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The Place of Conflict of Opinions in the Development of Knowledge 

By 

Emmanuel e. Etta (PhD) Department Of Philosophy, University Of Calabar 

Asukwo, Offiong O. (PhD) Rector, International Bible Training College South-South Campus, Port Harcourt 

Abstract 

Ordinarily, when people hear of conflict, their minds are immediately tuned to an unusual outcome which may sometimes result to war. This is because conflict is most times associated with disaster and other unwelcomed societal pains. But this should not be the case. This work explores the function of conflict within an epistemological framework and observes that is an indispensible and complementary index in human existence that fosters the development and growth of human knowledge. By its nature, conflict generates the missing link through which reality is perceived. This puts conflict as the fulcrum of philosophical inquiry. In this connection, it is the belief of this work, that the ‘wonder’ which sparks great minds into philosophical inquiry is a product of conflict. Hence, this work concludes, that philosophical conflict of opinions is the bedrock of knowledge development and growth. This is what keeps knowledge growing among the enquirers as it is the very nature of history of philosophy. 

Key Terms: Conflict, Opinion And Knowledge. 

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Introduction Philosophy as a product of conflict arises when we question reality through the advancement of different opinions. So, the counter reaction to an idea or opinion by the enquirers forms part of the process of generating or building knowledge both in rationalism and empiricism. This of course is conflict of opinion. Take for instance, Omoregbe presents Plato to have described the philosopher “as a person whose passion is to seek the truth or whose heart is fixed on reality”. In a similar manner, he refers to Aristotle as defining philosophy “as the knowledge of the truth” (1). These two definitions may generate conflict of opinions as to what truth is. Hence, divergent views may come as counter reactions either to agree or disagree with a particular line of argument being advanced which may lead to other fields of philosophical inquiries and the development of knowledge growth. On this note, we will clarify some terms; examine the problematics of conflict of opinions, look into the conflict of opinion in philosophical enquiry, probe into the nexus between the opinions, truth in relation to knowledge, and finally, appraisal and conclusion. 

Clarification of Key Terms i. What is Conflict? 

Conflict is a term commonly used in daily discourses, social, religious, economic, political and other spheres of human life to describe events or circumstances where crises are involved. So, as a concept, it has been defined differently by different persons and authors, depending on the context of discourse. It is pertinent therefore to examine a few of such definitions. 

According to Erik Erikson’s theory of psychological development, a conflict is a turning point during which the individual struggles to attain some psychological quality. Sometimes referred to as a psychological crisis, this can be a time of both vulnerability and strength, as the individual works towards success or failure (online). In this perspective, he views 

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conflict to mean fighting war, trade embargo and so on. According to him, it may as well be defined as a difference in opinion, perspective or personality. This implies that conflict arises sometimes when one party feels it is in a conflict situation because the other party feels that it is just discussing opposing view. For Caro Clarke, “conflict is opposing desires, mismatches, uncertainty, deadlines, pressures, incompatible goals, uneasiness, tension” (online). He further adds that conflict means when two or more people or groups have, or think they have incompatible goals. For Barker et al, “the potential for conflict exists whenever and wherever people have contact. As people are organized into groups to seek a common goal, the probability of conflict greatly increases” (online). Looking at conflict in relation to coercion, Robinson and Clifford see conflict as a strategy to coerce power after understanding and reason fail (online). The above few definitions see conflict as a natural disagreement which arise from individuals and may differ in attitudes due to an individual perception at the given time. Others see conflict arising from broken relationships as the result of tension emanated from tensed disagreements. If every conflict leads to war and the breakdown of relationships then the purpose of education and development of knowledge is defeated. Education makes other peoples’ ideas accessible to us which we view as opinions and test their validity. Conflict then arises when pondering over an assertion from a given opinion. At that point, one may agree or disagree with the claim and have contrary opinion without necessarily meeting one on one with the author of the said idea. Since knowledge acquisition has an inbuilt chemistry for development through the reflective thinking process, it therefore implies that the epistemic conflict of opinions will necessarily ginger the growth of knowledge rather than the physical war as wrongly speculated. On this note, we therefore define conflict as an epistemic disagreement through which an assertion is debunked through reflective criticism. 

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What is Opinion? 

