Are opinions more important than facts

Truth and knowledge
How do you come to an informed opinion?

To isolate yourself from everything that does not correspond to your own opinion is a phenomenon that influences political opinion-forming processes. Today it is discussed intensively with reference to social networks under the terms "filter bubble" or "echo chamber effect". How can you prevent users from only getting the information they like and confirming their already finished opinions? How can politics force global players like Facebook not only to show their users messages that are most similar to users' favorites - even if that is exactly what companies strive to optimize their advertising revenues?

As with many things, a look at earlier times and their social practices and models helps to be able to see something that remains hidden in today's discussions and to use methods that are less present in current debates.

These are currently dominated primarily by the social sciences. They are most likely to be trusted to shed light on the complexity of modern societies and their communication channels through their analyzes. They examine opinion-forming factors and ask about the mechanisms of the acceptance of opinions. In doing so, they present models based on empirical studies of how opinion is formed within isolated networks and what influencing factors there are - including those that are subject to political access.

"Ignorance" and "ignorance"

Because the worried reports and studies have one thing in common: they look for countermeasures that can be taken. But why does it bother us that users of social networks only get (want to) see the news that they like? Why does it bother us that they are not informed comprehensively, correctly, but in a distorted manner? Doesn't everyone have a right not only to freedom of expression, but also to freedom of opinion, no matter how crooked in our eyes or in some? Doesn't everyone have a right to ignorance?

But there is no such right. This must not be confused with the right to "informational self-determination" and the "right not to know". This means that everyone can decide what to do with their personal data or, as a variant of whether they want to know such personal data themselves, a question that is ethically extremely important in prenatal diagnostics. So this is always about personal rights and the unrestricted ability to dispose of oneself. But a right to not know something or not to know exactly?

While the right not to know as a self-determined renunciation of information presupposes a responsible person who knows about the consequences of his decision, the person in the filter bubble is just not mature and informed. What makes this situation so worrying is that this immaturity is not, or at least not only, externally induced. The algorithmic information distribution by Facebook only adapts to the communication and information behavior of the users and additionally reinforces them. So it is in a certain way wanted by the user himself.

The new concept of the post-factual

This has a lot to do with the new concept of the post-factual, whose steep career has been observed in recent months. "Post-factual" describes a culture of discussion in which facts - that is, that something is the case or that something is not the case - play little or no role as arguments. The sociologist of knowledge Michael P. Lynch pointed out in his book "In Praise of Reason", published in 2012, that there have been formative developments in the history of the criticism of rationalism which have led to the fact that there are no generally shared standards for examining facts or circumstances today There are more convictions and that the weighing up between different facts or supposed facts seems to have drifted into arbitrariness. With these developments he meant the equation of reason and rationalism, the idea that there is no such thing as an objective truth, or the emphasis that science is also dependent on subjective perspectives. If one looks at this against the background of a general suspicion of the elites and a lack of trust that they can also pursue and achieve the well-being of all, then something important becomes transparent: If such criticisms of reason - which are justified and differentiating in their respective historical context - on the If you encounter breeding grounds for dissatisfaction with the intellectual decision-makers in a society, they turn into something very dangerous. They transform into the total leveling of all knowledge and non-knowledge or the feeling of the total loss of criteria for differentiation. If this loss spreads, a society can no longer function.

“When the criteria for differentiation are lost
and this spreads, a society can no longer function. "

The stoa and ancient skepticism

But that still falls short and must be further substantiated historically. So we have to go back further than the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. Because the ancient discussions on opinion-forming have interesting things to contribute at this point. What quality opinions have and whether they can claim to be knowledge has been the central focus of philosophical debates since Plato at the latest. In the ancient debates between the Stoa and academic skepticism, such as those between the third and first centuries BC BC, we find the models and role models of the modern criticism of reason and skepticism that lead us today in a transformed form into the post-factual. This is by no means accidental or accidental, because the theorists of the 18th century knew and eagerly received the texts of the Sextus Empiricus, who summarized this intellectual legacy for them. The skeptical and stoic discussions about the truth of opinions always end in aporia or stalemate; and so they already carry the potential of Enlightenment rationalisms. They appear to be ultimately indistinguishable and a mere useless school philosophy.

