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In epistemology, an opinion is understood to be a form of taking to be true that is different from knowledge and belief .

According to a widespread philosophical use of the term, meaning is an acceptance of the truth that lacks a sufficient justification , both subjectively and objectively . In this way, opinion differs from belief and knowledge. One speaks of faith when someone considers a statement to be true, i.e. its truth appears subjectively to be certain, although the believer cannot give an objectively sufficient reason for it. The difference to knowledge is that the knower is not only convinced of the truth of the statement, but also has an objectively sufficient justification for it. However, this delimitation of the three terms is not generally recognized in philosophy, especially with regard to the distinction between opinion and belief. This distinction is not made in English texts; belief can be translated both as “opinion” and as “belief”. In addition, everyday language often does not distinguish between “opinion”, “belief” and “conviction”. A uniform use of the term has not established itself in everyday language or technical language.

Meaning outside of philosophy

A doctrine is determined by the expertise , knowledge and thought of its representative. Unlike personal opinion , it is not a question of personality . The use of language corresponds to a denotation of the word “opinion”, which, along with other meanings, had been widespread since early New High German .
Personal opinion
Colloquially , in social psychology and in some other sciences, opinion is understood to mean an attitude of a person towards a certain object that is characterized by direct concern, individual values , taste and / or feelings . In terms and phrases such as " freedom " , " exchange of views " , "express an opinion" and "someone's opinion saying" it is clear that individual in the same sense statements can be described as "opinion".
Public opinion
Personal opinions can become public opinion when they are publicly discussed in a society and viewed as predominant and representative. There are diverse and complex interactions between personal opinion on the one hand and public opinion on the other, which sociology , political science , business administration , literary and media studies and folklore are concerned with.

Etymology and change in meaning


The word “opinion” goes back to Germanic * mainô , ahd. Meinunga and mhd. Meinunge ; the noun is a derivative of the verb mine . In the original sense it denoted the meaning or sense of a statement or of signs. Even Luther used the term in this old sense:

“The way is that one makes few words, but many and deep opinions or senses. The fewer words, the better the prayer, the more words, the more annoying the prayer. "

- Martin Luther : An interpretation of the Our Father

As meaning , this meaning has been preserved in English to this day. In German it also occasionally occurred in the young Goethe :

“GÖTZ. What shoud that?
RATH. You don't want to hear. Catch him!
GÖTZ. Is that the opinion? "

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe : Götz von Berlichingen . 4th act, 2nd scene

Intention, disposition, or judgment

In the sense of “plan” and “intention”, of (friendly or malevolent) “ disposition ” and of “ value judgment ” in the narrowest sense, opinion is no longer used today:

"BUTTLER. Do you other advice to follow the emperor's opinion? "

- Friedrich Schiller : Wallenstein's death . 4th act, 6th appearance

“LEICESTER. [...] The rank that I hold, the trust with which the Queen honors me, must cast down any doubt in my faithful opinion. "

- Friedrich Schiller : Maria Stuart . 4th act, 6th appearance

"WALTER. [...] You give me bad opinions, judge. "

- Heinrich von Kleist : The broken jug . 7. Appearance


In a more modern sense, "opinion" was the knowledge and consideration that someone has of something. This usage, which has been preserved in the word doctrine to this day, can already be found in Luther's translation of the New Testament :

“But of the virgins I have no command of the Lord; but I express my opinion [γνώμην, gnōmēn], as one of whom I have received mercy from the Lord to be faithful. "

- 1 Corinthians 7.25 (Luther, 1912)

It was still widespread in the 18th century:

“Mr. D. Heumann was the first to discover his thoughts about it in his Actis Philosophorum in a somewhat more complicated manner, and to turn the Elpistani into Christians. Pastor Brucker chose a different opinion, and made stoics out of it [...] "

- Gotthold Ephraim Lessing : Well-meaning lessons for all those who read newspapers

Inadequately justified belief

At the latest Kant understood “my” and “opinion” in the sense of Greek philosophy (see below ), i.e. as Doxa :

"To think is a consciously both subjectively and objectively inadequate holding for truth."

- Immanuel Kant : Critique of Pure Reason . 1781, p. 822

The tenets of ideologies are often based on such opinions against better judgment.

Personal opinion

In today's sense, an “opinion” usually describes a personal conception that someone has of something. The word has been used in this sense since the 18th century at the latest:

“LADY MILFORD. [...] Can I take pleasure in asking you something when I know in advance what you will answer me? Or to exchange words with you when you don't have the heart to disagree with me? "

- Friedrich Schiller : Cabal and love . 2nd act, 1st scene

The connotations of the word include not only subjectivity and emotional coloring of the view, but also a certain contrast to reliable knowledge and thorough thought-through; occasionally the word even implies a lunatic :

"Your beloved daughter Marcebille, since all the guards at the post are calm, in the opinion that the giant was protecting them, we were kidnapped [...]"

- Ludwig Tieck : Emperor Octavianus.

In Germany, personal opinion is placed under the special protection of freedom of expression , which is codified in Article 5, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law .

Concept history

Greek philosophy

"Opinion" is one of the basic concepts of epistemology and is already treated in ancient philosophy . The distinction between knowledge and opinion is first made in Xenophanes ' fragments . Xenophanes wanted to free himself from myths' claims to absoluteness and was looking for research-oriented knowledge. He assumed that ultimate truth was available only to the gods; however, since he did not believe in divine revelation , he could only conclude that final knowledge was fundamentally denied to human knowledge. He understood “opinion”, roughly corresponding to today's concept of a “ hypothesis ”, as a mere approximation of the truth, as sham knowledge.

