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Culture & Religion

What is the difference between ‘facts’ and ‘opinions’?

Is there a difference?

Photo credit: ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP / Getty Images

That’s just like, your opinion, man. — The Dude

It is a fact that the pyramids are in Egypt. It is a fact that raping children is wrong. It is a fact that two plus two is four. It is a fact that Odysseus’s wife is named Penelope.

I just identified four things as facts, and I expect that none of those four sentences would be challenged in normal conversation. Yet they are all very different types of statement (geographical, moral, mathematical, and fictional, to be precise).

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However, if I said that it is a fact that abortion is morally acceptable, or that there is no god, I would almost certainly be told that those are opinions. Further, I might be told that expressing those opinions as if they were facts constitutes a failure to “respect others’ opinions”.

Which raises the question: What is the difference between facts and opinions?

Given my examples, there seems to be an obvious answer: Things which are still socially undecided are opinions. Opinions are putative facts.

That is certainly the line taken by those who deny that Earthling organisms evolve through a process of natural selection. (“Teach the Controversy”)

But that can’t be right. If we mean anything at all when we identify something as a fact, it is not a fact by virtue of not being disagreed with. For: evolution did not become a fact when it was posited by Darwin, or when it was vindicated by successive scientists. It has been a fact that organisms evolve through a process of natural selection since organisms have evolved through a process of natural selection.

I (and all three dictionaries that I own) use factual as a synonym for true.

So, I cannot understand by what falsely modest reasoning I am expected to describe some of my beliefs as facts and others as opinions. The reason for this is that for something to be my opinion requires, by definition, that I think it is true. Given the definition above, then, I think my opinions are facts.

So, what is the difference between facts and opinions as we review them interiorly? Since we accept both as truth, there is no difference.


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