Opinion: Philosophical definitions

Elements of definitions

In the current language, to give one’s opinion is to give one’s “way of thinking”, in other words, assume the very subjective part of one’s words. Thus, opinion is based more on a feeling more than on a reality shared and observed by all.

Plato is the first to have thematized opinion in philosophy. In the Republic, he defends the opposition of the “doxa” (the opinion) and the “episteme” (the knowledge). Knowledge enables us to act wisely. Thus, power had to come back to the “knowers”, in other words, to the philosophers. In practical terms, the so-called “hard” sciences should not be reduced to knowledge and so-called “soft” sciences to opinions. The historian, like the mathematician, can both tell the truth. The difference between them will be the predictability of their statement: the causes of the American Revolution, if they are reproduced, will not necessarily lead to the same consequences. Arithmetic, on the other hand, is predictable.

In politics, opinion has even become a profession: poll institutes make their inquiries the pulse of the people and are responsible for measuring the state of mind of a nation or a group.

Public opinion is often relegated to the level of false knowledge. Now, it seems that opinion is actually not the opposite of knowledge, but its preamble, a sign of the erasure of ignorance. Before one knows that one burns oneself by the fire, do not one feel from the outset the danger? Yet only the contact of fire learns its dangerousness. Opinion, vague sentiment, prepares knowledge in many cases.

In the order of knowledge, therefore, opinion has a place halfway between ignorance and knowledge, in the sense that it is not yet founded or demonstrated.

Specific Quotes and Definitions

  • Opinion is something intermediary between knowledge and ignorance (Plato)
  • Public opinion is the intermediate faculty which seizes the things that float between the two extremes (Plato)
  • Opinion applies to what, being true or false, may be other than it is: in fact, opinion is the apprehension of an immediate and unnecessary premise (Aristotle)
  • Opinion, founded in the probable, perhaps also the name of knowledge (Leibniz)
  • Opinion is a belief that is conscious of being insufficient both subjectively and objectively (Kant)
  • An opinion gives for truth something that has been said, although sometimes they are absurd words, which mean nothing, impossible to understand (Hobbes)
  • Public opinion is the convergence of the opinions of the greatest number of people in a community, so that they form a common and dominant feeling, exerting diffuse pressure (Freund)
  • Many men are right in asserting the invariability of their opinions, but it is wrong to boast of them. It shows that they have not learned anything since the day they were formed. Such obvious proof of ignorance or imbecility is not displayed (Gustave Le Bon)
  • Numerous are the people who have never had other opinions than those of their journal (Gustave Le Bon)
  • It is not with reason, and it is most often against it, that the beliefs capable of shaking the world are built (Gustave Le Bon)
  • Public opinion is the queen of the world because stupidity is the queen of fools (Chamfort)
  • We must not judge men by what they do not know, but by what they know and by the way they know it (Vauvenargues)

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