A fact is a statement that is consistent with reality or can be proven
with evidence. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability
— that is, whether it can be demonstrated to correspond to
experience. Standard reference works are often used to check facts.
Scientific facts are verified by repeatable careful observation or
measurement (by experiments or other means).
1 Etymology and usage
2 In philosophy
2.1 Correspondence and the slingshot argument
2.2 Compound facts
2.3 Fact–value distinction
2.4 Factual–counterfactual distinction
3 In science
3.1 The scientific method
4 In history
5 In law
5.1 Legal pleadings
5.2 Submissions by Amicus Curiae
6 See also
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 middle of the sixteenth
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 blue" or "Matter of
fact", and "... not history, nor fact, but imagination."
Werner Herzog distinguishes between the two, claiming that
Fact creates norms, and truth illumination."
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 commission").
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
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 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
Correspondence and the slingshot argument
Engel's version of the correspondence theory of truth explains that
what makes a sentence true is that it corresponds to a fact. This
theory presupposes the existence of an objective world.
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
Any non-trivial true statement about reality is necessarily an
abstraction composed of a complex of objects and properties or
relations. 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
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.
Main article: Fact–value distinction
Moral philosophers since
David Hume have debated whether values are
objective, and thus factual. In
A Treatise of Human Nature
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.
Main article: Counterfactual conditional
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, especially since the
development of possible world semantics.
Further information: scientific method and philosophy of science
In science, a fact is a repeatable careful observation or measurement
(by experimentation or other means), also called empirical evidence.
Facts are central to building scientific theories. Various forms of
observation and measurement lead to fundamental questions about the
scientific method, and the 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.
Various scholars have offered significant refinements to this basic
formulation. 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;
to what extent "facts" are influenced by the mere act of
to what extent factual conclusions are influenced by history and
consensus, rather than a strictly systematic methodology.
Consistent with the idea of confirmation holism, some scholars assert
"fact" to be necessarily "theory-laden" to some degree. Thomas Kuhn
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 is based on radiometric dating, which is justified by
reasoning that radioactive decay follows a
Poisson process rather than
a Bernoulli process. Similarly,
Percy Williams Bridgman
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.
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. 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
Further information: Historiography
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
E. H. Carr in his 1961 volume
What is History?
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 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. Historical truth
and facts therefore change over time, and reflect only the present
consensus (if that).
Evidence (law) and Trier of fact
In most common law jurisdictions, the general concept and analysis
of fact reflects fundamental principles of jurisprudence, and is
supported by several well-established standards. Matters of
fact have various formal definitions under common law jurisdictions.
an element required in legal pleadings to demonstrate a cause of
the determinations of the finder of fact after evaluating admissible
evidence produced in a trial or hearing;
a potential ground of reversible error forwarded on appeal in an
appellate court; and
any of various matters subject to investigation by official authority
to establish whether a crime has been perpetrated, and to establish
Main article: Pleading
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)
that would otherwise preclude presenting a claim or defense that
depends on a particular interpretation of the underlying facts.
Submissions by Amicus Curiae
United States Supreme Court
United States Supreme Court receives and often cites 'facts'
obtained from amicus briefs in its decisions. That is not supposed to
happen, according to Justice Scalia,:
"Supreme Court briefs are an inappropriate place to develop the key
facts in a case. We normally give parties more robust protection,
leaving important factual questions to district courts and juries
aided by expert witnesses and the procedural protections of
discovery." [Inadequate scrutiny can result in] “untested judicial
fact-finding masquerading as statutory interpretation.”
Nonetheless, 'facts' introduced in amicus briefs are cited in some
Supreme Court decisions, bringing up the need to distinguish
between real facts and internet facts:
“The Supreme Court has the same problem that the rest of us do:
figuring out how to distinguish between real facts and Internet
facts...Amicus briefs from unreliable sources can contribute to that
Wikiversity has learning resources about Facing Facts
^ "Fact". OED_2d_Ed_1989, (but note the conventional uses: after the
fact and before the fact).
