A Distinction between Fact and Truth

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Aphoric
 
Reply Tue 9 Dec, 2008 12:16 am
I'm not sure if this is the proper section to discuss this in, but I feel like this is pretty existentialist thinking.

It seems to me that the words Truth and Fact are often used interchangeably. I posit that there is a very significant difference between Fact and Truth, and that using them synonymously is a fallacy to be consciously avoided. I've come to understand the difference between Fact and Truth as this:

A fact is a reality that cannot be logically disputed or rejected. If I say "fire is hot," I don't care how great your reasoning skills are, if you touch fire your skin will burn (and don't give me that "but people can walk on hot coals!" bull. There's a difference between the transfer of heat through conduction and training one's body to deal with the agonizing pain of said conduction). Now when I say this, I am not speaking a truth, I am speaking a fact. If you say "fire is not hot," you are not lying, you are incorrect. Facts are concrete realities that no amount of reasoning will change. When one acknowledges a fact, they are doing just that. Facts are not discovered, facts are not created, facts are simply acknowledged.

A truth on the other hand, is almost the opposite. Truths are those things that are not simply acknowledged, but must be discovered, or created. If I say "God exists," and I possess strong reasoning for the affirmative of that statement, then God really does exist, that is a reality. However, if another individual possesses strong reasoning for the negative, and because of this reasoning they believe that God does not exist, then that is also a reality. If we were to debate our ideologies, and my reasoning appeared stronger than theirs, they may choose to adopt my belief that God does exist. If they do, then the existence of God is just as true as the nonexistence of God which they believed a week ago. Truths, as opposed to fact, are much more fluid and malleable than their empirical counterparts.

Now, facts may often be used to substantiate one's assertions on certain truths, and truths may be used to help us better understand certain facts. However, to assert a fact as a truth, or a truth as a fact, is backwards thinking, and antithetical to intelligible progress.

I know this may seem obvious to some, but I see plenty of people on this site, and in real life misjudging the values of certain assertions based on this misconception. I myself must be constantly reminded of this concept, as it's easy to let them sort of run together when caught up in the insatiable quest for knowledge. I just wanted to point out what I've figured to be the pitfalls of that assumption, and see what other people think of this notion.

thoughts?
 
BrightNoon
 
Reply Mon 15 Dec, 2008 02:27 am
@Aphoric,
Let's consider your two examples. You say that "god exists" is a truth, while "fire is hot" is a fact.

Can 'fire is hot' be proven any better than 'god exists?' You say the former does not need to be proven, but why should that statement be assumed and the other not?

What is fire? What is God? How do thjose questions differ? You assume that an understanding of fire is given while an understanding of God has to be acquired, created, etc.

Here is my opinion, for what its worth. I think you favor science over religion and have tried to create a system by which you can place statements about beleif in god in an inferior position to those about the nature of fire. Don't take this as any kind of insult, I just happen to find god and 'objective reality' equally suspect. I'm sure that a distinction could be made between the words "truth' and 'fact', but I don't see the essential difference that you claim. In any case, I use the terms interchangably. I might lump both of them into truth and then call what you seem to call truth supposition. Of course, I hold that truth in this sense is imaginary: i.e. an arbitrarily privilages form of supposition.
 
Deftil
 
Reply Mon 15 Dec, 2008 04:54 am
@Aphoric,
Aphoric,

It seems to me that any difference between "fact" and "truth" depends on in what sense one is speaking of "truth". I'd say one sense of "truth" is actually synonymous with "fact", but another specific meaning of "truth" is different from "fact". I think this can be seen fairly easily by looking at the defintions of "truth".

Quote:
archaic : fidelity , constancy b: sincerity in action, character, and utterance
2 a (1): the state of being the case : fact (2): the body of real things, events, and facts : actuality (3)often capitalized : a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality b: a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true <truths of thermodynamics> c: the body of true statements and propositions
3 a: the property (as of a statement) of being in accord with fact or reality b chiefly British : true c: fidelity to an original or to a standard
4 capitalized Christian Science : god
- in truth : in accordance with fact : actually

truth - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

If I've understood you correctly, you feel that facts are objective realities, and truths are subjective beliefs, but this seems to only be true of "truth" in a limited sense, and not in all definitions and usages of it. I think "truth" can be used as synonymous with "fact", (as in definition 2 a (2) above, for example) and as distinct from "fact" (as in definition 1 a above, for example). But I think the sense that you are speaking of "truth" in here may be most accurately described as "belief".
 