The word opinion has also been defined by different persons at different times as well as at various contexts. While some look at opinion as perception of ideas by an individual, others believe that it is an individual subjective standpoint in evaluating an issue. So, opinion should be seen as views and ideas expressed by a person. Most often one may decide to keep his opinion if he feels it might be offensive or obtrusive to others. Plato having observed the inadequacies of sense experience as a source of knowledge asserts in his Meno that “true opinions are a fine thing and do all sorts of good so long as they stay in their place; but they will not stay long”(126). By this assertion, Plato posits that true opinions (true beliefs) are not stable, implying that it is not certain, hence, cannot be regarded as knowledge. This is because opinions keep running away “from a man’s mind, so they are not worth much until you tether them by working out the reason” (126). At this point it becomes clear here as Plato admits that though opinion is not knowledge, yet, through the process of recollection it can be tetherized to be one by reason. But can one tether something that does not exist? Plato, through his mouthpiece, Socrates, says yes. For him, when opinions “are tied down, they become knowledge, and are stable. That is why knowledge is something more valuable than right opinion. What distinguishes one from the other is the tether” (126). The implication here is that the opinion which comes through sense experience cannot, according to him, be the source or origin of knowledge. By this presupposition, Plato gives us those qualities that constitute knowledge which are objectivity, certainty, universality and stability. He uses these qualities to separate opinion from knowledge. In sum, opinions can be seen as suppositions, assumptions, mere belief and hypothesis, yet it is the conflict of these opinions that our critical reflections on them and tetherization that can bring out truth in them. The implication is that without epistemic conflict, opinions will remain unchallenged. If that happens there will be no growth in knowledge. 

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From the point of tetherization, Socrates opined that whereas the object of knowledge is what purely is, the object of ignorance is what purely is not. (What that implies is that the object of ignorance is the object of opinion). What both is and is not is between what purely is and what purely is not. So, by knowledge we claim we know. The properties of such knowledge must be “universal, indubitable, clear and certain” (Asukwo, 58). Anything short of that remains opinion which will certainly give rise to epistemic reflections (conflicts of opinions). We are not saying that opinion should not be considered as a necessary raw material for knowledge, but it should be seen as a necessary prelude to knowledge though not sufficient to rely upon. In a nutshell, Socrates meant to say in the analysis above that the lovers of sights and sounds (i.e. the many beautiful things) opine but do not know, while on the other hand, the lovers of the forms know but do not opine (Republic 476 e-480a). However, suffice to recall John Locke’s epistemology, who as an empiricist philosopher shared the view that there is nothing in the intellect that was not originally in the senses. Here, he maintained that knowledge begins with experience (Ozumba 51). According to him, since the mind is a “tabula rasa” at birth, it is only as we begin to exercise our senses that ideas begin to come into the mind (52). 

Going by this empiricist position, it would amount to fallacy for Plato to say that lovers of sight and sounds do not or cannot know. Although innatism kicks against the very foundation upon which empiricism is built, the acceptance of innate ideas suggest that after all, not all things depend on, or are derivable from experience (58). At this point, it is pertinent again to bear in mind Immanuel Kant’s reconciliatory project, aimed at showing that both our senses and our reason are needed to arrive at knowledge. Plato’s argument that the lovers of forms are those who really know is expatiated in his theory of forms, where he divided the world into two, where the world of the sensible things constitute the fleeting things of our 

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daily perception, which do not give us knowledge (22) but rather opinions. On the other hand, Plato enunciated the reality of forms which he sees as abstraction in the realm of the real world (23). The truth for Plato is that things, participate in the world of ideas from where they get their being but to perceive things with reason and not with the senses (24) which is opinion. This is because for Plato, philosophers are concerned with truth and not with opinion, reason being that whereas opinion is uncertain, knowledge is certain (138). 

However, this work posits that philosophers from henceforth should and ought to concern themselves with both truth and opinion, because they work or operate or philosophize through opinions. Hence, opinion is as certain as knowledge and uncertain as knowledge. This is basically because all the ideas ever proffered by philosophers over ages, have always come as opinions which are philosophical hypothesis which are eventually accepted as knowledge. This is why philosophers could disagree on an opinion, and after reason is applied on the said opinion or exposed to criticism, they are later accepted. More-so, human knowledge has always come to be known first as ideas expressed as opinion and then confirmed and accepted as true knowledge. To buttress the above argument it suffices to expose a few opposing opinions in philosophy. 

Conflict of Opinion in Philosophical Inquiry Philosophically, conflict is inevitable, as it is cultural to philosophy due to its critical nature. This is truly a reflection of the saying that “while great men oppose each other thought marches on just the same; the monument of knowledge is built through conflict of opinions” (Firth, online). In other words, conflict of ideas has been the fundamental and necessary catalyst instrumental for the progress philosophy has made since it became known as an encyclopedic discipline in human academic history. 

This nomenclature is concomitant to the definition which says that philosophy is the science of the first principles or ultimate cause (Ozumba, 

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50) of everything. This led the Ionian philosophers to begin to ask question about the primordial substance, the U-stuff (ultimate-stuff) of all things. Thales of Miletus posited “water” as the primordial element; for Anaximander it is what he calls the indeterminate (the unlimited, the Apeiron, the boundless). For Anaximenes, it is “air”. Heraclitus called his, “fire” while Xenophanes of Colophon perceived his to be “earth”. This according to Ozumba, gives us the four basic elements of “water”, “air” “fire” and “earth” (51). It was the conflict of opinion that gave rise to Anaximander and Anaximenes, being Thales’ pupils, to reflect differently from their master’s opinion and arrived at their opinions for others to build on. Assuming they did not take that paradigm shift from the existing thought of their master, Thales, may be what we call philosophy today wouldn’t have been. 