^ "Fact" (1a). OED_2d_Ed_1989 Joye Exp. Dan. xi. Z vij b, Let emprours
and kinges know this godly kynges fact. 1545
^ "Fact" (4a) OED_2d_Ed_1989
Werner Herzog Film: Statements / Texts". Wernerherzog.com.
1999-04-30. Archived from the original on 2014-07-15. Retrieved
^ "Fact" (6c). OED_2d_Ed_1989
^ (See also "Matter" (2,6). Compact_OED)
^ "Fact" (5). OED_2d_Ed_1989
^ According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English
Fact has a long history of usage in the sense 'allegation'"
AHD_4th_Ed. The OED dates this use to 1729.
^ "Fact" (6a). OED_2d_Ed_1989
^ "Fact" (8). OED_2d_Ed_1989
^ Roger Bacon, translated by Robert Burke Opus Majus, Book I, Chapter
^ "A fact, it might be said, is a state of affairs that is the case or
obtains." – Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. States of Affairs
^ See Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Proposition 2:
What is the case -- a fact -- is the existence of states of affairs.
^ "A fact is, traditionally, the worldly correlate of a true
proposition, a state of affairs whose obtaining makes that proposition
Fact in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
^ Alex Oliver, Fact, in Craig, Edward (2005). Shorter Routledge
Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Routledge, Oxford.
^ Engel, Pascal (2002). Truth. McGill-Queen's Press- MQUP.
^ The argument is presented in many places, but see for example
Truth and Meaning, in Davidson, Donald (1984).
Interpretation. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
^ "Facts possess internal structure, being complexes of objects and
properties or relations" Oxford Companion to Philosophy
^ Fact, in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Ted Honderich, editor.
(Oxford, 1995) ISBN 0-19-866132-0
^ Gower, Barry (1997). Scientific Method: A Historical and
Philosophical Introduction. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-12282-1.
^ Ravetz, Jerome Raymond (1996). Scientific Knowledge and Its Social
Problems. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1-56000-851-2.
^ (Gower 1996)
^ (see e.g., Ravetz, p. 182 fn. 1)
^ Ravetz, p. 185
^ a b Gower, p. 138
^ Gower, p. 7
^ Ravetz p. 181 et. seq. (Chapter Six: "Facts and their evolution")
^ Cassell, Eric J. The Nature of Suffering and the Goals of Medicine
Oxford University Press. Retrieved 16 May 2007.
^ (Ravetz 1996)
^ 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)
^ Estrich, Willis Albert (1952). American Jurisprudence: A
Comprehensive Text Statement of American Case Law. Lawyers
Co-operative Publishing Company.
^ Elkouri, Frank (2003). How Arbitration Works. BNA Books.
ISBN 1-57018-335-X. p. 305
^ 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
^ The Yale Law Journal: Volume 7. Yale Law Journal Co. 1898.
^ Per Lord Shaw of Dunfermline, Clarke v. Edinburgh and District
Tramways Co., 1919 S.C.(H.L.) 35, at p 36.
^ Merrill, John Houston (1895). The American and English Encyclopedia
of Law. E. Thompson. Original from Harvard University Digitized April
^ Bennett, Wayne W. (2003). Criminal Investigation. Thomson Wadsworth.
^ Roy W. McDonald, Alternative
Pleading in the United States: I
Columbia Law Review, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Apr., 1952), pp. 443-478
^ (McDonald 1952)
Antonin Scalia (June 9, 2011). "Justice Scalia, dissenting:
On writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the
Seventh Circuit, No. 09-11311" (PDF). p. 5.
^ Examples are cited by Allison Orr Larsen, posted by Alan Meese (July
30, 2014). "Allison Orr Larsen on Intensely Empirical Amicus Briefs
and Amicus Opportunism at the Supreme Court". Bishop Madison:
Occasional commentary on political economy and a free society.
^ Kannon K. Shanmugam as quoted by Adam Liptak (September 1, 2014).
"The dubious sources of some supreme court 'facts'". New York Times.
New York Times.
Philosophy of science
A priori and a posteriori
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Problem of induction
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Critical thinking and
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