Get to know your opinions


I told my class that for any statement in regards to the reality of the world, any proposition, there is a significant difference between possessing knowledge of that proposition and an opinion of that proposition. We decided to try and determine what exactly the difference is. We didn’t find an answer that satisfied anyone completely, but we believe we found something meaningful. That’s what philosophy is, by the way, trying to determine the exact nature of objects and concepts. At least to a significant degree. I mention that because many people seem to think philosophy is advice. Virtually any time you hear someone say, “Well, my philosophy is…” all they are going to say is something they believe works for a particular situation. “My philosophy is, you’ve got to live and let live.” That’s advice, it’s a different word for a reason. But I digest.

One thing that is the same about knowledge and opinion is that people claim to have them. A difference is that it is very unlikely that a person can state their opinion and be wrong. If Sheila says, “I don’t like blueberries.” it would be strange if she was wrong. Not lying, wrong. There’s a difference between being wrong and lying, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole.

Let’s go down this one instead, why isn’t there a possessive pronoun for singular subjects? I said, “…a person can state their opinion and be wrong.” In that sentence I stated a singular subject, and then used ‘their’ to refer to that subject’s opinions, but ‘their’ refers to possession by a group of people, right? Actually, never mind. English is fluid, it’s just kind of sticky mess of other languages in the first place, so why don’t we just declare that ‘their’ is a possessive case gender neutral singular subject pronoun as well as a possessive case gender neutral plural subject pronoun? Done!

Anyway, you’re unlikely to state your opinion and be wrong. Your claims to knowledge though? They can definitely be wrong. Probably are wrong most of the time. I don’t mean that as an insult, I mean it in the skepticism is the deal and it’s more than likely that nothing is as it seems, so no one can or does know anything sense. So no offense. Anyway, we thought that was important, that claims to knowledge are often wrong, while claims of opinion seldom are.

Being 4th graders, they wanted to know more. So we figured out why claims of knowledge are often wrong while claims of opinion rarely are. Claims of knowledge have an associated objective fact. if you say, “I know that the sun rises in the East” it’s either true or not true. Regardless of your belief in the sun rising in the east, (and at this point we realized there was this other thing we’d have to figure out, beliefs) it either does or does not. If it does, your claim of knowledge is true, if it doesn’t it’s false. You can’t know things that aren’t true.

Opinions, on the other hand, refer to subjective truths. Having the opinion “I don’t like blueberries” is determined by not liking blueberries. So a person can rarely be wrong about their opinions, as they are just statements of their feelings.

This raised a further question, if it is necessary for a proposition to be true in order to know it, is that all that needs to be the case to know something? We figured pretty quickly that you have to believe it, whatever that means. So, I asked, if I believe that it will rain on March 27th, 2028, and it does, did I know it? They informed me I did not, it had simply been a guess. Then what does it take to know something already?

“You have to have a reason!” said one exasperated 9 year old. A reason, I said, like what? “Like proof, evidence!” Ah ha, I said. So I wrote on the board To have knowledge of a proposition (p) you must believe p, p must be true, and your belief must be justified by something. 

I asked them then, what counts as justification? But then I realized we’d been talking for 90 minutes and it was time to go to lunch.  We’ll figure it out though, 4th graders are smart.


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