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I answered a question recently. I had backed it up with logic and reasoning as well. But someone had told me that my answer was just a comment of opinion, and that I needed to add some insight from a philosopher or something similar to that, rightfully so because it was just my opinion. So my question is, what separates a philosophers opinion from anyone else's opinion?

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    On the one hand, if you answered a question on this site, the person who "checked" you might've been deferring to a site-specific protocol about post content. PhilosophySE struggles with well-cited questions and answers (I remember there was one poster, recently, Fizz, who would put up well-formed/researched analytical questions, and typically get crickets for a response). Dec 15, 2021 at 19:49
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    OTOH, there's also some high-school clique/intellectual trolling kind of mentality here, only interwoven with philosophical conceit; so sometimes you'll get criticized or downvoted for trespassing upon some (overly) venerated philosopher's literary territory, or for failing to acknowledge an "obvious" thing said by some "famous" writer from the past, or... etc. Dec 15, 2021 at 19:51
  • Welcome to SE Philosophy! Thanks for your contribution. Please take a quick moment to take the tour or find help. You can perform searches here or seek additional clarification at the meta site. Don't forget, when someone has answered your question, you can click on the arrow to reward the contributor and the checkmark to select what you feel is the best answer.
    – J D
    Dec 15, 2021 at 19:56
  • Great question. I saw your tag "expressed-opinion" and have advocated for such a tag, but the PTBs including the sysamin who posted below has a strict policy on "expressed-opinion", at least in theory. See Friends, we are not philosophers (MetaPhilSE).
    – J D
    Dec 15, 2021 at 19:58
  • Does this answer your question? Why should I read about philosophy?
    – user64125
    Feb 1, 2023 at 0:35

6 Answers 6

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Philosophy, as a term, means love (philo) of wisdom (sophia). This is as good a working definition, and in many cases, better than most.

One of the oldest thinkers in the philosophical tradition is Parmenides and he distinguished between speech which is orientated towards truth, which is philosophical and mere opinion, which is not.

Pythagoras and Socrates injected a moral and ethical aspect not only to their cosmogony but also to philosophical speech. Hence, philosophy is speech that is orientated towards ethics and truth. In a word, wisdom. This is why the Deleuzian notion of a philosopher as an expert of concepts is lacking - there is no ethical commitment in such a designation.

We can see how necessary this is again today when fake news & misinformation dominate the public sphere. The romantic late-modernist revolution that culminated with Nietzsche & Heidegger's post-modernism where they subverted the Western philosophical tradition is a case in point.

It seems concept-lovers are fascinated and eulogise Nietzsche's concept-manufacturing despite the fact that he advocated mass genocide which was his concept of "our love of man" (The Anti-Christ). And whilst Bertrand Russell was able to accuse the US government of Nazi-like behaviour over the Vietnam war, Heidegger - a disciple of Nietzsche - was unable to criticise the Nazi regime - even after its noxious brew of social Darwinism and nationalism was exposed in the most heinous crimes of the 20C.

Although Nietzsche is regarded by his many acolytes as not an anti-semite - it seems obvious to me he is the anti-semitic philosopher par excellance. After all, he designated them as the people who brought into the world the notions of good and evil and this had degenerated into the slave-morality of Christianity (Genealogy of Morals & The Anti-Christ). To over-turn this spiritual revolt, he argued meant over-turning Christianity and Judaism - that is subverting the meaning of Judaism and Christianity to a position where no thinking man or woman could subscribe to them. This would be an act of cultural genocide.

We can see this in the treatment of the Uighur Muslims by the Chinese state where they are being forcibly made to reject their heritage. This is manifestly cultural genocide, even if it isn't genocide in the way the Nazi's made infamous.

