• Athena
    1.6k
    Everyone may know what a fact is but I am not sure what everyone thinks a fact is. I have a second question to ask when there is an answer to what a fact is.
  • T Clark
    6.3k
    Stephen Jay Gould said:

    In science, 'fact' can only mean 'confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.
  • Athena
    1.6k
    In science, 'fact' can only mean 'confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.T Clark

    Thank you. I hope there are a few more definitions before I ask the next question.
  • Banno
    14.2k


    There's a couple of uses for the word.

    A fact is a statement that is true.

    It is also the state of affairs set out by a true statement.
  • tim wood
    7.7k
    A fact is a statement that is true.

    It is also the state of affairs set out by a true statement.
    Banno
    How do you know it's true? That's an account to be given, imo - although there may be different means for different facts.
  • Banno
    14.2k
    How do you know it's true?tim wood

    That's a different question. What I said about facts stands.

    But introducing knowledge brings with it belief, and to the distinctions made in my bio.

    But mostly, the answer to "how do you know that it's true' is "how do you know what is true?" That is, there need be no general answer to every case. How do I know that the cat is on the mat? I see it there. How do you know your address? Presumably you remember it. And so on.

    That is, "How do you know that such-and-such is true" is just a long-winded way of asking "How do you know that such-and-such".
  • tim wood
    7.7k
    And so on.Banno
    Indeed, and so on. I may note that seeing the cat on the mat is an event, not a fact; I a buyer of the idea that all facts are historical facts.

    But unless there is something, we're at the mercy of the Kelly-Anne Conways of the world who would belabor us with "alternate facts." And you may be right. there may be no general answer, although above is this:

    In science, 'fact' can only mean 'confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.T Clark

    So maybe the general method is an appeal to appropriate evidence.

    Which, however it's done, makes of facts essentially contingent things, hardly what one expects from one's facts.
  • Zugzwang
    131

    If I can offer a stubborn answer on a pet theme, it's hard to take this OP seriously. What is a fact? Could this be translated into "gimme some basic stuff about the word 'fact' for those learning English please"? Why not check the dictionary? Are anonymous strangers astride their hobbyhorses more reliable guides? I trust that writers of dictionaries are just reading and listening and distilling a highly complex phenomenon into a simple starter kit which is no replacement for immersion but in fact depends on it (since simple words are defined in terms of other simple words.)


    I think of a magic trick. What will we pull from our hats?
  • Banno
    14.2k
    . I may note that seeing the cat on the mat is an event, not a fact;tim wood
    But seeing the cat on the mat may well be enough to lead one to believe that the cat is on the mat...

    I a buyer of the idea that all facts are historical facts.tim wood
    How would that play out? It's a fact that tomorrow will be Sunday- what's the point of calling that an historical fact?

    Given that her alternate facts are not true, they are not facts. She's misusing the term - that seems apparent. But doubtless she would claim that her alternate facts are themselves "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent", in which case @T Clark's definition is not much help.

    Evidence comes in to play when we talk about belief, not truth.
  • tim wood
    7.7k
    Evidence comes in to play when we talk about belief, not truth.Banno

    I hold truth and fact to refer to entirely different things. It's true that 2+2=4. It's a fact that it snowed last winter. And it may be true that tomorrow is Sunday, but not (yet) a fact. The fact is that you said it was. And lots of people think "fact" and "true" are interchangeable. I'm not one of them.
  • T Clark
    6.3k


    You seem to be riding on your own pompous hobbyhorse.
  • Zugzwang
    131
    You seem to be riding on your own pompous hobbyhorse.T Clark

    Damn right, sir. But I'm aware of it. Are you enjoying yours? Isn't it a bit absurd to define 'fact' anonymously ?
  • Banno
    14.2k
    I hold truth and fact to refer to entirely different things. It's true that 2+2=4. It's a fact that it snowed last winter.tim wood

    You can do what you like, but it seems odd to me that it might be true that 2+2=4, if it's not a fact; or that it's a fact that it snowed, but it's not true.

    Not what we other folk might suppose.
  • Manuel
    1.4k


    A fact is (often, not always) a proposition in which what is stated adheres to the situation the statement is aimed at elucidating.

    Thus, that World War II ended in 1945 is a statement that corresponds to what actually happened in that period of time.

    But it can soon become quite complex, as when new evidence renders the proposition obsolete. Maybe a new fact comes about in which we'd have to conclude that the WWII ended in 1946 because of some technicality concerning some document arises.
  • Banno
    14.2k
    Good reply.
  • T Clark
    6.3k
    But doubtless she would claim that her alternate facts are themselves "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent", in which case T Clark's definition is not much help.Banno

    As you note, a fact is a statement that is true. Any definition of "fact" has to take into account that what we believe is a fact may turn out not to be true when we have more information. That's what I like best about the Gould quote.

