What is the rightful place of opinion in the practice of philosophy?
The problem I have with your question is that I'm not sure what you mean by "opinion". Do you
contrast that with certainty? With logic? Is an opinion a judgment based solely on feeling, or is it one
based on incomplete reasoning, a kind of likelihood?
I think that philosophy, inasmuch as possible, should utilize sound reasoning, and verified data. But
what dothosemean? Let's start with logic. That's all very fine, but logical reasoning and systems must
have assumptions. What is the basis of those assumptions? Perhaps the basis should be
experimental results. That's also fine, but then, except for clear cases, one must ask just what an
experiment encompasses. Are "thought experiments" experiments? If experimentation implies
consensus and inter-subjective agreement, have we, through those, eliminated opinion? You might
read Kitcher's book "The advancement of science" on this, but that's about science, not philosophy,
right? Is there a difference? What is it? His conclusion, however, is that through various feedback
processes, science does advance, mostly. But science, according to him (and I agree), is about
finding "truth", i.e., a correspondence between our ideas and concepts and reality. Thus, we must ask
whether philosophy does the same. What is the nature of "philosophical truth", assuming we're even
interested in that?
But my take on that question is that there is indeed something like a philosophical truth, and that is, at
the least, first, clear, accurate, and reproducible thinking, which, second, leads (after revision and
rethinking) to a correspondence between one person's conclusions and those of other persons, with
the addition, third, when possible, of verification based on "the world", i.e., on experimentation. Thus,
if your question amounts to, "Is armchair speculation opinion?" then I would have to answer that it is,
mostly. When I say that, I am condemning people whose work is rarely if ever questioned and revised
to the trashcan, more or less, it seems. And why not? Are the conclusions that one person, however
intelligent, has reached through their own personal observation and thinking merely their opinions?
Yes, I think that unless those conclusions have been refined and revised through interaction with
others and with the world, they are opinion. Why do I think this? Because science, whichdoes
advance, explicitly incorporates just such feedback processes, and when it does not, or does so
poorly, it doesnotadvance, in the main. So philosophy, then, must be practiced as a kind of science,
in that one's conclusions must be bounced off of others (and the world) and revised based on those
others' (and the world's) feedback. If they are not revised, but only defended, are they mere opinion?
So, then, does opinion, i.e., unverified and unrevised thinking and conclusions, have a place in
philosophy? Why, yes... as thebeginningof a philosophical investigation. But no more than that.
Steven Ravett Brown
Opinion: interesting word. I'll sound like a real philosopher and say 'it all depends how you are using
the word "opinion"'. It is commonly used to mean a view that someone holds more or less as a matter
of taste. "Well, that's just my opinion, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion".
Yet, it is hard to say that opinions are (or ought to be) just like tastes. It doesn't make much sense to
critique tastes (at least, tastes such as food flavor preferences). If I like strawberry ice cream and you
like chocolate, it doesn't seem to make sense for me to say that I am right and you are wrong. It may
make sense to talk about the causes of our tastes (my taste buds have this different structure to
yours, or my parents always said yum to strawberry and yuck to chocolate), but this is to explain and
not to criticise them.
Opinions, on the other hand, do seem to stand in need of justification, not just explanation. If I say
that I think that asylum seekers ought to be thrown out of Australia, I need to give reasons why that is
a sensible thing to believe. To say that my parents didn't like the foreigners who lived down the street
when I was a child just doesn't seem to cut the mustard.
So here's my opinion on opinions: the rightful place of opinions in philosophy is that they be held as
reflective and justified beliefs that can be defended with sound reasons against attacks on them, and
that will be changed in the face of good reasons for doing so.