ACB
 
Reply Thu 25 Dec, 2008 02:04 pm
@Deftil,
Yes, Deftil, I think you're spot on. Much argument about the nature of 'truth' arises out of ambiguity between the two possible meanings of the word, i.e. 'fact' or 'belief'. People who say things like 'that's true for you but not for me' seem to mean merely 'you believe that, but I don't'. But calling a belief a 'truth' makes it sound grander and discourages challenge.

"I believe in the steady-state theory of the universe" implies that one is open to counter-arguments. "The steady-state theory of the universe is true for me" implies that one would rather not hear them.
 
Whoever
 
Reply Sun 28 Dec, 2008 08:01 am
@Aphoric,
I'd say a fact is what is the case and a truth is a fact which I know is a fact.
 
AaronAgassi phil
 
Reply Sun 28 Dec, 2008 09:33 pm
@Aphoric,
And here I thought that only I found usage of the word 'fact' confused and confusing!

Metaphysics for Dummies: 'fact' [sic.]
 
memester
 
Reply Sun 11 Jan, 2009 09:49 pm
@AaronAgassi phil,
Isn't "hot" a sensation that one may feel or not feel ? To someone who cannot feel heat, fire is not hot. They may know that it can burn them, but cannot feel that; so fire is not hot, to them, though it is to you.
 
Kolbe
 
Reply Sun 11 Jan, 2009 09:56 pm
@Aphoric,
Peter Vardy wrote about this subject in The Puzzle of God, except instead of seperating Fact and Truth he wrote of two different viewpoints; the Realists, and the Anti-Realists. The Realists held the position that you occupy with Fact, in that there is one definite answer for a question or belief, however he says that a true realist must always add 'though I may be wrong'. An Anti-Realist, on the other hand, believes that answers are specific to a culture, society or person, for example Cannibalism is wrong in Western Society, but okay for the theoretical undiscovered tribes that no doubt hide somewhere.
 
ACB
 
Reply Mon 12 Jan, 2009 08:41 am
@Kolbe,
If I find fire hot but you do not, then "fire is hot to me but not to you" is a fact, i.e. it is true (not "true for...."). Some people may not believe it, but that is a different matter.

With regard to anti-realism, I have no problem with moral or aesthetic relativism; it is only physical relativism that I oppose. I appreciate that measurements (e.g. of time) may be different depending on the point of view, but once this is factored in, there should be only one correct answer to any question. It may need to be quite sophisticated to deal with the strangeness of reality (e.g. at quantum level), but there should still be a definite answer. If there were no absolute truth, no scientific theory would be better than any other. That is not to say, of course, that absolute truth will ever be attainable.

As I said before, the idea of 'truth for me' is often used as a way of avoiding argument.
 
BrightNoon
 
Reply Mon 12 Jan, 2009 08:01 pm
@ACB,
ACB wrote:
With regard to anti-realism, I have no problem with moral or aesthetic relativism; it is only physical relativism that I oppose. I appreciate that measurements (e.g. of time) may be different depending on the point of view, but once this is factored in, there should be only one correct answer to any question. It may need to be quite sophisticated to deal with the strangeness of reality (e.g. at quantum level), but there should still be a definite answer. If there were no absolute truth, no scientific theory would be better than any other. That is not to say, of course, that absolute truth will ever be attainable.


1. How do moral and aesthetic relativism differ from physical relativism? The moral/aesthetic judegments/measurements arise from a human mind; don't the physical judegments/measurements also? Obviously, the ideas of 'meter', 'molecule', 'molarity' and 'mass' are not in nature; they are ideas, which someone invented. Physics is an arbitrary order imposed on the world. If you claim that there is one correct answer to the question 'how far is x from y' because the material which was named and ordered exists independently, then doesn't it follow that 'x action is right' because the action that was arbitrarily named and catalgued as right or wrong exists? Physical relativism does not have to discount external reality, just our understanding of an absolute external reality.

