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Facts are the world's data
- Stephen Jay Gould (1981)

A fact (derived from the Latin factum) is something that has really occurred or is actually the case. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability, that is whether it can be proven to correspond to experience.


Quotes are arranged first by century, and in every century alphabetically by author

18th century

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
- John Adams (1770)
  • Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence...
    • John Adams, Boston Massacre trial (1770). Adams defended the British soldiers who were charged with committing murder at the Boston Massacre
  • Matters of fact, which as Mr Budgell somewhere observes, are very stubborn things.
  • But facts are chiels that winna ding, and downa be disputed.

19th century

  • What could I do! Facts are such horrid things!
    • Jane Austen (1871) Lady Susan, Letter XXXII
    • Published posthumously, probably written circa 1794.
  • "I should have more faith," he said; "I ought to know by this time that when a fact appears opposed to a long train of deductions it invariably proves to be capable of bearing some other interpretation."
  • It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.
    • Arthur Conan Doyle (1891) A Scandal in Bohemia
      • See also:
      • It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.
  • After all, facts are facts, and although we may quote one to another with a chuckle the words of the Wise Statesman, "Lies — damned lies — and statistics," still there are some easy figures the simplest must understand, and the astutest cannot wriggle out of. So we may be led to the serious consideration of change by the evolution of materials of conviction which those who run may read, though some who read may wish to run away from them.
  • [I]t is quite certain that only through the equal presence to successive feeling of a subject other than they, which holds them together, and thus held together regards them as its object, are there related things or relations at all. It is not that first there are relations then they are conceived. Every relation is constituted by an act of conception. This is not to be understood as meaning that there is 'nothing but the soul and its feelings,' or that realities are feelings, even feelings as determined by thought. It is through feeling as determined by thought that for us there comes to be reality, but the reality is not to be identified with the process by which we, as thinking animals, arrive at it. Even simple facts of feeling (e.g. the fact that a certain sweet smell accompanies the sight of a rose) are not feelings as felt: more clearly, the conditions of such facts are not feelings, even as determined by thought. A 'feeling determined by thought' would probably mean a feeling which but for thought I should not have, e.g. emotion at the spectacle of a tragedy. Objective facts are not of this sort, not feelings determined by thought, though but for the determination of feeling by thought they would not exist for our consciousness.
  • Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.
    • Thomas Henry Huxley, letter to Charles Kingsley (September 23, 1860); reported in Leonard Huxley, Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1900, reprinted 1979), vol. 1, p. 235.
  • The fatal futility of Fact.
  • Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.
    • William James, in "Is Life Worth Living?" The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897)
  • The fact disclosed by a survey of the past that majorities have usually been wrong, must not blind us to the complementary fact that majorities have usually not been entirely wrong.

