“What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche –
As has been mentioned before, we are at a cognitive crossroads.
Do we continue to hold a conceptual (metaphysical) model of the universe composed of objects within a “reality” than can be known and described in language? A cognitive model that is largely intellectual centered on knowing truth and facts about “the way it is”.
Or do we find for ourselves a bit of humility and perhaps wisdom by holding a subjective model of reality that “we cannot know how it is; we can only know how we see it”? This is a way of being of not already knowing in an experience of reality continually unfolding across our linguistic, somatic, emotional and energetic bodies?
Within this question, how do we relate to the concept of truth?
In either model, there are observable facts that are arrived at through the scientific method, a system of reproducible observations. This is called empirical truth, claims that are considered true because we can reproduce observations that validate the claim.
But what about non-empirical facts, are they true?
The short answer is no, facts are not true. Facts are linguistic claims that may or may not equate with truth.
Contextual fact is a declaration of the subject under discussion, “The fact of the matter is….” whatever the matter is that is under discussion. “The fact of the matter is the problem of overpopulation of moon mice” is a valid use of the word fact in a sentence that implies but does not mean truth. All it means is that the subject of the matter is moon mice.
The following is drawn from Wikipedia. “General facts may also indicate an allegation or stipulation of something that may or may not be a true fact, (e.g., “the author’s facts are not trustworthy”). This alternate usage, although contested by some, has a long history in Standard English”.
In other words, general facts can often be an assessment or declaration (if we have the requisite authority), both are an interpretation made by an observer from among a nearly infinite number of possible interpretations.
That we don’t have a word that distinguishes between the truth of an empirical fact from the truth (or lack of truth) in a claimed fact reveals just how blind the English language is to its metaphysically oriented structure.
The problem with all of this is that we are unaware of what we mean by “the facts”, the basis of our reality system.
We are flapping our lips at each other, imposing “truth” or general “facts” over each other based solely on our opinion or the authority we claim. In allowing claimed “facts”, we have opened a Pandora’s Box of militarized, coercive language, competing narratives built from untrue “facts” masquerading as truth. We live in the time of unchecked propaganda, because we have this fundamental confusion in our language.
Therefore I propose that we break truth and facts, the words themselves into separate and discrete phrases for sake of being able to speak and listen more effectively.
I propose we reject as imprecise and misleading any sentence that includes “the truth of the matter is” as a general practice in demanding clear language.
I propose we use the words empirical truth and empirical fact for truths and facts arrived at through the empirical (scientific) process.
I propose that claims to truth and fact, based on personal opinion, are called claimed truth and claimed fact. This makes clear their basis is a claim made by someone.
This will serve us in being more accurate in our languaging and relieve listeners from having to decipher the meaning of words or grow weary of requesting clarification each and every time truth or fact is used without clarification.
How this would work is that in each instance of the use of the word truth or fact, a question would be asked, is this empirical truth or fact or claimed truth or fact?” In addition, I suggest we use quotations around claimed “truths” or claimed “facts” to avoid confusion with empirical truth or fact.
If we as citizens and the press always ask for a definition of what kind of truth or fact is being presented, one day this clarity will simply be expected. On that day, anyone using truth or fact in a sentence without clarifying the nature of their evidence or claim will simply not be taken seriously.
The standard follow-up to any claimed “truth” or “facts” is, “who is making this claim”, “what is this claim useful for?” and “does the person making this claim have any empirical evidence to back up the claim”. Backing up ones claims with more claims makes it clear that we are listening to a personal opinion about others’ opinions.
If the speaker claims that they are using empirical truth or facts, we can request/demand under what conditions the truth or fact can be quantifiably observed.
What we might begin to realize is that we have not been arguing over empirical facts (in part because they are rarely revealed), we have been arguing over what those facts mean, i.e. we have been arguing over opinions misrepresented as fact.
The figure of a well-dressed newsperson claiming and claiming and claiming, without any empirical truth to back his/her words, will be revealing the opinionating that currently masquerades as “News” or political speech.
We will finally get the data and the clarity to be capable of sorting out for ourselves the empirical facts from the fertilizer.