2. 'If there were no absolute truth, no scientific theory would be better than any other.' Scientific theories can be judged valid or invalid by what criteria? Which is the valid scientific theory, the one that agrees with other scienfitic theories, or the one that agrees with experienced reality? If it does not agree with exp. reality, it is false, and if it does, it serves no purpose but to schematize and systematize something already known. Science as a closed system, without reference to reality for validation, is meaningless: like a system of dashes and dots that I invent and develop with rules that I invent and give names.
 
ACB
 
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 08:09 am
@BrightNoon,
BrightNoon wrote:
1. How do moral and aesthetic relativism differ from physical relativism? The moral/aesthetic judegments/measurements arise from a human mind; don't the physical judegments/measurements also? Obviously, the ideas of 'meter', 'molecule', 'molarity' and 'mass' are not in nature; they are ideas, which someone invented. Physics is an arbitrary order imposed on the world. If you claim that there is one correct answer to the question 'how far is x from y' because the material which was named and ordered exists independently, then doesn't it follow that 'x action is right' because the action that was arbitrarily named and catalgued as right or wrong exists? Physical relativism does not have to discount external reality, just our understanding of an absolute external reality.


The difference between moral and physical judgements is that the former are entirely human inventions, but the latter only partly so. You admit the existence of a physical external reality; but there is no corresponding 'moral external reality'. External reality has a structure, which constrains the range of ideas that we may impose on it. Having invented and defined the ideas of 'water', 'hydrogen', 'oxygen' and numbers, we have no choice but to call the formula for water H2O; calling it H3O would be 'wrong' in an absolute sense.

As a society, we decide our moral laws, and that is an end of the matter; they are not subject to an external test. By contrast, our physical laws can be proved wrong; external reality 'bites' and we are likely to experience scientific chaos, and perhaps even physical hardship, if we stubbornly refuse to change our theories.
 
BrightNoon
 
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 03:36 pm
@ACB,
ACB wrote:
The difference between moral and physical judgements is that the former are entirely human inventions, but the latter only partly so. You admit the existence of a physical external reality; but there is no corresponding 'moral external reality'. External reality has a structure, which constrains the range of ideas that we may impose on it. Having invented and defined the ideas of 'water', 'hydrogen', 'oxygen' and numbers, we have no choice but to call the formula for water H2O; calling it H3O would be 'wrong' in an absolute sense.


I admit my assumption that there is an external reality, though that assumption cannot be proven. However, I do not admit that it has a certain order. On the contrary, it is chaos, which we have ordered. There is no limit to the number of ideas that we can impose upon chaos. There are an infinite number of parts into which the world could be divided and an infinite numbers of ways in which those parts could be related. I'm not talking about nomenslature only. The eternal and irrevocable relationships which our science has supposedly discovered and which are symbolized in formulae are only absolute within the particular system we have devised. H3O is wrong within our scientific system, but there is no reason to assume that our system is correct. In another system, which divides into and relates parts differently, H30 might be sensible. Or, water could be viewed entirely differently. Perhaps rather than dividing the world into chemicals, the world would be divided into other categories, color, relation to x, whatever. The point is that when you create a system of signs, such as mathematics (which is essentially science in its purest form), you ensure that only certain signs are sensible within that system; why? because you have stated as given certain rules, names, relations, etc.

If you were to refer to the ability of our science to predict events, I would say that the world unfolds in some manner, with regularity. Any system which took into account sufficient detail and which was coherent within itself would be able to do this. It might not be able to predict the mass of precipitate in X reaction, but that may be because it does not deal in chemical reactions (i.e. it does not rest on the same division and relational system). Our system is the way it is and works wonders for us, because it is designed from our perspective. It is a tool which suits our interests. It is only 'correct' insofar as it is useful. Paraphrasing Nietzsche, 'A certain belief or idea might be absolutely essential for survival and still be false.'
 
ACB
 
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 07:55 pm
@BrightNoon,
Quote:
I admit my assumption that there is an external reality, though that assumption cannot be proven. However, I do not admit that it has a certain order. On the contrary, it is chaos, which we have ordered.

Quote:
I would say that the world unfolds in some manner, with regularity.

Aren't those two statements contradictory?
Quote:
Any system which took into account sufficient detail and which was coherent within itself would be able to do this.