Plato and Aristotle

In antiquity, however, we also find other ways beyond these well-known paths - and there are those who are not satisfied with the simple - or sometimes not so simple - distinction between true and well-founded opinions and those that are not or are not be able to claim. Because these other ancient debates want more: they want to show that there is not only the possibility of true opinions, but that one can also know something (and not just think). These other ways in antiquity are that of Plato and his school and that of Aristotle and his school, Peripatos. The stoics and skeptics argued about such things as whether the colors of a pigeon's neck, which change depending on the perspective of the beholder, force us to abstain from judgment about which color the pigeon neck "really" has, whether the senses here deliver reliable data. The Platonists and Aristotelians, on the other hand, would have just smiled at an analogous discussion, e.g. whether the number of spectators at a major event depends on the position of the viewer, and denied that this was a relevant problem of knowledge at all. Because in both examples it is obvious that the problem does not lie with the facts, but with the viewer's interpretation. Depending on the incidence of light, the pigeon's neck actually has one color blue and one purple color. The only difficulty is the opinion that the throat is blue and purple at the same time in the same place. Of course it is not, at least not at the same time and in the same respect. You have to distinguish between these aspects. And depending on where you stand, a crowd looks really bigger than it is, because you assume (perhaps wrongly) that it will continue for another 100 square meters in the same density. If Aristotle had considered something like this as an object of knowledge at all, then he would have classified such questions under the category "that (or also: what) is an object (Greek hóti)". In his metaphysics he says that there is a difference between those who only know the “that” (ie the facts, Greek óti), but not the “why” (Greek dióti). Only this is real knowledge. With "really" Aristotle means a knowledge of something that grasps what something is in a sufficient and thus infallible way. So real knowledge is knowledge of the reasons and causes of something. Proceeding from this insight, which Aristotle developed from a long Greek tradition of searching for reasons, it becomes understandable why classical Greek philosophy attached such great importance to the causes of things. She has recognized a dimension in them that allows us to understand more about the facts behind them and represents a secure, non-deceptive foundation for one's own convictions - namely a foundation for not deceiving oneself, for being subject to a wrong opinion, something that Plato considered the greatest calamity that can happen to you.

The restlessness of Socrates

But the way there is not an easy one. To do this, one has to recall the restlessness with which Socrates plunged the Athenian citizens into despair with his probing inquiries or caused them to become annoyed. Socrates was by no means satisfied with the mere facts. Even if he agreed with an opinion in terms of content, he did not give up until it was clear whether the person who represented it also knew why his opinion was correct and in what respect. In Dialogue Menon, the sophistic interlocutor describes the effect that Socrates had with this questioning, once with the feeling of touching an electric ray. One is shocked by its electrical discharges and can no longer move (mentally). Because he, Meno, no longer knows what to think, after Socrates has shown him that he cannot give an account of his opinion of what virtue is. Socrates then guides him step by step until he is almost where he wanted to be: where he really knows something certain about virtue. Aristotle does it in a very similar way: in all of his writings he guides his readers step by step to check their opinions for facts and reasons. In the Platonic dialogues, however, we also see the resistance and setbacks in the introduction of such a culture of reflection. Most of the socially established interlocutors in particular do not want to hear anything from Socrates' evidence that their own supposed knowledge is none at all, but a double ignorance, because they think they know something and therefore do not feel the lack of knowledge at all and not themselves go in search of well-founded knowledge. And even if Socrates' message falls on fertile ground, as in the case of the highly talented young politician Alkibiades, who later became the Athenian general, in another dialogue we find with disappointment that the hopeful attempts to critically revise his own opinions have not substantially changed his way of life .

It's about reasons

The ancient discussions thus reveal that our discomfort with filter bubbles and echo effects in social networks has something to do not only with the facts and fakes, but with the interpretation of facts, and that means: with the quality of opinions and our ability to be sufficient To distinguish well-founded knowledge from something that does not meet these criteria or does not sufficiently meet them. So it's about the reasons. It doesn’t matter whether one claims something from mere hearsay, whether one invokes the headline of a tabloid newspaper, which has already been disproved as untrue, or the factual characteristics of facts that have been confirmed in several studies. The reasoning cannot be delegated. Everyone who expresses an opinion and assigns a validity claim to it has to do this himself. One cannot, as Donald Trump has repeatedly done, especially in connection with the espionage allegations against the Obama administration, rely on any sources and expose or even deny one's own quality control of these sources.

“You can't delegate the reasoning. Everyone has to
do yourself who expresses an opinion with a claim to validity. "

The age of postal accounts

The worrying thing is therefore not that we are in a post-factual age - there is much hope that this is not the case, one only has to look at the competent journalistic research of the major American newspapers since the change of power in Washington - but that we are live in a post-accountability age where we are making too little effort to challenge and improve the quality of opinions and the basis of their rationale. One has to worry about the fact that with some opinion leaders and leading politicians the feeling of having to give an account of the correctness of the assertions and opinions represented is increasingly giving way. Even if there are repercussions from the mass of supporters on their opinion leaders, because they no longer demand justifications, it does draw attention to the fact that such politicians primarily address their supporters in their own country and not a general, international public or the principle of a feel obliged to weigh up the issues carefully. This is not just a geographical provincialization of opinion formation. Echo chamber effect and filter bubbles are modern phenomena of such provincializations. It is easy to understand that people are looking for protected spaces. Because it is initially uncomfortable when you have to deal with something that contradicts your own familiar opinions. First of all, it is much more pleasant to have these opinions confirmed again and again. Demagogic techniques exploit precisely this phenomenon. The satisfaction can only be very superficial and short-sighted. Plato made his Socrates stand up for the view that there is nothing that makes you more unhappy than to deceive yourself about yourself and that it is worth the first discomfort with the unfamiliar and the confusion one gets into when one is one's Questioning beliefs must be overcome. The fifth century in Greece was also an eventful time. At that time Socrates became a restless and persistent questioner. Perhaps it takes a certain political unrest to arouse the need in many to critically question their own opinions for their reasons.