When the answer to a question is not thought to lie in the field of “certain” knowledge, we expect our best specialists in the field (doctors and lawyers and judges and scientists and engineers and even economists) to have considered opinions and accept that different specialists may have differing opinions. If a specialist declines to address a question in his field and express an opinion, we think the less of him and consider him lacking in “expertise”. On the other hand when lay persons or non-specialists have intransigent opinions we consider them “opinionated” and that they have “closed minds”. Human opinions can change – though slowly – and generally due to a change of starting conditions. The same lawyer, for example, may well change his opinion about the same matter at a different time or if given different facts to address the question.
An opinion is a judgement, a conclusion about the unknown, based on knowledge and the application of intelligence and reason. We take opinions to be something characteristic of being human. We don’t expect a computer, no matter how well-programmed, to have an “opinion”. The computer (artificial intelligence) may be able to present an “answer” to a question as being most probable, but it always presents the same “answer” given the same inputs and that answer is not considered an “opinion”.
It is having an opinion which is, I think, the mark of sapience.
I take sentience, knowledge, intelligence, values, judgement, wisdom and sapience to be different – if sometimes connected – qualities. I take these to be as defined here.
sentience is the presence of consciousness. All living things are not sentient. While most mammals and even fish and birds and even insects seem to be sentient, it is not apparent that trees or sponges or algae have consciousness. A brain is necessary. It seems theoretically possible for a non-living artificial intelligence to become conscious, but that has yet to be achieved.
knowledge is an accumulation of observable, verifiable facts about the surrounding world. Knowledge can be recorded and stored in a variety of media including in the memory of brains (both living and artificial). It would seem that all sentient entities possess knowledge. (I take science to be the process by which some area of ignorance is investigated and converted into knowledge. Thus, a tiger exploring new territory is engaged in science).
intelligence is a composite, cognitive skill. It requires knowledge. It is a measure of an entity’s skill in solving problems by the application of its knowledge together with its ability to reason, its speed of reasoning, its language abilities and its capability to learn. Knowledge is essential and the greater the knowledge, the greater the entity’s potential intelligence. However, intelligence is a composite skill and a treasure trove of knowledge without the ability to reason would give no intelligence. A brain is required, but for intelligence to be manifested, sentience is not.
values is an internal set of referents that an intelligent, sentient entity may have. The set of values becomes an ethical code where these values allow the distinctions of the three fundamental ethical values (right and wrong, good and bad, and just and unjust). The set of values may include many distinctions and referents based on learning and experience.
judgement is the ability to compare some knowledge or event against some reference values and to make a conclusion about that piece of knowledge or event. A set of inbuilt values becomes a necessity to be able to make a judgement. The conclusions to be reached by means of making a judgement are relative and qualitative and often abstract (right, good, just, better than, more beautiful, tastier, safer, friendlier, …..). Judgements which lead to quantitative conclusions, in contrast, are just new pieces of knowledge (faster, higher, heavier, …). Having a set of values is a necessary ingredient for the exercise of judgement which then becomes the value derivative of knowledge. Knowledge and intelligence are both required but sentience is not.
wisdom, I take to be the accumulation of knowledge about the quality of judgements. It is thus the second value derivative of knowledge, and requires not only knowledge, intelligence and a set of values, but also an accumulation of previous judgements to which values can also be applied.
And so we come to sapience. In the hierarchy of these qualities, humans are first sentient, then accumulate knowledge (by the practice of learning or of science) and have intelligence. However to be able to then move on to making judgements and accumulating wisdom, something else is required. An internal set of values is necessary. But just the capability to make judgements is insufficient. There must also be a drive to make these judgements and draw conclusions. It is this propensity to make judgements and draw conclusions which gives sapience. Sapience is not wisdom. It is the ability and the drive to make judgements (have opinions) and judgements when valued and accumulated give wisdom.
The drive to take what is known and leap in to what may be, in the form of opinions, is the essence of sapience. Having opinions is what makes us human.
And that also means that to decline to have an opinion is a denial of sapience.