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Opinions: Knowledge or ignorance

By TJ Ray

People often begin statements with “I think”— even though they may not have even thought of the issue until the moment before their mouths pop open.

Since, however, what follows originates in their brains, they claim ownership of the idea. Thinking, in short, does not slow down some folks from speaking poppycock.

Consider the other way many statements begin: “In my opinion.” Likely the speaker feels that has a more authoritative ring about it. If he happens to be a Supreme Court justice and is speaking of a case on the docket, his opinion carries far more weight than does his saying “I think Coke tastes better than Pepsi.”

Hearing assertions that something is the opinion of someone should set off an alarm in our heads. What we think of the opinion is in direct proportion to what we think of its announcer.

A dunce with an opinion will impress us far less than a learned person saying the same thing. Be not in a hurry to accept the opinions of anyone as absolute truth or good judgment. People still exist who believe the Earth is flat. And some folks maintain that all the images about men on the Moon were faked in a giant studio in California.

Huge differences exist between a parental opinion that Jethro Pithfroggle should date their daughter and a judge in a court of law’s opinion of issues in a case, one in which he has balanced the words of the law and the actions of the accused. But even so, judges reviewing the same facts in a case may well make diverse judgments.

As most issues in court devolve to a Yes or No, the opinions of the various judges usually fall into one or the other judgment, based on the understanding (opinion) of each judge as to the words of the law and the actions of the person before the bar.

At least we can hope that judges do their homework and don’t reach their conclusions over a six-pack of cold beer watching a football game. If the latter be the case, then their opinions are no more valid than every yelling fan in the stands.

A search for observations about the meaning and value of opinions yields some fascinating comments. Here are two from favorite writers of mine.

Hippocrates commented: “Science is the father of knowledge, but opinion breeds ignorance.” Surely he refers to folks who offer opinions willy nilly on just about everything they encounter without clothing any of it in the threads of careful thought. Plato observed that “Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.” I think he’s suggesting that an opinion (hopefully predicated on assessment of information at hand) reveals progress toward knowledge and a distancing from pure ignorance.

But that’s just my opinion!

T.J. Ray, a retired professor of English at the University of Mississippi, can be reached at tjmaryjo@bellsouth.net.