Read This, Because You Don’t Understand What A Fact Is

An Essay On The Fact-Value Dichotomy


Facts and values have been argued to be entirely different by nature; facts are indisputable properties about the world, and values subjective appraisals we have about said facts. But such a view is, I argue herein, nonsensical. Facts and values can be the same, that is, something can be both value-laden and factual. Here’s why.

Table Of Contents

  1. Facts, Values, And The Dichotomy
  2. Collapsing The Fact-Value Dichotomy

Facts, Values, And The Dichotomy

Listen, facts are facts, and they are only facts; they cannot be values. Or so goes the common belief: values cannot be factual, as they are arbitrary beliefs within the grey and white matter of the human brain. Values are excluded from facts, in other words.

The political whim of a leader stems from a normative framework, not some objective content that so guides their virtue into the one and only one Truth. The nature of morality pertain to no matter of fact, nay, morality concerns that which is deeply subjective: our values and judgements. Even our laws display a deep arbitrariness upon a closer examination.

Emerge from the dichotomy of facts and values, such beliefs will. In fact, many of the above-mentioned views have already become prevalent amongst students of philosophy and science. But why have some arrived at the view that facts and values are exclusive?

When we consider a fact, we believe the fact to be absolutely the case. No whim can change the conditions which surround the matter of fact. And not only is my whim unable to make some fact not be the case, but the fact depend not on my self for its being the case. For example, that I have written an essay before the current is no doubt indisputable. And so, because facts are seemingly not contingent on any one point of view for their validity, they are thus exclusive from the category of things known as “values,” since we so believe values to be otherwise.

When we consider a value, we ponder something which be rooted inside the depths of a human brain; that is, a value be something which cannot be found inside the environment. Values are normative beliefs that we project onto the world, arbitrarily so. Like when we suppose of some behaviour that it reeks of evil and sinfulness, we place onto the world something not there to be found via the senses. Much rather, we must bring in from the world the datum as it presents, and then organize and label it as said datum aligns to our values.

And so, the facts are that which constitute reality while the values are that which constitute how we appraise reality. Therefore, the two are exclusive, or so it would seem.

Collapsing The Fact-Value Dichotomy

We are most unjustified in our belief that facts and values can be separate, that there exists some dichotomy between the two. And there are a few reasons which ought be sufficiently understood to see why facts and values cannot be exclusive.

If we take the view that facts are things about the world, or are things contingent on nothing but themselves, then we have a fundamental problem. That is, we have presupposed that perception is passive rather than constructive or active, and that it is evidently the case that we view a real environment. The problem herein be that there is no matter of fact that can inform us of such a view. We cannot derive the meta-cognitive belief that the world is real and independent, as we have done so, only because we have nothing more than the contents of our perception as they manifest moment-by-moment. In other words, since we cannot possibly have a perception of our perceptions, then the methods which we previously used to derive facts about the world can no longer apply; we must make an assumption that the world is a real and independent world, and that we perceive it and its extended properties accurately.

That assumption becomes a problem because, in logical fashion, it follows that facts then depend on some foundational assumption; more specifically, facts can only be derived if we accept the premises of realism. We can thusly follow a similar line of reasoning to demonstrate the compatibility of facts and values, which thus negates the dichotomy between them.

In western morals, we agree that murder is evil; that theft is wrong; that cheating is immoral. These are instances of values which have been argued for throughout the historical development of various western societies. But ultimately, these values reside on some foundational assumptions as well, particularly those assumptions associated with realism: i.e., singular Truth, Objectivity, and etc.,. And so, in a much similar fashion to the derivation of facts from the assumptions of realism, we can likewise derive value-laden facts from moral assumptions.

Generally, when westerners say, “the criminal performed a disgraceful act by stealing that old ladies purse,” they are factually accurate. It is a fact of western morals that theft from the elderly is disgraceful. And so, when we describe the factual occurrence, and when we add the value-laden comment of disgrace, we have two facts.

Put otherwise, in the same way that the assumptions of realism lead us to the notion that facts are indisputable properties of the world, so too will assumptions about morals lead us to the notion that some facts have moral and value-laden categories wedded to them, inherently so. The assumptions sculpt the reality, so to speak.

Thus, by using precisely the same line of reasoning which the realist must deploy, if he or she so wants to call something a fact, we can collapse the dichotomy between facts and values.

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Ideasinhat is a business development analyst and longtime reader of academic literature. He writes books and essays on science and philosophy, and posts them to this website. The essays, as with the books, cover topics from psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science to economics, politics, and law.

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