“My Opinion”

Happy New Year, provided you use a Roman calendar. I should do a post on calendars sometime. Anyway, I hope you like the new site. If you have any suggestions, email me at jim (at) realpeoplestuff (dot) com, or contact me over twitter or one of those other lovely media which are now in my sidebar. You may notice that the archives are a bit of a mess right now in terms of formatting, and I promise I’ll get them back in shape within the next few weeks, once I’ve finished moving and starting my term. The new year also finally heralds the return of the series I started and totally meant to finish on opinions, how we use them, and what they seem to mean. Despite the title, I’d like to think that this isn’t just my opinion, but an opinion backed up by meaningful justification. 

“It’s just my opinion” is a phrase that comes up in discussions I have a lot, and it’s a phrase I have a sort of love/hate relationship with. I like that you’re thinking about the kinds of things which would be needed to assert something in a discussion, but the fact that you noted that whatever assertion precedes or follows the phrase doesn’t have those kinda means you shouldn’t have made it. Moreover, it seems like a safety qualifier, like “No offense.” Ever notice that people only say that when they’re about to say something mean? Ever notice that despite saying that, we still tend to think they’re being mean? “It’s just my opinion” seems to work the same way. It seems to imply that  we shouldn’t hold the speaker as responsible for their assertion as we otherwise would, because it’s solely their opinion. And I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, if you’re willing to assert something without any justification beyond it being your opinion, I think we want to hold you more responsible. We could translate the phrase as “I have no other reason for thinking this is true, but hold it to be true anyway.” That doesn’t seem like something we’d want to endorse at all.

Think about all the opinions you have in a day. In a minute. How many of them, when you really get down to it, are just your opinion and have no other backing at all? Not Justifications are the foundation of opinionvery many, I’d wager. I’d be willing to bet that you have opinions for reasons, and that you think those reasons are pretty good ones. Whether they’re really good or not, that’s something we have to bang out in discussion. I wonder if  qualifying things by saying it’s just our opinion isn’t also a way of covering up our reasons, a shortcut to avoid justifying things. That bothers me, not just because I’m the kind of person who will delightfully spend four hours hammering out a point, but because it involves you undervaluing your opinions. If your opinions are backed by justifications, be proud of them! Let us all see, because if they’re good reasons, then they’re good reasons. If you let us think that it’s just your opinion, how can we do anything but treat it as such, an assertion rendered impermissible by lack of evidence.

Is this just my opinion? I don’t think so. I think we can agree that justification is important. That you hold a belief is important, but why you hold it is important too. What do you think?


  1. “Is this just my opinion? I don’t think so.”
    Since you assert that that an opinion should have “backing”, where is your proof? I read anecdotal evidence for your thought process, but nothing resembling an argument.

    Also, for an “opinion” piece, you’re awfully non-committal. Phrases like “it seems like”, “we still tend to”, “We could”, “I’d wager”, “I wonder if” pepper your article. In fact, there are 4 “if”s in the penultimate paragraph (198 words). Which is a high ratio. Especially for an article where you purport to be stating your opinion.

    And technically, it’s the New Year on the Gregorian calendar. Which is merely _based_ on the Roman (Julian) calendar. And this isn’t my opinion. :-)


  2. Thanks for commenting, OBI. You got to a key flaw in the post, which was that I didn’t make it clear enough that it’s not an opinion piece, rather that it’s an observation about how we use the phrase “my opinion”. Here I’m building on a few previous posts about opinions and beliefs where I try to make the case for justification being at least as important as an expression of a belief, or an opinion.

    A more technical argument against the use of “it’s just my opinion would be one that rests on the norm of assertion. If it’s permissible to assert something on belief alone (rather than on justified belief, justified true belief, or another alternative), we could permissibly assert anything we believed. If that’s the case, “Santa Claus is real” is as permissible as “Hydrogen has one proton”, regardless of the evidence for either case. If the truth of statements is a concern, then justification is a concern, because we can only ascertain the truth of statements through justification. Therefore justification ought to be part of a minimal standard for assertion. Some philosophers go even further on this, suggesting that we ought to only assert things that we have knowledge of. The one who comes to mind for me is John Turri, who advocates the express knowledge account of assertion (it can be found here).

    You’re also right that there’s a lot of ifs. I have a tendency to hedge my bets, partly because I don’t like to feel like I’m sure of the motives of others. I can talk about what they seem like, but it seems untoward to say that “When people use phrase x, this is what they mean”. Even in an opinion piece, per se.

    About the calendar thing, you’re right. No bones about that.

    Happy New Year!

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