After considering the postulations of the Ionian thinkers, Heraclitus generated his opinion through reflection by proffering that ‘all things are in a state of flux’. Things for him are ever changing, nothing ever remains the same. He is credited with the saying that “we cannot step into the running river twice because fresh waters are ever coming upon us”. This means that things are steadily undergoing changes, nothing ever remains the same. Nothing is eternal, substantive and enduring except the law of change itself (Ozumba, 59). However, Parmenides is regarded as holding a contrary opinion to that of Heraclitus. Whereas Heraclitus presented himself as the apostle of flux or change, Parmenides on the other hand saw himself as the apostle of being. He opined that change is impossible (Ozumba, 60). This is how knowledge kept developing as the result of various philosophical enquiries and reflections until the time Sophism set in with their skepticism about the impossibility in acquiring knowledge that is certain. 

Then came the golden period of philosophy where Plato came to establish his dualistic opinion as a way out of knowledge dilemma. In his contribution, Plato advanced the theory of the world of forms where he 

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avers are eternal, immutable, immaterial realities exist in what he calls “the world of forms”, “the world of ideas”, the ideal world, the intelligible world. The essences of things, Plato calls “forms” or “ideas” and they can only be known through dialectical reasoning and not through sense- perception (Omoregbe, 97). For Plato, particular individual things are mere shadows, reflections or imitations of forms which are ideal things. By this assertion, Plato sees the world in two perspectives, the world of forms and the physical world (world of imperfect things). But Aristotle differs in opinion to Plato’s claim by saying that every material being is made up of matter and form (Omoregbe, 108). Matter never exists by itself without form, nor can form ever exist on its own without matter (Omoregbe, 109). And for him, knowledge is not only possible, but truly so through the instrumentality of the senses (Ozumba, 36). He argues further that in reality, ultimate knowledge consists of many concrete individual things, such as those we constantly find in the world around us. These many concrete things he opines are real in a primary sense, and the qualities of these things are also real (Lamprecht, 56). 

Upon all the conflict/disagreement in ideas, how or what knowledge have they produced? Remember the ideas never agreed and may never agree. So what knowledge have they produced? Is conflict not a process? Remember the philosophical conflict is a continuum which enhances the progression and development of knowledge. So, philosophy in essence is dynamic characterised by action and reaction i.e. thesis and anti-thesis which at times extend to a synthesis of the trend of thought (Ozumba, 2) 

The Conflict of Opposites 

Most times ordinary men construe conflict of opposites to be detrimental, but according to Heraclitus although men can know the eternal wisdom that directs all things, they do not pay attention to this wisdom and, therefore, ‘prove to be uncomprehending’ of the reasons for the way things happen to them. (Stumpf, 15). Here Heraclitus sought to account for strife 

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by saying that it is the very essence of change itself. Hence, conflict of opposites is not a calamity but the permanent condition of all things. From this perspective, he says, “what is in opposition is in concert, and from what differs come the most beautiful harmony.” Throughout his treatment of the problem of strife and disorder, Heraclitus emphasizes that what appear to be disjointed events and contradictory forces are in reality intimately harmonized. Thus the solution of the conflict of opposite rests upon Heraclitus major assumption that nothing is even lost but merely changes its form that the eternal fire moves with measured pace following the direction of Reason, that change requires opposites and diverse things. Reflecting on the above position of Heraclitus, Omoregbe (1990) avers that conflict of opposites: good and evil, light and darkness, hot and cold, wet and dry, male and female, etc, are all complementary, for they complement each other, and the endless conflict or strife between them is the condition of life and progress (76). Karl, Marx corroborates the above view in light of which S. E. Stumpf (1966) posits thus: “when he analyzed the structure of each historic epoch, he either imposed upon it or abstracted from it, the fact of class of conflict as the decisive force at work. In time he explains, this conflict itself would have to be analyzed in more details. It is based on this that he looked upon history as the product of conflict and relied heavily upon the Hegelian concept of dialectic to explain it (405). 