Yes - sufficient detail of external reality. But if the detail is wrong or inadequate, the system will not work.
Quote:
It might not be able to predict the mass of precipitate in X reaction, but that may be because it does not deal in chemical reactions (i.e. it does not rest on the same division and relational system).

Fair enough. But if it does deal in chemical reactions, it must get the figures right.
Quote:

Paraphrasing Nietzsche, 'A certain belief or idea might be absolutely essential for survival and still be false.'

In what sense can a useful statement be false? The only sense I can think of is that, despite its usefulness, it does not correspond to external reality. What else could 'false' mean here?
 
BrightNoon
 
Reply Tue 13 Jan, 2009 09:52 pm
@ACB,
ACB wrote:
Aren't those two statements contradictory?


Contradictory? No. Confusingly written? Yes. Let me clarify. When I say that the external world (if it exists) 'unfolds as it does and not otherwise', I mean that it is what it is and not something else. I did not mean that it has a certain order. In other words, the chaos is something, and it can be organized into an infinite number of orders. Our science is one of them.


Quote:
Yes - sufficient detail of external reality. But if the detail is wrong or inadequate, the system will not work.


By 'sufficient detail' I mean that the system takes into account whatever phenomena one is trying to understand or analyze. Science for example has no yet taken into account units smaller than quarks, though they surely exist. Thus, science is accurate until one wishes to consider 'sub-quarks.' What is sufficient is relative to the use to which we put any given system.


Quote:
Fair enough. But if it does deal in chemical reactions, it must get the figures right.


Correct, in the sense that we understand chemical reactions. Imagine that all matter were divided into different categories. Instead of elements there would be widgets, which are defined by there widgiterity. As long as the rules of widgiterity are applied universally the system will be coherent within itself: i.e. it will make sense. It would also be able to predict events, just not the events that our science predicts. This is because the events would be defined by different kinds of properties: mass, velocity and density for our science versus widgiterity, googleness and floss in the other system. The relations in one system can be different from the relations in another, so long as within each, the relations are universal; i.e. everything is defined in the same terms, whatever they are.


Quote:
In what sense can a useful statement be false? The only sense I can think of is that, despite its usefulness, it does not correspond to external reality. What else could 'false' mean here?


Exactly, for example:
Bob is manic-depressive. Everytime he becomes depressed he feels like killing himself. Then he decides that he will someday become president and save the country. This lifts his spirits and he dosen't commit suicide. Lets say Bob never becomes president. In this case a false belief was essential for survival.

The utility of our science does not prove its truth; i.e. the particular divisions/relations of this particular system are not THE correct ones. There are others which, for other sorts of creatures, with different needs and priorities, could be just as useful. There are also systems that would not be coherent within themselves and would therefore not be useful. None of them are however false. When I quoted Nietzsche I did not mean to imply that science (or any useful system) is really false, but rather that it alone is not privilaged as THE truth.
 
ACB
 
Reply Wed 14 Jan, 2009 04:43 pm
@BrightNoon,
We seem to agree on many points, but I am still puzzled by your statement that the world is 'chaos' and has no inherent order. In your previous post you say it 'unfolds....with regularity'. Well, it is logically possible for a chaotic system to exhibit regularity, but that would be accidental and, over a long period, incredibly unlikely. More importantly, it would not guarantee future regularity; in fact, the chances of this would be statistically almost nil. So for practical purposes we must say that the observed regularity of the world (universe) over billions of years demonstrates order.

You also state that the world 'can be organised into an infinite number of orders'. But a truly random world (think of surrealist art!) would not, except by accident, be organisable into any order. That is to say, it could not be described by a set of rules significantly less complex than a complete list of all its contents and events. It would have no general rules. But our world/universe does have general rules, and science relies on them (with great success) to predict future events.

You may be right that our world could be organised into other orders (although I do not see how these could be 'infinite'). On the other hand, it may be that our rules are the most general (simple) possible, in which case our order would be in some sense privileged. (For example, the rules for a heliocentric solar system are simpler than those for a geocentric one.) There may be general 'rules of widgiterity' or there may not. I have an open mind about this. But my main point is that our world could not possibly be described as 'chaotic'.

In your last paragraph, I take it you mean that any useful system must be (largely) true, but is not the only truth. If so, I would agree (except that I would add 'perhaps' before 'not').
 
