I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion.’ Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself, maybe to head off an argument or bring one to a close.

If I were to say that you are only entitled to that which you can argue for or are willing and able to defend, many of you would rise up against the assertion and accuse me of all manner of arrogance and condescension.

However, I'm of the belief that while we are entitled to our opinions, once we opt to express them in an open and public forum, we are inviting disagreement in the form of challenge, and thus are obligated to defend our opinions publicly articulated.

A bit harsh? Perhaps, but we owe it to ourselves and each other to construct and defend a valid  argument, couched in fact and/or science– and to recognize when a belief or opinion has become indefensible.

The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.

What is an opinion?

Plato distinguished between opinion or common belief (doxa) and certain knowledge, and that’s still a workable distinction today: unlike “1+1=2” or “there are no square circles,” an opinion has a degree of subjectivity and uncertainty to it. But “opinion” ranges from tastes or preferences, through views about questions that concern most people such as prudence or politics, to views grounded in technical expertise, such as legal or scientific opinions.

You can’t really argue about the first kind of opinion. I’d be silly to insist that you’re wrong to think strawberry ice cream is better than chocolate. The problem is that sometimes we implicitly seem to take opinions of the second and even the third sort to be unarguable in the way questions of taste are. Perhaps that’s one reason (no doubt there are others) why enthusiastic amateurs think they’re entitled to disagree with climate scientists and immunologists and have their views “respected.”

So what does it mean to be “entitled” to an opinion?

If “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion” just means no-one has the right to stop people thinking and saying whatever they want, then the statement is true, but fairly trivial. No one can stop you saying that vaccines cause autism, no matter how many times that claim has been disproven.

But if ‘entitled to an opinion’ means ‘entitled to have your views treated as serious candidates for the truth’ then it’s pretty clearly false. And this too is a distinction that tends to get blurred.

Don't confuse not having your views taken seriously with not being allowed to hold or express those views at all.

Put another way, Don't confuse losing an argument with losing the right to argue.

Again, two senses of “entitlement” to an opinion are being conflated.

A final note: A valid challenge of your opinion is not a personal attack.

By the same token, a personal attack is not a valid challenge of an opinion.

This, too, is all too often confused and conflated here.

A valid or legitimate or substantive challenge of an opinion rests on the facts the challenger brings to bear on the argument or case expressed or asserted by the writer.

Asking for the sources the author has relied on is not the challenge.

The expression of contravening facts with appropriate or relevant source material is the challenge.


Disrespectful, obscene, and vulgar epithets,  invective, and insults are not valid or legitimate challenges to an opinion.

The primary rule of civil discourse ought to be that we can agree to disagree without being disagreeable.

In this regard social media should not differ greatly from the halls of justice , the floor of a deliberative body, or the walls of academia...


Views: 129

Comment by koshersalaami on October 11, 2017 at 7:06pm

My comment from hours again didn't take. I like this post.

Comment by Ron Powell on October 12, 2017 at 6:09am

@TM;    "...in the arts no one would waste time debating why this baritone did a better job on a particular song cycle, they would just render judgement."

In the arts, there is as much debate about art as there is debate about anything else any where else in the world.

This is not about whether truth is arrived at through the process of discussion and debate. This is about the mode in which the discourse, discussion, argument, or debate is conducted:

"Disrespectful, obscene, and vulgar epithets,   invective, and insults are not valid or legitimate challenges to an opinion.

The primary rule of civil discourse ought to be that we can agree to disagree without being disagreeable."

Comment by Ron Powell on October 12, 2017 at 7:07am

"...in any case, i don't see anyone as obligated to defend their opinion, unless opinion leads to policy..."

This may be the case when the "opinion" articulated is an articulation of taste or prference.

However, once you undertake to defend your argument, it seems to me that you have an obligation to do so in a civil manner and in such a way that promotes discussion and the free exchange of ideas.

Calling the person who challenges your opinion names, or insulting that person, is not a valid or appropriate defense of the opinion as articulated.

Comment by koshersalaami on October 12, 2017 at 7:30am

Hard scientists don't use argument?? 

All fields use argument, including artistic fields. Critics always argue about why one thing is better than another. Demonstration is just part of argument in many of these cases, not that demonstration always works. There is now a growing flat Earth movement because apparently these people haven't bothered to look at worldwide airline schedules going around the world both ways or wandered over to YouTube and watched, I don't know, 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zyq5eN9C4Cc

which shows a launch from a rocket up to the beginning of orbit where you can clearly see the rim of Earth is curved and of course that there is a horizon to begin with. 

Even when minds are more open, demonstration doesn't always help. Within my parents' lifetimes and probably ours, medical science has changed its mind about how to treat burns. They're external and easily observable. 

Economics is observable but all sorts of experts get it wrong. Look at what the Republicans want to do with tax policy. The idea behind reducing taxes on the wealthy is that it would make more capital available for investments in ventures that hire people, even though we know ridiculous amounts of capital are already available. Bush 43 tried this and we got a Jobless Recovery. Why? Did anyone go ask a bunch of people with tax breaks why they didn't make such investments? Not that we had to, because business is observable: They invested elsewhere because they viewed financial instruments as more profitable. What makes ventures that hire people less profitable than they should be? Lack of demand. Why do we have lack of demand? Because huge swaths of America's population don't have disposable income. So where does that mean we need to put money?

Observable. Right out in the open. Doesn't mean Jack Shit. 

Comment by marshall bjohnson on October 12, 2017 at 9:26am

Ok.  I'll weigh-in. Although most people aren't going to like it....here's where i see amerikka and amerikkan discourse presently (am i channeling the gentle spirit of James Emmerling....?)

Militaristic and perfectionistic

Shaming and shut down

dependent and violent

cold and workaholic

religious and food addicted

enmeshed and distant

fear-based and atheistic

materialistic and narcissistic

secretive and in denial

rigid and punitive

corrupt and dysfunctional

self referential and vacuous

amerrika argues for politics of respectability 

aka the rule of law

democratic ideals

and amerikkan dream

but toxic masculinity and 

evil no nothings and do nothings

GHhhhhhhrrr gagging

on their own genitalia 

and no one is bettered

Comment by Tom Cordle on October 13, 2017 at 6:01pm

Some time ago, I got in trouble on Open Salon for stating one of my opinions, and that is that I have no obligation to respect someone else's opinion – that idea is patently absurd. If someone says the earth is flat, I have no obligation to respect that opinion, and I confess I'd have a hard time respecting the person who authored it.

I think most would agree with me on that score. The rub, of course, comes when one extends that attitude to other areas, say when one enters the pasture of sacred cows. Someone says the earth is only 6,000 years old – then what? Well, my attitude remains pretty much the same as in the first case.

Or to cite a real world example, an intelligent friend of mine told me he voted for Trump because he thought Trump might be the Anti-Christ. Respect that opinion? I think not, and my respect for the man in question was reduced considerably by that foolish and dangerous opinion.

Finally, let me qualify my objection by adding that while I have no obligation to respect someone's opinion, I do have an obligation to respect their right to express that opinion no matter how absurd or ignorant or how poorly opined. A fine distinction, I grant you, but an important one.

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