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A fact is something that is
true True most commonly refers to truth Truth is the property of being in accord with fact or reality.Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionarytruth 2005 In everyday language, truth is typically ascribed to things that aim to represent reality or otherw ...

true
. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability—that is whether it can be demonstrated to correspond to
experience Experience refers to conscious , an English Paracelsian physician Consciousness, at its simplest, is " sentience or awareness of internal and external existence". Despite millennia of analyses, definitions, explanations and debates by philosoph ...

experience
. Standard reference works are often used to check facts.
Scientific Science () is a systematic enterprise that Scientific method, builds and organizes knowledge in the form of Testability, testable explanations and predictions about the universe."... modern science is a discovery as well as an invention. ...

Scientific
facts are verified by repeatable careful observation or measurement by
experiments An experiment is a procedure carried out to support or refute a hypothesis A hypothesis (plural hypotheses) is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. For a hypothesis to be a scientific hypothesis, the scientific method requires that on ...
or other means. For example, "This sentence contains words." accurately describes a
linguistic Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most languages have a writing ...
fact, and "The sun is a star" accurately describes an
astronomical Astronomy (from el, ἀστρονομία, literally meaning the science that studies the laws of the stars) is a natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It uses mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Gr ...
fact. Further, "
Abraham Lincoln Abraham Lincoln (; February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American statesman and lawyer who served as the 16th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of governme ...

Abraham Lincoln
was the 16th President of the United States" and "Abraham Lincoln was assassinated" both accurately describe
historical History (from Ancient Greek, Greek , ''historia'', meaning "inquiry; knowledge acquired by investigation") is the study and the documentation of the past. Events before the History of writing#Inventions of writing, invention of writing systems ar ...

historical
facts. Generally speaking, facts are independent of
belief A belief is an attitude Attitude may refer to: Philosophy and psychology * Attitude (psychology) In psychology Psychology is the science of mind and behavior. Psychology includes the study of consciousness, conscious and Unconsci ...

belief
and of
knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is something that is truth, true. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability—that is whether it can be demonstrated to correspond to e ...
and
opinion An opinion is a judgement Judgement (or US spelling judgment) is also known as ''adjudication'' which means the evaluation of evidence to make a decision. Judgement is also the ability to make considered decisions. The term has four disti ...

opinion
.


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 meaning now obsolete. The common usage of "something that has really occurred or is the case" dates from the mid-16th century. The term ''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 ..."). Alternatively, ''fact'' may also indicate an ''allegation or stipulation'' of something that may or may not be a ''true fact'', (e.g., "the author's facts are not trustworthy"). This alternate usage, although contested by some, has a long history in standard English. ''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. This use is reflected in the terms "fact-find" and "fact-finder" (e.g., "set up a
fact-finding Fact-finding may refer to: * Trier of fact A trier of fact, or finder of fact, is a person, or group of persons, who determines Question of fact, facts in a legal proceeding, usually a trial. To determine a fact is to decide, from the evidence, ...
commission"). Facts may be checked by reason, experiment, personal experience, or may be argued from authority.
Roger Bacon Roger Bacon (; la, Rogerus or ', also '' Rogerus''; ), also known by the Scholastic accolades, scholastic accolade ''Doctor Mirabilis'', was a medieval England, medieval English philosopher and Franciscans, Franciscan friar who placed consider ...
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."


In philosophy

In
philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, language. Such questio ...

philosophy
, the concept ''fact'' is considered in
epistemology Epistemology (; ) is the concerned with . Epistemologists study the nature, origin, and scope of knowledge, epistemic , the of , and various related issues. Epistemology is considered a major subfield of philosophy, along with other major ...

epistemology
and
ontology Ontology is the branch of philosophy that studies concepts such as existence, being, Becoming (philosophy), becoming, and reality. It includes the questions of how entities are grouped into Category of being, basic categories and which of these ...

ontology
. Questions of objectivity and truth are closely associated with questions of fact. A "fact" can be defined as something that is the case—that is, a state of affairs. Facts may be understood as information that makes a true sentence true. 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.


