Re: Guest Post - Moral-fact-less

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Is this an experiment to see how many threads you need to put up in a short amount of time to try to override a penis size discussion?


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:28 AM
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His frustration seems entirely reasonable to me. Massive parts of teaching introductory ethics is just dragging students kicking and screaming away from the idea that all value judgments are just opinions, none are any better than any other, and there's no way to reason about them.* Finding out that part of this is the direct result of them having that drilled into them as young as second grade (by discovering that your kid is has to say it in order to pass their classes) would be absolutely infuriating.


*Few to none of the students will actually act like they think this in practice, but it's so ingrained in the vocabulary that they use that it's really difficult to get around it when discussing ethics.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:37 AM
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Stop trying to circumcise the debate.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:38 AM
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I was taught that facts and opinions are opposites. It was a fundamental part of... English? class. This isn't some sort of Common Core thing.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:38 AM
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I see the problem, but I do want a word for the elementary-school distinction between things that could, in principle, be checked against the physical world, and things that can't.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:40 AM
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Sweet mother of God, the "NYT Picks" comments make me want to stab my eyes out.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:42 AM
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I've already spent too much of my time grumbling about this, so I'll just say that the blog post is entirely right to denounce the "fact/opinion" as incoherent. It is the number 1 thing i want schools to stop teaching, because it makes it so hard for me not only to teach ethics, but also to teach the philosophy of science. Not only does it leave ethics a collection of arbitrary preferences, it makes science a collection of static facts.

Gaa. And look the comments! Someone says that "George Washington was the first president of the US" is not a belief, it is a fact. Good god, that's like saying "This dog isn't a mammal, she is my pet."

For the love of all that is holy, can people distinguish, for once, between the world and representations of the world? I have a belief that George Washington was the first president. This is a fact about me. It is also true that George Washington was the first president. This a fact about George Washington. This is not rocket science people.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:43 AM
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5: Dog-eyed?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:43 AM
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"My dad is an obnoxious blowhard", maybe, or "There he goes again doing that thing that pleases him and against which I have no countermove but inward resistance."


Posted by: Vance Maverick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:45 AM
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John Hanson was the first president of the United States.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:46 AM
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Rob and MHPH get it exactly right.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:47 AM
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5. Depending on your moral theory (and I think most actually allow this) most moral evaluations can be checked against the physical world. I'm not sure the distinction is as useful as it sounds at first, or at least it's not applicable in any easy way that would be useful for elementary school kids.

You can come up with various (quite different) ways of drawing that distinction, but there's no straightforward one out there, even in a rough and ready form. I mean, do medical evaluations count as things that could be checked against the physical world? How about mathematical theorems? Metaphorical descriptions of things that could be cashed out in blunt descriptive phrases but haven't been? (etc.)


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:49 AM
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1: It's a plot to make me not finish my business case/financial analysis that I promised end of day yesterday.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:49 AM
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Massive parts of teaching introductory ethics is just dragging students kicking and screaming away from the idea that all value judgments are just opinions, none are any better than any other, and there's no way to reason about them.*

I agree that we should be able to introduce structure and shades of gray to the world of Teenage Opinions, but I guess I don't see how the categories of Fact and Opinion should be discarded. What labels should they teach instead?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:49 AM
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The question schools should be teaching kids to answer is, "What are effective ways of acquiring warranted beliefs, and why?", and the "fact/opinion" distinction is totally unhelpful, and indeed positively misleading, here.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:50 AM
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Actually, I found most of the Reader Picks comments to be not very good, especially the ones reiterating that there's nothing wrong with teaching a distinction between "facts (truths) and opinions (beliefs)". I haven't read the main article, but I sure do hate it when I run into full-grown adults who are about as sophisticated as the author's son.

elementary-school distinction between things that could, in principle, be checked against the physical world, and things that can't.

... physical world?

Anyway, what's wrong with "belief" in general (your beliefs can be checked) and "preference"? Most of the things people want to capture by "opinion" are things like "cheese is tasty" or whatever.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:51 AM
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*ahem*


Posted by: OPINIONATED SAMUEL HUNTINGTON | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:51 AM
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I'm not sure the distinction is as useful as it sounds at first, or at least it's not applicable in any easy way that would be useful for elementary school kids.

Isn't it useful because you're trying to move towards grounded opinions that are rooted in fact and use logical arguments, and away from unmoored opinions that lie in magical thinking?

I know nothing on this topic, and probably thought the NYT Best Picks were great or something embarrassing like that.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:52 AM
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The question schools should be teaching kids to answer is, "What are effective ways of acquiring warranted beliefs, and why?", and the "fact/opinion" distinction is totally unhelpful, and indeed positively misleading, here.

Have you talked to kids? That's a pretty intense question. Isn't the first step just distinguishing a belief from a tangible fish?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:53 AM
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This is about epistemology in the end, isn't it? Only assholes and world-changing geniuses worry about epistemology very often. I quite like folk epistemology.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:54 AM
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It sounds like the problem is that K-12 stops after distinguishing fact and opinion, and fails to deal with how the two might interact, no?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:54 AM
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"How do we know when something is true or not? How could we figure it out?" doesn't seem like something that would pose too much conceptual trouble for kids. And nosflow is right about belief/preference, which really is what's important to be teaching.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:54 AM
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2 also applies to aesthetic opinions! There's no way to dispute reasonably about them, you just like something or you don't, end of story! STAB


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:55 AM
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My concern is that, when handled at the grade school level, things will never reach the point of useful reasoning about how to acquire warranted beliefs, and instead students will be left with a vague impression that the Smart Folks know that there's no fact/opinion distinction and so it's all, /The Dude/ like, just your opinion man. /The Dude/

Or in other words, I think addressing subjects like this badly tends to be far worse than not addressing them at all.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:55 AM
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but there's no straightforward one out there, even in a rough and ready form.

I would disagree about the 'rough and ready' part of that, or maybe I'm willing to accept more rough and readiness than you are (or, to put it another way, I am absolutely certain that there are going to be plenty of hard cases and probably in many cases irresolvable ones at the edges of the distinction I want to make, but I deny that they are such as to render the distinction meaningless or useless in practice). For your examples, I don't know what you mean by 'medical evaluations', mathematical theorems can go in their own category that you can call by the same name as 'things that could be checked in principle against the physical world' or not, I don't care, and for metaphorical descriptions, the category I want to use would apply to the denotation of the description, not the verbal form of the words used to denote it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:56 AM
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School is stupid. Just my opinion.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:57 AM
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most moral evaluations can be checked against the physical world.

29% interest is unfair.
It's OK to dowload a scanned copy of a 50-year old academic book from a pirate website.
Holy shit this pack of teenagers looks rough-- I'm going to sit in a different metro car, I am uncomfortable here.

How would I proceed with evaluating any of these?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:57 AM
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Yes.
Yes.
If the have a screwdriver, you can shoot them.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:59 AM
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This is a ppt slide I use to try and combat this fact/opinion nonsense. I also uploaded a question from one of my ethics tests to the flickr pool.

I am being trolled here. I know it. You are pushing my buttons to keep me from working. Fine.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:02 AM
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What's this "checked against the physical world" that keeps coming up?

One can't castle using a rook that's already been moved—checkable against the physical world?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:02 AM
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do medical evaluations count as things that could be checked against the physical world?

Not meaning to be too argumentative here, but for very many evaluations, yes. Starting with very old ones, culturing the bacteria coincident with symptoms, looking at them in the microscope, staining them, checking which antibodies are present.... Maybe you meant something else with this?

26. Trevian.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:04 AM
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"George Washington was the first president of the US" is not a belief, it is a fact.

I do in fact believe that you believe it is a fact.


Posted by: MAE | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:05 AM
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27. last - " Depending on your moral theory"

Is pleasure or pain something that can be checked? (It better be or we're is some real psychological trouble.)
Is "does this break (or is it required by) something on this list of duties and prohibitions?" something that can be checked? (It better be if we're going to have laws.)
Can we check whether or not something (like a behavior) represents or exemplifies something about a person that makes them better or worse (as a person)? (We probably should be able to if we want to know whether or not someone's organs are functioning properly.)