According to Stumpf, Hegel’s dialectic process exhibits a triadic movement. He avers that usually this triadic structure of the dialectic process is described as a movement from thesis to antithesis and finally to synthesis, after which the synthesis becomes a new thesis, and this process continues until it ends in the Absolute Idea (317). Here, Hegel is said to have emphasized in his dialectic all logic that thought moves and that contradiction rather than bringing knowledge to a halt, acts as a positive moving force in human reasoning. This means that the dialectical development produces differentiation as the result of differences in conflict situation. But in essence, the dialectical conflicts are complementary, and 

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are unified in the Absolute spirit. Whenever thesis is arrived at, conflict of opinions will produce the antithesis, and the resolution is synthesized. When reflecting on this process, according to Ali E. Erol, the “newly established synthesis becomes the new status quo. In such cases, the intervener needs to shoulder the role of “contradiction” as he or she tries to negate the conflict situation (online). 

The Nexus between Opinion and Truth in relation to Knowledge Philosophical conflict does not have a generating formula neither does it have a stoppage especially in the process of acquiring knowledge. The goal of any philosophical inquiry is the quest for truth. But the starting point is the perception of ideas speculated through opinions. Before one starts speculating it means he has acquired knowledge, yet not valid knowledge. One may have knowledge of fact but holds a separate opinion about it. Through consistent thinking and reflection he may arrive at truth. It becomes obvious that conflicting views may arise concerning a given subject before opinions on it are shared. Such shared opinions would certainly highlight an individual subjective view on the issue. The question is, at what point do we consider it as conflict when some point of view is questioned? It happens whenever there is an opposing view. But this is good as it sharpens the thought process and explores a complete new idea. It is the starting point, beyond which other steps must be taken to validate and identify steps required to realize the new breakthrough as well as build sufficient mechanism to make the creative idea more sustainable. To this end conflict is all about disagreement and opposition to contrary views. This is the process through which we arrive at truth we can be certain about. 

According to Kwasi Wiredu (1980) in his book “Philosophy and an African culture”, there is nothing called truth as distinct from opinion (110). Here, he argues that if truth is categorically different from opinion, then truth is as a matter of logical principle, unknowable. Any given claim to truth is merely an opinion advanced from some specific point of view, and 

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categorically distinct from truth. Hence knowledge of truth as distinct from opinion is a self-contradictory notion. This is because for him, for something to be a fact, it must remain nothing more than an opinion. 

Also for any given perception to be verifiable is still an opinion. To further support the above argument, Wiredu opines that, an essential fact about opinion is that an opinion is necessarily a thought advanced from some specific point of view. Hence, in the case of truth, we must recognize the cognitive element of point of view as intrinsic to the concept of truth. Thus, truth is necessarily joined to point of view, or better, truth is a view from some point; and there are so many truths as there are points of view (115). He summarizes all the arguments above thus: That truth is nothing but opinion is itself nothing but an opinion (123). In contrast to Wiredu’s position, conflict as an assumed truth by the knower remains a given opinion which must necessarily pass through a rigorous thinking process to be accepted as truth within a given time frame. 

Undoubtedly, very salient and obvious points have been raised, which directly or indirectly indicate that there is a relationship between conflict, opinion/ideas and episteme. Very significant is the fact that conflict is a fact of life. Also we would agree that God made each of us in his image (Genesis 1: 26a ), but he also made us unique. Therefore some of our views and opinions will differ from those of others. However, according to Heraclitus as presented by Omoregbe, although the system of the universe is that of conflict of opposites, they are all complementary, for they complement each other, and the endless conflict or strife between them is the condition of life and progress (76). For Vanya Ivanova et al, conflict itself is not always a bad thing rather, it can evoke progress, change and improvement, therefore the idea is not to – in all cases solve or resolve the conflict but rather to make it non-violent and in the best productive (online). 

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Conclusion: Significant in the above views and which could be deductively inferred is the fact that when there is a conflict of opinion, it always leads to the generation of a new position. This being the case, it means that conflict of opinion becomes a foundation from where fresh insights (knowledge) are produced. This is very obvious in the views of most of the authors we have acknowledged in this work. They have convincingly opined that, conflict of opinion is productive, leads to progress, higher synthesis, provide solution, explore complete new idea as well as help realize new breakthrough. More- so, conflict of opinion can evoke progress, change and improvement, brings the best of the solution for particular situation. These effects of conflict of opinion are possibilities simply because as earlier established by Wiredu, there is nothing like truth distinct from opinion (110). In other words conflict of opinion, as a matter of fact is conflict of truth, ideas/solution. That is we cannot arrive at truth without passing through the schools of opinion. This is why the effects of conflict of opinion as seen above are characteristically knowledge with inbuilt mechanism. Truth as it were can only and always lead to knowledge. 

Truths are ideas which are in most cases used to better the lot of men by way of applying it to solve human existential problems. This is possible because truth is a certain kind of knowledge attained. It is only for this reason that ideas can rule the world. So, if truth is not different from opinion or ideas, then when there is conflict of opinion, it will only produce knowledge, because opinion is an idea, like truth which is also knowledge. 

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