What Are Opinions, Philosophies?
By Jon Huer
Korea Times Columnist
My columns that appear in this space go by the title ``opinion,'' as do those of other writers. Still, I would like to think of what I write as my ``philosophy,'' an advanced form of opinion.
Here are some thoughts on the differences between opinions and philosophies.
A cynic might say that it is an opinion, if you don't like it, and a philosophy if you do. But there are considerable differences between the two as concepts.
All great philosophies of the West, from the days of Socrates to our own post-Keynesian era, began as opinions. Although no one takes anybody else's opinions seriously, people take philosophies more seriously, even though they may not agree with them.
Opinion is a private matter, emerging as a reaction to one's feeling and mood of the moment to satisfy a particular desire of the person.
It is subject to change, depending on the circumstances or the situations. Most important of all, an opinion is the beginning and ending of all thoughts. It cannot advance. If the opinion does advance to the next stage of its development, then it is no longer an opinion as it becomes a philosophy.
Philosophy is a ``public'' issue of some importance, perhaps political or economic, perhaps religious, or even philosophical in that it serves no specific purpose or practicality of the moment.
It transcends the person, into a sphere larger than the person, involving many persons, even generations. Hence a philosophy requires a language or a logic that conforms to the public rules of discourse.
When a philosophy is declared, it signals the beginning of a long, often historical, debate and discourse.
If someone says, ``You are an idiot!'' it is an opinion, and a repetition of I-am-not and Yes-you-are ensues.
If someone says, ``These are the reasons why I believe you are an idiot,'' we expect a fairly intelligent ``philosophical'' discourse. Unlike the holder of an opinion, the believer of a philosophy tends to stay with his beliefs for life.
Advanced societies manage to separate the two spheres ― personal opinions and public philosophies ― from each other and handle them rationally. This is the sign of a mature, modern nation, beyond the personal or the tribal.
We allow opinions to be casual and free, but demand philosophies to be more substantially developed according to certain public criteria.
In Korea, the two tend to get mixed up, opinion as philosophy and vice versa, often unable to separate what is private and what is public. Thus, public decisions are taken personally, and personal feelings dominate public discourses.
As for me, three decades of teaching college sociology taught me some rules about opinions and philosophies:
1. If someone's opinion is against your character, pride and self-image, accept it as true. Probably they are right and you are wrong about yourself.
2. If it praises your character, integrity and public image, reject it because it is probably false.
3. Flattery, proportional to the recipient's power, is false by nature.
4. Since nobody cares if you own an opinion or what kind of opinion it is, it is best if you don't have one for very long.
5. Your own opinion's likelihood of being false is proportional to your power in an organization. The higher your power, the more likely that it is false.
6. As soon as you have an opinion, develop it into a philosophy.
7. All things not in nature are the opinions of somebody. Even the line ``All men are created equal'' is an opinion. ``Government by the people…'' is an opinion. Ultimately, ``Love one another as I have loved you'' is an opinion. They are all subject to rejection by you. You can reject any or all of them.
8. If you reject all thoughts around you as ``opinions,'' as it is your right to do so, you end up solely with your own opinions.
9. Only an idiot or a dictator is exclusively attached to his own opinions.
10. Only free thinkers have opinions and philosophies and can change them as they wish.
11. Only free thinkers can develop opinions into philosophies.
I try to follow my own rules, always working to transform my opinions into philosophies. Here is the list of my most cherished opinions-as-philosophies. Obviously, the choice in each category says a great deal about the person: in this case, me. The criteria? They edify and make me a better human being.
The greatest single book: THE BIBLE, ghost-written by God.
The greatest philosophy book: THE REPUBLIC by Plato.
The greatest novel of all time: THE RED AND THE BLACK by Stendahl.
The greatest Asian novel of all time: THREE KINGDOMS by Luo Guan Zhong
The greatest American novel: MOBY DICK by Herman Melville.
The greatest short novels: THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER by Alexander Pushkin; THE APPLE TREE by John Galsworthy; and ETHAN FROME by Edith Wharton.
The greatest Protestant poem: PARADISE LOST by John Milton.
The greatest Catholic poem: DIVINE COMEDY by Dante.
The greatest cautionary tale: GULLIVER'S TRAVELS by Jonathan Swift.
The greatest utopian book: LOOKING BACKWARD by Edward Bellamy.
The greatest revolutionary idea: THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO by Karl Marx.
The greatest composition of all time: MISSA SOLEMNIS by Beethoven.
The greatest symphony: THE EROICA, in E Flat, by Beethoven.
The greatest quartet: THE LATE QUARTETS by Beethoven.
The greatest spiritual companion: THE IMITATION OF CHRIST by A Kempis.
The greatest autobiographies: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X, STORY OF A SOUL by St. Therese; CONFESSIONS by St. Augustine; and DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL by Anne Frank.
The greatest biographies: BUTLER'S LIVES OF THE SAINTS, JOHN BROWN by W.E.B. Dubois.
The greatest books on war: Civil War: THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE by Stephen Crane; World War I: ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT by Erich Maria Remarque; World War II: TO HELL AND BACK by Audie Murphy; and Korean War: PORK CHOP HILL by S. L. A. Marshall.
The five greatest films of all time: "SHANE"; "ON THE BEACH"; "BEN-HUR"; "PATHS OF GLORY"; "ROMAN HOLIDAY."
The greatest life-saving quote of all time: "WE'VE MET THE ENEMY, AND HE IS US!" by Pogo.
History's greatest martyrs (who chose death, listed chronologically): Founders: SOCRATES (for philosophy) and JESUS (for Christianity); Religious Martyrs: STS. THOMAS MORE and JOAN OF ARC; Humanist Principle: JOHN BROWN, Abolitionist, and CHARLES GORDON, of Khartoum.
The greatest American philosophy: WALDEN by Henry David Thoreau.
The greatest American social criticisms: THE THEORY OF THE LEISURE CLASS by Thorstein Veblen; WHITE COLLAR by C. Wright Mills; THE POST-HUMAN SOCIETY by Jon Huer.
The most puzzling events in human history: The birth and existence of the United States and The Holocaust.
The most puzzling modern nation in existence: The Republic of Korea.
The most important question of all time: "Am I my brother's keeper?"
The most affirmative answer to the above question in America: "The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" in Washington, D.C.
The most negative answer to the above question in America: U.S. Capitalism.
The most patriotic statement to come out of 1776: "I told them I was going to fight for my country," by 16-year-old fifer John Greenwood.
The most-convincing "socialist" document in the United States: The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
The most revolutionary human declaration ever: "All men are created equal."
The three greatest inventions by the Devil: Television, Hollywood and the Internet.
I am willing to debate the "philosophy,'' not "opinion," behind each selection, and await readers' opinions that are at least halfway developed into philosophies.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. "The opinions expressed and the observations described in these articles are strictly the writer's own and do not represent any official position of the University of Maryland University College or the USFK."