Some Points on Knowledge and Opinion

Most people today have one foot in subjectivism, which is the doctrine that all knowledge is purely subjective, that is, nothing more than one's opinion, and that objective knowledge is not possible. They may not be total subjectivists, but they seem to be when it comes to philosophical or moral questions. Many people are under the false impression that science is about knowledge, whereas philosophy is about opinions. But this, again, is an impossible position. Here's why.

Opinion, as Plato pointed out, is neither ignorance nor knowledge, but something midway between the two. To know something as true is to know it as it is. Thus, knowledge bears upon what is, that is, its object is being. To hold an opinion is to make a judgment that might or might not correspond to what really is. Thus, opinion bears upon what possibly is the case, whereas to be ignorant about something is to possess no knowledge of it. Thus, ignorance bears upon nothing at all.

Furthermore, knowledge is characterized by necessity. It is not our opinion that 2+2=4, or that John is moral because All men are mortal, and John is a man. We know these conclusions are true, for they have the force of necessity. But if I were to interview you for ten minutes and conclude that you would make a good nurse, that conclusion would be no more than an opinion. My judgment could be mistaken. Thus, opinion is characterized by possibility.

A little reflection will also show that not every opinion is as valid as any other opinion. Your mother's opinion might be that you would not make a good nurse. Whose opinion is better? The answer is: the one with more data to support it. Your mother knows you better than I do, has seen how you handle yourself in stressful situations. She might know that you faint every time you see blood and can't stand hospitals, etc. Our opinions are not equally valid.

But another point to keep in mind. If everything is a matter of opinion, as many people like to believe today, then knowledge is impossible. And if knowledge is impossible, it is impossible to understand what an opinion is, or even to know that everything is a matter of opinion. For we only know what an opinion is against the background of knowing what "knowledge" is. We also know that opinion is uncertain, possibly mistaken, or possibly correct. But if we could not know anything for certain, if we could never be correct, then we wouldn't know what an opinion really is in the first place. And so it is simply not true that everything is a matter of opinion, nor is it true that every opinion is just as valid as any other.

Nor is it true that philosophy is a matter of opinions, while science is a matter of knowledge. This is easy to show. For as you know, experimental science resolves its conclusions through sensation, or sense experimentation. The word "empirical" means 'pertaining to sense experience'. Science requires empirical verification. But we know a host of things that we cannot verify empirically, that is, through sense experimentation. We cannot prove, through an experiment, that "Nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect". Yet we know that this is necessarily and absolutely true, because in order to declare it false, you would have to presuppose that it is true. The same is true for the principle of identity, and the principle of the excluded middle.

Next Page: Chapter 03: A Note on Holding Truth in Common
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26