Correspondence and the slingshot argument

Pascal Engel's version of the
correspondence theory of truth In metaphysics Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of ...
explains that what makes a sentence true is that it ''corresponds'' to a fact. This theory presupposes the existence of an objective world. The
Slingshot argument In philosophical logic Understood in a narrow sense, philosophical logic is the area of philosophy that studies the application of logical methods to philosophical problems, often in the form of extended logical systems like modal logic. Some theori ...
claims to show that all true statements stand for the same thing—the
truth value In logic Logic is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, applying logic Logic (from Ancient Greek, Greek: grc, wikt:λογική, λογική, la ...
''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''.


Compound facts

Any non-trivial true statement about
reality Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent within a system, as opposed to that which is only imaginary Imaginary may refer to: * Imaginary (sociology), a concept in sociology * The Imaginary (psychoanalysis), a concept by ...

reality
is necessarily an abstraction composed of a complex of objects and
properties Property (''latin: Res Privata'') in the abstract is what belongs to or with something, whether as an attribute or as a component of said thing. In the context of this article, it is one or more components (rather than attributes), whether phys ...
or
relations Relation or relations may refer to: General uses *International relations, the study of interconnection of politics, economics, and law on a global level *Interpersonal relationship, association or acquaintance between two or more people *Public ...
. For example, the fact described by the true statement "
Paris Paris () is the Capital city, capital and List of communes in France with over 20,000 inhabitants, most populous city of France, with an estimated population of 2,175,601 residents , in an area of more than . Since the 17th century, Paris ha ...

Paris
is the capital city of
France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a transcontinental country This is a list of countries located on more than one continent A continent is one of several large landmasses ...

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'', and so on. 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.


Fact–value distinction

Moral philosophers since
David Hume David Hume (; born David Home; 7 May 1711 NS (26 April 1711 OS) – 25 August 1776) Cranston, Maurice, and Thomas Edmund Jessop. 2020 999999 or triple nine most often refers to: * 999 (emergency telephone number) 250px, A sign on a beach ...

David Hume
have debated whether values are objective, and thus factual. In ''
A Treatise of Human Nature '' A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion'' (1739–40) is a book by Scottish philosopher David Hume David Hume (; born Davi ...
'' 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 In philosophical ethics, the term naturalistic fallacy was introduced by British philosopher G. E. Moore in his 1903 book '' Principia Ethica''. Moore argues it would be fallacious to explain that which is good reductively, in terms of natural p ...
.


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 were. For example, "If Alexander had lived, his empire would have been greater than Rome." This contrasts 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 Modal logic is a collection of s originally developed and still widely used to represent statements about . The basic (1-place) modal operators are most often interpreted "□" for "Necessarily" and "◇" for "Possibly". In a , each can be expr ...
, especially since the development of
possible world A possible world is a complete and consistent way the world is or could have been. They are widely used as a formal device in logic Logic is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning Reason is the capacity of consciously ...
semantics.


In mathematics

In mathematics, a ''fact'' is a statement (called a
theorem In mathematics, a theorem is a statement (logic), statement that has been Mathematical proof, proved, or can be proved. The ''proof'' of a theorem is a logical argument that uses the inference rules of a deductive system to establish that the the ...
) that can be proven by logical argument from certain
axiom An axiom, postulate or assumption is a statement that is taken to be , to serve as a or starting point for further reasoning and arguments. The word comes from the Greek ''axíōma'' () 'that which is thought worthy or fit' or 'that which comm ...

axiom
s and
definition A definition is a statement of the meaning of a term (a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical ...

definition
s.


