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“Fact or Opinion?”: A False Dichotomy

“That’s just your opinion.” My students and my children have given vent to this phrase countless times during dinner table discussions and philosophical conversations, often in response to some fundamental and important matter. Hearing the word “opinion” used in this way takes me back to my own school days, before learning the real meaning of the word “opinion” in the context of philosophy, and I recall to mind the exercises where we had to look at a list of statements and label them “fact or opinion.” I have come to find out that these lessons continue in school today, and a quick internet search found many, many examples of worksheets and lessons for elementary school and English teachers to teach and reinforce the idea that every statement should be labeled fact or opinion. Let’s take a look at some examples.

The first three of the following statements have been collected from various “Fact or opinion?” worksheets used in school classrooms around the country. The other two are my own creation.

Categorize each statement below as a fact or opinion, and then read on to see how you did. Scores on this quiz count towards your final grade. (Is the old, school anxiety setting in?)

  1. Sharks are mean because they eat other fish.
  2. Bluebirds are prettier than hummingbirds.
  3. Chocolate pudding tastes great.
  4. The earth revolves around the sun.
  5. “Fact or opinion” is a false dichotomy.

The solution keys for the first three statements said that they are all opinions. On the answer keys provided with the worksheets, no reasons were given, just that they are a matter of opinion, and are, therefore, not facts. Unfortunately, based on what I have learned in my study of philosophy and as I will go on to show, those keys are either wrong or only give half the answer. The well-trained student of the fact-or-opinion curriculum will identify the fourth statement as a fact, but not an opinion. To label that statement as “fact,” for most people, is actually incorrect. As for the fifth statement, that has to do with the thesis of this article.

Read more at The Imaginative Conservative. 

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