This post is birthed out of observations I’ve made about our culture and from some of the conversations I’ve had with friends and other philosophers. I first want to offer a commentary and argument against this wave of “it’s your opinion” statements. More specifically, I’m going to do a brief lesson on what an argument is and what an opinion is. Secondly, this will immediately bring me to a conversation about neutrality with regards to moral judgements and how the government is an example of something that is not neutral. More specifically, people try to say “don’t impose your beliefs on me through the government,” as if the government was some sort of neutral place; news flash, there’s no such thing as a neutral government. Lastly, this will lead me to a face-to-face encounter with moral relativism. So, here we go:
One of the things I’m just fascinated by is how people in general couch their views or arguments in terms of “opinion” so as to maintain a type of neutrality. Whether they intentionally do this or not is beyond me, but that’s besides the point. First, what exactly is an opinion? If you’ve taken an introduction to logic course, you will learn the difference between a fact and opinion and what they actually are. In learning what the components of an argument are, you are able to catch when someone is making an argument or merely expressing an opinion. So let us explore what an argument is and then we will turn to what an opinion is.
What is an argument?
Patrick Hurley, in his A Concise Introduction to Logic, explains that “a passage contains an argument if it purports to prove something [...] two conditions must be fulfilled for a passage to purport to prove something:
- At least one of the statements must claim to present evidence or reasons.
- There must be a claim that the alleged evidence supports or implies something–that is, a claim that something follows from the alleged evidence or reasons” (14).
The second condition is known as an inferential claim. Basically, an inferential claim is something that demonstrates some sort of reasoning process. For instance:
All Cats are furry.
Bob is a Cat
Thus, Bob is furry
In taking a look at this simple argument, you can see that there is a reasoning process going on. Based on the first two premises, which serves as evidence or reasons, I derive a conclusion. I am making an inferential claim, and thus I have an argument (I just did the same thing here. Did you catch that?
Now, Hurley turns to explaining some simple non inferential passages or claims, that is, claims that do not have a claim that is meant to be proved. Some examples of non inferential claims are:
- pieces of advice
- a belief or opinion
- a report
There is one thing that Hurley stresses in each of these inferential claims: “If no evidence is given to prove that such statements are true, or if there is no evidence that is intended to prove anything, then there is no argument” (16-17). Let us focus on number 3.
Hurley defines a statement of belief or opinion as “an expression about what someone happens to believe or think about something” (17). The Oxford dictionary defines an opinion as “a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.” The Oxford definition does explain what an opinion is, but i don’t think it will work when we get down to the nitty gritty of logic. The Oxford definition says that it’s a view or judgment formed that is not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. So, in other words, it can be based on fact or knowledge and still be an opinion. But this is still extremely vague. I can make judgements that are based on fact or knowledge and these “judgements” are true, but will be passed off as just an opinion, although I may have reasons for that judgement. So, this definition won’t entirely work. We need something more. Hurley, however, adds that something more by adding, “[if one doesn't make] any claim that his or her belief or opinion is supported by evidence, or that it supports some conclusion, there is no argument” (17). If I make a mere statement of belief, with no evidence or reasons, then yes, I am merely stating an opinion. However, if I make a claim to something true, and if I list a reason for it (even if the reasons are extremely stupid; there still needs to be at least some reason) and make an inferential claim, it has left the opinion building and entered the argument building.
So, when I make a claim, say to a moral objective standard and I give reasons, I am not merely stating some opinion. I am making an argument. Whether there are moral facts or not is another question, which is one I might briefly jump into later. To briefly hit on the question of what truth is, I’ll appeal to philosopher Ric Machuga since he can explain it simply: “Realists like Aristotle and Aquinas defines ‘truth’ as the correspondence of what we say or think with what really exists” (84). I could say much more about this, however, I’ll save that for another post.
I always hear the objection that Christians (and other religious people) should keep their religious views to themselves and not bring them into politics. We shouldn’t force our moral views on others by making the government endorse them. Even if we’re not making the government endorse them, we shouldn’t force our views on other people simply because everyone is entitled to their own belief or “opinion” (there we go we opinion and belief again). If we do so, since our views stem from a religion, thus the government must be supporting a religious view and thus it violates the separation of church and state. Moreover, If I’m making a moral objective claim about something, say that abortion is wrong, I cannot impose my belief or “opinion” on others.
First, I would agree that everyone is entitled to their opinion or belief. There’s no problem there. But I think if someone is wrong, and if we have good reasons to think so, there’s nothing wrong with challenging those beliefs or opinions. Secondly, there are a lot of assumptions with those statements made in the above paragraph. What is the relationship between religion and morality? And what is the relationship between government and morality? The middle term here that connect religion and government is morality. Moreover, the other assumption is that the government must be neutral with regards to religious matters. But what does it mean to be neutral, and can the government be neutral? Sorry to spoil the fun boys and girls, but one way or the other, the government is going to fall on one side of the debate. That is inevitable.
Either it sides with the religious man that has his moral view or it sides with the secularist or liberal who has her moral view. It’s either going to side with the pro-choice woman that says “Abortion is not wrong; refusing my choice to abort is wrong” or it sides with the conservative pro-lifer who says, “Abortion is wrong.” The pro-choicer will “force” her views down the throat of others, and the same will happen with the other person. Even by saying that you’re not trying to force your view on someone, simply by taking a stand for your view, and or endorsing policies that supports your view, you are essentially “forcing” your view on others or making particular judgements on people–namely, that one ought not refuse the “right” for someone to abort. So, inevitably someone’s morality is being forced upon the other. Doesn’t this undercut the whole complaint that we “shouldn’t force our moral views on others”?
Because moral relativism is such a big topic, I’ve decided to break up this post into two parts. So, I’ll deal with moral relativism in part 2 of this post.