In science

The definition of a ''scientific fact'' is different from the definition of fact, as it implies knowledge. A scientific fact is the result of a repeatable careful observation or measurement (by experimentation or other means), also called
empirical evidence Empirical evidence for a proposition In logic and linguistics, a proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence (linguistics), sentence. In philosophy, "Meaning (philosophy), meaning" is understood to be a non-linguistic entity which is s ...
. These are central to building
scientific theories A scientific theory is an explanation of an aspect of the natural science, natural world and universe that can be reproducibility, repeatedly tested and verified in accordance with the scientific method, using accepted protocol (science), protocol ...
. Various forms of observation and measurement lead to fundamental questions about the
scientific method The scientific method is an empirical Empirical evidence for a proposition is evidence, i.e. what supports or counters this proposition, that is constituted by or accessible to sense experience or experimental procedure. Empirical evidence ...

scientific method
, and the scope and validity of
scientific reasoning Models of scientific inquiry have two functions: first, to provide a descriptive account of ''how'' scientific inquiry is carried out in practice, and second, to provide an explanatory account of ''why'' scientific inquiry succeeds as well as it app ...
. In the most basic sense, a ''scientific fact'' is an objective and verifiable observation, in contrast with a ''
hypothesis A hypothesis (plural hypotheses) is a proposed explanation An explanation is a set of statements usually constructed to describe a set of facts which clarifies the causes, context Context may refer to: * Context (language use), the rel ...
'' or ''
theory A theory is a rational Rationality is the quality or state of being rational – that is, being based on or agreeable to reason Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, applying logic Logic (from Ancient Greek, G ...
'', which is intended to explain or interpret facts. Various
scholars A scholar is a person who pursues academic and intellectual activities, particularly academics who apply their intellectualism into expertise in an area of Studying, study. A scholar can also be an academic, who works as a professor, teacher, or r ...
have offered significant refinements to this basic formulation. Philosophers and scientists are careful to distinguish between: 1) ''states of affairs'' in the external world and 2) ''assertions'' of fact that may be considered relevant in scientific analysis. The term is used in both senses in the philosophy of science. Scholars and clinical researchers in both the social and natural sciences have written about numerous questions and theories that arise in the attempt to clarify the fundamental nature of scientific fact. Pertinent issues raised by this inquiry include: * the process by which "established fact" becomes recognized and accepted as such; * whether and to what extent "fact" and "theoretic explanation" can be considered truly independent and separable from one another;Gower, p. 138 * to what extent "facts" are influenced by the mere act of observation; and * to what extent factual conclusions are influenced by history and consensus, rather than a strictly systematic methodology. Consistent with the idea of
confirmation holismIn philosophy of science Philosophy of science is a branch of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methodology, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern Demarcation problem, what qualifies as scienc ...
, some scholars assert "fact" to be necessarily "theory-laden" to some degree.
Thomas Kuhn Thomas Samuel Kuhn (; July 18, 1922 – June 17, 1996) was an American whose 1962 book ' was influential in both academic and popular circles, introducing the term ', which has since become an English-language idiom. Kuhn made several cla ...
points out that knowing what facts to measure, and how to measure them, requires the use of other theories. For example, the age of
fossils A fossil (from Classical Latin Classical Latin is the form of Latin language Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the a ...

fossils
is based on
radiometric dating Radiometric dating, radioactive dating or radioisotope dating is a technique which is used to date materials such as rocks In geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "di ...
, which is justified by reasoning that radioactive decay follows a
Poisson process In probability, statistics Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. In applying statistics to a scientific, industrial, or social problem, it is conventional t ...

Poisson process
rather than a
Bernoulli process In probability and statistics Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. In applying statistics to a scientific, industrial, or social problem, it is convent ...
. Similarly,
Percy Williams Bridgman Percy Williams Bridgman (April 21, 1882 – August 20, 1961) was an American List of physicists, physicist who received the 1946 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the physics of high pressures. He also wrote extensively on the scientific met ...
is credited with the methodological position known as
operationalism In research design, especially in psychology Psychology is the science of mind and behavior. Psychology includes the study of consciousness, conscious and Unconscious mind, unconscious phenomena, as well as feeling and thought. It is an ac ...
, which asserts that all observations are not only influenced, but necessarily defined, by the means and assumptions used to measure them.