BrightNoon
 
Reply Thu 15 Jan, 2009 05:28 pm
@ACB,
Alright, I think we undestsnd one another. Let me try to explain what I meant regarding chaos.

First, I said "The world unfolds as it does and not otherwise, with regularity." That is confused. I should have just left out regularity. I was trying to expess the idea that the world has a nature, but not a fixed order. I did not mean to imply some kind of periodicity. Sometimes, there just aren't words...

So, assuming an external world as we are, that world is chaotic. But, it is not chaotic in the sense that we use the word today, as in chaos theory for example. I meant it more in the vein of the Greek Kaos, which preceeds Night (Nothing) in mythology. For something to be ordered, man has to have ordered it. For something to be disordered, or totally disordered (chaotic in the sense you read), man has to evaluate it in relation to an order he has made. My Kaos, is the absence of any kind of human interpretation; neither a manufactured order, nor the human recognition of disorder is comparisoion to a manufactured order. The analogy with Gr. Myth holds I think. Night is nothing, which only exists in comparison to something. Whereas Kaos preceeds Night, because there is no comparison, no human mind or hand at work there. I hope that makes some sense. You'll have to cut me little clack, I am trying to characterize that which I have already defined as unknowable!
 
ACB
 
Reply Fri 16 Jan, 2009 08:39 am
@BrightNoon,
Would you agree with the following?

There are three possible states of the world:
1. Actual order, i.e. order created by man.
2. Potential order, i.e. a nature capable of being ordered by man.
3. Disorder, i.e. a nature incapable of being ordered by man.

It happens to be the case that before man's existence the world was in state 2, but now it is in state 1. It is true that, given man's existence, he will certainly create an actual order; but this is not because he can create order from all logically possible states (he cannot); it is because the world had to have a potential order for man to evolve in the first place. Man's existence shows that the world was in state 2. But man did not have to exist; the world could have been in state 3.

You make much of the distinction between states 1 and 2, but I think you underplay the distinction between 2 and 3. For me, the interesting thing is that the world is capable of being ordered. Statistically, there are far more ways of being (totally) disordered than of being (potentially) ordered, and the fact that the world had a latent order requires explanation, by philosophy and/or science.

I would also emphasize that, although all concepts are man-made, not all things are; the concept of something is not the same as the thing itself.
 
Sekiko
 
Reply Fri 16 Jan, 2009 03:26 pm
@ACB,
[SIZE="4"]
Interesting... I think perhaps the main observation I can draw from this is the underlying lingustics of the problem. For example, we might define chaos as complete randomness. Unfortunately, the linguistic expression that categorizes chaos as complete randomness would itself impose an order on that chaos. If something is completely random, it might be limited by that randomness and be unable to produce something not random.

What's interesting, I think, is that while this distinction arises through language, it does not arise through observation. To observe complete randomness is to not impose an order on it, in the sense that you are simply observing, observing, and nothing else. Awareness, in this sense, removes self-referential paradoxes such as that mentioned above.

But, and here's the kicker, this lack of order that shows itself through simple observance of complete randomness also shows itself through simple observance of pretty much anything, regardless of what it is, or how we may sllice it up.

Observing this, it seems that the concepts of both order and chaos arise from the same vantage point, namely, the conceptualization of phenomena after it is observed. Take away this conceptualization, and you do not recieve either order, nor chaos, but a unified whole that can not be conceptualized.

As this perception seems to be apparent, could it also be counted as fundamental to the structure the world?
[/SIZE]
 
nameless
 
Reply Fri 16 Jan, 2009 04:16 pm
@Aphoric,
'Fact' is to 'Truth' as the 'world' of your 'night dreams' is to your day to day 'waking world'...

Perhaps 'fact' is 'Truth' as perceived through/by/as an egoPerspective?

Ultimately, can there be anything other than 'Truth'?
 
ACB
 
Reply Fri 16 Jan, 2009 07:05 pm
@nameless,
Regarding Sekiko's reply:

There are some things we can impose order on (e.g. a crystal) and some things we cannot (e.g. the molecules of that crystal dissolved in water). Whether a thing can or cannot be ordered is not something we can choose. The fact that we largely agree about what is and is not random indicates that randomness and non-randomness are inherent qualities in things. We may actualize the structure of the world, but we do not create it from scratch.
 
 

 
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