In our everyday lives, we often tend to confuse fact with judgement and vice versa. This confusion is sometimes also (ab)used as a rhetorical means. It may sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between fact and judgement because we are epistemologically biased. In other words, we like to take our own judgement as fact, and facts we do not like as (mere) judgement. But where does the difference lie? Let us give both terms a first, tentative definition. A fact is that which is objectively true. Objectively true is that which is the case independently of anyone’s judgement. A judgement, on the other hand, is that which someone thinks or says to be true.1 Whereas a fact cannot be said to be either true or false, since its definition entails the concept of truth, a judgement can be said to be either true or false, or partially true and false. Notice also that a fact cannot be partially a fact. Either it is a fact, or it is not.
Now, the best way to demonstrate what is meant by a definition is to give examples. A fact, for instance, is that two and two make four together (i.e. 2 + 2 = 4). Another fact is that the distance between the Earth and the Sun is approximately 1.00 ± 0.02 AU. Still another fact is that the Second World War began on September 1st, 1939, and ended on September 2nd, 1945.
Three remarks are necessary:
- There are obviously different kinds of fact. The first example given above is a mathematical fact, the second is a physical fact, and the third is a historical fact.
- Facts themselves can only be described by means of language; otherwise, they can, to a certain extent, only be shown2. The descriptions must not be confused with the facts themselves. Thus, it does not matter in which measuring unit the distance between the Earth and the Sun is described, as long as they can be transferred into one another. The distance is neither the measurement nor the act of measuring nor the measuring unit. It is a relation which, apart from a linguistic description, can only be shown.
- Facts need not necessarily be static. That the distance between the Earth and the Sun, as well as between other planets and stars, varies is owing to the planets’ orbits and other factors.
Notice also that from there being mathematical, physical, or historical facts it does by no means follow that every mathematical, physical, or historical proposition necessarily is a fact.
This is owing to two aspects. First, all of the above propositions, as well as propositions relating to other fields, could be completely made up. Second, upon a meta level, one can make both accurate and inaccurate judgements about facts.
Thus, confronted with the proposition P1 that two and two equal four (i.e. 2 + 2 = 4), a subject S may judge P1 to be true, false, a fact, a judgement, a (mathematical) proposition, an equation, and so forth, which would be accurate judgements. Or, of course, S may judge P1 to be a sculpture, an animal, a painting, a car, and so on, which would be inaccurate judgements. I speak of accurate and inaccurate instead of true and false judgements, because accurate judgements, while all being true, are true in different respects, and inaccurate judgements, while all being false, are false in different respects.
On the other hand, there are mere judgements. This kind of judgement usually appears in contexts of aesthetics or ethics. They are expressed by a numerous amount of adjectives such as ‘beautiful’, ‘nice’, ‘kind’, ‘pretty’, ‘right’, ‘wrong’, ‘obligatory’, ‘illicit’. Needless to say, these judgements nevertheless relate to certain facts indirectly. It can, for example, only be illicit or ethically wrong to kill someone if certain facts are given, such as there being people that can be killed.3 Likewise, a subject S finds someone or something beautiful owing to certain specific of their or its characteristics. For instance, if S finds O beautiful, this is what I call ‘mere judgement’, because beauty is not an intrinsic characteristic of O, while the judgement indirectly relates to objective characteristics of O by depending upon them. If these objective characteristics were to make everyone (both humans and other creatures able to make such judgements) find O beautiful, the judgement could be said to be completely objective. Notice, however, that beauty would still not be an intrinsic characteristic of entities.
While there can be made several objections to my explication from other philosophical views, the most severe objection to deal with certainly is the sceptical contention for it to be impossible to distinguish facts from judgements because the answer to the question what is a fact depends upon judgement as well. In other words, saying that Pn is a fact is itself a judgement. In my view, this is a confusion. With respect to the ontological aspect, as I pointed out above, we can, of course, make judgements about facts, but the fact’s being a fact is independt of anyone’s judgement. Contrary to ethical propositions, facts would even be facts in a world where there is no one to tell that they are facts.
If the sceptic now wants to concentrate upon the epistemic aspect by contending that even given we were right about the ontology of our world, it would still be impossible to tell whether we are able to distinguish facts from judgements, I reply with George A. Smith that their scepticism does not even get off the ground.4 Principally, if consequently applied, every philosophical scepticism leads back to a sceptcisim of the senses or sense perception. The sceptic cannot argue upon the grounds of the senses or sense perception if he is to reject the senses or sense perception.
With Wittgenstein, I grant that there cannot be a last argument: every explanation has to end somewhere. This, however, does by no means prove the positive contention (presented as a conclusion from the aforementioned) that there could be no knowledge right. For a more elaborate explication of this, see my article series published from August 28th to September 3rd, 2012 on this weblog.
1. In this paper, ‘saying’ will be shorthand for both saying and writing. Also, saying only constitutes a judgement if the speaker believes what they say, of course.
2. I am following the early Wittgenstein here. Confer, for instance: Wittgenstein, Ludwig: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus; translated by C. K. Ogden; Routledge: New York, 2006; 4.121, 4.1212, 4.126.
3. From a Philosophic-Scientific Naturalistic (for a definition see the page ‘About the Author’, paragraphs 2—4) point of view as mine, the possibility of ethics transcending any given facts is barred ab initio, since its ontology deals without metaphysical or supernatural entities. According to this model, there cannot be any ‘higher’ justice, so that what counts as right or wrong, obligatory or illicit depends entirely upon facts and judgements within a world. Therefore, if there be no one who could even entertain the thought, let alone commit the deed of killing someone, it could, within that world, not be said to be either right or wrong. We, of course, tend to decide and judge these aspects from the perspective of our world, but this is, strictly speaking, not accurate because it is meaningless, albeit not necessarily pointless.
4. Confer: Smith, George H.: Atheism: The Case Against God; Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books 1989, pp. 131–136, 147-162. I pointed out what follows in detail in my article ‘Global Scepticism Under Scrutiny’: http://wp.me/p1QVNW-p8.