Evaluating Opinions

Distinguishing between fact and opinion requires attention and scrutiny, because it is indeed a challenge to weed out opinions based on one’s biases and subjective views from facts based on accurate and objective information. Thus, there must be a set of criteria in our examination of these opinions and beliefs before accepting them as true. Acuña, in his book Philosophical Analysis, 7th ed., reminded us that we have one very important obligation as a critical thinker, that is, “Never accept the truth of any statement or belief unless there is adequate evidence for it.

Therefore, before believing or embracing the truth of any statement, opinion, or belief, we must go through a certain process of checking them out. This requires that epistemic — relating to knowledge or to the degree of its validation dogmatism —the tendency to lay down principles as undeniably true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others
we have the epistemic obligation to subject them to the most appropriate manner or method of scrutiny in order that we could arrive at reasonable belief, supported by the most apt evidence regarding its nature. Polycarp Ikuenobe, in his article entitled, “Questioning as an Epistemic Process of Critical Thinking” mentioned that we have to consider and realize our fallibility through the act of questioning. As human beings, we are prone to commit errors in our statements, beliefs or opinions and issues. Consequently, he emphasized the method of questioning, that is, by “methodically casting aspersions on beliefs and evidence, being open to new evidence and being willing to change one’s beliefs with new evidence.

In examining opinions and beliefs, it is important to avoid dogmatism. Ikuenobe cited Bertrand Russell’s view “that most of our beliefs are based on induction, and we accept them because they have a probability of being true. Imagine the life of a sceptic who doubted the accuracy of the telephone book or, when he received a letter, considered seriously the possibility that the black marks might have been made accidentally by an inky fly crawling over the paper. We have to accept merely probable knowledge in daily life. The higher the probability, the nearer we are to truth; but we may never reach the truth because there is always the possibility of error. He concludes that the highest probability is all we ought to seek via a critical process; it is all that we can achieve. To accept a belief as the truth (as opposed to an approximation of the truth or the most reasonable belief) is, in some sense, to say that the belief is no longer open to question or further consideration of new evidence. The inquiry is closed! This attitude is considered in many relevant contexts as dogmatic.

This gives us the gist of one’s epistemic obligation as a critical thinker. By adapting an attitude of healthy skepticism or ‘methodical skepticism,’ this will allow us to be on our toes as an analytical and critical thinker. This constant attempt to establish reasonable beliefs by first letting these beliefs go through a careful process of examination and scrutiny, by searching for evidence with an open mind to look for new evidence and the open mindedness to change this belief if necessary, based on new evidence plus an attitude against dogmatism (that your belief or opinion is the only truth that you will accept), will pave the way towards achieving one of the major goals of education, by becoming an analytical and critical thinker!