THE ONTOLOGICAL STATUS OF EMPIRICAL FACTS
(This is only an abstract of the article)
(This is only an abstract of the article)
P. F. Strawson suggested that facts are mere ‘pseudo-material correlates of the statement as a whole’ and not something in the world (1950, 6). According to him, empirical facts, unlike events or things, are not spatiotemporally localizable. One reason for this is that the description of a fact usually begins with a that-clause. For instance, I can say ‘the fact that the book is on the table,’ but not ‘the fact of a book on the table.’ Conversely, the description of an event typically lacks a that-clause: I can say ‘the event of a tsunami in Japan,’ but not properly ‘the event that there was a Tsunami in Japan.’
My intention is to develop a key-argument against Strawson’s view, regenerating the idea that empirical facts are correlates of true thoughts, namely, contingent arrangements of elements in the world, as the correspondence truth theory has held.
My argument against Strawson’s opposition between facts and events begins by showing that it contains confusion. He treats facts (states of affairs, situations) as opposed to events. However, every event can be called a fact, but not every fact can be called an event. For instance: I can replace ‘the event of the sinking of the Titanic’ with ‘the fact of the sinking of the Titanic,’ but I cannot replace ‘the fact that the White Haus is in Washington’ with ‘the event of the White Haus being in Washington.’ Strawson’s opposition isn’t symmetrical. Now, since events can be called facts, it is more reasonable to consider events as particular kinds of facts than to oppose the two. Thus, my proposal is that the word ‘fact’ is an umbrella term that encompasses situations, states of affairs… as much as events, occurrences, processes… And the reason for this proposal is that we can call all these things facts, but we cannot call them states of affairs or events. Assuming this, we are free to distinguish two great sub-classes of facts:
1. STATIC FACTS: Can be formal or empirical, the latter when clearly located in space and time. As a whole, static facts do not change while they last. Typical of static facts is that the relationships between their components do not as a whole change during the period of their existence. They are truth-makers of a static kind. They are usually called (with different nuances) ‘states,’ ‘situations,’ ‘conditions,’ ‘circumstances,’ ‘states of affairs,’ etc.
2. DYNAMIC FACTS: These are always empirical. They change while they last. They are defined by changes in the overall relations among their components during their existence so that they have a beginning, followed by some kind of development that comes to an end. They are truth-makers of a dynamic kind. And usually they are called (with different nuances) ‘events,’ ‘episodes,’ ‘occurrences,’ ‘processes,’ ‘transformations,’ etc.
Examples of static facts are my state of poor health, the situation that I am lying in bed, the circumstance that the airport is closed, the state of affairs that the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre. Examples of dynamic facts are the event of the explosion of a grenade, the occurrence the Twin Tower’s fall, the more extended process of the World War II.
We are now able to find the real reason why we use a that-clause in the description of facts, but not in the description of events. When we speak of dynamic facts, we avoid a that-clause. We can speak about the process of climate change, but not about the process that the climate changes… Differently, static facts are usually described as beginning with that-clauses. So, I can speak about the state of affairs that my book is on the table or that I am lying on the bed, although I can also speak about the states of affairs of my book on the table and of my lying on the bed. Hence, that-clauses seem to have the function of excluding dynamic facts and emphasizing static facts. Finally, since the term ‘fact’ can be applied to both cases, it inherits the property of being used indifferently, with or without a that-clause. Indeed, you can say, ‘It is a fact that Mount Vesuvius is located near Naples’ (referring to a state of affairs), as much as ‘It is a fact that Mount Vesuvius has erupted’ (referring to an event).
The relevant conclusion is that by having the broadest scope, the so often vilipended word ‘fact’ remains the ideal candidate for the role of ultimate truth-maker in a correspondence theory of truth. Facts are the universal truth-makers.