Establishing theories is hard*, but for the most part once you've done that applications are theoretically possible because that is a large part of the point of thinking about the theories.

*I suspect this may also be true for things like physics.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:06 AM
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I'd put it in the same box with mathematical theorems -- logical deductions from a set of axioms like the rules of math or chess. They're like things-which-can-be-checked-against-the-physical-world, and if you wanted to give them the same name, I'm good with that, or if you wanted to maintain a distinction between the two, that'd be fine as well. (And of course there are going to be statements that combine elements of both.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:06 AM
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29: I don't see how that is showing there is a lack of distinction between facts and opinions. Take two controversial statements (the one about a planet around Alpha Centuri and the one about abortion). If you were trying to convince somebody about those things, you'd use completely different types of arguments.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:06 AM
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34 to 30.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:07 AM
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35: I'm not sure why you think that matters? I mean, I'm willing to distinguish between a fact (which is the case regardless of whether someone opines accordingly) and an opinion (whose substance may or may not be the case, but definitely requires an opiner). But I don't make the distinction by subject matter.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:08 AM
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31 - and once you've done that, then what?

I mean, imagine if you went to the doctor for routine testing and got this:

Doctor: Well most things look within the statistical norm, but your (kidney thingy) is two standard deviations from the mean.
You: Wait, in a good direction or a bad one?
Doctor: Well that depends on your normative framework...

I mean, maybe you'd think "ah this doctor has a fascinating conceptual framework", but I think the more normal response would be "OH MY GOD I'M GOING TO DIE".


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:09 AM
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37: I wasn't getting at the subject matter per se. I was thinking in general term. I was trying to get at "checked against the physical world" in a different way.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:12 AM
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I feel genuinely clueless and at a loss here. Helpy-chalk's slide looks great - controverial vs. uncontroversial is a really useful distinction, both for facts and beliefs. I just don't see how the facts/opinion distinction undermines the later conversation, aside from kids being stubborn jerks about mindsets that enable complacency.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:14 AM
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Seems to me that the worldview Helpy Chalk and Nosflow describe (roughly, naive beliefs physical world are real because "facts," everything else (ethics, politics, aesthetics) is an "opinion" subject not only to no conclusive refutation, but not even analysis) is overwhelmingly dominant in the US today, and that pushing against that, even a little, will be far more beneficial than the risk that some kids pick up extreme hippie views about the relativeness of science or whatever.


Posted by: Tim "Ripper" Owens | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:14 AM
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I thought Helpy Chalk and Noflow were on different sides of this.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:16 AM
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40: because "fact" (GW was the first president) and "opinion" (I believe that GW was the first president) isn't … I mean, what use do you think that distinction does?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:17 AM
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Helpy-Chalk, MHPH*, x.trapnel, and I are on the same side, as far as I can tell.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:17 AM
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38. If the bacteria is strep, there's a clear prediction for what will happen if untreated, and a clear treatment.

I guess you mean medical judgement in ambiguous cases. Maybe those where there are lots of treatment options or where there's not much of a basis to predict treatment efficacy; for those, sure.

But a whole lot of medicine is pretty unambiguous, from diagnosis to choice of treatment, so not like that.

Maybe I'm still not understanding what you mean.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:17 AM
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Take two controversial statements (the one about a planet around Alpha Centuri and the one about abortion). If you were trying to convince somebody about those things, you'd use completely different types of arguments.

Not necessarily --- in some circles you would cite to Scripture in either case.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:20 AM
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41: I guess I'm just pessimistic in thinking that, unless it's pursued to a fairly advanced level, blurring the naive fact/opinion distinction is just going to lead to sloppier reasoning about facts, not clearer reasoning about opinions.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:20 AM
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Oh man I need to be working but aggh.

Part of what's frustrating about this is that the F/O distinction also conflates issues of metaphysics with those of epistemology.

The truth of a statement may be more or less dependent on human activities or mental states--at one end, what happened in the Big Bang; on the other end, my emotional state at this moment; and in a more complicated area, the rules of chess, or the semantic meanings of words, which are independent of individual speakers/players but obviously dependent on the history of a language/game-playing community. So it's important and interesting to learn about different degrees of metaphysical objectivity in this sense. But "fact vs opinion" isn't very helpful here at all; it's not making clear the real issue, which is that there are different ways in which the truth of something could depend on individual people or collectives. And it's also a bad way to characterize the "belief vs. desire/preference" distinction, if that's what you're going for.

And then with epistemology/philosophy of science, we want to know what makes us justified or warranted in believing truths of various sorts. But here, too, "fact vs opinion" just doesn't seem to be getting at the important distinctions, which have to do with different kinds of reasons, evidence, reliability of institutions or perceptions, that sort of thing.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:20 AM
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45: Is the dr. just supposed to assume that your existence is more valuable than that of the bacteria?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:22 AM
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40: because "fact" (GW was the first president) and "opinion" (I believe that GW was the first president) isn't ... I mean, what use do you think that distinction does?

I'm not totally sure what you're getting at, but I'd use that language with my kids and wouldn't think twice about it.

I guess what's confounding me is "How could fact vs. opinion be so awful and destructive, if I've gotten along using it perfectly well for 37 years?" I mean, I teach baby logic and say things like "statements are things that are true or false" all the time.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:24 AM
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41 is a good summary, basically I agree with this.

But how do you introduce ethical analysis to a framework in which "A strong work ethic is good" is a fact more fundamental than atomic weight of hydrogen? The only examples which can be presented of constructed or contingent ethical systems must not touch either the founding fathers or the bible.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:25 AM
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In other words, maybe "fact vs opinion" is really bad for philosophy professors, but a pretty handy distinction for other fields.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:25 AM
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Opinions can be divided into beliefs and preferences. Facts are things that you can try to discern the truth of by comparing against a real world. What's the problem?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:26 AM
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This thread is making me sad about how much of this stuff I've forgotten in the (almost a) decade since I left University. Now I get as far as vaguely thinking "justified true belief..." before losing track and wondering if it's time to make another cup of tea.


Posted by: Heloise | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:29 AM
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50: I'm just asking what the utility of the distinction is, for you.

If you use "opinion" as something like "sentence in baby logic", then sure, it isn't very bad, because along with that goes "the sentence/opinion has a truth value". But that's not the way the distinction generally gets used. It generally gets used as:

fact: it's true!
opinion: yeah well that's just, like, your opinion, man. (no point in disputation because it's not even really truth-evaluable).


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:30 AM
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You know what makes me sad. The cutting off of my balls.


Posted by: Opinionated Abelard | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:32 AM
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29 also goes to the snowman picture from earlier this winter. I liked that one. Fact!


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:34 AM
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47 - I think the reason to think that it would be better to give them basically no distinction rather than a bad one is 2.*. People pretty much already act like they don't think that's the real distinction or that it works that way in their normal lives (because, you know, they actually do think less of bad people) but they nevertheless have ended up with this bizarre vocabulary which makes it really really hard to talk about that.

Also, 45, 'treating' is pretty much giving the game away too: if you show up at the emergency room with one femur in your leg they don't treat it (because it can't be treated because it's not a problem with your leg ), but if you show up with two bones in there with jagged edges on them...

I mean, you're not adding in some additional normative bit to the practice of medicine, but it's because the practice of medicine already involves treating/fixing/curing/etc. things, which means it's already evaluative right down at the core. That's what makes it medicine in the first place.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:35 AM
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56: virtue theory epistemology suggest my loss is much more tragic


Posted by: Heloise | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:35 AM
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I chuckled at 59.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:36 AM
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58.3 strikes me as wrong or at least incomplete. There are whole bunches of medicine where "let's fix this problem" is completely insufficient as a normative grounding.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:37 AM
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My flapping scrotum spits at your laughter.


Posted by: Opinionated Abelard | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:38 AM
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The fact/opinion ship has sailed. Give up. I've given up on 'literally' meaning the opposite of what I used to think it meant, and I'm spring-loaded to accept whatever the next stupid crap is. I'm much happier and less stressed for it. It's not just my opinion, it's a fact.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:39 AM
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It generally gets used as:
fact: it's true!
opinion: yeah well that's just, like, your opinion, man. (no point in disputation because it's not even really truth-evaluable).

