Facts, beliefs, and opinions

Resolved: in Great Debates, and indeed in any serious discussion, we should carefully distinguish between these three kinds of statements, as follows.

Facts are those statements that are verifiably true to a high degree of certainty. It is a fact that Obama is currently president of the United States. It is a fact that the first word in this sentence is “it.” It is a fact that Mubarak left office in Egypt in February 2011. Facts that are not well known benefit from reliable citations in GD, but the well-known facts don’t need cites. Here’s the relevant definition of fact, if you need to see what a cite looks like.

Beliefs are those statements that have a truth value, but whose truth value is debatable. I believe that Obama’s health care policies will decrease the cost of health care overall. I believe that the previous sentence follows all standard rules of English grammar. I believe that Mubarak’s ouster is due primarily to inspiration from events in Tunisia. Beliefs, especially the thesis of a GD OP or a response to a GD OP, need to be supported by facts. Again, I’ll cite the Wikipedia article to support my belief that this definition of belief is the one to use.

Opinions are those statements that express a value. Obama is a great president. My sentences are well-written, stylish, and sexy. Mubarak’s ouster was a glorious event for the Middle East. Opinions that are unsupported by beliefs or facts are fine, but they have no place in Great Debates. They’re much more interesting when supported by beliefs or facts with relevant citations: if you think that Reagan was a nasty little jerk, but you offer no evidence for your opinion, it’s really hard for me to care, whereas if you offer the opinion that he was a nasty little jerk and support that opinion with facts about the Iran-Contra connection, then we’ve got something to talk about.

This post is an example of a problem. True, the OP started in IMHO–but it’s chock full of beliefs (controversial statements with a truth value) with opinions layered on top. In order to discuss it, one must discuss the truth value of the beliefs, but when such a discussion starts, the OP insists that they were all just opinions.

Don’t do that, folks. Keep your opinions separate from your beliefs, and to the extent that you want to have a discussion, support them all with facts.

I disagree that opinions don’t belong in Great Debates. Of course they do. That’s the whole point of a debate is to persuade somebody else to your own opinion.

I think the OP is saying people should make clear when they’re presenting something as an opinion, not that opinions don’t have a place in Great Debates. As he starts his post:

Ironically this thread probably belongs in ‘About This Message Board’.

Diogenes, how does one go about persuading people? I’m assuming you’re responding to the following sentence, so I’m helpfully underlining the dependent clause:

Muleskinner, I thought of putting it there, but I’m not proposing a rule; rather, I’m suggesting that people will find both their posts more persuasive and their discussions more fruitful if they use these three terms carefully, and especially if they don’t defend their lack of facts by claiming that a belief is really an opinion. Yes, it’s part of the second-grade curriculum that an opinion can’t be wrong, but that doesn’t mean that you can call anything an opinion and get away with it.

Well, what would make sense then is for this board to have a place where people can post things that are feelings they know to not be factually supportable and just represent their feelings. Perhaps we should have a forum where serious back and forth would occur, with each poster having to substantiate any claim he made. And then we could have another forum where people can just share what’s on their minds, knowing that their biases are playing a role in their beliefs and they probably wouldn’t stand up to close scrutiny in a way that they could convince anyone that what they’re feeling should be shared by others. I think of the first forum I describe as a “great debate” of sorts. And the second one more like a, well, “in my humble opinion”.

I think this would be a great addition to the board. What do you think? If people like it, I think you deserve at least half the credit, as it was your OP that started me thinking along these lines.

I think it would make discussions unreadable if everybody had to say “in my opinion” all the time. Fuck that. Anybody with a modicum of intelligence can already discern those distinctions anyway.

I agree, but I think it’s up top the poster. There are things that he might feel he can fully support and possibly convince other to see his way. Then there are other things that he might feel strongly about, say like, See’s Candies are the best, or Reagan was the best orator we’ve had as President.

Me too! Also, I think it would suck if people had to write, “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” after every post.

Got anything else COMPLETELY UNRELATED TO WHAT I WROTE to share?

