Opinion, fact and right to opinion

Opinion, fact and right to opinion
Opinion, fact and right to opinion

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A few days ago I was trying to explain to twelve-year-old girls and boys the difference between an opinion and a fact. I think it is essential to address these issues in the classroom at an early age, because it is discouraging to see how in the civic space there is a proliferation of citizens who do not limit both dimensions when expressing their opinion. This lack of distinction significantly harms and stalls public conversation, but also interpersonal relationships. I repeat to my young students that every time they express their voice publicly they should try to filter through the reflective sieve what they are going to say so that those who listen to them are not forced to the embarrassment of listening to opinions without any foundation. This personal duty requires care and consideration for what has been decided to express, but also for the intelligence that we should always assume in the people with whom we share it. One of the most common stumbling blocks that occur in the discursive regime lies in turning an opinion into a fact. The other is its inverse. Using a fact (especially in highly agonistic dialogues) to vindicate that the opinion expressed is a verifiable entity. Let’s unravel these deleterious habits and the discursive deterioration they cause.

An opinion is a personal point of view on an issue. Ortega y Gasset wrote that each person is a perspective of the universe, an assertion that beautifully and boldly summarises what it means to make assessments on any issue. On the contrary, a fact is something that happens or has happened and that can be demonstrated. If someone reports a fact, or attributes it to a third party, they must agree to present the evidence that confirms that the fact is true. It is very easy to demonstrate and document proven facts, what seems extremely difficult is not to fall into the temptation of dressing them up with opinion. It happens that most of the time our conversations do not point out facts, but their interpretations, which is nothing other than the opinion we hold about them. Opinions cannot be demonstrated, although they can and should be argued. Paradoxically, we tend to ask for proof from those who share an opinion, thus falling into a profound principle of contradiction, and if the person who gives his opinion does not see the aporia in which he has been discursively confined, the conversation will become byzantine and exhaustingly endless. This is the success of many sports discussions (and by extension also political, literary, artistic, and musical discussions). In them, demonstrative judgments are demanded from those who have simply shared their point of view and therefore can only present deliberative judgments. This is the source of many absurd dialogues.

But the mess doesn’t end here, it has just begun. There is a third vector whose boundaries should be clearly defined to avoid the dangerous impoverishment of ideas. The right to express an opinion must be clearly separated from the content of the opinion when that right is exercised. It is not harmful to show divergence, but it can be very damaging to deny the right to express it. It should be added that the right to express an opinion entails the duty to consent to its being replicated without anyone being victimized by it. On countless occasions, we hear in the agora such absurd statements as “it is my opinion and I have the right to have it respected”, “I respect both your opinion and the right to express an opinion”, “I don’t share what you say, but I respect it”, or the one that usually ruins any conversation that aspires to establish a shred of rationality: “I have my reasons and you have yours, and if I respect yours, you respect mine”. The pedagogy of dialogue warns us that these are discursive nonsense that should be replaced by coherent statements. I propose a few. “It is my opinion, but since I have made public use of it, you have the right to refute it if you do not share it.” “I respect that you have an opinion regardless of whether I later agree or not with what your opinion contains.” “I do not agree with what you say, but I think it is essential that the law protects you so that you can say it.” “Indeed, you have your reasons and I have mine, but we question them together not to choose yours or mine, but so that through dialogue we can reciprocally obtain better ones.”

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Photography: Non-Zero Sum Space. Work by William La Chace

 
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