This does seem super annoying! Why doesn't that mean that the next step is to fine-tune what it means for an opinion to be grounded or reasonable vs. unmoored or unreasonable? If F/O is used to mean true/disputable, why throw out the true/disputable distinction altogether?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:46 AM
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I believe that there is a television show called Justified but I've never watched it and have no opinions about it.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:47 AM
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I've given up on 'literally' meaning the opposite of what I used to think it meant

That isn't stupid crap!!!!!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:48 AM
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I didn't know your other blog was still being updated.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:49 AM
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66: Feel the power of the Dark Side, Neb...


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:50 AM
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67: very intermittently.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:52 AM
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I agree with Heebie in 64. If the real concern is that people treat all opinions as totally arbitrary and equal and not amenable to disputation, it seems like you could address that without trying to do away with the standard fact/opinion distinction.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 10:54 AM
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66: It's literally stupid crap, sensu stricto.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:00 AM
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Back to the OP, I think this link he gives about the Declaration of Independence gets at why this fact/opinion nonsense is so unhelpful:

Fact or Opinion? Analyze the following passages from the Declaration of Independence. Determine whether the claim made by the author is a factual statement (that can be observed and/or proven)or an opinion, which reflects what the author thinks or how the author feels toward the subject of separation from Britain.

Statement:
FACT?
OPINION?

1. When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another...
2. We hold these truths to be self‐evident, that all men are created equal...
3. Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it...
4. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes...
5. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance...
6. He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures...
7. For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent...
8. In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms...
9. We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America...by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States...
10. For the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

What is the author's primary claim (opinion) which is supported by evidence (facts) offered in this document?

How the hell is the "can be observed and/or proven" vs "reflects what the author thinks or how the author feels" a useful distinction in analyzing the arguments here? It's helpful to unpack the arguments, to see where they depend on other unstated claims, and where claims about ultimate value are near the surface (#2) vs deeper in the background (#4, #6), but "fact vs opinion" doesn't help with that.

Also, #10 is a performative utterance; how the fuck are you supposed to put that in a "fact" or "opinion" box?


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:00 AM
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70. How? The most important facts, beliefs, and preferences in ordinary life are all social.

Basically, I suspect there's a lot of tension between what's philosophically defensible and what's pedagogically effective.

Talking about scientific abstractions and epistemology is not going to change how people think about their church.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:05 AM
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Basically, I suspect there's a lot of tension between what's philosophically defensible and what's pedagogically effective.

Pedagogically effective to what end? What are the merits of very effectively teach shitty, confused, unproductive ways of dividing up the world?


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:10 AM
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Political science?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:10 AM
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Military history?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:12 AM
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teach shitty, confused, unproductive ways of dividing up the world?

Yes, I also prefer thinking about hard sciences. But most people think about social realities most of the time. I don't know how to think about those effectively, much less how to suggest teaching them to distracted kids.

Internal versus external focus seems useful as a starting point.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:16 AM
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Pedagogically effective to what end? What are the merits of very effectively teach shitty, confused, unproductive ways of dividing up the world?

I really am missing something - why is it the F/O starting place, and not the lack of pedagogical follow-through as in 64, that is shitty/confused/unproductive?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:17 AM
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I guess I'm thinking about this primarily in terms of "What are the most likely outcomes in practice for students who go through exercises like this?" rather than "What positions are convincing to people with extensive educations in philosophy?"

On that basis, I'm still inclined to the view that, with respect to these types of epistemological issues, a little knowledge is worse than none at all in terms of making people receptive to bad arguments or flim-flammery.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:19 AM
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72. 5,6,7,8 describe events that happened, read like facts to me. Possibly tendentiously, room for definitional dispute, but statements about an objective external world. 1-4 are opinions. Is there an answer key?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:19 AM
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On that basis, I'm still inclined to the view that, with respect to these types of epistemological issues, a little knowledge is worse than none at all in terms of making people receptive to bad arguments or flim-flammery.

Like, say, being taught to divide all assertions into the mutually exclusive and also apparently exhaustive categories of "facts" or "opinions"?


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:22 AM
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80: I'd throw in 9 as a fact (or, as my suggested category of checkable things) -- that is, 'solemnly publish and declare' describes something that's happening in the external world, and agree with x.trapnel that 10 is an utterance that isn't well described as either of the options given.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:22 AM
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78/64 - The problem from what I've seen is that they're also teaching children about tolerance and respecting others.* (And more or less in the same context, at the same time, and so on.) And that plays holy hell with taking that category (inasmuch as there is a coherent one there at all) to amount to questions of personal taste.

This is part of the reason that it's such a serious problem when trying to do ethics: if literally any value claim is the equivalent of "I like vanilla ice cream" then there's no way to dispute/evaluate/etc. those things which isn't just being a jerk to someone.

*Which is good and necessary! But you really can't combine it with that general F/O distinction and not end up with people who think that opinions of any kind are indisputable.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:24 AM
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Those people would have been assholes regardless of what they were taught. It's genetic.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:26 AM
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Ok, 83 is starting to explain things to me. And in fact, Hawaii's elementary school is really big on character traits like tolerance, not bullying, respect, etc. There's a big assembly once a month and various kids get knighted for exemplifying that month's trait.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:26 AM
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81: Is the problem "mutually exclusive and also exhaustive", rather than that there's a problem with drawing some kind of distinction that roughly lines up for some part of the conceptual space with the fact/opinion distinction? I mean, I'm happy to say that the fact/opinion distinction (or anything much like it) doesn't line up well at all with normative claims about right and wrong.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:31 AM
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And 'fact/opinion' distinction also seems odd to me, even in the part of conceptual space where I do want a concept that's something like 'fact'. I mean, opinions/beliefs are states of mind, and some of them are about things that seem to me to be 'facts'(or a better defined concept that's pretty close to 'facts') and others don't. "Alexander Hamilton was the third president of the United States" is an opinion about 'facts', and it's an incorrect opinion. "Butter pecan ice cream is tastier than rocky road" is an opinion about preferences, and I don't really think it's eligible for being right or wrong.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:37 AM
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Facts := simple facts, things I am not willing to discuss their truth. It's really an emotional definition.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:39 AM
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72. 5,6,7,8 describe events that happened, read like facts to me. Possibly tendentiously, room for definitional dispute, but statements about an objective external world. 1-4 are opinions. Is there an answer key?

But 5 is heavily dependent on what "immediate and pressing importance" means; values are definitely lurking there, if that's what marks the distinction.

And #1 is just a sentence fragment. WTF, worksheet writers.

80: I'd throw in 9 as a fact (or, as my suggested category of checkable things) -- that is, 'solemnly publish and declare' describes something that's happening in the external world

Since #9 is the key sentence here, the part that actually does the declaring, it's rather important that--so I claim--trying to just shoehorn it into "fact" misrepresents it badly.

When taken as a whole, the "publish and declare" makes it a performative utterance like #10, or "I now pronounce you..."; it doesn't have a truth value, it's an action that makes it true going forward that the speakers published & declared something, and carries with a claim that they have the appropriate authority to so declare it. The statement within it, "are and of right ought to be" etc., is both making another performative utterance, declaring the states' independence--purporting to make it true by fiat that they are now independent--and joining to that declaration a clearly normative claim that this independence is justified.

In other words, it's a very complicated sentence, and "fact/opinion" doesn't help clarify this complexity at all!


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:40 AM
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People should just re-read x.trapnel's 48.

Both "Alexander Hamilton was the third president of the US" and "Butter pecan is tastier than rocky road" appear to be making assertions about the way the world is (about, as many would put it, factual matters), but, while the truth of the first has to do with the way things are with Hamilton and the US and whatnot (and does not have to do with the state of mind of the speaker), the truth of the second does not, despite its apparent formal similarity, have to do with butter pecan and rocky road and whatnot. The second, though it appears to be making a claim about the way the world is independent of the speaker, is really* an expression of how things are with the speaker's preferences. (So is the explicitly preferential statement "I prefer butter pecan to rocky road", so we have to be careful about what sort of general statements we make here, but whatever.)


"fact" vs. "opinion" is not an enlightening way of negotiating this stuff.

