So I hear that many people were looking up the word “fact” yesterday?
Well, so did I. I looked up the word in the English dictionary I refer to most often, double-checked the result with a couple of other English dictionaries, and cross-checked further with dictionaries in French and my mother tongue… I wanted to be absolutely sure I had the facts straight about the word!
But I did not feel looking up the meaning of the word was sufficient in understanding what “facts” are. I thought I also needed to find out how they are defined in practice in the various fields where they form the basis of our knowledge. What qualities or characteristics must “facts” have in such areas as science, law, philosophy, or history?
Maybe truthfulness is one.
Maybe if a statement is true, then it can be said to be a “fact.” But how do we know what is true and what is not true (or partially or completely false)?
So, maybe verifiability is also needed.
Maybe if a statement can be confirmed to be true, then it can be said to be a “fact.” But how will we know if the process by which it is confirmed is not biased in some way?
Then, maybe objectivity must also be included.
Maybe if a statement can be confirmed to be true by someone with no interest in the outcome of the confirmation process, then it can be said to be a “fact.” But how can we know he/she is totally impartial?
As you can tell, I have thought hard and tried my best to understand what “facts” are, but I have yet to reach an incontestable conclusion. I feel as though I still have facts to build up before I can say without a doubt that something is in fact a fact… have I stepped into a circular argument?!
Then maybe I should stop thinking about it in such a complicated way, and consider just one quality I feel “facts” should have – authenticity.
Maybe “facts” are what allow us to stay true to ourselves despite external pressures, and to each other even when we cannot always understand what the other is saying.
Maybe “facts” must serve to grow trust, not doubt.
I believe this is the “maybe” I have arrived at regarding “alternative facts,” as a matter of fact.
Maybe I will call it my “factual alternative.”