20th century

Facts have to be discovered by observation, not by reasoning
- Bertrand Russell (1945)
  • I often wish … that I could rid the world of the tyranny of facts. What are facts but compromises? A fact merely marks the point where we have agreed to let investigation cease.
    • Author unknown, "On Having Known a Poet", The Atlantic Monthly (May 1906), p. 712; attributed to frequent contributor Bliss Carman in Bruce Bohle, ed., The Home Book of American Quotations (1967), p. 90.
  • Facts were never pleasing to him. He acquired them with reluctance and got rid of them with relief. He was never on terms with them until he had stood them on their heads.
  • The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think.
    • Albert Einstein (1921) cited in: Philipp Frank (1947) Einstein: His Life and Times, p. 185
  • I think that only daring speculation can lead us further and not accumulation of facts.
  • I despaired of the possibility of discovering the true laws by means of constructive efforts based on known facts. The longer and the more despairingly I tried, the more I came to the conviction that only the discovery of a universal formal principle could lead us to assured results.
  • Facts are constituted by older ideologies, and a clash between facts and theories may be proof of progress.
  • Not only are facts and theories in constant disharmony, they are never as neatly separated as everyone makes them out to be.
  • Scientific "facts" are taught at a very early age and in the very same manner in which religious "facts" were taught only a century ago. There is no attempt to waken the critical abilities of the pupil so that he may be able to see things in perspective. At the universities the situation is even worse, for indoctrination is here carried out in a much more systematic manner. Criticism is not entirely absent. Society, for example, and its institutions, are criticised most severely and often most unfairly... But science is excepted from the criticism. In society at large the judgment of the scientist is received with the same reverence as the judgement of bishops and cardinals was accepted not too long ago. The move towards "demythologization," for example, is largely motivated by the wish to avoid any clash between Christianity and scientific ideas. If such a clash occurs, then science is certainly right and Christianity wrong. Pursue this investigation further and you will see that science has now become as oppressive as the ideologies it had once to fight. Do not be misled by the fact that today hardly anyone gets killed for joining a scientific heresy. This has nothing to do with science. It has something to do with the general quality of our civilization. Heretics in science are still made to suffer from the most severe sanctions this relatively tolerant civilization has to offer.
  • Results from a given approach are "facts" as long as the approach fits the group or the tradition that is being addressed
  • Knowledge is a collection of facts. Wisdom is the use of knowledge. Without facts there is no knowledge. Without knowledge there is no wisdom. Facts prevent what nothing can cure. Facts are Man's best defense mechanism. Without them men fumble, falter and fail. Without them nations decline and fall. Wisdom wins wars before they start. Knowledge aborts national hostilities. Wisdom obviates racial antipathies. Knowledge effaces religious animosities. Emancipation from bigotry prefaces peace. Intolerance takes all and gives nothing. Peace rewards reciprocal respect and regard. To all Men of Good Will, "Pax Vobiscum!"
  • Facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away while scientists debate rival theories for explaining them.
    • Stephen Jay Gould "Evolution as Fact and Theory", pp. 254–55, originally appeared in Discover Magazine, May 1981.
  • The facts of nature are what they are, but we can only view them through the spectacles of our mind.
  • The power of administrative bodies to make finding of fact which may be treated as conclusive, if there is evidence both ways, is a power of enormous consequence. An unscrupulous administrator might be tempted to say "Let me find the facts for the people of my country, and I care little who lays down the general principles."
    • Charles Evans Hughes, "Important Work of Uncle Sam's Lawyers", American Bar Association Journal (April 1931), p. 238, reprinting an address to the Federal Bar Association, Washington, D.C. (February 11, 1931), where the chief justice spoke of the "extraordinary development of administrative agencies of the government and of the lawyer's part in making them work satisfactorily and also in protecting the public against bureaucratic excesses", according to the article's subtitle.
  • Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
  • Where theory lags behind the facts, we are dealing with miserable degenerating research programmes."
    • Imre Lakatos (1978, p. 6), cited in: Vernon L. Smith, "Theory, experiment and economics]." The Journal of Economic Perspectives (1989):p. 168
  • The subversive character of truth inflicts upon thought an imperative quality. Logic centers on judgments which are, as demonstrative propositions, imperatives, — the predicative “is” implies an “ought.” … Verification of the proposition involves a process in fact as well as in thought: (S) must become that which it is. The categorical statement thus turns into a categorical imperative; it does not state a fact but the necessity to bring about a fact. For example, it could be read as follows: man is not (in fact) free, endowed with inalienable rights, etc., but he ought to be.
  • Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
    Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
    Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
    Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill...
  • Facts have a cruel way of substituting themselves for fancies. There is nothing more remorseless, just as there is nothing more helpful, than truth.
    • William C. Redfield, secretary of commerce, address at Case School, Cleveland, Ohio (May 27, 1915); reported in Ashley H. Thorndike, Modern Eloquence (1936), vol. 7, p. 392.
  • Obviously the facts are never just coming at you but are incorporated by an imagination that is formed by your previous experience. Memories of the past are not memories of facts but memories of your imaginings of the facts.
  • Historical facts, many of them, have an intrinsic value, a profound interest on their own account, which makes them worthy of study, quite apart from any possibility of linking them together by means of causal laws.
Facts are constituted by older ideologies
Paul Karl Feyerabend (1975)
  • We are driven back to correspondence with fact as constituting the nature of truth. It remains to define precisely what we mean by 'fact', and what is the nature of the correspondence which must subsist between belief and fact, in order that belief may be true.
  • A hallucination is a fact, not an error; what is erroneous is a judgment based upon it.
  • When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only: What are the facts, and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted, either by what you wish to believe, or what you think could have beneficent social effects if it were believed; but look only and solely at what are the facts.
  • A myth is, of course, not a fairy story. It is the presentation of facts belonging to one category in the idioms appropriate to another. To explode a myth is accordingly not to deny the facts but to re-allocate them.
  • Facts do not "speak for themselves." They speak for or against competing theories. Facts divorced from theory or visions are mere isolated curiosities.
    • Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles (1987)
  • 1 The world is all that is the case.
    1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
    1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts.
    1.12 For the totality of facts determines what is the case, and also whatever is not the case.
    1.13 The facts in logical space are the world.
    1.2 The world divides into facts.
    1.21 Each item can be the case or not the case while everything else remains the same.