* or close enough


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:44 AM
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Oh hi there x.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:45 AM
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I'd agree with that about 10 -- that "pledging" is performatively complicated. But 'publish and declare' seems much simpler to me -- that is, on July 10, someone asking "Anything interesting published recently?" in an appropriate media market would get a simple answer. There's a little temporal difficulty -- "we... publish and declare" is false before the time of publication and true afterwards, but it doesn't seem that complicated otherwise.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:46 AM
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90.1 gets it exactly right.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:47 AM
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87,88: This is what bothers me about the whole exercise. "How justified am I in my belief that it's snowing outside, given that I'm currently looking out my window and watching snow fall?" is a pretty large subject that people before and since Descartes have written about extensively. Are they planning to cover this in grade school?


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:48 AM
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90 is super confusing.

"Alexander Hamilton was the third president of the US" and "Butter pecan is tastier than rocky road" appear to be making assertions about the way the world is (about, as many would put it, factual matters),

The former is fact and the latter is opinion, no?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:48 AM
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I'd say that a speaker could have opinions or beliefs about both -- in the first case, those would be opinions about facts, and in the second, opinions about preferences.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:51 AM
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95 is right for unusually Thomas Jeffersony values of Alexander Hamilton.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:52 AM
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92: I feel like you're really missing what's going on in that sentence. Look at the next clause, together with the first two; the sentence is making the states independent. Before that sentence, they were not; now they are. In terms of what the sentence does, it's much more like "I now pronounce you husband and wife" or "I sentence you to death" or something than "I declare that yesterday it rained." We typically think that the Declaration marked the legal existence of the states as independent from Britain, because we accept that they actually had the authority to perform the speech act they purported to in #9 (or at least that it retrospectively came to be true that they did).


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:53 AM
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The former is fact and the latter is opinion, no?

They're both opinions.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:56 AM
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I do recognize that I'm on the dumb side of this dispute. And I'm not arguing that it makes pedagogical sense to teach kids that everything is either a statement of objective fact or an opinion that there's no way of assigning a truth-value to; I completely agree that it's pointless and stupid to treat fact and opinion as mutually exclusive and exhaustive in that way.

I just really like having some kind of conceptual breakline that falls between statements about who was the third president of the US and statements about which kind of ice cream is tastier, roughly where the borders of 'fact' are meant to be drawn by people being being pointless and stupid. What to do with the universe of assertions that aren't within those borders is complicated, but I don't want to give up some kind of 'fact' concept.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:57 AM
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They would both be opinions even if Alexander Hamilton had been third president of the US. My opinion is that he was the third president, and also it's a fact that he's the third president. These are compatible.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:57 AM
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99:You're saying that kids should be taught that the first statement is an opinion?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:58 AM
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in the first case, those would be opinions about facts, and in the second, opinions about preferences.

This strikes me as an exceptionally unhelpful way of putting it.

An opinion about a preference: "Your preference for chocolate ice cream over rocky road is understandable, given your nut allergies."

"Chocolate is better than rocky road" expresses a preference.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:59 AM
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102: are you just straight-up trolling now?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:01 PM
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48,90 Fine, but neither epistemology nor metaphysics is suitable for a classroom of kids. New math that tried introducing set theory before multiplication seems equally misguided.

Talking above about beliefs that can be analyzed, what might be helpful are realistic examples of beliefs that can be analyzed and then modified in a way that makes sense to a roomful of kids. Sesame street actually does this pretty effectively.

Again, abstraction is very powerful for a lot of intellectual endeavor, but trying to teach it is pushing water up a hill. Why teach the general principles early?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:01 PM
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98: I was kind of thinking that I didn't have to deal with that part of the sentence -- that it was factually true (and could have been false, if the declaration had been written but then left in a drawer, unread) that the rest of the sentence had been published and declared, whether that publication and declaration was successful/truthful/whatever you call a performative utterance that works or not. But I take your point, and refer to my 100 for my overall position -- not that there isn't complicated stuff going on, and splitting up the universe of assertions into facts and opinions is, I agree, very problematic. But I still want to be able to call things either statements of fact (or, something better defined but roughly similar. Checkable against the external world), and not-statements-of-fact, allowing for some hard cases.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:03 PM
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104: Well, just you. I thought we were just saying silly things now.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:03 PM
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"We"? Maybe you should re-read 7.2.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:04 PM
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Ok, sincere question: what ought to be the primary launching off point that replaces F/O?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:05 PM
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Fine, but neither epistemology nor metaphysics is suitable for a classroom of kids. New math that tried introducing set theory before multiplication seems equally misguided.

The above pretty much sums up my view on this.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:07 PM
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I say they all start with Prior Analytics, because I don't have children and I think that would be hilarious.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:07 PM
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"Philosophers are tiresome": fact.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:08 PM
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What second graders should really be focusing on are trolly car problems.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:09 PM
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113: "trolly" = "trolley".


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:11 PM
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109: maybe you should re-read 22.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:11 PM
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Trying to formalize it: Facts are statements that the world models. That is, it's true (which is a can of worms that's entirely beyond my ken, but you know what I mean.) Beliefs are statements that are held by someone; that is, the world models the statement Believes(the person, the belief).

A belief can also be a fact by account of being a true belief; that is, the world would model both X and Believes(some person, X). And if person Y believes statement Z (even if Z is false), Believes(Y,Z) is a fact (about a belief).

That definition of "belief" seems pretty close to how nosflow is using "opinion", although I'm probably missing something. A preference is an opinion involving an ordering function.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:12 PM
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"How do we know when something is true or not? How could we figure it out?" doesn't seem like something that would pose too much conceptual trouble for kids. And nosflow is right about belief/preference, which really is what's important to be teaching.

115 is a fact!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:13 PM
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Massive parts of teaching introductory ethics is just dragging students kicking and screaming away from the idea that all value judgments are just opinions, none are any better than any other, and there's no way to reason about them.

But is this idea not implicit explicit in post-modernism*, and was there not until very recently a large body of opinion that such thinking represented the greatest intellectual advance since articulate speech or thereabouts?

*Yes, I know "culturally determined"; but in practice much the same thing.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:13 PM
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Oh my god, now I know why I was irritated, you're on fucking Aristotle's side. Please, go count teeth, write the answer in ether, and then explain the different kinds of causes to the freaks in Freaks and Geeks.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:14 PM
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117 is right that 115's referring to 22's agreement with 16 is a good start at answering 109.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:15 PM
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I suspect the extent to which that's an accurate characterization of pomo-dom has been greatly exaggerated.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:15 PM
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I just really like having some kind of conceptual breakline that falls between statements about who was the third president of the US and statements about which kind of ice cream is tastier, roughly where the borders of 'fact' are meant to be drawn by people being being pointless and stupid.

If we're talking about the metaphysical question, I already gave you a better way of thinking about it in 48: objective (water is H20, totally independent of all humans) vs subjective (strawberry ice cream tastes best to me--depends totally on this human) vs intersubjective ("'capybara' denotes a large rodent in English"--depends on the community of English-speakers); it's not perfect but it's much better than "fact" vs "opinion".

Notably, this way of dividing things up doesn't smuggle in some confused answers to unasked questions about the nature of normativity, of "ought-ness". What makes it the case that eating babies is wrong? We might think, with relativists, that it's only wrong, if it is, because of the preferences or desires of the individual not-baby-eater, in which case it's like strawberry ice-cream tasting best to me, but most of us don't think that's what makes it wrong at all; we think the wrongness is determined by features outside of the individual actor. Now what exactly those features are is a hard question, but if we just say "fact/opinion", where opinion is like strawberry icecream, and shove baby-eating in there, too, we're putting things together that probably oughtn't go together, and we're saying they're together because they're both on one side of a very fundamental distinction. So we shouldn't do that.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:15 PM
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118 - In some circles and to some extent, yes. But not really in Philosophy.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:17 PM
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It should not be a surprise that there is rampant cheating on college campuses: If we've taught our students for 12 years that there is no fact of the matter as to whether cheating is wrong, we can't very well blame them for doing so later on.

This seems not only wrongheaded, but contradictory to his own argument. Have we inculcated moral relativism or just made inarticulate moral creatures?


