By MortazaviBlog on Jul 31, 2006
[Note: Paul Hinz' entry, which draws a distinction between facts and opinions, motivated me to write the following little essay.]
Truth criteria is a very touchy-feely topic in epistemology, not to mention mathematical logic and ontology on two other extreme poles.
For example, in mathematical logic, Alfred Tarski had a model-theoretic criteria of truth for statements expressed in a given mathematical language. Anyone who knows about Kurt Gödel's incompleteness theorem and non-standard models knows where that definition will lead us.
"Facts" will always depend on the model of the world that one is dealing with and using to establish truth of statements.
In some models, a mathematical statement may be true and in others it may be false. In smaller models, the truth or falsity of the same statement may not even be possible to establish through any proof mechanism.
Now, applying the same concept, on a philosophical level, to the real world should have its obvious conclusions. Let's leave that as an exercise.
I should also mention that common scientists are successful in defining "facts" and "truth" to their satisfaction because they deal with a very simple, fictitious world-model, established for their very narrow and particular purpose.
Here's another take, for example, which is more on the ontological side.
"Facts" are what one believes in based on what one has come to know of the world. Here, one's take of what "the world" actually is becomes key. In life, the "world-model" one uses depends critically on what one has come to really understand about the world through one's life.
"Assumptions" are "facts" in which one believes more than one believes in other "facts."
Except for sterile "scientific facts" (these, on their own, are discovered through consensus and agreement more than anything else), one man's "fact" becomes another man's "falsehood"...because they see the world in completely different ways.
So, if we bank on settling of facts as the main problem and on
distinguishing fact and opinion as the main resolution, we're badly
under-funded when it comes to understanding what's really going on.
On the other hand, we can submit to our partial understanding and agree that the best we can do when there's disagreement is to try to understand the various sides of the disagreement to the greatest possible extent. Often, we're just too lazy to do so. We tend to dismiss one side outright because of our prejudices. Understanding others can hardly be easy. It requires an ability to grasp the others' life as a possible life of our own to live, according to Bernard Williams, the late Cambridge philosopher, with not all of whose opinions I must say I agree.