The scientific method

Apart from the fundamental inquiry into 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. Scientific facts are generally believed independent of the observer: no matter who performs a scientific experiment, all observers agree on the outcome.Cassell, Eric J
The Nature of Suffering and the Goals of Medicine
''
Oxford University Press Oxford University Press (OUP) is the university press of the University of Oxford. It is the largest university press in the world, and the second oldest after Cambridge University Press. It is a department of the University of Oxford and is g ...

Oxford University Press
''. Retrieved 16 May 2007.
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.


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 In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, l ...
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 biases 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. The set of highlighted historical facts, and their interpretations, therefore changes over time, and reflect present consensuses.


In law

In most
common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or case law Case law is the collection of past legal decisions written by courts and similar tribunal A tribunal, generally, is any person or institution with authority ...
jurisdictions, the general concept and analysis of fact reflects fundamental principles of
jurisprudence Jurisprudence, or legal theory, is the theoretical study of the propriety of law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whol ...
, and is supported by several well-established standards. Matters of fact have various formal definitions under common law jurisdictions. These include: * an element required in legal pleadings to demonstrate a cause of action; * the determinations of the
finder of fact A trier of fact, or finder of fact, is a person, or group of persons, who determines fact A fact is an occurrence in the real world. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability—that is whether it can be demonstrated to correspond ...
after evaluating admissible evidence produced in a trial or hearing; * a potential ground of reversible error forwarded on appeal in an
appellate court An appellate court, commonly called an ''appeals court'', ''court of appeals'' (American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the Eng ...
; and * any of various matters subject to investigation by official authority to establish whether a
crime In ordinary language, a crime is an unlawful act punishable by a State (polity), state or other authority. The term ''crime'' does not, in modern criminal law, have any simple and universally accepted definition,Farmer, Lindsay: "Crime, defi ...

crime
has been perpetrated, and to establish culpability.


Legal pleadings

A party to a civil suit generally must clearly state all relevant allegations of fact that form the basis of a claim. The requisite level of precision and particularity of these allegations varies, depending on the rules of civil procedure and jurisdiction. Parties who face uncertainties regarding facts and circumstances attendant to their side in a dispute may sometimes invoke alternative pleading. 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 ''Res judicata'' (RJ) or ''res iudicata'', also known as claim preclusion, is the Latin term for "a matter decided" and refers to either of two concepts in both civil law (legal system), civil law and common law legal systems: a case in which ther ...
'') that would otherwise preclude presenting a claim or defense that depends on a particular interpretation of the underlying facts and ruling of the court.(McDonald 1952)


See also

*
Brute fact In contemporary philosophy, a brute fact is a fact that has no explanation. More narrowly, brute facts may instead be defined as those facts which cannot be explained (as opposed to simply having no explanation). To reject the existence of brute fa ...
*
Consensus reality Consensus reality is that which is generally agreed to be reality Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent within a system, as opposed to that which is only Object of the mind, imaginary. The term is also used to refer to ...
*
Counterfactual history Counterfactual history, also sometimes referred to as virtual history, is a form of historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historians in developing history as an academic discipline, and by extension is any body of hist ...
*
De facto ''De facto'' ( ; , "in fact") describes practices that exist in reality, even though they are not officially recognized by laws. It is commonly used to refer to what happens in practice, in contrast with ''de jure'' ("by law"), which refers to th ...
*
Factoid A factoid is either an invented or assumed statement presented as a fact, ''or'' a true but brief or trivia Trivia is information Information can be thought of as the resolution of uncertainty; it answers the question of "What an entity ...
*
Lie A lie is an assertion that is believed to be false, typically used with the purpose of deception, deceiving someone. The practice of communicating lies is called lying. A person who communicates a lie may be termed a liar. Lies may serve a vari ...

Lie


References


External links

* {{Authority control Concepts in epistemology Concepts in ethics Concepts in logic Concepts in metaphilosophy Concepts in metaphysics Concepts in the philosophy of mind Concepts in the philosophy of science Metaphysics of mind Metatheory Philosophical logic Philosophy of logic Philosophy of science Reality Statements Truth