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:18 PM
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... and 22 is a good starting point for the epistemological question, which is, I think, both more important and much easier to teach.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:19 PM
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Have any of you had any luck teaching your children "this is wrong, here's what you have to say to get it right on the test, and here is how I think you should think about it?" That seems like a handy, rare skill.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:20 PM
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22 is wrong.

I don't know how to determine whether most statements about people are true. I don't have much confidence that others know how either. 29% interest, fair or not? How do we decide?

There are different classes of statements, about atoms, about rules of games, about ice cream, where assessment is pretty straightforward. These kinds of statements are marginal for ordinary human experience, they are atypical and remote. Starting with these, which people can at some level manage, as pedagogically helpful is an error.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:22 PM
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Not so explicitly with tests yet, but yes with different behaviors allowed in versus at home - swearing, talking bluntly about religion, talking about someone's dead grandmother being cremated in that little box in the ground, etc.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:23 PM
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128 now doesn't seem categorically the same as what 126 is asking.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:24 PM
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From what I can recall of being a kid my parents had no trouble conveying the concept of doing that, but a great deal more trouble getting me to apply it in practice without being there to directly enforce it.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:25 PM
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126. Yes, exactly, this is a much better starting point, most kids will actually understand this perfectly clearly.

objective/subjective will read as synonymous with fact/opinion to 99% of english speakers. If the different words seem important, great. Intersubjective is clearly stated, would be a nice addition for the kids that were interested in advanced topics.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:29 PM
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I'm not sure why 126 is "a much better starting point" as opposed to "an interesting but unrelated question".


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:30 PM
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In my thread discussion-inspired, theoretically-related reading just came across a new favorite sentence:

Real estate is made of soil and rock as well as deontic prerogative.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:31 PM
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Trying to formalize it: Facts are statements that the world models

Facts aren't statements.

If you want to formalize it, think of facts as the model, not as what's modeled.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:32 PM
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131: objective/subjective will read as synonymous with fact/opinion to 99% of english speakers. If the different words seem important, great.

This is largely my reaction.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:35 PM
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If the different words seem important, great.

If nothing else it will prevent the problem of how to categorize something like "Jonathan Richman was the first president of the United States." Is this a fact? It is not a fact. Is it therefore now in the same category as "Strawberry ice cream is disgusting"?


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:38 PM
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I think I saw Jonathan Richman once. In Carboro.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:40 PM
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133: Sometimes it's just the last bit.

134: Enh, okay. That goes against my intuition but I can work with that.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:40 PM
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132. Please allow me to refer you to my explanation in 127.1


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:42 PM
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I hear he likes to hang out in lesbian bars.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:42 PM
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So subjective/objective is preferable because it allows for "objectively wrong"?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:42 PM
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Part of the frustration with "fact/opinion" is that "No, that's an opinion!" seems to be deployed to mean a bunch of different things, which it makes no sense to gather under one label:

1. "You're mistakenly claiming something to be objective or intersubjective when it's really purely subjective." Ie, in response to "Strawberry is the tastiest!": "No, that's just your opinion, because which is the tastiest depends on the individual taster."

2. "You're making a claim that implicates values, and I don't want to argue about values right now."

3. "You're making a claim that implicates values, and you're not backing it up properly with evidence."

4. "You're making a claim, of whatever sort, without evidence."

And often the speaker actually means a confused muddle of #1-3.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:44 PM
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139: I do not understand how that is an explanation of the relevance of k-sky's question. Forgive me, for I am but a simple lad.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:46 PM
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A fact is that which does not do what I want it to!


Posted by: OPINIONATED DAVID BYRNE | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:47 PM
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I don't see how 1-3 are unconfusable in the wild.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:48 PM
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145 to 142.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:48 PM
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"Jonathan Richman was the first president of the United States."

I agree with the superiority of the more precise terminology. Please consider however that this is a sentence which only an academic would write, only an academic would think about.

For pedagogogical purposes, it is up there with "let's examine the spectrum of interstellar dust to learn about the early universe," except that the dust is actually informative.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:48 PM
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It seems to me that pretty much any obviously false statement would work in place of the one about Jonathan Richman would work though. Maybe the teacher could go with something like "There is a God" or "Your parents are lying to you about electric sockets being dangerous" or something. Pedagogically speaking I bet either of those examples would result in at least two different lessons being learned, which would make them more efficient and hence superior.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:52 PM
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And after running that those past the parents at the school, you can fight the windmills.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:53 PM
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143. Most human reality is social, and 126 teaches succinctly and correctly a great deal about the interplay between intersubjective human relations and objective truth. You are welcome.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:53 PM
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Is the problem "mutually exclusive and also exhaustive"

But anyway, is this right about what's annoying the philosophers, then? Certainly philosophers answer their kids' questions about what's true and false in the world, and certainly philosophers tell their kids that they can like whatever sort of ice cream they like.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:54 PM
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It seems to me that pretty much any obviously false statement would work in place of the one about Jonathan Richman would work though.

I just tell them there are two guards, guarding dessert, one of whom always lies and one of whom always tells the truth. ONE QUESTION, KIDS. Use it wisely.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:55 PM
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When they get older you can start throwing in the one that randomly chooses between lying and telling the truth.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 12:57 PM
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I don't see how 1-3 are unconfusable in the wild.

Really? "Vanilla ice cream is better than chocolate", spoken by any adult, doesn't have objective purport; if you say it and I respond "well I don't like it that much", then we just have a difference of preference and we both pretty recognize that.

"Not kicking grannies in the shins is better than kicking grannies in the shins", on the other hand, is likely to be meant by the speaker as more than a statement of what she thinks about granny-kicking; she'll think that your own penchant for granny-kicking doesn't have any bearing on the rightness or reasonableness of your doing so. And I don't think that, in the wild, anyone is confused about that.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:00 PM
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I didn't say they were always confused. Just that people will get confused on them at times.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:02 PM
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People will do the most outrageous shit at times.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:02 PM
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Right, but most people aren't really worried about how to establish whether kicking grannies is right or reasonable. They either don't do it or don't care about right and reason.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:03 PM
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That is true.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:05 PM
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I mean, the fundamental muddle-headedness of it is captured well by the OP's classroom definition as "What someone thinks, feels, or believes" vs "something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven" and the Declaration worksheet's "reflects what the author thinks or feels" vs "observed and/or proven". It's explicitly declaring that an epistemological property, whether something's testable, is irreconcilably opposed to a metaphysical property, whether it's a mental state (or 'reflects' one).

And that's stupid. Some beliefs can be formulated as testable hypotheses, some can't; there's no necessary connection. As for "feelings"--well, that's interesting. Do we mean things like rage, arousal, envy? Is "I am enraged" an "opinion"? That's a very non-standard usage. Perhaps the opinion would be, "That is outrageous"--a claim about the aptness of a certain emotional response to a situation. I think what must be going on here is #2 or #3 from my previous post--a resistance to arguing about normativity, or a claim that evidence is lacking. That's certainly what's happening with "'Eating babies is wrong' is an opinion".


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:05 PM
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Really what you should be telling kids is not "that's just like your opinion man" but "don't yuck someone else's yum."

The issue of opinions and facts is really more of a high school learning how to make an argument issue, than an elementary school learn to stop being an asshole about which things are your favorites. So it's at that level that you would want to clarify things.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in." (9) | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:12 PM
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It's worth noting that, and I think the worksheet bears this out, the reading of the definition of 'opinion' that they give (which seems muddled but ok-ish) is not actually the one relatively charitable people would think.

I mean, when basically sane people read "what someone thinks, feels or believes" I hope at least that they just take this to mean that 'opinion' is a general category including (different) kinds of things like 'feels' and 'believes'. But it's pretty clear from the results I've seen at least that it's usually being taught in the other way ("here are three examples of the same kind of thing"), which really does cause all kinds of trouble.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:23 PM
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You'll never guess what side I'm on in this conversation. Interesting observation from the trenches: I was recently talking about Humean psychology, beliefs and desires, all that good stuff, and a (smart) student said "wait, beliefs can be wrong? aren't they like opinions?" and I just kind of blinked for a minute before drinking petrol. A thousand times yes for respecting the M/E distinction here.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:30 PM
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M/E is Moral/Empirical? Or something else?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:31 PM
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Metaphysics/Epistemology.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in." (9) | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:32 PM
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In the general public, I think "metaphysics" carries connotations of "bullshit" and should be replaced with something more generally respected, liked "Dyanetics".


