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Opinion or Fact Help (page 2)

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011

Tentative Truths

Try this exercise. Label the following as either fact (F) or opinion (O).

  1. I believe that the government has evidence of contact with aliens hidden in Roswell, New Mexico.
  2. The government has evidence of contact with aliens hidden in Roswell, New Mexico.

You didn't by chance mark the first claim as O and the second claim as F, did you? If you did, it's easy to see why. The first claim is presented as an opinion ("I believe"), and it is therefore clearly an opinion. The second claim, however, is presented as a fact. But is it true? Is it something known for sure? Well, it can't really be proven or disproved, unless you have access to secret government documents. Statement 11 is what is called a tentative truth, since it is neither a fact nor an opinion. Until the truth of that matter can be verified—especially a matter that has been so controversial for so many years—it's best to hold on to a healthy measure of doubt.

Tentative truths need not deal with conspiracy theories or other issues of major importance. They can deal with issues as simple as this:

Volvos get 30 miles per gallon.

This is a matter of fact, and it sounds like something that should be accepted as true, but unless you got in a Volvo and drove around, you may not be able to verify it. You can tentatively accept it as fact, especially if the source is credible. Credibility is the key determinant of whether you should accept facts you can't verify yourself. The next lesson shows you how to determine credibility.

Tip

Credibility of sources is an integral key to determining facts from opinions. Beware of credibility when you use the Internet because it is rife with unreliable sources. Generally speaking, the sites ending in ".edu," ".gov," and ".org" are more trustworthy than ".com."

Critical Reasoning Fact vs. Opinion In Short

Now let's look at a situation where you will have to use your critical thinking and reasoning skills to make a decision and it will be important to distinguish between fact and opinion. Let's return to the example where you must invest your inheritance from your great uncle. In order to make a good decision, you need to know the difference between fact and opinion. You also have to be able to recognize when opinions are based on facts. First, let's continue to practice noticing the distinction between fact and opinion.

In Short

Distinguishing between fact and opinion is a vital critical thinking and reasoning skill. To make wise decisions and solve problems effectively, you need to know the difference between what people think (opinion) and what people know (fact); between what people believe to be true (opinion) and what has been proven to be true (fact). You should also be able to determine whether something presented as fact is really true or if you should accept it as a tentative truth.

Skill Building until Next Time

  • Listen carefully to what people say today and try to determine whether they are stating a fact or expressing an opinion. If you're not sure, is it OK to accept it as a tentative truth?
  • As you come across facts and opinions today, practice turning them into their opposites: Make facts out of opinions and opinions out of facts.

Exercises for this concept can be found at Opinion or Fact Practice.

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