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    Chinese atheists oppressing muslims. More "If you read Nietszche, then you become Stalin". How does this answer the question?
    – J D
    Dec 17, 2021 at 21:59
  • @J D: Did you read my answer, or did you just see Nietzsche/genocide and had a knee-jerk reaction that I hadn't said anything? I point out that the common-sense view of philosophy, encoded in it's very name, is a very good definition of what philosophy is about. I also distinguish this from Deluzian concept manufacturing as it lacks ethical weight. I also point out Nietzsche and Heidegger as two phikosopgets responsible for the post-mosernist evacuation of ethics from philosiohy. Nietzsche because he called for mass genocide as documented in the The Anti-Christ. And Heidegger who ... Dec 17, 2021 at 22:20
  • @J D: ... who manifestly refused to apologise for the crimes of the Nazi's. Some people ask whether his philosophy was infected by him belonging to the Nazi party. Well, one can ask that question of a chemist with some justification, but the question makes no sense of a philosophy that is orientated towards a person, a people and a nation. He said, "language was the home of being". Parmenides would have regarded that as sophistry of the highest order - reifying opinion as ontology. Does that answer your question? And did you read my answer? Dec 17, 2021 at 22:24
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    Of course. Twice. The question is what makes philosophers statements different. You answer by paragraph: 1. Philosophy=love of wisdom. 2. Philosophy is truth, not opinion. 3. Philosophy is ethics and truth, not concepts. 4. N&H aren't philosophers. 5. N&H&Nazi's bad. 6. More Nietzsche derangement. 7. Muslims oppressed in China. So, you offer 3 definitions of philosophy, and then 4 paragraphs of Nietzche is bad, etc. The question is "What differentiates philosophy from other types of knowledge. 4-7 is a negative claim about "philosophical perversion"... doesn't address it at all...
    – J D
    Dec 17, 2021 at 22:40
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    @GettnDer: "The great majority of men have no right to life, and serve only to disconcert the elect among our race; I do not yet grant the unfit that right. There are even unfit peoples" , aphorism 872 from The Will to Power - the translation is quoted from Scarpitti. Also "The weak and the failures shall perish: first principle of our love of man. And they shall even be given every possible assistance." From The Anti-Christ. The Nazi's gave 'every possible assistance' to those they thought as 'weak' and 'failures' out of their 'love' of Aryan 'man'. Dec 21, 2021 at 17:42
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The value of the philosophical tradition can be called into question, just like anything else. The Enlightenment might seem like a shining beacon of freedom of thought, but it contributed in no small measure to the emergence of modern racism. Kant himself made the following virulently hideous remarks:

Immanuel Kant sketched out a more formalized racial hierarchy in his own anthropological work. “In the hot countries the human being matures earlier in all ways but does not reach the perfection of the temperate zones,” Kant wrote. “Humanity exists in its greatest perfection in the white race … The yellow Indians have a smaller amount of Talent. The Negroes are lower and the lowest are a part of the American peoples.” Elsewhere, Kant asserted that “[Whites] contain all the impulses of nature in affects and passions, all talents, all dispositions to culture and civilization and can as readily obey as govern. They are the only ones who always advance to perfection.” This racial theorizing can’t simply be divorced from the moral philosophy for which he’s hailed, since, as the late Emmanuel Eze has noted, it comprised a substantial portion of Kant’s career.

... Kant’s position on the importance of skin color not only as encoding but as proof of this codification of rational superiority or inferiority is evident in a comment he made on the subject of the reasoning capacity of a “black” person. When he evaluated a statement made by an African, Kant dismissed the statement with the comment: “this fellow was quite black from head to foot, a clear proof that what he said was stupid.” It cannot, therefore, be argued that skin color for Kant was merely a physical characteristic. It is, rather, evidence of an unchanging and unchangeable moral quality.

... On this point, philosopher Robert Bernasconi is blunt: “[Kant] supplied the first scientific definition of race; he promoted this definition when it was challenged, and he saw it adopted by some of the leading students of human varieties at that time.”

Or we can fast-forward to John Rawls and his A Theory of Justice. Now I love this book (and I am also a neo-Kantian with respect to a lot of abstract questions, btw), but it still irks me that Rawls didn't see far enough ahead, so to speak, to avoid exclusive use of he/him pronouns to refer to generic humanity.

More broadly, the merits of "official" philosophical opinions have been called into more systematic question by the school (if you will) of experimental philosophy. Section 3.2 of the linked SEP article addresses your perplexity in the following terms:

A second objection would be that even if intuitions [personal philosophical opinions, AKA "considered judgments"] do matter, we should not be concerned with just any old kind of intuition. Rather, our concern should be with a distinctive class of intuitions. For example, research in philosophy has traditionally been conducted by trained philosophers who spent years thinking about difficult problems. There is good reason to suspect that the intuitions generated by this type of process will have a special sort of epistemic status, and perhaps these sorts of intuitions can play a legitimate role in philosophy. By contrast, the intuitions explored within experimental philosophy research tend to be those of ordinary folks, with no prior background in philosophy, and one might think that intuitions of this latter type have no real philosophical significance.

One way of spelling out this concern is in terms of what has come to be known as the expertise objection. The key contention here is that trained philosophers have a distinctive type of expertise. Thus, if we want to understand the process at the core of traditional philosophical practice, we need to study people who have this type of expertise. It is no good just looking at the judgments of people who have never taken a single philosophy course. A number of philosophers have developed objections along more or less these lines though with important differences (Williamson 2007; Ludwig 2007).