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:35 PM
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126: I teach that as a form of code-switching. I guess code-switching is about epistemology more than I've realized before, though.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:36 PM
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165: Come to think, I don't know what metaphysics means other than 'airy-fairy philosophy talk that I can't categorize beyond that'. I should figure that out. Epistemology, I know, but not metaphysics.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:39 PM
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It's about Thetans.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:40 PM
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A bunch of the problem here is that it's important to the functioning of a pluralistic society that we don't treat people's false but deeply held beliefs as though they're false. So we need some other category to refer to beliefs that you're not supposed to talk about whether they're true or false. Hence "opinions." Changing the words isn't going to change the underlying issue which is that as a society we want to teach children that some beliefs which are actually false are in not things you're supposed to even ask about whether they're true or false.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in." (9) | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:41 PM
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Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world that encompasses it, although the term is not easily defined.

Thanks, wikipedia.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:42 PM
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If the shelves in a nearby used bookstore are anything to go by, metaphysics is chiefly concerned with psychic powers, alien abductions, and memories of past lives.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:42 PM
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On the (now rare because of Amazon) occasions where I'm in bookstores with a metaphysics section I'm usually strongly tempted to start moving Aristotle's Metaphysics over to them. Any book of actual metaphysics would work, I guess, but most of them actually have a more descriptive title which would ruin it.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:46 PM
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Huh, I thought that what is there and how do we know were the starting points, but now I read that Ontology is but a branch of metaphysics.

What are respectable metaphysical topics which are not part of ontology?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:47 PM
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I'm still waiting for academia to catch up with tv so the history department can look for aliens.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:48 PM
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173.2: Teleology.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:49 PM
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I think philogeny is biology.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:50 PM
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44 Helpy-Chalk, MHPH*, x.trapnel, and I are on the same side, as far as I can tell.

Without having read the rest of the thread, I think I am too. On the side with the cool kids. Fact!


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:51 PM
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To the best of my knowledge "ontology" mostly means "metaphysics by these other people over here", but I think those other people were interested in other bits or did them a different way or something. The wikipedia article actually seems a bit shaky to me, which is a bit strange because normally they actually are ok at philosophy stuff.

I tend to think of the (traditional) basic core bits of philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and logic as basically just "what is all this stuff?", "how do we know about this stuff?", "what should we do about this stuff?", and "hey mathematicians we're stealing your stuff ha ha ha". (A careful reader may detect what course requirements I was least excited about in graduate school.)


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:56 PM
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178.2 made me laugh.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:58 PM
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What are respectable metaphysical topics which are not part of ontology?

Causation.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:58 PM
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177. Bad news, bro.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 1:59 PM
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The mathematicians stole logic from the philosophers. The introduction to Sebastian Rödl's Kategorien des Zeitlichen (now translated as Categories of the Temporal, I believe) is interesting on this.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 2:00 PM
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Lots of fields have stolen lots of things from the philosophers. Philosophy is sort of the farm team. If it's still philosophy, it isn't quite developed enough yet.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 2:01 PM
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178: I think it actually might have been us stealing your stuff, but I'm not going to complain.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 2:02 PM
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184 before seeing 182.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 2:02 PM
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The mathematicians stole logic from the philosophers

And the effects were like when Prometheus stole fire from the gods.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 2:04 PM
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FACT: that book is independently interesting, by the way.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 2:05 PM
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The fact that "op-eds", opinion editorials, are a discursive thing, and that fundamental normative questions typically get discussed in said discourses, is part of the problem here, I think.

When in doubt, blame the media!


Posted by: (damn it Jim) I'm a lurker | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 2:05 PM
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Ok fine Philosophy had it first, sort of, but I think we could have let the mathematicians keep it. I mean, we let the biologists keep the bits where you wade around in muddy swamps and get bitten by leeches and stuff, right?


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 2:06 PM
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I thought "op-eds" meant they were "optional editorials" that I didn't need to read to stay informed.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 2:06 PM
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183: And man, are we still annoyed by that.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 2:11 PM
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Opposite the editor's page.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 2:12 PM
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Thanks professor.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 2:14 PM
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Actually come to think of it I wonder if "once it was fully formed it broke off and became autonomous" is the right story to tell about disciplines separating from philosophy.* "Once philosophers figured out how to separate the unpleasant/uncomfortable/annoying bits from the fun bits they convinced someone else to do the former and leave the latter to them" is a pretty great story to tell as well. I mean, philosophy still gets to research and talk about scientific results (and does, constantly), but doesn't have to go actually do the smelly/explosive/calculating/etc. parts anymore because someone else does that for us. It's like if physicists managed to convince everyone that writing everything but the "discussion" section of their papers was a different discipline entirely and had to be done by an entirely different group of people.

*The correct story is probably just something like "University administrators decided to break stuff up a bunch for their own convenience and this is how they decided to do it god only knows why", which makes a lot more sense of how different disciplines end up being categorized.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 2:27 PM
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Yes. It's really horrible to be paid a living wage plus benefits to sit in an office and commit minor acts of math.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 2:30 PM
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194: According to my story, I think Randall Collins and I won't get started on him here about facts and science, philosophy (including its spawn NatSci, Sci etc) essentially took over in Germany somewhere around the time of Hegel in order to power grab the prestige, funding, and best students away from Law and Theology.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:03 PM
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I have read the thread, and I still don't see the problem with the fact/opinion distinction. If the biggest problem is "It makes teaching introductory ethics hard", that's pretty low on the list of the world's problems. Some people saying "That's like your opinion, man" doesn't rank much higher. The tendency of people to consider aesthetic or moral judgements to be entirely subjective seems like the source of precisely zero of America's problems.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:03 PM
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I still don't understand why fact/opinion is considered to be so much more troubling than objective/subjective. I understand they are not quite the same thing, but for conversational purposes, who cares?


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:09 PM
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As I understand it, the problem isn't 'fact', which is close enough to 'objective statement' or something like that to sneak by the philosophers under a different name, as 'opinion', which is overinclusive and leads to confusion -- value claims are really different from esthetic preferences and are also really different from beliefs (well or badly supported by evidence) about objective things.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:11 PM
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A FACT IS NOT A STATEMENT


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:16 PM
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201: That's just your opinion.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:19 PM
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HULK SMASH


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:20 PM
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The numbering on 201 is very artful.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:23 PM
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as 'opinion', which is overinclusive and leads to confusion -- value claims are really different from esthetic preferences and are also really different from beliefs (well or badly supported by evidence) about objective things.

It seems easy to clarify that there are different types of opinions--value claims, aesthetic preferences, etc., which may be better or less supported, or controversial or uncontroversial, etc. There is not really such a thing as beliefs about objective things, except in the hyperliteral sense that people do of course have beliefs about objective things (which beliefs may be true or may be false). But that's not what people mean when they talk about "beliefs". "Beliefs about objective things" just means "facts" (when true) or "mistakes of fact" (when false).


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:23 PM
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The bit where facts are one thing and beliefs are another thing, only the examples of facts are still all things people think are true (and, hence, beliefs) about the world is a bit grating too, if only because (the world)/(the stuff we say about the world) really shouldn't be a complicated distinction for people to make.

But it's annoying to have to deal when teaching ethics precisely because it's such a strong drag on how students will actually try to reason about ethical questions, and one which leads to all sorts of highly questionable and incoherent places. I mean, that's annoying when you're trying to try to lead them in the direction of clearer reasoning about them sure but it's also something that we should legitimately care about generally. Ethical questions aren't football games, here. It matters how people think about them.

(And if the distinction really is only a problem for teaching philosophy then it's surely not important enough to put in the elementary school curriculum in the first place. If it's that unimportant then what they're doing is just a stick in the eye to philosophy professors with no other function, which seems to me to be a very good reason to be unhappy with it.)


