‘It’s just a matter of opinion’

-

THIS RESOURCE is one of the many activities on the website that directs attention in a focused way on key concepts. In this case the concepts are those related to opinion, belief truth and so on. In our view, successful philosophising with children requires both open discussion and focused activities. The website contains plenty of advice on how to combine them in the best ways.

Devised by Jason Buckley and Steve Williams

THE PHRASE “it’s just a matter of opinion” is often heard but it is not clear, without further dialogue, what users of the phrase mean. There is a range of possibilities. For example:

  • This is an opinion as opposed to a fact. Only facts can be true so this can’t be true.
  • This is an opinion and, although some opinions can be true, this isn’t one of them.
  • This is no more than an opinion because there are no good reasons to support it.
  • There is no such thing as objective truth.

In this activity, you provide a list of opinions and ask students if the phrase “it’s just a matter of opinion” should be applied to each one. You also provide a list of concepts to stimulate the students’ thinking and prompt their replies.

Suggestions for doing the activity
Have the opinions (listed below) available for your students. We have attached a formatted version but you can choose any format you like. Also have the ‘concept sheet’ available. For each of the statements, ask students to decide whether or not they think “it’s just a matter of opinion.” When they have made their decision, ask them to explain it using the concepts on the concept sheet as prompts. Which of those are relevant to their answers and why? If the students don’t know the meanings of the concept words, take some time to explain. Question the students and encourage them to question each other about their decisions, justifications and choices of related concepts. Discussion is likely to focus on:

  • whether each opinion can be supported by reasons
  • what kinds of reasons can be identified
  • what the power of each kind of reason can be in each case.

There is plenty of scope for making distinctions between concepts such as opinion, belief, truth and knowledge, and for asking whether some opinions are more justifiable than others.

Discussion about some opinions may focus on what particular terms mean. For example, what does ‘harder’ mean in the statement ‘maths is harder than English’? If both parties could come to an agreement about the criteria for ‘hard’ and the appropriate contexts for its application, could the statement by more than just a matter of opinion? If they can’t agree criteria must it only be a matter of opinion? The activity is as complicated as you want to make it and could give you scope for plenty of follow-up discussion in lessons that follow.

Variations and practicalities
There is plenty of scope for doing the activity in different ways. For example, you might make a selection of the statements and present them to students one opinion at a time or let students see all the opinions from the start. You could get students moving to designated positions or standing on a line to indicate their choice, or you could sit them at tables sorting their items into groups and labelling them. You could have them making decisions individually or by trying for a group consensus.

List of situations

  • David Beckham is better looking than Brad Pitt.
  • Manchester United is a better football team than Tranmere Rovers.
  • Manchester United is a better football team than Chelsea.
  • Brussels sprouts taste disgusting.
  • You get what you deserve.
  • It’s wrong to kill humans for sport.
  • It’s wrong to kill animals for sport.
  • Brussels sprouts contain lots of vitamin C.
  • Beethoven is a better composer than Justin Bieber
  • Maths is harder than English.
  • The world is warming up because of human activities.
  • If you want to get a good job, you need to do well at school.
  • It’s wrong to tease people because they are fat.
  • Whole class detentions are unfair.
  • When someone dies, their eldest son should inherit everything.
  • All people are selfish.
  • Smoking is bad for your health.
  • Smoking makes you look grown-up.

List of concepts

  • Opinion
  • Belief
  • Truth
  • Knowledge
  • Attitude
  • Justify
  • Certainty
  • Evidence
  • Probability
  • Reasons
  • Taste
  • Likes/dislikes
  • Fact
  • Supportable
  • Insupportable