This is an important objection, and to address it, experimental philosophers launched a major effort to study the intuitions of trained philosophers. The results show that trained philosophers still show order effects (Schwitzgebel & Cushman 2012), actor/observer effects (Tobia et al. 2013), and effects of temperament (Schulz, Cokely, & Feltz 2011). Thus, existing work provides at least some evidence against the claim that trained philosophers have a distinctive expertise that allows them to escape the sorts of biases that plague the judgments of ordinary folks.

Of course, there are numerous ways of defending the objection against this type of response. It could be argued that although philosophers do not have an ability to avoid biases of the type studied within experimental philosophy, their judgments do differ from those of ordinary folks in some other important respect. Similarly, it could be argued that what gives certain intuitions their privileged epistemic state is not the fact that they come from a particular type of person (trained philosophers) but rather the fact that they are the product of a particular way of approaching the question (sustained reflection) (see, e.g., Kauppinen 2007).

Now, at the "end of the day," I will go back to Rawls, nevertheless. The twist-ending: whose philosophical opinions, in the form of "considered judgments," did Rawls refer to in A Theory of Justice? This is how he puts it (pg. 44 of the 1999 edition):

If we can characterize one (educated) person's sense of justice, we might have a good beginning toward a theory of justice. We may suppose that everyone [emphasis added] has in himself the whole form of a moral conception. So for the purposes of this book, the views of the reader and the author are the only ones that count. The opinions of others are used only to clear our own heads.

He does use that qualifier "educated," but does he mean by this to refer to specifically philosophical education, or just informed reflection more broadly?

Note:All that being said, I think I found the answer of yours that was criticized, and at the least, I would say that you could've used a more "academic" style of writing it out. Also, the whole reply was rather short, shorter than we tend to look for on this SE. So for reasons of site-specific technical protocol, yes, your answer deserved some revision...

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  • I can't imagine why this was downvoted twice without explanation. A broad range of cited sources and a good, solid philosophically ambivalent conclusion, what's wrong with that? Dec 16, 2021 at 8:53
  • +1 Feeling sympathetic that such an impressive wall of words would be downvoted. Who says that just because emotive justification is a contradiction doesn't make it an oxymoron.
    – J D
    Dec 16, 2021 at 8:54
  • Ha! Go to sleep.
    – J D
    Dec 16, 2021 at 8:54
  • I would, but I agreed to the night shift, including overnights, at my job, so my sleep schedule is all sorts of messed up now. Dec 16, 2021 at 10:37
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So my question is, what separates a philosophers opinion from anyone else's opinion?

Academic philosophy just brings a level of rigor that is generally not found in the layman's opinion (though see below). The result is something more than merely an opinion, but a well argued, thoroughly researched contribution to philosophy.

That rigor comes from:

  • Careful, arduous, studied understanding of and engagement with the relevant philosophical literature for that issue. This can take years. That allows philosophers to not continually reinvent the wheel but to, we hope, build on previous philosophers' ideas (and yes, this does mean that the earliest philosophers in history were not doing that as much because they didn't have as many--or in some cases, any--predecessors.)

  • In some cases, a high level of command of formal logic and the symbol system that goes along with that, which is as abstract as it gets.

  • At very least, a high level of command of reasoning that is not guaranteed when a layman emits an opinion online.

  • Fluency in the style of writing philosophy. Philosophers use a certain shared jargon for effectiveness of communication. Examples: "simpliciter", "modus tollens", "a priori", "nomological", "epistemological", "ontological", "sui generis", "commitment" (in the philosophical sense), "just is", "normative", "intentionality", "iff", etc.

  • The bona fides that comes along with achieving a doctorate in philosophy and, usually, an academic position. Those are not positions one can just bumble into but are very carefully vetted by other philosophy professors in order to choose people who are extremely good at this sort of work.

All this said, there is nothing that says that a person without a Ph.D. in philosophy and several articles under her or his belt cannot make a good contribution. It's just much less likely, in the same way that it is less likely a person who is not an academic mathematician is to make a real contribution to mathematics (with notable exceptions there, too).

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  • well if there is one trait i can say i possess is that i can reason perform decisions based on logic but that's about the only thing i can do right based on your answer. Dec 15, 2021 at 23:09
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For most people, an opinion is a recitation or distillation of some bit of common knowledge: a talking point, an ideology, a slice of dogma... Opinions like that are often useful guidelines for practical and political purposes, but they tend to be piecemeal, patchwork, inconsistent messes as a whole. A given person might have one opinion about one thing and a completely contrary opinion about something else, without ever realizing that the two just don't fit with each other at all.

