A state of mind that assents to a judgment, while realizing that the opposite, or another point of view, may be true. It is opposite is certitude, an objectively well-founded and firm assent. Opinion, including in it the possiblity of gradations of truth, may vary from mere surmise to the settled conviction of a prudential judgment, a range commonly experienced while conducting the practical affairs of life. In this sense opinion is equivalent to a practical certitude that is conscious of the possibility of error. Since opinion involves making a judgment, however sure, it differs from doubt, defined as the suspension of judgment.
Kinds of Opinion. While differences between kinds of opinion are not too marked, one can distinguish various degrees. Suspicion or surmise means an opinion that is held on very low probability, since there is little evidence to rely upon. Hypothesis is a conjecture or tentative explanation of a fact or situation that is used as a norm in making observations and experiments. Not purely arbitrary, it is a reasonably entertained general opinion, often of an expert in the field, proposed with the expectation of its being later proved true or false, adequate or inadequate, by testing the predictions derived from the hypothesis.
Theory. The term theory has many meanings, but all of them include a lack of certitude, so it is classed as opinion. In one sense, it can mean any hypothesis, unverified or verified to a degree. In another, it can be limited to those hypotheses that have been somewhat confirmed and are thereby generally accepted, such as electromagnetic theory. In this sense, a theory is the educated opinion of a learned man. In a given area, such as psychology, there may be, and often are, rival theories—depending on the selection of initial principles of explanation.
Public Opinion. This is collective judgment rendered by a given society relative to some fact or tenet. The term, coined at the end of the 18th century, is reminiscent of the vox populi of the Romans. Public opinion may assent to something false, such as polytheism in a pagan society, or to something true, such as monotheism, or to a given side of a proposition that is only probable. Some members—even a majority—may have certitude about the view expressed; others may not. In a democracy this can give rise to crucial questions on the freedom of expression in morality, religion, politics, and education.
Opinion and Knowledge. Despite varying views on the nature and object of knowledge, philosophers have generally maintained a distinction between knowledge and opinion. For them the opposite of true knowledge is error and so is untenable; whereas the opposite of an opinion may reasonably be held. Thus, for plato, the objects of knowledge are the immutable and intelligible forms; for aristotle, the essential and the necessary; for Hume, the relations between ideas that can be proved; for kant, sensible presentations informed by the categories; for hegel, all of reality as one with Absolute Spirit. On the other hand, for Plato, the objects of opinion are sensible things that are always becoming and never truly are; for Aristotle, the accidental and contingent; for Hume, matters of fact; for Kant, the nonsensible, such as human freedom or the existence of God.
In each case the basic distinction is consistent with the view points of Plato and Aristotle: the man who knows not only asserts something to be true, but has adequate reasons for doing so; but the man who has opinion, even if it should happen to be true, cannot explain his stand, and so is insecure. Furthermore, in knowledge, the object itself compels the mind to assent; in opinion, some factor other than the object does this, for example, the will (Pascal, Thomas Aquinas, Hobbes), or sentiment or instinct (Hume).
Opinion and Dialectical Inquiry. In the Topics, Aristotle clearly distinguishes between demonstration, which results in scientific knowledge, and dialectical reasoning, which results in opinion and probability. The dialectical process proceeds by way of drawing conclusions, "certain things being laid down" (Topica 100a 25). In this sense, from the opinions of experts, in science or philosophy, one draws conclusions. It may also proceed by induction, "a passage from individuals to universals" (Topica 105a 13). In either case one arrives only at probability. So, as viewed by Aristotle, this sort of reasoning serves as a source only for new opinions, and it is midway between rhetoric and demonstration. dialectics, at first meaning the art of dialogue or discussion, has taken on many usages from Zeno to the present day; it is most closely linked with opinion in the Aristotelian usage.
See Also: dialectics; certitude, epistemology; methodology (philosophy).
Bibliography: l. m. rÉgis, Epistemology (New York 1959); L'Opinion selon Aristote (Ottawa 1935). j. oesterle, Logic (new ed., New York 1963). f. m. cornford, tr., Plato's Theory of Knowledge: The "Theaetetus" and the "Sophist" (New York 1952).
[r. f. o'neill]
o·pin·ion / əˈpinyən/ • n. a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge: I'm writing to voice my opinion on an issue of great importance that, in my opinion, is dead right. ∎ the beliefs or views of a large number or majority of people about a particular thing: the changing climate of opinion. ∎ (opinion of) an estimation of the quality or worth of someone or something: I had a higher opinion of myself than I deserved. ∎ a formal statement of advice by an expert on a professional matter: seeking a second opinion from a specialist. ∎ Law a formal statement of reasons for a judgment given. ∎ Law a lawyer's advice on the merits of a case.PHRASES: be of the opinion that believe or maintain that: economists are of the opinion that the economy could contract.a matter of opinion something not capable of being proven either way.
Hence opinionated XVII. f. †opinionate (XVI). opinionative XVI.