Fact


Fact

A fact (derived from the Latin Factum, see below) is something that has really occurred or is actually the case. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability, that is whether it can be shown to correspond to experience. Standard reference works are often used to check facts. Scientific facts are verified by repeatable experiments.

Contents

Etymology and usage

The word fact derives from the Latin Factum, and was first used in English with the same meaning: "a thing done or performed", a use that is now obsolete.[1] The common usage of "something that has really occurred or is the case" dates from the middle of the sixteenth century.[2]

Fact is sometimes used synonymously with truth, as distinct from opinions, falsehoods, or matters of taste. This use is found in such phrases as, It is a fact that the cup is red or Matter of fact,[3] and "... not history, nor fact, but imagination."

Fact also indicates a matter under discussion deemed to be true or correct, such as to emphasize a point or prove a disputed issue; (e.g., "... the fact of the matter is ...").[4][5]

Alternatively, fact may also indicate an allegation or stipulation of something that may or may not be a "true fact",[6] (e.g., "the author's facts are not trustworthy"). This alternate usage, although contested by some, has a long history in standard English.[7]

Fact may also indicate findings derived through a process of evaluation, including review of testimony, direct observation, or otherwise; as distinguishable from matters of inference or speculation.[8] This use is reflected in the terms "fact-find" and "fact-finder" (e.g., "set up a fact-finding commission").[9]

Facts may be checked by reason, experiment, personal experience, or may be argued from authority. Roger Bacon wrote "If in other sciences we should arrive at certainty without doubt and truth without error, it behooves us to place the foundations of knowledge in mathematics."[10]

Fact in philosophy

In philosophy, the concept fact is considered in epistemology and ontology. Questions of objectivity and truth are closely associated with questions of fact. A "fact" can be defined as something which is the case, that is, a state of affairs.[11][12]

Facts may be understood as that which makes a true sentence true.[13] Facts may also be understood as those things to which a true sentence refers. The statement "Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system" is about the fact Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system.[14]

Misunderstanding of the difference between fact and theory sometimes leads to fallacy in rhetoric,[citation needed] in which one person will say his or her claim is factual whereas the opponent's claim is just theory. Such statements indicate confusion as to the meanings of both words, suggesting the speaker believes that fact means "truth," and theory means "speculation."[dubious ]

Correspondence and the slingshot argument

Some versions of the correspondence theory of truth hold that what makes a sentence true is that it corresponds to a fact.[15] This theory presupposes the existence of an objective world.

The Slingshot argument claims to show that all true statements stand for the same thing - the truth value true. If this argument holds, and facts are taken to be what true statements stand for, then we reach the counter-intuitive conclusion that there is only one fact - "the truth".[16]

Compound facts

Any non-trivial true statement about reality is necessarily an abstraction composed of a complex of objects and properties or relations.[17] For example, the fact described by the true statement "Paris is the capital city of France" implies that there is such a place as Paris, there is such a place as France, there are such things as capital cities, as well as that France has a government, that the government of France has the power to define its capital city, and that the French government has chosen Paris to be the capital, that there is such a thing as a "place" or a "government", etc.. The verifiable accuracy of all of these assertions, if facts themselves, may coincide to create the fact that Paris is the capital of France.

Difficulties arise, however, in attempting to identify the constituent parts of negative, modal, disjunctive, or moral facts.[18]

The fact-value distinction

Moral philosophers since David Hume have debated whether values are objective, and thus factual. In A Treatise of Human Nature Hume pointed out there is no obvious way for a series of statements about what ought to be the case to be derived from a series of statements of what is the case. Those who insist there is a logical gulf between facts and values, such that it is fallacious to attempt to derive values from facts, include G. E. Moore, who called attempting to do so the Naturalistic fallacy.

The factual-counterfactual distinction

Factuality — what has occurred — can also be contrasted with counterfactuality — what might have occurred, but did not. A counterfactual conditional or subjunctive conditional is a conditional (or "if-then") statement indicating what would be the case if events had been other than they actually are. For example, "If Alexander had lived, his empire would have been greater than Rome". This is to be contrasted with an indicative conditional, which indicates what is (in fact) the case if its antecedent is (in fact) true — for example, "if you drink this, it will make you well".

Such sentences are important to Modal logic, especially since the development of Possible world semantics.

Fact in science

Just as in philosophy, the scientific concept of fact is central to fundamental questions regarding the nature, methods, scope and validity of scientific reasoning.

In the most basic sense, a scientific fact is an objective and verifiable observation, in contrast with a hypothesis or theory, which is intended to explain or interpret facts.[19] (For an example, see Evolution as theory and fact.)

Various scholars have offered significant refinements to this basic formulation, some of which are detailed below. Also, rigorous scientific use of the term "fact" is careful to distinguish: 1) states of affairs in the external world; from 2) assertions of fact that may be considered relevant in scientific analysis. The term is used in both senses in the philosophy of science.[20]

Scholarly inquiry regarding scientific fact

Scholars and clinical researchers in both the social and natural sciences have forwarded numerous questions and theories in clarifying the fundamental nature of scientific fact.[21] Some pertinent issues raised by this inquiry include:

  • the process by which "established fact" becomes recognized and accepted as such;[22]
  • whether and to what extent "fact" and "theoretic explanation" can be considered truly independent and separable from one another;[23][24]
  • to what extent are "facts" influenced by the mere act of observation;[24] and
  • to what extent are factual conclusions influenced by history and consensus, rather than a strictly systematic methodology.[25]

Consistent with the theory of confirmation holism, some scholars assert "fact" to be necessarily "theory-laden" to some degree. Thomas Kuhn and others pointed out that knowing what facts to measure, and how to measure them, requires the use of some other theory (e.g., age of fossils is based on radiocarbon dating which is justified by reasoning that radioactive decay follows a Poisson process rather than a Bernoulli process). Similarly, Percy Williams Bridgman is credited with the methodological position known as operationalism, which asserts that all observations are not only influenced, but necessarily defined by the means and assumptions used to measure them.

Fact and the scientific method

Apart from the fundamental inquiry in to the nature of scientific fact, there remain the practical and social considerations of how fact is investigated, established, and substantiated through the proper application of the scientific method.[26] Scientific facts are generally believed to be independent of the observer: no matter who performs a scientific experiment, all observers will agree on the outcome.[27] In addition to these considerations, there are the social and institutional measures, such as peer review and accreditation, that are intended to promote factual accuracy (among other interests) in scientific study.[28]

Fact in history

A common rhetorical cliché states, "History is written by the winners". This phrase suggests but does not examine the use of facts in the writing of history.

E. H. Carr in his 1961 volume, What is History?, argues that the inherent biases from the gathering of facts makes the objective truth of any historical perspective idealistic and impossible. Facts are, "like fish in the Ocean," of which we may only happen to catch a few, only an indication of what is below the surface. Even a dragnet cannot tell us for certain what it would be like to live below the Ocean's surface. Even if we do not discard any facts (or fish) presented, we will always miss the majority; the site of our fishing, the methods undertaken, the weather and even luck play a vital role in what we will catch. Additionally, the composition of history is inevitably made up by the compilation of many different bias of fact finding - all compounded over time. He concludes that for a historian to attempt a more objective method, one must accept that history can only aspire to a conversation of the present with the past - and that one's methods of fact gathering should be openly examined. As with science, historical truth and facts will therefore change over time and reflect only the present consensus (if that).

Fact in law

In most common law jurisdictions,[29] the general concept and analysis of fact reflects fundamental principles of Jurisprudence, and is supported by several well-established standards.[30][31] Matters of fact have various formal definitions under common law jurisdictions.

These include:

Legal pleadings

A party to a civil suit generally must clearly state all relevant allegations of fact upon which a claim is based. The requisite level of precision and particularity of these allegations varies depending on the rules of civil procedure as well as the jurisdiction. Parties who face uncertainties regarding the facts and circumstances attendant to their side in a dispute may sometimes invoke alternative pleading.[37] In this situation, a party may plead separate sets of facts that (when considered together) may be contradictory or mutually exclusive. This (seemingly) logically-inconsistent presentation of facts may be necessary as a safeguard against contingencies (such as res judicata) that would otherwise preclude presenting a claim or defense that depends on a particular interpretation of the underlying facts.[38]

See also

References

  1. ^ "Fact". OED_2d_Ed_1989, (but note the conventional uses: after the fact and before the fact).
  2. ^ "Fact" (1a). OED_2d_Ed_1989 Joye Exp. Dan. xi. Z vij b, Let emprours and kinges know this godly kynges fact. 1545
  3. ^ "Fact" (4a) OED_2d_Ed_1989
  4. ^ "Fact" (6c). OED_2d_Ed_1989
  5. ^ (See also "Matter" (2,6). Compact_OED)
  6. ^ "Fact" (5). OED_2d_Ed_1989
  7. ^ According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, "Fact has a long history of usage in the sense 'allegation'" AHD_4th_Ed. The OED dates this use to 1729.
  8. ^ "Fact" (6a). OED_2d_Ed_1989
  9. ^ "Fact" (8). OED_2d_Ed_1989
  10. ^ Roger Bacon, translated by Robert Burke Opus Majus, Book I, Chapter 2.
  11. ^ "A fact, it might be said, is a state of affairs that is the case or obtains" -- Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. States of Affairs
  12. ^ See Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Proposition 2: What is the case -- a fact -- is the existence of states of affairs.
  13. ^ "A fact is, traditionally, the worldly correlate of a true proposition, a state of affairs whose obtaining makes that proposition true". -- Fact in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
  14. ^ Alex Oliver, Fact, in Craig, Edward (2005). Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Routledge, Oxford. ISBN 0415324955. 
  15. ^ Engel, Pascal (2002). Truth. McGill-Queen's Press- MQUP. ISBN 0773524622. 
  16. ^ The argument is presented in many places, but see for example Davidson, Truth and Meaning, in Davidson, Donald (1984). Truth and Interpretation. Clarendon Press, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-824617-X. 
  17. ^ "Facts possess internal structure, being complexes of objects and properties or relations" Oxford Companion to Philosophy
  18. ^ "Fact", in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Ted Honderich, editor. (Oxford, 1995) ISBN 0-19-866132-0
  19. ^ Gower, Barry (1997). Scientific Method: A Historical and Philosophical Introduction. Routledge. ISBN 0415122821. 
  20. ^ Ravetz, Jerome Raymond (1996). Scientific Knowledge and Its Social Problems. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1560008512. 
  21. ^ (Gower 1996)
  22. ^ (see e.g., Ravetz, p. 182 fn. 1)
  23. ^ Ravetz, p. 185
  24. ^ a b Gower, p. 138
  25. ^ Gower, p. 7
  26. ^ Ravetz p. 181 et. seq. (Chapter Six: "Facts and their evolution")
  27. ^ Cassell, Eric J. The Nature of Suffering and the Goals of Medicine Oxford University Press. Retrieved 16 May 2007.
  28. ^ (Ravetz 1996)
  29. ^ Ed. note: this section of the article emphasizes common law jurisprudence (as primarily represented in Anglo-American based legal tradition). Nevertheless, the principles described herein have analogous treatment in other legal systems (such as civil law systems) as well.
  30. ^ Estrich, Willis Albert (1952). American Jurisprudence: A Comprehensive Text Statement of American Case Law. Lawyers Co-operative Publishing Company. 
  31. ^ Elkouri, Frank (2003). How Arbitration Works. BNA Books. ISBN 1-57018-335-X. p. 305
  32. ^ Bishin, William R. (1972). Law Language and Ethics: An Introduction to Law and Legal Method. Foundation Press. Original from the University of Michigan Digitized March 24, 2006. p. 277
  33. ^ The Yale Law Journal: Volume 7. Yale Law Journal Co. 1898. 
  34. ^ Per Lord Shaw of Dunfermline, Clarke v. Edinburgh and District Tramways Co., 1919 S.C.(H.L.) 35, at p 36.
  35. ^ Merrill, John Houston (1895). The American and English Encyclopedia of Law. E. Thompson. Original from Harvard University Digitized April 26, 2007. 
  36. ^ Bennett, Wayne W. (2003). Criminal Investigation. Thomson Wadsworth. ISBN 0534615244. 
  37. ^ Roy W. McDonald, Alternative Pleading in the United States: I Columbia Law Review, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Apr., 1952), pp. 443-478
  38. ^ (McDonald 1952)

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  • fact — n [Latin factum deed, real happening, something done, from neuter of factus, past participle of facere to do, make] 1: something that has actual existence: a matter of objective reality 2: any of the circumstances of a case that exist or are… …   Law dictionary

  • fact — W1S1 [fækt] n ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ 1¦(true information)¦ 2 the fact (that) 3 in (actual) fact 4 the fact (of the matter) is 5 the fact remains 6¦(real events/not a story)¦ 7 facts and figures 8 the facts speak for themselves 9 after the fact ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • fact — [ fækt ] noun *** 1. ) count a piece of true information: They have simply attempted to state the facts. fact about: Here children can discover basic scientific facts about the world. fact of: He wrote an article explaining the main facts of the… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • fact — 1. The expression the fact that has long had an important function in enabling clauses to behave like nouns: • Some studies give attention to the fact that non smokers cannot avoid inhaling smoke when breathing smoky air G. Richardson, 1971 • The …   Modern English usage

  • Fact — (f[a^]kt), n. [L. factum, fr. facere to make or do. Cf. {Feat}, {Affair}, {Benefit}, {Defect}, {Fashion}, and { fy}.] 1. A doing, making, or preparing. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] A project for the fact and vending Of a new kind of fucus, paint for… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • fact — [fakt] n. [L factum, that which is done, deed, fact, neut. pp. of facere, DO1] 1. a deed; act: now esp. in the sense of “a criminal deed” in the phrases after the fact and before the fact [an accessory after the fact] 2. a thing that has actually …   English World dictionary

  • FACT — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom …   Wikipédia en Français

  • fact — ► NOUN 1) a thing that is indisputably the case. 2) (facts) information used as evidence or as part of a report. ● before (or after) the fact Cf. ↑before the fact ● a fact of life Cf. ↑a …   English terms dictionary

  • Fact — 〈[ fæ̣kt] m. 6; umg.〉 Faktum, Tatsache ● das sind die Facts [engl.] * * * Fact [fækt ], der; s, s <meist Pl.> [engl. fact < lat. factum, ↑ 1Faktum]: Tatsache[nmaterial]. * * * FACT,   Abkürzung für Flanagan Aptitude …   Universal-Lexikon

  • FACT — may refer to:*Federation Against Copyright Theft *Federation of American Consumers and Travelers *FACT ( facilitates chromatin transcription ), a protein factor affecting eukaryotic cells *FACT centre (Foundation for Creative Arts Technology), a… …   Wikipedia

  • Fact — [fækt] der; s, s (meist Plur.) <aus gleichbed. engl. fact, dies aus lat. factum, vgl. ↑Faktum> Tatsache, Tatsachenmaterial …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch


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