Difference Between Facts and Opinions
Fact vs Opinion
Facts and opinions are different kinds of concepts people can hold about the world. The words are much easier to understand than to explain.
‘Fact’ comes from the Latin word ‘factum’, which means ‘deed’, or something that was done. This meaning can still be found in English today in phrases such as “after the fact”. However, most of the time, it most often means something that is true, and can be proven true. It is most likely true that the person reading this is a human being, so it is most likely a fact that the reader is human.
‘Opinion’, on the other hand, comes from the Latin word ‘opinio’, which has a number of meanings. While it does mean ‘opinion’, it can also refer to something imagined, a conjecture, an expectation, a belief, a report, a rumor, and so on. In English, it means a belief someone has which cannot be proven true because it is false, does not have enough evidence supporting it, or just a preference.
For example, if someone believes that cats are better than dogs, then that is an opinion because there is not really a way to prove that they are. It is just a preference for one over the other. Some people believe that aliens or supernatural creatures exist. This is an opinion, since there is not enough concrete evidence to make an informed judgement.
So, in essence, a fact is true and an opinion is a belief or preference that cannot be proven true. That is the biggest problem with explaining the meanings of the words: what is truth?
Before 2006, it was considered a fact that there were nine planets in the solar system. It was what everyone was taught and everyone believed, except for a small minority. In 2006, the International Astronomical Union created a new classification for planets. Pluto was no longer considered a planet. After 2006, it was a fact that there were eight planets in the solar system, and anyone who said there were nine was just exercising an opinion. And yet, before the reclassification, the same things that disqualified Pluto from being a planet were still true.
This situation raises an interesting question: if enough people believe that something is true, then does that make it truth in some way? That falls solidly into the realm of philosophy, since people argue about whether truth is always objective or can be subjective, or even whether reality itself is subjective or objective.
Whether or not truth is subjective, facts certainly can be. As demonstrated above, if people are told that something is true and they have no reason to believe otherwise, then they will believe it to be a fact. However, if someone believes that the other person is wrong, then they will believe that the other person’s fact is just an opinion.
Given the nature of fact and how it relates to truth, it is a good idea to find a more precise definition of fact. The strictest definition – an objective truth that cannot be changed regardless of what people believe – does not fit common use. The definition that fits common use would most likely be something that the majority of people, or authorities in the area, believe is true, provided that there is evidence to back it up.
The difference between a fact and an opinion, then, would be how much evidence there is supporting it, as well as the strength of the evidence behind it. The problem then is that whether people accept evidence is up to what their opinion is on that evidence.
Regardless, while the definitions do take a turn into philosophy, the simplest and most common definition is that facts are accepted as true when backed up by strong evidence and that opinions cannot be proven to be facts.
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