No, you’re not entitled to your opinion

Nearly everyone seems to believe that they are entitled to their opinion, but it is not exactly clear what that means. This commonly claimed entitlement is some kind of supposed right, but neither the action it is supposed to allow, nor the duties it entails are clear.

All rights imply duties. Often these are negative duties – that is, duties not to do something. For example, if you have a right to free speech, then the government has the negative duty not to arrest you for speaking your mind. And if you have a right to life, then everyone else has the negative duty not to kill you.

So there are two questions with regards to this supposed right that need answers:
(1) What does it mean to exert your right/entitlement to your opinion? (Or: What are you doing when you are exerting that right?)
(2) If you have a right to your opinion, then what duties does that imply and who has those duties?
However, before we can answer these questions, there is a more fundamental question that needs an answer first: What is an opinion?

The ancient Greek word “doxa” (δόξα) is usually translated either as “opinion” or as “belief”, indicating that those two concepts are closely related. Both opinions and beliefs are claims you hold to be true. If you believe that freedom is the greatest good, then you think it is true that freedom is the greatest good. And the same if you have the opinion that freedom is the greatest good. It seems that the difference between opinions and beliefs is merely pragmatic – that is, we tend to use the words in different contexts – but they really mean the same thing. Thus, an opinion (or a belief) is something you hold to be true.

With the more fundamental problem out of the way, let’s move on to the first of the two questions above. What are you doing when you are exerting your right to your opinion? There are several options. You could merely have an opinion (that is, believe something). Or you could state it explicitly to some audience (however small). And in the latter case, you could present your opinion with various degrees of confidence and certainty, and with various further intentions.

The way the supposed entitlement to an opinion is normally used suggests that exerting it involves explicitly stating your opinion to some audience. Furthermore, it suggests that opinions are not stated as being uncertain and open for discussion, but as closed and shut. And by implication, exerting the supposed right has the further intention of ending the conversation (at least with regards to that topic).

If this is roughly correct, then this also gives us a beginning of an answer to the second question, that of the duties associated with the right. Several duties could be involved. There might be a negative duty of the government not to prevent you from stating your opinion, but that is the same duty as in the case of the right of free speech, and because duties define rights, that would make it the same right as well. So this can’t be the right answer. More likely, the duties involved are not duties of the government at all, but duties of the audience.

So what duty or duties for the audience does the right to your opinion imply? It is not a duty to listen or a duty to agree. Firstly, we can’t have such duties, because listening to any and all opinions is practically impossible, and a duty to agree would contradict the supposed right to your opinion. And secondly, I don’t think anyone who appeals to the right to their opinion ever does so with this in mind. The person making that appeal would certainly want the audience to listen, and would like the audience to agree, but doesn’t strictly demand either.

Then what? A duty (of the audience) to “respect” your opinion? But what does that mean? It seems most respectful of an opinion to take it seriously and, therefore, to assess its flaws and features. Thus, to respect an opinion is to investigate and discuss it, but that is certainly not what the appeal to the supposed right to an opinion is intended to bring about. Rather, as mentioned above, that appeal is intended to stop discussion on the topic of the opinion.

So could the duty of the audience be to stop discussing, to stop offering counter-arguments or refuting evidence, to stop trying to change your mind? It certainly seems that that is what the appeal to the supposed right aims at, but there can only be such a right if there is such a duty. In other words, the supposed right to your opinion depends on the duty of your audience to not (further) discuss the topic and to not try to change your mind. Is there such a duty? Can there be?

Of course, there is not. In the contrary, if you believe something extremely stupid, it is the audience’s duty to try to change your mind. For example, if you are a small child claiming that it is perfectly fine to cross a busy street without looking for traffic first because there will be no cars if you keep your eyes firmly shut, then it would be my duty (as audience) to try to convince you otherwise.

Rights are defined by duties. For any right, what specifies the nature of that right are the (negative) duties it involves. The implied duty of a right to your opinion cannot possibly be a duty, and consequently there is no right to your opinion. (Neither is there a right to merely have an opinion, by the way, as there is no plausible duty defining that right either.)

The right to free speech gives you the right to state your opinion, but nothing more than that. You do not have a right to be listened to, and you do not have a right to stop a discussion (except, perhaps, by walking away). You do not even have a right to be taken seriously.

The aim of an appeal to the supposed entitlement (or right) to your opinion is always to state an opinion without having to defend or argue for it, and without having to address counter-arguments and contrary evidence. But if you cannot (or will not) support your opinion with a good argument (and reliable evidence), and cannot (or will not) deal with anything that might show that you’re wrong, then your “opinion” isn’t worth anything, and certainly not worth being taken seriously.

In common usage, the word “opinion” does not just indicate something held true, but something held true without the need of argument or evidence. Thus, “opinion” overlaps with groundless speculation and superstition. Opinions – as such – are worthless. There are very few things one could be entitled to claim without being willing to back up that claim with argument and evidence. (“I love you”, is one of those exceptions, but even that claim may require some kind of “evidence”.) If you’re not prepared to back up your claim(s), then shut up.

You have no right to your opinion. Fuck your opinion.

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