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:24 PM
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When we talk about facts, we should take about Sergeant Friday. What he meant when he said, "Just the facts, ma'am" -- that is what a fact is.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:25 PM
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The world is everything that Sgt. Friday wanted.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:28 PM
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Beliefs about objective things" just means "facts" (when true) or "mistakes of fact" (when false).

I disagree. Like my wife might say, "I'm pretty sure I left my makeup bag in the bathroom" and then I'll go check and say "I can't find it" and she'll say, "I can't believe it's not there!" and then she'll look and it will be there, and she'll say "I can't believe you didn't see it!" See --beliefs about objective facts.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:30 PM
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From Kim Kierkegaardashian's twitter, a clarifying distinction:

So you love my look? Perfection in the object is NOT perfection in the love.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:32 PM
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To tell whether facts are true, timely AND topical


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:49 PM
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205.3: They don't teach for any reason having anything to do with academic philosophy at all. They teach it to counteract the natural human impulse to assume every thought that flits through your head is a fact. (Online, I see far more people claim their aesthetic or moral judgements are objectively true than I see people who say "It's just your opinion, man.") It helps make life in a diverse, cosmopolitan society possible.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 3:51 PM
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I see plenty more people who feel very strongly that their opinions, no matter how much they might be unsupported or even hurt other people, are inviolable - that pointing out that it's their opinion or what they believe insulates it from any criticism. That's way way more dangerous than people arguing about which kind of music is best*.

And it really doesn't help with life in a diverse society that much, as a result. What helps is valuing tolerance and accepting human fallibility - both of which are undermined if you take moral claims to be mostly a matter of taste because that's exactly what those are.

*Dubstep, obviously.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 4:28 PM
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Like MHPH I regularly see people stating the inviolability of their opinions, and not just about music—lots of people think that matters of political and economic justice are at the same level as preferences among ice cream flavors, and if you try to press the position that a certain arrangement is exploitative, you're met with the response that you may well think so but those involved obviously don't (or that they entered into the arrangement freely so it's no problem—these people as I encounter them are often schmibertarians). It seems very strange to me to think that the way moral disagreement, or even the possibility of moral disagreement, is thought of is not important.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 4:37 PM
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I suppose I have some sympathy with the fact / opinion approach; it seems to fit quite well with the mission of giving everyone a secular, liberal high school education in a society (the US) which is committed to liberalism but which also contains many religious communities. I guess I would take 'fact' as shorthand for 'statement which purports to report a fact' and 'opinion' as shorthand for 'statement which does not purport to report a fact'. (And yes, either statement might be evidence of some fact about the speaker, but in neither case is that a fact, or the fact, being reported on.)

After all, if the fact / opinion style were replaced by some version of moral realism, then you've got the prospect of high school teachers trying to get the class to consider what moral facts might look like, how they could be tested for, how you could have knowledge of them, etc. and before you know it someone says 'prayer' and it's all gone to shit.


Posted by: Charlie W | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 4:40 PM
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It seems strange to me that when you see people doing that, they strike you as the sort that might do differently if somebody handed them a copy of Nicomachean Ethics or something.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 4:40 PM
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I admit that I find moral disagreement hard to argue about. I try a couple of analogies ("This thing is like other things that even you admit are bad!") but end up straight at a statement of disagreement and moral condemnation of whoever I'm significantly disagreeing with. I don't have a useful command of what kind of evidence one constructs an ethical argument with.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 4:41 PM
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It's not as if either of the following things are the case:

(a) "fact" and "opinion" are, in actually existing practice, understood as "statement which purports to report a fact" and "statement which does not purport to report a fact", respectively;

(b) one has to choose between so understanding "fact" and "opinion" and promulgating some form of moral realism.

I mean, that does sound like a useful distinction to teach people, between statements that do and do not purport to report facts! Too bad that isn't what people actually to teach students under the "fact/opinion approach"!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 4:43 PM
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215 to 213.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 4:43 PM
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215: that's why you have to get them young, like in second grade or something.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 4:43 PM
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I admit that I find moral disagreement hard to argue about.

The archives belie this claim.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 4:43 PM
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It's probably worth noting as well that the problems it causes in intro ethics classes aren't obscure theoretical ones - I mean, it screws up metaethical intuitions and stuff but that's not that big of a deal at the introductory level. It's the applied questions that get screwed up if moral questions are just filed under "that's just your opinion" - which is to say the problem has very little to do with academic issues and very much to do with practical ones. (Seriously this is a big deal when you're trying to get people to talk about how people should act in concrete situations. Everyone I know who teaches classes where you try to get students to do this has a whole set of practiced responses to when students say things like "well I don't think we can judge people..."*, or whatever.)


*"Oh yeah? Watch me!"


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 4:44 PM
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220: The archives contain me losing my shit at Baa over the Iraq war, in that was like locking the doors of a packed high-school gymnasium full of people and setting the building on fire. (It was early days, and I didn't have a clear sense of scale.) While I was attempting to argue about a moral disagreement, I can't help but think I was doing it wrong somehow.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 4:47 PM
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I guess what I'm trying to say is that while I understand that philosophers have a tendency to get a bit tetchy when other people start appropriating our technical terms and/or tools, like "begging the question" or "ad hominem", this really isn't that kind of response from the philosophers. It's something in a different sphere entirely.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 4:48 PM
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222: but think of your post about arguing with consequentialists, for instance.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 4:53 PM
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212, 213: I have literally never heard a libertarian argue like that. Randians, in particular, are crazy deontologists.

What do you think the causality is, here? In the old days before the second-graders learned the fact/opinion fallacy, how was the world better? In a future where people no longer learned the distinction, how would that help you win arguments? People would switch to claiming that objectively the poor deserve to be fucked, just like they used to.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 4:57 PM
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122 If we're talking about the metaphysical question, I already gave you a better way of thinking about it in 48: objective (water is H20, totally independent of all humans)

Twenty hydrogens?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 5:12 PM
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Objectively, the price of water should be 20 Hungarian forints. This was the conclusion of Adam Smith's famous philosophical discussion of the price of water versus the price of diamonds.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 5:17 PM
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162 a (smart) student said "wait, beliefs can be wrong? aren't they like opinions?"

I'm forming the opinion that you mean something unusual by "smart".


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 5:29 PM
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Wow, I guess I was right that the philosophers would have a lot to talk about it.

I am basically with LB and Walt. It seems to me to be a harmless-to-useful set of terms for everyday usage. If and when people

The op-ed, on the other hand, strikes me as an obnoxious and deceptively "neutral" bit of posturing. Dude is looking for a cudgel to bash schools and teachers with (cf. his swipe at the Common Core). The fact that he can do so while pompously moralizing about his own profession is just a side benefit.

Never read the NYT Picks. It's the editors trying to be "balanced." They frequently highlight ragingly terrible comments because those are the only ones on the conservative side. The Readers' Picks at least have a shot at presenting some well-articulated comments that tend to accord with common sense (aka my biases).


Posted by: Wittt | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 5:29 PM
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If and when people get to college, they can learn a more sophisticated and precise way to express themselves..


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 5:30 PM
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219: live blogging conversation with a second grader: Ronald McDonald says you can never do nothing because even when you say you're doing nothing you are saying that and looking around and right now we are eating and maybe I guess when you die you're doing nothing. But are you being dead? Is that something or nothing? How come like everybody on your side of the family likes spicy? Lee's side doesn't, right? I guess we don't know Lee's side, just Lee, right? I like spicy AND not spicy!


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 5:31 PM
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"Metaphysics" and "op-ed" are similar words, right? The first is "that thing we put next in the assembled works of Aristotle after 'physics'" and the second is "that thing across from the editorial page". Neither was named for its content, but for its location relative to something else.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 5:31 PM
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Also "underpants".


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 5:41 PM
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Captain Underpants isn't bad, as things go.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 5:45 PM
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229.1: most of the talking seems to have been an attempt to pound a fairly simple point into a few heads.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 5:49 PM
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235 seems like a decent candidate for mouse-over text for all of human civilization and history unfogged.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 6:03 PM
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Same goes for the current mouse-over text, though.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 6:07 PM
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It would be easier to pound ideas into the heads of people if people were able to use more than 10% of their brains.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 6:11 PM
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Instead of teaching kids about facts versus opinions, give them a good lateral-thinking puzzle. "Op-eds, underpants, and metaphysics: what do they have in common?"


