is a subjective judgment where the majority of humanity happens to agree that slavery is a bad thing, so anybody with a different opinion just feels wrong. That goes so far that modern films about historical characters might represent that character in a way which is factually wrong in order to make him look morally right.

I would say that everything I write on my blog is my opinions. And those opinions aren't "wrong" or "right". But they can be more or less convincing, and more or less well argued. Which is exactly why some people react sometimes extremely badly to my writings: I state an opinion which they disagree with, but they lack the rhetorical skill to argue properly against that opinion. There is nothing worse than somebody making a very convincing case against your core beliefs. No wonder these people then are foaming at the mouth and shoot off all sorts of insults in the comment section, or on their blogs, or on Twitter.

The one thing I don't understand is why some of them keep hanging out on my blog to fire off the occasional hate comment. There are lots of blogs of evil little bastards where I just can't stand the opinions being argued; and that problem was extremely easy to solve by me not visiting those blogs once I realized it isn't just one disagreeable post but many of them. I would very much recommend some of readers to do the same. If you *know* that I hold opinions you very much object to and repeatedly write about them here, why would you want to hang out here?

Comments:
I suppose it does depend on the definition of opinion.
The one I handle is the one merriam-webster: a belief, judgment, or way of thinking about something.

In those the holocaust example does work, as their opinion is wrong, as it does not stroke with facts we know.

The definition you state is something I more associate with a general publicly held opinion, and mine is more from a personal perspective.
 
"My opinion is that opinions can be wrong. "

Either I am right, and opinions can be wrong, or I am wrong, and opinions can't be wrong; in which case my opinion was wrong, which proves that opinions can in fact be wrong.

Then you retort, but that's not an opinion, but a fact. I'm wrong about what an opinion is. But then, isn't what I'm wrong about in that case, the idea of what separates opinion from fact, itself an opinion? etc, this chain of infinite recursion continues endlessly, at some point either you admit that opinions can be wrong, or you never reach agreement on what it means for something to mean something in the first place. Centuries upon centuries of philosophers trying and failing to lift themselves up by their bootstraps, all of which can be bypassed by simply agreeing that opinions can be wrong.

But I could be wrong, of course :)
 
I think it's usually wise to preface most statements with "in my opinion" or "I think" or "it seems to me". There are countless phrases and expressions to choose from so using them doesn't mean your writing has to become repetitive or stilted if you do so.

I don't believe it's wise to assume your audience will be both able and willing to parse everything you write for factual integrity, nor that what's "blindingly obvious" to one won't come as a surprising and original observation to another. I repeat many, many things from comment to comment, post to post, because I never assume that anyone remembers anything I have said previously, even if they did ever read it. You need to set out your stall each and every time if avoiding being challenged on giving opinion as fact is your goal, and even then as often as not it won't work.

If you believe WoW is innately successful because having a few million players is de facto more successful than having a few hundred thousand players, for example, and you want that to be accepted as the basis for a discussion, you probably need to state that clearly at the outset because other people could, and will, have entirely different criteria for and definitions of "success" in the context of publishing an MMORPG.

On the other hand, if you prefer to make bald, unqualified statements that you consider to be self-evidently factual, it's likely you can expect to be misunderstood on a fairly regular basis.
 
I'm not necessarily sure that an opinion can be wrong, but one can certainly be ill-founded, e.g. "I think Barack Obama is trying to destroy America, because I saw a website that proves he's an evil Muslim". If you want any sort of civilised debate you need people to state the basis for their opinions, and then be ready to be called on it if that basis is shaky or incorrect.

It also helps if people understand the difference between an opinion and a fact, and between opinions that are subjective or are more widely applicable. For example, I can happily defend the (subjective) opinion that WoW is a bad game for me to play, because it is raid-centric, has a lot of long grinds and has a pretty toxic community (in my personal experience). I would be a lot more reluctant to generalise that to "WoW is a bad game" because there's pretty strong evidence that a lot of people do like it - more than any comparable MMO.
 
I post here and elsewhere with people I often disagree with precisely because the disagreements encourage me to refine my own arguments (or potentially lead me to change views). Having to dance around Gevlon's comment filtering, for example, has definitely lead to an improvement in my posts. The more general back-and-forth is also entertaining to me, although I realize that that sort of sounds like something a troll would say.

As for why other people post on such sites, well, sometimes it feels necessary to establish that a particular opinion or claim will not go unchallenged. Your website is larger than mine, which means your opinion reaches more people than mine, and that is a Bad Thing if I feel as though your opinion is wrong/misinformed/etc. I don't necessarily need to change your opinion (and likely won't), I just need to try and stop other people from agreeing with you.
 
"I just need to try and stop other people from agreeing with you."

You keep using this word "need", I do not think it means what you think it means.

Your statement is an example of a wrong opinion.
 
"There is nothing worse than somebody making a very convincing case against your core beliefs."

Damn, that's a really good way of putting it. And I agree with Azuriel; if we all avoided anyone we disagreed with, we'd be in a lot of trouble. We already have a lot of trouble due to how many people avoid disagreements. It's depressing just how few people know how to really engage with someone who disagrees with them.
 
" If you *know* that I hold opinions you very much object to and repeatedly write about them here, why would you want to hang out here?"

Because it is interesting to know what other people think ? We all have a bias to read only what we agree with, whereas it is more important to read what we disagree with !
But it needs two conditions :
- reading another opinion with an open mind,trying to really understand what/why other people think
- Be very polite in the comments, and do not post inflamatory comments !

With those, I have for exemple understood why some people prefers subscription than F2P, even if it does not applies to me.
 
If you *know* that I hold opinions you very much object to and repeatedly write about them here, why would you want to hang out here?"

aww come on! the answer to this one is easy - because it is fun to argue
 
because it is fun to argue

How do you define "argue"? I can see the fun in actual discussion, throwing arguments back and forth. But where is the fun in coming to my blog, writing a short comment just to insult me, and getting that comment deleted? If you have no arguments, why argue?

I've also had people coming to my blog, NOT liking it, NOT commenting, and then going to Twitter to say "Tobold is a troll". What exactly is the point of that?
 
By "evil little bastards" you mean Gevlon, right?
 
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