Monday, April 17, 2006


To know, to believe, to opine

Let me begin by pointing out a distinction without which we're sure to get hopelessly muddled, the distinction that determines whether a claim is being made based on knowledge or on faith or on opinion.

If I claim I know something, my claim is essentially based on the soundness of my mind: of my memory, in the case of experiential knowledge; and of my memory and my reason, in the case of scientific or demonstrable knowledge. And, as the name implies, I should be able to demonstrate, to offer a sound argument for, whatever demonstrable knowledge I possess.

If I claim I believe something -- this is according to the distinction I am making; I realize people aren't so formal in ordinary speech -- my claim is based on faith in another. By believing, I am, as the old formula has it, participating in the knowledge of another. To say, "I believe X," is to say, "I have faith in person Y, and person Y says he knows X."

If I claim I opine something, or more likely that I doubt or suspect or guess something, my claim is based on my judgment of how certain that something is based on the evidence I am aware of. Opinion differs from knowledge and belief in that it is essentially uncertain, if only because there is always uncertainty where knowledge (either direct or through another) is lacking.

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