Parmenides differentiated in his also fragmentarily preserved work About Nature (5th century BC) Aletheia (ἀλήθεια, "truth") and Doxa (δόξα, "opinion"). In contrast to Xenophanes, he considered human knowledge to be possible, but restricted that it could only be achieved through thinking (νοεῖν, noein ); natural philosophy based on observation - like myth - only reaches an opinion, that is, an appearance. A century later, Socrates distinguished the Doxa from the Epistêmê (ἐπιστήμη, "knowledge"). Plato followed him in this and referred "opinion" to the changeable, sensually perceived things that do not allow knowledge in the narrow sense; He distinguished two forms of opinion, namely the assumption (εἰκασία, eikasia ) on the one hand and belief or conviction (πίστις, pistis ) on the other. Aristotle deviated from this insofar as he stated that every opinion inevitably contains a conviction ( pistis ): "because it is not possible that someone who has an opinion is not convinced of what seems to him to be true" .

Arkesilaos represented in the 3rd century BC Chr. The view that not only the sensory perception cannot be trusted, but that also intelligibles , i.e. objects that can only be grasped by the mind , cannot be recognized with ultimate certainty. In doing so, he founded skepticism within the Platonic Academy and advised philosophers to forego the formulation of doctrinal opinions entirely. The Stoics around Zeno took an opposite position , who had great confidence in justification and argumentation (λόγος, lógos ; Latin ratio ) and wanted to accept knowledge when what was known could not be refuted by any argument. The Stoics understood opinions as "weak or false assumptions" . They went beyond the classics (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) ​​by introducing comprehension (κατάληψις, katalepsis ; Latin comprehensio ) as a truth criterion that separated opinion and knowledge .


Thomas Aquinas and the representatives of late scholasticism , who dealt extensively with Aristotle, understood by opinio to be an opinion in which the suspicion resonates that the truth of a statement is only mistakenly assumed. In addition, Thomas occasionally used the term to denote a mere inclination to hold for truth.

Modern philosophy

In his Ethics (1677), Spinoza distinguished three levels of knowledge: imagination or opinion ( imaginatio / opinio ), reason ( ratio ) and intuitive knowledge ( scientia / cognitio intuitiva ). As empirical knowledge based on perception and memory , imaginatio was for him the lowest kind of knowledge; In his opinion, it does not arise from the activity of the human mind, but is only perceived passively by it. Kant used opinion and mean in the same sense as the Greeks; For him an opinion is always based on a possible experience, while in judgments a priori there is no opinion .

In contemporary epistemology, the term “opinion” and a. plays a central role in the gettier problem .


Web links

Wiktionary: Opinion  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Opinion  - Quotes

supporting documents

  1. ^ Hjalmar Falk , Alf Torp : Vocabulary of the Germanic language unit . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1979, ISBN 3-525-26405-4 , pp. 302 .
  2. a b c d e opinion. Retrieved October 14, 2013 . German dictionary by Jakob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm
  3. Martin Luther: An interpretation of the father of us. Retrieved October 14, 2013 .
  4. 1 Corinthians 7.25 (Luther, 1912). Retrieved October 14, 2013 .
  5. Karl Lachmann (Ed.): Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. All writings . tape 5 . Voss, Berlin 1838, p. 47 ( restricted excerpt from Google book search).
  6. ^ Ludwig Tieck: Complete works . First volume. Tétot Frères, Paris 1837, p. 76 ( restricted excerpt from Google book search).
  7. Franz Schupp: History of Philosophy at a Glance . tape 1 : Ancient . Felix Meiner, Hamburg 2003, ISBN 3-7873-1701-5 , p. 88 f . ;
    Franz von Kutschera: The fragment 34 by Xenophanes and the beginning of epistemological questions. (PDF; 1.3 MB) Retrieved October 17, 2013 .
  8. Parmenides: Fragments. Retrieved October 15, 2013 . ;
    Jan Rohls: Revelation, Reason and Religion . In: The history of ideas of Christianity . tape 1 . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2012, ISBN 978-3-16-151012-0 , p. 48 ( limited excerpt in Google book search).
  9. Jan Rohls: Revelation, Reason and Religion . In: The history of ideas of Christianity . tape 1 . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2012, ISBN 978-3-16-151012-0 , p. 53–56 ( restricted reading excerpt in the Google book search).
  10. De anima . Book III, part 3.
  11. ^ Sextus Empiricus : Adversus mathematicos VII , 151; Friedo Ricken: Ancient Skeptics . Beck, Munich 1994, ISBN 3-406-34638-3 , p. 36 f . ( limited excerpt in the Google book search). ;
    Barbara Guckes: On the ethics of the older Stoa . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004, ISBN 3-525-30143-X , pp. 84 f . ( limited excerpt in the Google book search).
  12. Rudolf Schüßler: Doxanic voluntarism with Thomas Aquinas. (PDF; 245 kB) Archived from the original on October 21, 2013 ; Retrieved October 21, 2013 . ;
    Edmund Byrne: Probability and Opinion . In: A study in the medieval presuppositions of post-medieval theories of probability . Martinus Nijhoff, 1968.
  13. Christof Ellsiepen: The types of knowledge . In: Michael Hampe, Robert Schnepf (Ed.): Baruch de Spinoza. Ethics presented in geometric order . Berlin edition. Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-05-004126-9 , pp. 133 ff . ( limited excerpt in the Google book search).
  14. Catherine Newmark: Passion - Affect - Feeling . In: Philosophical theories of emotions between Aristotle and Kant . Felix Meiner, Hamburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-7873-1867-4 , p. 160 .
  15. Critique of Judgment, §90f.