    The Kelly-Anne Conway problem has nothing to do with facts. It has to do with convincing people of what the facts are. That's rhetoric, not philosophy.
  • Banno
    14.2k
    Any definition of "fact" has to take into account that what we believe is a fact may turn out not to be true when we have more information.T Clark

    Yep. That's the difference between facts and beliefs. Facts cannot turn out the be false. Beliefs can.
  • T Clark
    6.3k
    Damn right, sir. But I'm aware of it. Are you enjoying yours?Zugzwang

    You haven't been here long. How many of my and other people's posts have you read? If you haven't read them, then you have no basis for judging the quality of my, or any other forum member's, work. If, in general, you don't respect the quality of the thinking or writing on the forum, what are you doing here?

    It doesn't make sense.
  • T Clark
    6.3k
    That's the difference between facts and beliefs. Facts cannot turn out the be false. Beliefs can.Banno

    Maybe that answers Athena's question - Facts don't exist. There are only beliefs.
  • Zugzwang
    131
    Yep. That's the difference between facts and beliefs. Facts cannot turn out the be false. Beliefs can.Banno

    That seems like a plausible description of usage. It's a difference that makes a difference. A 'fact' is more settled. 'Belief' suggests a distance from the claim. A philosopher might be tempted to say, however, that therefore we only have beliefs and never facts. That to me would be an example of a rule-of-thumb being stretched into something less useful.

    My hobbyhorse at the moment is the idea that words/meanings are like animals in the wild. We can play zoology and sketch these animals in broad strokes, but it's an empirical-interpretive activity. Since (as I think we agree) meaning is out there, it's a descriptive enterprise. (Creativity comes into play when parodying metaphysics, I guess.) On the other hand, the metaphysician will take this or that aspect of a word and make it absolute, so that a new kind of quasi-mathematical game is possible...but much more profound than math, since it scratches the religious/literary itch (somehow at no sacrifice of precision and certainty.)
  • Zugzwang
    131
    Maybe that answers Athena's question - Facts don't exist. There are only beliefs.T Clark

    You posted that a moment before I made a similar point. I think it's a reason to not take such a definition of 'fact' too seriously, despite what it gets right. Definitions are a questionable enterprise anyhow.
  • Bartricks
    3.9k
    I think facts are what true propositions assert. So if the proposition "It is raining" is true, then that it is raining is what's being asserted. That is, it is a fact that it's raining. Not married to that analysis, but it sounds about right to me.
  • Zugzwang
    131
    If, in general, you don't respect the quality of the thinking or writing on the forum, what are you doing here?T Clark

    Hey, T. I was just joking with you. You jumped on me, remember? Yeah, I'm ambivalent about philosophy, but so is much of philosophy itself.
  • T Clark
    6.3k
    You posted that a moment before I made a similar point. I think it's a reason to not take such a definition of 'fact' too seriously, despite what it gets right. Definitions are a questionable enterprise anyhow.Zugzwang

    Which I think brings us back to the Gould quote. Here it is again for reference:

    In science, 'fact' can only mean 'confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.

    Facts are always provisional.
  • T Clark
    6.3k
    Hey, T. I was just joking with you. You jumped on me, remember? Yeah, I'm ambivalent about philosophy, but so is much of philosophy itself.Zugzwang

    We seem to be having a fruitful exchange now.
  • Banno
    14.2k
    Facts don't existT Clark

    But that's not right. There are facts. Tomorrow will be Sunday. This post is in English.
  • Zugzwang
    131
    In science, 'fact' can only mean 'confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.

    Facts are always provisional.
    T Clark

    I do like that definition as definitions go.

    I'd remove 'can only be' to allow for uses of 'fact' to also be provisional. Is Gould's claim a fact? Also provisional then?
  • Banno
    14.2k
    'Belief' suggests a distance from the claim.Zugzwang

    In a sense. In another sense a belief is just a statement that is held to be true. BOth are fine so long as we keep one eye on which we are using.

    The wild animal metaphor is apt; for the rest, I'll await the details.
  • T Clark
    6.3k
    Tomorrow will be Sunday.Banno

    I'm retired. I sometimes forget what day it is. Also, in Hawaii it's 7:30 pm on Friday now. There, tomorrow will be Saturday.
  • Banno
    14.2k
    Facts are always provisional.T Clark

    Is that a fact?

    Obvious retort. My apologies. But it is also apparent that there are facts that are not provisional.
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