I never said people should have to say “in my opinion” all the time, nor do I think that would be valuable.

Indeed, and those are opinions. They have no truth value to them.

If a poster says, “See’s Candies are the healthiest candy out there,” or, “Reagan’s oratory won the Cold War,” those are beliefs.

The former require no justification, nor are they especially interesting statements. They might do well in IMHO, as part of a poll.

The latter statements are beliefs that have controversial truth value. If you can’t back them up, why bother posting them?

In My Humble Opinion, it would never work.

I have no idea what you’re asking for then. What do you mean by “we should distinguish between facts, beliefs and opinions?” In what way? As far as I can tell, the readers and posters are already fully capable of understanding those distinctions.

Because we post here for entertainiment and flow of ideas, not anal, pedantic, humorless formal debates. Opinions get challenged all the time. I don’t see any value in adding a bunch of “opinion cops” to every discussion, blowing a whistle and calling the mods everytime somebody posts anything remotely subjective.

Besides, this is the designated forum for witnessing, whivch is nothing but beliefs and opinions.

Incidentally, your entire OP is nothing but an opinion posted in GD.

Oh, good, you DID have something else completely irrelevant to add! I was so hoping you would. What a delight that you’re the one making nearly half the posts in this thread.

Edit: to your last point, note once again the dependent clause I underlined above. When you said you have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s clear; that’s also a good sign that maybe you should quit typing and resume reading. Yes, my OP is an opinion. It is not an opinion unsupported by beliefs or facts; I offered my beliefs and facts (and a fourth category: definitions) to support my opinion.

Again, I’m not talking about IMHO. I’m not calling for the lack of opinions. I’m calling for an end to the lame defense of a stupid belief by saying, “But that’s just, like, my opinion, man!” No, it’s not your opinion: it’s a stupid belief, one contradicted by the facts.

I think the intent of the OP in its essence agrees with just about everyone, but the delineation given here begs its own question:

The threshold for “high degree of certainty” itself is always girded by debatable truth value.

I was thinking of posting that.

Exactly. There are dozens of threads in GD regarding the truth value of evolution.

I’m glad you’re addressing what I actually said; thanks for that! :smiley:

Right, there’s some debate around “high degree of certainty” at the margins. Consider, however a discussion of Egypt, especially in the discussion I linked to in the OP. There’s really not much controversy around a lot of the facts involved:

-Mubarak ruled Egypt for decades.
-He did not win office via free elections.
-GWB was president during part of that time.
-Bush, during that time, gave speeches about how the Middle East needed some democracy.
-Several years after those speeches, Mubarak was ousted from Egypt by a popular uprising.

All of those things are well-known facts, and unless someone came in genuinely disputing some of them, I wouldn’t expect any cites for them.

If someone made a claim that, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood represents a minority opinion Egypt, that might well be a fact, but a cite would be handy, since a lot of people would be unfamiliar with it.

There was a belief in the linked OP, that Bush’s speeches and policies were the cause of Mubarak’s ouster. That’s a belief with a truth value, and it’s something that can be debated.

When the OP was pressed to provide support for the position, he fell behind the defense of saying it was just his opinion, implying that he therefore needed no support for it and that it was just as valid as any other opinion.

It’s not an opinion. It’s a belief.

An opinion would be saying, “George Bush was a great president.” That’s a statement expressing a value, and while I think it’s a stupid opinion, it can be offered without evidence, because there’s no truth value there.

But when you say something that’s either true or false (such as claiming that Bush was responsible for Egypt’s potential for democracy), you really should back it up, no matter where you make the claim. “It’s my opinion!” is no excuse.

Edit: Muleskinner, if someone says, “It’s my opinion that evolution is bunk,” they’d be incorrect. That’s not an opinion, that’s a belief, and while opinions are neither right nor wrong, that belief is incorrect.

I have to take issue with one part of the OP:

That’s obviously fact, not opinion. :wink: Oh, and…my cite is your post. :smiley: