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Define 'Fact"

 
 
Reply Sat 24 May, 2008 09:48 pm
From a philosophical point of view, what is a fact?
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Type: Discussion • Score: 0 • Views: 5,965 • Replies: 54
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contrex
 
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2008 04:48 am
A statement or assertion of verifiable information.
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neologist
 
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2008 05:15 am
verifiable?
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DavidIg
 
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2008 06:14 am
A fact is that which we are either certain of, or believe to be true.
Verifiable by the senses, logic, experiment and belief.
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agrote
 
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2008 08:52 am
A fact is a state of affairs.

I disagree with contrex. Facts are not statements, but state of affairs which make certain statements true. E.g. the statement "It is raining" is made true in certain contexts by the state of affairs of rain falling from the sky. A statement is just a true (or false) proposition, not a fact.

I disagree with Davidlg. We are not necessarily either certain of the facts or convinced that they are true. It is a fact that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen, and it was a fact long before we started to believe it. Facts are true, but we are not necessarily aware that they are true. Furthermore, many of the things "we" believe to be true are not facts. Belief/certainty that X is neither necessary nor sufficient for X to be a fact.
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existential potential
 
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2008 11:28 am
If a fact is true, then it will correspond to an external state of affairs.
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contrex
 
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2008 11:59 am
Quote:
It is a fact that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen, and it was a fact long before we started to believe it.


I see what you are getting at here, but I think you are missing the (or "a") point. It would have been meaningless (and unverifiable) to assert to an individual alive in the 15th century that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen.
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Ragman
 
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2008 12:04 pm
viewpoint of observer
...but am I missing something? We, as the observers, aren't in 15th century..(YET!) We're in the 21st century and as such have that viewpoint. Why would we care about what 15th century observers knew? Also, for the sake of discussion, we can't dialogue with a 15th century individual, so what they knew then can't help us now with defining present day facts or philosophy.
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Francis
 
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2008 12:17 pm
agrote wrote:
E.g. the statement "It is raining" is made true in certain contexts by the state of affairs of rain falling from the sky. A statement is just a true (or false) proposition, not a fact.


Obviously, you are a bit Manichean.

First, define rain.

Probably you'll say that rain is water falling from the sky.

Well, what about drizzle?

And what about a firefighter plane launching water?

Facts are not so easy as a yes or no statement...
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contrex
 
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2008 12:31 pm
Quote:
Why would we care about what 15th century observers knew?


Because thinking about it casts light on such matters as paradigms of thought, the meaning of "verifiability" etc.
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agrote
 
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2008 01:06 pm
existential potential wrote:
If a fact is true, then it will correspond to an external state of affairs.


All facts are true. Falsity is the absence of a fact. It is propositions that, when true, correspond to an external state of affairs.

Quote:
I see what you are getting at here, but I think you are missing the (or "a") point. It would have been meaningless (and unverifiable) to assert to an individual alive in the 15th century that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen.


The proposition that 'water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen' was only circumstantially unverifiable in the 15th century. It was never logically impossible to verify it.

The words 'hydrogen' and 'oxygen' lacked meaning, but propositions can be stated in different ways. The proposition about water's composition could perhaps have been stated as follows: "Water is composed of two different elements that the human race is yet to discover, which will be called 'hydrogen' and 'oxygen'." That statement might have had meaning.

Are these points helpful? I'm not sure what you're getting at, to be honest. Your point is about propositions, not facts. I think that facts are mind-independent and language-independent. Water is the way it is whether we know it or not. 15th century people didn't know it, but so what?

Francis wrote:
Obviously, you are a bit Manichean.


What does that mean?

Quote:
First, define rain.


What for? I don't think I need to know precisely what rain is. Whatever it is, if it's happening, then the proposition 'it is raining' is made true by it.

There's an epistemological problem here: if I'm not sure exactly what rain is, then how can I know whether the proposition is true?

But I'm not interested in epistemology here. I don't care how we know things or whether we know things. Propositions are true (or false as the case may be) regardless of whether we know it. If the proposition that it is raining is capable of being true, then there is a possible state of affairs that makes it true. Whether that state of affairs is water falling from the sky or clouds condensing over our heads doesn't really matter.

Quote:
Probably you'll say that rain is water falling from the sky.


Why would I probably say that? It's obviously not accurate.

Quote:
Well, what about drizzle?


A type of rain, I would have thought.

Quote:
And what about a firefighter plane launching water?


What about it?

Quote:
Facts are not so easy as a yes or no statement...


How does this follow from what you've said? I'm not even sure what it means. Facts exist independently of statements about them. Knowing facts can be difficult, I'll grant you that, but that's epistemology again. I'm talking about ontology. Facts are out there, even they're tricky to reach. If they weren't out there then nothing would be true.
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Francis
 
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2008 01:25 pm
agrote wrote:
What does that mean?


Dualistic would be better?
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agrote
 
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2008 02:33 pm
Okay, I accept that. Truth-apt propositions are either (1) true or (2) false.
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DavidIg
 
  1  
Reply Sun 25 May, 2008 04:02 pm
agrote wrote:
A
I disagree with Davidlg. We are not necessarily either certain of the facts or convinced that they are true. It is a fact that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen, and it was a fact long before we started to believe it. Facts are true, but we are not necessarily aware that they are true. Furthermore, many of the things "we" believe to be true are not facts. Belief/certainty that X is neither necessary nor sufficient for X to be a fact.


That's actually what I said/implied :wink:
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neologist
 
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2008 11:54 pm
In case any one has yet to notice, I posted this same question in Science, Philosophy and Religion Forums

The differing points of view are interesting, but not yet enlightening, IMO.
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agrote
 
  1  
Reply Mon 26 May, 2008 03:53 am
DavidIg wrote:
agrote wrote:
A
I disagree with Davidlg. We are not necessarily either certain of the facts or convinced that they are true. It is a fact that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen, and it was a fact long before we started to believe it. Facts are true, but we are not necessarily aware that they are true. Furthermore, many of the things "we" believe to be true are not facts. Belief/certainty that X is neither necessary nor sufficient for X to be a fact.


That's actually what I said/implied :wink:


How did you imply it? You said, "A fact is that which we are either certain of, or believe to be true." I am saying that this is false.
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DavidIg
 
  1  
Reply Mon 26 May, 2008 04:41 am
agrote wrote:

How did you imply it? You said, "A fact is that which we are either certain of, or believe to be true." I am saying that this is false.


We can be certain reality is absolute, we can also believe something to be factual that turns out to be in error.
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agrote
 
  1  
Reply Mon 26 May, 2008 06:49 am
What's this got to do with anything else that has been said?
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neologist
 
  1  
Reply Mon 26 May, 2008 10:06 am
I would have to say that fact and truth are inextricably related, our own beliefs or error notwithstanding.
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Wolf ODonnell
 
  1  
Reply Mon 26 May, 2008 11:22 am
neologist wrote:
I would have to say that fact and truth are inextricably related, our own beliefs or error notwithstanding.


I disagree. Truth and facts are not inextricably linked.

For example, it is a fact that in the Bible, Israelite priests brought down the walls of Jericho. However, archaeology has proven that the city never had walls when the Israelites were around, so they couldn't have brought walls down.

Here, fact and truth are not related.

Here's another example.

It is a fact that the sun goes around the earth. Every pre-heliocentrist person knew this. Yet, it wasn't exactly true, was it?
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