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 6:44 PM
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It's interesting how directly relevant this stuff is to lawyers. Obviously, there's the provable fact/non-provable opinion distinction in defamation law, which is directly on point (and which I deal with a lot). But then there are also a whole lot of issues about what constitutes a "fact" that you can "dispute" and what is "objective" vs not. I just spent the past 3 hours talking about the last issue (among other things) with a judge. Of course the way lawyers handle these issues is basically "blargh folk assumption facts of other cases cod-philosophical analysis case cite blargh" but these kinds of things really do come up all the time.

You'd think that there would be a vibrant market in applied philosophy for lawyers but there's not. Not sure why, part of it seems to be that "legal philosophy" or "jurisprudence" appears to have crawled up its own butt and stayed there, discussing issues that are useful for almost no one.


Posted by: Tim "Ripper" Owens | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 6:58 PM
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Speaking as a philosopher, and I think a lot of philosophers would agree, I would be happy to argue endlessly about these issues in exchange for beautiful, beautiful money.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 7:03 PM
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So, obviously it would be irresponsible to suggest that as a country maybe we should revisit the whole 'federal government versus state government' discussion from a hundred and some years ago, but, you know, maybe?


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 7:31 PM
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240 - almost all apparently philosophical questions in the law are really legal questions -- yours, a mix of poorly digested HLA Hart and an Opinionated Legal Philosopher.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 7:53 PM
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The most horrifying students in ecosystem sciences weren't even at the level of `destroying indigenous livelihoods: worst thing ever AND/OR everybody has to be somewhere, man'? They reacted to any statement about the physical world as though it could be changed if you were really determined to.

Oh, and the worst of these were ecosystem/economics double majors.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 7:58 PM
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there's the provable fact/non-provable opinion distinction in defamation law

Er... which of these gets you in less trouble? Asking for a friend.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 7:59 PM
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The second one gets you in less trouble.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 8:01 PM
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Not no trouble.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 8:01 PM
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Wait, what about provable opinions, or non-provable facts?

If you find a loophole in the law you get to do whatever you want, right?


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 8:04 PM
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It's not okay to say a bad thing even if it's provably&sub1; true? I thought that was just England.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 8:28 PM
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Oh. I thought you meant to say a bad thing that was provably not true.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 8:31 PM
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This guy is seriously arguing that fact/opinion rhetoric meant to keep the peace in the public schools when kids start yelling about religion is preventing small children from agreeing with him about metaethical questions?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:17 PM
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Uh oh. Dissension in the philosophical ranks.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:18 PM
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To be fair, none of the previous comments by philosophers has really been about the op-ed itself.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:22 PM
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251: Right? How on earth is anyone supposed to read that with any thought but "SWEEP THE LEG".


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 9:34 PM
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The fact/opinion/judgment lesson plans I've glanced at - making me an expert - do look muddled, but they look most muddled when they drop judgment and end up with only fact/opinion, as that Declaration lesson does. I suspect that fact/opinion/judgment is actually an attempt to simplify objective/subjective/intersubjective, but people just can't resist dichotomies.* Anyway, this blog post is also linked from the Common core resource page and whatever the philosophers here might think of it as philosophy, it's arguing against the "it's just an opinion, man" school of thinking of opinions. I'm guessing the author of the op-ed spent some time cherry-picking.

*Except for the other type of people, the people who can.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:12 PM
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testable/opinion/consensus? so many ways to deal out the middle.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:36 PM
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white-gold/pale blue-brown/blue-black


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 03- 3-15 11:39 PM
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This is an interesting comment on the history of the distinction, connecting somewhat with TRO's point about law:

In my opinion, the 'fact vs. opinion' distinction has, in fact, a much more interesting although poorly understood history, and my suspicion is that versions of the distinction as we now know it began to be taught in elementary and high schools as a reading skill sometime after it began to be taught in journalism schools as a writing skill, but I have no solid evidence of this. Here is what seems to be the case: Journalists do tend to believe that distinguishing fact from opinion is a valuable journalistic skill, and not just because they want to provide the public with 'the facts', unclouded by 'mere opinion': The nature of American defamation law may be partly for this common position, ... The fact vs. opinion distinction is believed (by the teachers I have questioned) to be very useful as a means of effectively tracking dozens of other undeniably important distinctions (e.g., fact/value, belief/preference, explanation/justification, proof/evidence, argument/inference, justified/unjustified belief, controversy/common ground, etc.), and convincing them that it is not only ineffective, but potentially very harmful to the individual and to society as a whole (which it is!), will take more than an opinion piece, especially since we philosophers have no single distinction to replace it with. Try telling elementary school teachers that what they ought to be required to do is teach a room of screaming kids 13 different, complicated distinctions, and see what sort of looks you get.

Worth reading the whole thing.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 03- 4-15 2:13 AM
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Is the idea that the fact/opinion distinction incredibly damaging to society some sort of insane shibboleth that they make you swear to in order to pass your philosophy classes? Who asserts the "which it is!" comment in 258 without justification?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03- 4-15 3:04 AM
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I'm not sure how seriously that parenthetical is meant; it seems kind of jokey, to me. In any case, here's a sympathetic take on F/O from the same thread, that's almost persuaded me:

a quick perusal of the literature suggests -- in agreement with Jamie Dreier, #11 above -- that, roughly, facts are claims for which there exist cogent/strong appeals to testimony, while opinions are claims for which there exist no such cogent/strong appeal. Appeals to testimony are understood quite broadly, to include appeals to the testimony of our senses as well as more familiar appeals to expert testimony and testimony from those in positions that authorize their likely knowledge. Even if, as O.Pine suggests, the Supreme Court no longer considers the fact/opinion distinction legally helpful, surely we all can agree that there is a logically significant distinction between strong appeals to testimony and weak ones -- and so we further can agree that there is a logically significant distinction between fact and opinion, understood as claims that conclude such respective arguments.

Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 03- 4-15 4:33 AM
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244: They reacted to any statement about the physical world as though it could be changed if you were really determined to.

I'm guessing that studying economics led the students to this.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03- 4-15 5:42 AM
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I went to Catholic elementary school back in the day, when they didn't fuck around with this fact/opinion bullshit. We damn well learned our moral facts.

That's how I found out that abortion is not meaningfully different from infanticide, and that the government should fund Catholic schools.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 03- 4-15 8:39 AM
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Right, the op ed itself is definitely steeped in insufferable asshood. And the thingy in 258 is interesting!


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 03- 4-15 8:43 AM
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23: 2 also applies to aesthetic opinions! There's no way to dispute reasonably about them, you just like something or you don't, end of story! STAB

Could you neb, or anyone, point me toward someone who writes clearly on this subject?


Posted by: Penny | Link to this comment | 03- 5-15 9:15 AM
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You just need to read the third Critique. No one denies this.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03- 5-15 9:31 AM
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I think ogged is being facetious but I actually think that there are, uh, well, let's say sections of the third critique that are clear on this. (The contrast between claims that something is beautiful vs. claims that something is pleasing.)

Hume's "Of the Standard of Taste" is the other go-to and one can hardly deny that his prose is a lot nicer than Kant's.

I also like several of Stanley Cavell's essays, though there tends to be a lot going on in them that isn't directly related. They're at home and I just got to work so I can't remember which of "Aesthetic Problems of Modern Philosophy", "Music Discomposed", and "A Matter of Meaning It" is the most relevant (probably not the second though it's a very good essay), but they're all good. Ah! It's the first (as I suspected)—thanks, google books! Cavell is, helpfully, discussing Hume and Kant.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 5-15 10:01 AM
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Kant isn't really focused on the idea of aesthetic disagreement, though.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 5-15 10:04 AM
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This is great, thank you!


Posted by: Penny | Link to this comment | 03- 5-15 6:06 PM
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Penny!


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 03- 5-15 7:32 PM
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Always around, just days late to every thread and tongue-tied when I get to replying. What a marvel this place is. Babies. Hand-stretching. All of it.


Posted by: Penny | Link to this comment | 03- 6-15 7:53 AM
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