Justin P. McBrayer, in a NYT Opinionator piece, writes,
When I went to visit my son’s second grade open house, I found a troubling pair of signs hanging over the bulletin board. They read:
Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.
Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.
Hoping that this set of definitions was a one-off mistake, I went home and Googled “fact vs. opinion.” The definitions I found online were substantially the same as the one in my son’s classroom. As it turns out, the Common Core standards used by a majority of K-12 programs in the country require that students be able to “distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.” And the Common Core institute provides a helpful page full of links to definitions, lesson plans and quizzes to ensure that students can tell the difference between facts and opinions.
This is indeed troubling, but there is worse to come. According to McBrayer, the kiddies are taught that claims are either facts or opinions, where the disjunction is exclusive. And to make it even worse, the little rascals are further indoctrinated that every value claim is an opinion!
And so 'Cheating on tests is wrong' is an opinion, not a fact, hence neither true nor provable, and therefore something someone merely thinks, feels, or believes. God help us! Yet another argument for private schools and home-schooling.
I will now give you my considered opinion on how best to think about this topic.
First of all, it is a major mistake to think that an opinion cannot be true because it is an opinion. Some opinions are true and some are false. In this respect, opinions are no different from beliefs: some are true and some are false. It follows that some opinions are facts, on one use of 'fact.' I distinguish among three uses of 'fact':
Logical Use: A fact is a truth, whether a true proposition, a true judgment, a true belief, a true opinion, a true statement, a true declarative sentence, etc. In general, a fact is a true truth-bearer. If this is what we mean by 'fact,' then it is obvious that some opinions are facts. For example, my opinion (and presumably yours too) that the Moon is uninhabited is a fact. It is a fact because it is true. But much of what is true is true because of the way the world is. So we note a different but related use of 'fact,' namely, the
Ontological Use: A fact is an obtaining (concrete) state of affairs that can serve as a truth-maker of a truth. When a famous philosopher opined that the world is the totality of facts, not of things, he was not putting forth the view that the world is the totality of truths, nor the totality of what is known. (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 1.1)
Epistemological Use: A fact is an obtaining state of affairs known to be the case or believed to be the case on evidence. It is important not to confuse what is known to be the case with what is the case. Everything one knows to be the case is the case; but there is plenty that is the case that no one of us knows to be the case.
The foregoing should make it obvious that a second major mistake is to think that only what is testable or provable is a fact. To make that mistake is to confuse the logical and the ontological on the one side with the epistemological on the other. There are facts (truths) that cannot be empirically tested or verified, but also cannot be proven by deduction from other truths. The Law of Non-Contradiction (LNC) is an example: No proposition is both true and not true. LNC is true and known to be true, but it is not known to be true on the basis of empirical observation or experiment. It is also not known by inference from propositions already accepted. How then do we know it to be true? A reasonable answer is that it is self-evident, objectively self-evident. One enjoys a direct intellectual insight into its truth.
If so, then some facts are objectively self-evident despite the fact that they are neither empirically verifiable nor provable by non-circular deductive inference from propositions known to be true. And so it may well be that a proposition like Setting bums on fire for fun is morally wrong is an objective fact (truth) and therefore not a mere opinion. Or perhaps a better example would be a proposition from which the foregoing is derivable, to wit, Causing severe pain to sentient beings for the sheer fun of it is morally wrong. The graphic depicts a homeless, mentally unstable, Pakistani set afire for blasphemy by adherents of the religion of peace. Now either you see (morally intuit) that doing such a thing is a grave moral wrong, or you don't, and if the latter then you are either morally obtuse or a liberal, which may well come to the same thing.
Without getting too deep into the topic of moral realism, all I want to say at the moment is that there is at least a very serious set of questions here, questions that cannot be ignored once one avoids the elementary confusions into which contemporary liberals tend to fall. Not every contemporary liberal, of course, but enough to justify my issuing a general warning against their slopheadedness.
Liberals typically confuse opinions with mere opinions. They confuse truths with known truths. They confuse the property of being believed by some person or group of persons with the property of being true. They confuse making moral judgments with being judgmental. They confuse merely subjective judgments of taste with moral judgments.
Men in bow ties look ridiculous. Or so say I. That is a merely subjective sartorial opinion of mine, and I recognize it as such. There is no fact of the matter here and so if you say the opposite you are not contradicting me, logically speaking. Note that It strikes me that men in bow ties look ridiculous is an objective statement of fact about how certain sartorial matters seem to me. But from this objectively true statement one cannot infer the former subjective statement. If you can't distinguish those two sentences, then you are not thinking clearly.
Too many liberals cannot see the incoherence of maintaining that we must respect other cultures because judgments as to right and wrong are culturally relative. They fail to see that if such judgments are indeed relative, then there cannot be any objective moral requirement that members of a given culture respect other cultures. If all such moral judgments are culturally relative, then the members of a culture who believe that the strong have the right to enslave the weak are perfectly justified in enslaving the weak. For if right and wrong are culturally relative, then they have all the justification they could possibly have for enslaving them.