21st century

  • People make a grievous error thinking that a list of facts is the truth. Facts are just the bare bones out of which truth is made.
  • Every moment age is creeping up stealthily,
    but life, life is melting down
    like a candle that is flickering around.
  • Life is withering away
    like a candle that is melting down.
  • I have no need for the boundless sky; the moon and stars are beyond my grasp. I prefer to exist in the real world, for dreams alone cannot sustain me.
  • One assault on the world of facts was launched some time ago from the direction of the theory of knowledge. This campaign was primarily waged by those who aimed to discredit the empiricist belief that our world consists of sense data capable of being directly perceived and uncontentiously described. It would not be too much to say that by now this particular dogma of empiricism has fallen into very general disrepute. Scarcely anyone nowadays believes in the possibility of building up structures of factual knowledge on foundations purporting to be wholly independent of our judgements.
    • Quentin Skinner, "Introduction: Seeing things their way", Visions of Politics (2002)
  • Besides being assailed by epistemologists, the world of facts has been undermined in recent times by developments within the theory of meaning. The cardinal assumption of positivistic philosophies of language was that all meaningful statements must refer to facts, and thus that the meanings of sentences must be given by the method of verifying the assertions contained in them.
    • Quentin Skinner, "Introduction: Seeing things their way", Visions of Politics (2002)

See also

Philosophy of science
Concepts AnalysisA priori and a posterioriCausalityDemarcation problemFactInductive reasoningInquiryNatureObjectivityObservationParadigmProblem of inductionScientific methodScientific revolutionScientific theory
Related topics AlchemyEpistemologyHistory of scienceLogicMetaphysicsPseudoscienceRelationship between religion and scienceSociology of scientific knowledge
Philosophers of science PlatoAristotleStoicism
AverroesAvicennaRoger BaconWilliam of Ockham
Francis BaconThomas HobbesRené DescartesGalileo GalileiPierre GassendiIsaac NewtonDavid Hume
Immanuel KantFriedrich SchellingWilliam WhewellAuguste ComteJohn Stuart MillHerbert SpencerWilhelm WundtCharles Sanders PeirceHenri PoincaréPierre DuhemRudolf SteinerKarl Pearson
Alfred North WhiteheadBertrand RussellAlbert EinsteinOtto NeurathC. D. BroadMichael PolanyiHans ReichenbachRudolf CarnapKarl PopperW. V. O. QuineThomas KuhnImre LakatosPaul FeyerabendJürgen HabermasIan HackingBas van FraassenLarry LaudanDaniel Dennett

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