|Cogito ergo sum|
Logic and rhetoric
A fact is a true statement about a state of affairs that has been obtained in the world. Facts are contingent: they depend for their truth on what has actually occurred, as opposed to what is possible. Facts make claims that are, in general, independent from our theory. However, human understanding of facts is dependent on our theory: theory laden.
For instance, the fact 'the sun is a star' is independent from theory: theory has no effect on the state of affairs that led to the sun being a star. Understanding this 'fact' requires theory, i.e. we need a theory of the: sun, stars, language, etc.
In summation, knowledge and beliefs are revisable; facts aren't.
The Factual/Counterfactual distinction
- The distinction between the indicative conditional and the subjunctive-conditional.
- Facts can express indicative-conditionals (if-then), which depend for their truth on what is actually the case.
- Counterfactuals are subjunctive-conditionals, which express (an if-then) which depends for its truth on what would've been the case, if a different state of affairs obtained (a possibility).
- Facts are about the actual world.
- Counterfactuals are about 'possible worlds'.
Examples of fact
The following statements are true:
In relation to maths
In relation to physics
- "The Earth is not flat"
- "Apples fall from trees"
- "The Sky is Blue" (Or Cyan to be more precise) (or Violet, but our eyes perceive it as blue)
The state of affairs a well-formed formula denotes.
As a fallacy
Conspiracy theorists and other alt-right grifters might use "fact" in a fallacious manner. The most well-known example among them is Ben Shapiro, who once said in a debate "Facts don't care about your feelings", completely failing to realize that he and his fellow conservatives are the ones who prioritize their feelings over facts.
- Also, Shapiro commits the 'anti-naturalistic fallacy': he fails to acknowledge that values can influence facts, and feelings significantly affect values.
- Thus, Shapiro is 'begging the question' since he assumes the 'fact/value' distinction as one of his premises, in order to infer the conclusion that asserts 'said' distinction.
- "Facts don't care" presupposes the fact/value distinction; Shapiro intentionally uses this rhetoric to make it seem like facts are deliberately indifferent to feelings. However, this anthropomorphises facts, since 'not-caring' presupposes the ability to care, which facts don't have, by definition.
- Shapiro commits the 'moralistic fallacy': He is not entitled to inferring the factual conclusion "Facts don't care about your feelings", based on a set of assumptions that are evaluative, e.g. assumptions about 'caring', 'feelings', etc.
The fallacy of 'factualism' occurs when someone inappropriately and excessively relies on facts in an argument i.e. to the detriment of values, possibilities, and beliefs (which are more obviously subject to revision and doubt). For example, over-attention to actual historical languages such as English, to the detriment of possible constructed-languages such as Esperanto. More generally, the neglect of what Carnap called "General Syntax": the study of languages (artificial and natural), in their most general form i.e. not just looking at the historical features of languages, but also, those general features that would make any language possible, period.
As a Rhetorical Device
However, the sentence became less and less effective as a rhetorical device since it started to be viewed as nothing more than a meme and a buzzword. But because it worked once, he tried that at each upcoming debate afterward.
"Settled Science": once most scientists universally agree on a statement, it becomes a fact. The knowledge and beliefs of the scientists can change; the facts don't. Scientists may change their minds about the knowledge, beliefs, and truth that made up their theories, and thus, what changes is the theory, not the facts. When scientists revise their work, they would say "we thought it was true but it never was"; they wouldn't say "the facts were never true to begin with".
To determine whether a statement is true or false, scientists use the scientific method.
In Philosophy, a fact is a statement that is understood as truthful if the state of affairs allows it. Facts can also be information about those things to which a truthful statement refers.
It questions objectivity.
A person may have distorted views of the real world due to beliefs, either mental or physical ailments (such as color-blindness) or other factors. Those "facts" are not viewed as facts since only a limited amount of people consider them to be true.
Facts vs Concepts
See also Social constructionism.
Since facts are generally bound by pre-defined concepts such as color and the name given to those colors, or the worth of an item (say, gold, for example), then it sometimes becomes more complex to define whether a statement is true or false.[note 5]
An example of that issue would be concerning tomatoes. Based on the definition of 'fruit' or 'vegetable', this made it difficult for people to tell whether tomatoes are a fruit or a vegetable. Another such example that is more complex would be maize. No one has ever managed to say for certain whether maize was a fruit, a vegetable, a grain, or a grass.
- And even that depends on the specific type of color-blindness.
- I'm quite skeptical about the inclusion of 'colour' in a "Fact" article: the term 'colour' is too vague to refer to any state of affairs. We should, instead, utilise the precise scientific accounts of colour phenomena i.e. as phenomena relating to the electromagnetic spectrum, for these are the only state of affairs that currently account for colour phenomena. The "relativity" of personal facts" (that you seem to be proposing) seems deeply troubling from a logical perspective, i.e. if facts are construed as true-statements about the world, then facts about colour ought to be abide by the law of excluded middle and the principle of bivalence, i.e. 'the sky is blue is the case' is either True or False (but not both) AND 'the sky is blue is not the case' is either True or False (but not both). Thus, if we have multiple people claiming different truth values for 'the colour of the sky', we violate these principles, and most alarmingly, we violate the law of non-contradiction. Therefore, if we treat colour as a fact, then we need to use an objective underlying reality to account for it; the reality described by natural science.
- According to the "Evolutionary Naturalism" of Roy Wood Sellars and his son Wilfrid Sellars: colour phenomena are a type of sense-impression (alongside smells, tastes, etc) that have evolved in the universe, to be present in complex phenomena called "consciousness"; however, they cannot be accounted for by current physical laws and categories, yet they could be accounted for by the postulation of new emergent-laws. Thus, colours construed as irreducible phenomena called "sense impressions", may yet, pending future inquiry, attain a factual status.
- Really, that "facts don't care about your feelings" statement by Shapiro is entirely accurate… but the facts aren't on the alt-right's side.
- Refer back to the section on facts versus counterfacts. "Humans tend to place a high value on rare materials such as gold, especially when they're shiny and pleasant to look at" is potentially a fact (and even then, only to the extent that it describes a loose trend in how humans as a species typically think; it may very well not be true for a particular individual, clan, organization, or culture). "Gold is intrinsically valuable" is not a fact because it is contingent upon the collective opinions of humanity (i.e. belief), which could theoretically change, rather than any sort of universal principles or physical laws. However, "Gold is useful as a component of electronic devices due to its high conductivity" is a fact, because it refers to the specific properties of gold making it genuinely well-suited to being used for a particular purpose, making it valuable to craftsmen seeking to utilize it for that purpose.
- Benjamin Pulley, Ever wonder why some animals see a purple sky?, Discovery Place 26 Apr. 2019