Chapter 9


Let us again recapitulate. We know with absolute certainty (1) that there is something; (2) that it is absolutely certain that there is something; (3) that not everything can be doubted; (4) that there are facts that don't depend on your point of view; (5) that what is true is not false in the respect in which it is true; (6) that what is a fact is the fact which it is; and (7) that it is impossible for anything to be neither a fact nor not a fact.

Now then, instead of trying to refute or even win people who won't accept all this and are "comfortable with" that moral view I spoke of earlier of the autonomy of opinions, I think we should leave them to their "comfort," and press on ourselves with our newfound confidence to look a little at facts and at opinions themselves. What is a fact, and how is it related to knowledge? Is knowledge the same as opinion or belief, or not? We are not at this point going to be able to give any detailed account of what a fact is; among other things, there aren't many of them that we've run across as yet.

But based on what we've seen so far, there is at least one thing we know about facts:

Conclusion 4: Facts don't depend on anyone's knowing them.

That is, it would still be a fact that there is something, or that what is true can't be false in the respect in which it is true, even if no one had ever explicitly thought of this.

To confirm that this is what we are driving at by stressing the "factness" of a fact, consider the statement, "It was a fact in 1000 B. C. that the earth was round, even though everyone then thought it was flat." This is another way of saying "The real, objective situation was that the earth was round, even though ..."

The whole epistemological problem since Descartes has been whether we can know anything like this dealing with what is different from our own consciousness. (Note that the facts we are absolutely certain of so far don't necessarily imply anything but our own consciousness--though they don't exclude that there is anything else either, of course.) But what I am getting at here is simply that what it meant by "It is a fact that..." is that what is alleged as a fact is alleged to be so independently of anyone's knowledge of it.

In other words, facts are what you know, not something that your knowledge creates. When I say, "It is a fact that there is something" I mean that your knowledge must adjust itself to agree that there is something, rather than that this is "true" if you accept it to be true and false if you don't.

At this point, the skeptical relativism of our culture rears its head again. As prevalent as the attitude that "everyone has a right to his own opinion" is the way of speaking of "facts for" someone. People say, "Well, yes, that may be a fact for you, but it's not a fact for me. But I respect your point of view, of course." For instance, "for a Christian of a certain type" the Resurrection is a fact; for a Jew or an atheist, it didn't really happen. But of course, the Jew or atheist isn't going to call the Christian deluded or insane; it would be disrespect for his "belief system" to do so; and on the other side, the Christian must respect the religion of the Jew and the convictions of the atheist and not try to convince them that Jesus actually got up out of the grave; we live in a pluralistic society, after all.

Once again, issues of fact have been translated into issues of morality. You can't even say, "Well, Jesus either actually came back to life and physically walked around after really dying, or he didn't." Even the Principle of Contradiction must not be asserted in cases like this because at least religious "facts" are in fact "facts for" the believer and for no one else.

But why must we do this? Why must we repudiate our reason and what we are absolutely certain of to "respect other people's convictions"? Because it's a fact that in these matters there is a middle ground between factuality and non-factuality? But who says that that's a fact that is more self-evident than the Principle of Contradiction itself (especially since it bases itself on the Principle)?

Obviously, to assert that it's a fact that religious facts are non-factual facts is absurd. What is behind this position is really the conviction (a) that no one really knows what the facts are in these cases; (b) there is no way of finding out; and (c) either people want to "take a stand" on the factuality without evidence, or there are plausible reasons on either side, so that no one can prove that the other side is dead wrong. Hence, we should respect the opinions on all sides, and (on the assumption that there is no way to prove either one) leave each person to his own opinion.

But this is a far cry from saying that the Resurrection really is a fact (for the believer) and really isn't (for the non-believer). The position just outlined is compatible with one or the other (and only one) actually being the case.

But in our zeal not to call fools the people who hold to the factuality of what we can't see any convincing evidence for, our culture has gone beyond that and made the fact depend on the conviction, not the conviction depend on the fact; and this has spread throughout all knowledge, so that it is now assumed as a fact that the conviction creates the factuality for the person convinced.

That is, the idea is that "factuality" is a characteristic of the consciousness, more or less in the way that certainty is. When you are certain, then the consciousness itself is called "certain," the view goes, but the contents of the consciousness is called "factual." The "fact" is the contents of the kind of consciousness called "certainty" or "knowledge" or "belief" or "opinion" (as opposed to "wishing" or "dreaming"), and is not something independent of the consciousness itself.

The trouble is that this view (that factuality is in fact simply the contents of this kind of consciousness) has to be taken as a fact even "for" those who disagree with it, or it is simple nonsense. If "for me" it is a fact that factuality is just the contents of my knowledge, while "for you" this isn't a fact, then it's only in my private world that there aren't any "real" facts, and we're back to absolute relativism, in which there really isn't anything "for" a person who hasn't yet thought about "There is something."

That is, the locution that "X is a fact for" the person who thinks X is a fact is not only a meaningless way of speaking, it is pernicious. If you talk about something as a "fact for" someone (the one who thinks that it is a fact) with the idea that it isn't or might not be a "fact for" someone else, you destroy any reason for using the word "fact" at all.

I am laying so must stress on this, because this "fact-for" idea is so ingrained in our consciousness that it's hard even to entertain the possibility that it might be self-contradictory. But the notion that it is the proper way to speak or even that it makes sense in some circumstances must be resisted tooth and nail by anyone who wants to keep his brains from dissolving into gelatin.

No; we may not know whether a given X is a fact or not; but a fact is a fact is a fact, even if no one knows it; and no amount of "knowing" can make a non-fact a fact. Say, "You think (or believe, or whatever) that X is a fact," and avoid at all costs saying, "X is a fact for you."