Defending Diction: Argument and Opinion

In the opening article in this series, I stated that “the continual employment of words in contexts for which they were never actually intended and for conveying concepts they were never meant to represent… vitiate the words that they affect to the point that the effectiveness and meanings of the words are nearly diminished to extinction.” Such a misuse of the vessels of man’s concepts only assists those that require ambiguity, approximation, misrepresentation, and evasion to achieve their ends – those that attempt to reach their goals through processes of reason and clearly defined concepts are left at a linguistic disadvantage, as well as an epistemological disadvantage if they fail to recognize and correct the error.

As was the case with the misuse of the words “charity” and “altruism,” individuals possessing irrational philosophies often try to associate two very different words in order to lessen the very real value of one and to increase the imagined value of the other. On other occasions, they employ words that appear to make the indefensible, defensible, or at least make the indefensible appear as if it requires no defense. Such is the case of the two opposing concepts of argument and opinion.

For whatever reason, American culture seems firmly fixated on the presupposition that, because everyone has the right to speak freely, everything that proceeds forth from an individual’s mouth should be treated respectfully. Nothing could be further from the truth. “If this position were to be applied consistently, it means that every sophist, every racist, every bigot, every statist, Rep. Maxine Waters (who is of the opinion that the Tea Party ‘can go straight to hell’), and anyone else with an equally damnable personal belief is entitled to respect for those beliefs” (“The Caesar Effect”). Nevertheless, both statists and supposed liberty-lovers alike make this assertion, pleading pitifully at the first sign of opposition, “It’s just my opinion!”

Subsequently, anyone that presses for a defense of another’s “opinion” is scolded for being disrespectful, rude, or (heaven forbid) argumentative. Another equally miserable defense of a personal stance is, “Well, it’s just what I believe,” as if because someone believes something, it automatically means that what is believed has some measure of validity. The phrase, “It’s just what I think,” is no better if, as in the case of “belief” and “opinion,” the possessor of a given thought is still unable to offer a rational defense for said thought.

When I say that I have no particular value for anyone’s opinion except when solicited, it is because opinions have no value in discussions involving any aspect of reality qua reality: metaphysics, physics (and all other sciences), mathematics, epistemology, morality (and its derivative: politics), etc. This is due to three fundamental laws of metaphysics: 1. the law of identity, 2. the law of non-contradiction, and 3. the law of excluded middle.

  1. Reality and the laws that govern it are not subject to any man’s subjective will. What is, is (this is also called the “objectivity of reality”). Simply because we desire reality to be something other than it is, think that reality is something other than it is, believe that reality is something other than it is, or are of the opinion that reality is something other than it is has no effect on the fact that reality still remains as it is, which leads to the next proposition:
  2. It is impossible for something to be and not be simultaneously. As odd as it sounds, there are those that would argue against this principle (almost all of them in academia). This proposition is fundamentally true, because any attempt to negate it necessarily appeals to it. E.g., by saying that the law of noncontradiction does not exist, one accepts the conclusion that the law of noncontradiction can both exist and not exist at the same time, but since it is metaphysically impossible for the law of noncontradiction to apply and not apply simultaneously, the possibility for its nonexistence is obliterated and one must accept (if one is rational) that the law of noncontradiction exists.
  3. For every proposition, either it or its negation is true (also called the “law of either-or”). Because of the law of noncontradiction, both cannot simultaneously be true, but one of them must be. For example, for the proposition “my futon is black,” it must be true that either “my futon is black” or “my futon is not black” (my futon is black). There is no middle ground between my futon being black and not being black that could possibly be true – the proposition itself, or its negation, must necessarily be true.

Because of these three laws, the following can be deduced: 1. every opinion about reality does not have any effect on reality, 2. an opinion regarding reality cannot be both true and false at the same time, and 3. either an opinion about reality or the negation of it must must be true. For these reasons, every opinion about reality must be treated with the same scrutiny, and when questioned, given an adequate defense for its existence and truth if it is to be taken seriously.

Opinions, by their very nature, are not necessarily rooted in reality, because an opinion is nothing more than “a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.”* This is backed up by the etymology of the word, which comes from the Latin “opīnor” which means “I suppose, conjecture, deem.” As already demonstrated by the law of identity, just because one “supposes, conjectures, or deems” something as true does not mean that it is true, nor does it mean that it is even related to reality. Many children, for example, are of the opinion that the tooth fairy is real – this does not mean that simply because they believe it, their assertion should be taken too terribly seriously. (Very few adults are going to call upon a child to demonstrate the existence of the tooth fairy, but adults should not pout like children when they are called upon to defend their much more serious assertions.)

Quite oppositely, an argument is more than what most people consider it as being. Because of the conventional connotation attached to the word “argument” (which is one of anger and vitriol), people fail to see the legitimate meaning of the word, which is “a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.”* Again, this word comes from Latin. The Latin verb “arguō” can be translated as meaning “I argue” or, more importantly, “I prove.” Just as a lawyer argues before a court, an individual must argue using uncontradictory laws of logic in order to prove the legitimacy of his claims. It has nothing to do with a matter of respect (though unproven assertions, particularly dangerous ones, often deserve none), but instead it has everything to do with reality – that which is true and that which is false.

The source of ire in some when I ask them to prove their positions through logical arguments remains a mystery to me. Perhaps, it is because their philosophy is one which psychologically permits them to live in a world of assumption and approximation, living instead by one’s “gut,” and because anything that interrupts their complacency in that system upsets them. Or, instead, it results from metaphysical evasions such as those that are required when stating things like, “Everyone’s opinion has value,” or, “I don’t have to prove anything. It’s just my opinion.” It is also possible that the use of the word “opinion” to identify the decisions from the Supreme Court and others in the justice system has caused an unnecessarily high regard for opinions, ignoring that the crux of these decisions rests in the arguments behind the opinions.  Or, and I am sure this is the cause for much of the unnecessary resentment from those within the liberty movement who generally agree with me, it is due to the repeated and accepted precepts of, “Don’t argue with your parents,” and, “Respect your elders.” (A “lack of respect,” apparently, is equated with one’s attempts to prove something.)

In any case, this misconception surrounding the two words “opinion” and “argument” has continued much longer than should be permitted for two words so important and so commonly used in today’s world. While it may be true when one says, “I am of the opinion that…,” it bears no relation to the truth of the subsequent proposition and, consequently, reality as it is. Opinions are a sort of pre-argument – a conclusion lacking premises – that, until they are validated, are no substitute for rational discourse. Still, if someone asks for your opinion on something, by all means, share it. Even I ask for the opinions of those with whom I share similar tastes (i.e., personal values) on things such as restaurants and foods.

But, in cases regarding the absolute truth or falsity in reality, opinions are of no value. They are worthless. (Contemplate, for a moment, whether you would base jump from a ten story building simply because someone was “of the opinion” that it was safe, or whether you would receive a potentially deadly form of surgery simply because someone was “of the opinion” that it was safe – the same could be said for all variations of questions involving man’s safety and life.) Instead, argue. Argue clearly, argue honestly, and, above all, argue rationally – this is what must be done, not only for the sake of achieving a capitalist system, but for the sake of one’s survival.

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