Philosophers tend to be sticklers for consistency, universality, and the broad perspectives. They dislike holding opinions that contradict each other, and generally put a lot of effort into rectifying or rationalizing their worldviews. It doesn't make them right — and trust me, philosophers are generally the last people who would claim to be right in some 'absolute' sense — but it makes their opinions considered in a way that most people do not understand or aspire to.

It's like asking a neurosurgeon about the human brain. S'he is probably wrong in the absolute sense — because what the f___ does anyone know about the human brain, really? — but s'he will be wrong in such a subtle and well-composed way that no one else is likely to notice, or have a clue.

I sometimes tell people that religion starts off as philosophy, degrades into liturgy, and dies as dogma. It's not a popular opinion, but it's accurate. Some original founder discovers some insight that is creative and living; that insight is misunderstood, but captured in static liturgy; that static liturgy is misunderstood, and reduced to lifeless recitation. It's a natural progression. But each of us has the ability to work our way back up the slope, from dogma to liturgy to insight. That is the work of philosophy, to cut paths for that transition.

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A philosopher is an expert in the creation and use of concepts -- not merely the employment of logic (although that is of course important). A philosophical analysis will be able to observe and comment on the quality of reasoning.

To qualify as genuine "knowledge" (and not opinion), it typically is not enough that you can assign a reason to your belief. Ideal knowledge involves further confidence that the justification is grounded (completely coherent and directly salient). There are interesting philosophical questions about the definition of "knowledge" but a very classical definition would characterize knowledge as justified true belief.

Arguably a true philosopher will go further than knowledge and provide genuine wisdom: that is, experiential understanding about how to make and use concepts. This is the sense in which a philosopher is said to be the "friend of wisdom" -- she knows which concepts hold water, so to speak; and which concepts won't work at all. The quality of reasoning is going to be dependent on the clarity and viability of the concepts you are employing; and philosophers are qualified to evaluate these conceptual aspects of arguments.

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    this is just an opinion I want to see some plato quotes about how great philosophers are
    – Ewan
    Dec 15, 2021 at 18:08
  • +1 I'm upvoting because I think this is the start of a good defense of the claim that philosophers have methods unique to epistemology, particularly embracing a naturalized epistemology, but "true philosopher"? :D Where do get that membership card? I know you're a sysadmin and what not, but references might help make this persuasive. Otherwise, you're in violation of your own maxim that we are not philosophers.
    – J D
    Dec 15, 2021 at 19:54
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    Oh, and watch out for your 'true philosopher' doesn't turn into a 'true Scotsman'! :D
    – J D
    Dec 15, 2021 at 20:02
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    @JD i'll think about how to ground this, but this is a gloss on the definition D+G are usually giving about a philosopher being the "one who create concepts" (where scientists create 'functions' and artists create 'compositions')
    – Joseph Weissman
    Dec 15, 2021 at 21:40
  • D&G? Dolce and Gabbana? Well, the counterpoint implicit in my comments is that your response is your answer creates a unique system of concepts called 'answer', and that your answer IS original philosophy because it is ungrounded, a point you concede. Presuming you haven't plagiarized, you have characterized, and presuming you've done it accurately, it still differs semantically from the origin, and presuming that your semantics is close, it's still ahistorical and biographical and culturally decontextualized. Your answer is metaphysical speculation, even if you have borrowed language...
    – J D
    Dec 16, 2021 at 8:09
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The words of a philosopher are the words of wisdom. They are almost foolproof. Only those who realized the truth can find fault with them correctly analyzing word by word. The important thing is, unlike the words of scientists even while you disagree some ideas of a philosopher's words they are capable to make an impression on your minds. Their words either meet or cross the path of truth. And since they touch another level of generalization, it makes you think. A scientist also tells some truths through experiments or testings. But a philosopher's words transcends 'a scientist's limits'. A wise reader can never ignore the words of a philosopher and they set aside for further investigation if they do not understand even after several reading.

Since different arguments are often seen among philosophers I would never say that the words of a philosopher are fully foolproof.

Let us not forget the words of a philosopher known even to the common man:

“And the males have more teeth than the females in humans, in sheep, in goats, and in swine; and in the other species the observation has not been made yet.”

https://talesoftimesforgotten.com/2020/10/22/aristotle-was-not-wrong-about-everything/

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