Sunday, January 16, 2005

Facts and Identity


It has been said that a fact is what makes a proposition true. It's the ineffable link between my saying that the ball is red, and the actual redness of the ball. This is a good example, because balls are sometimes actually red, and we can all understand what's going on here. A red ball means that my proposition is true, and a blue ball means that it is false. Simple, right?

Okay, let's grey things up a little. We say then that it's a fact whether the ball is red. So what happens when we make a proposition about the future? Tomorrow (let's say I give a date and time), there will be a sea battle. Now, is there a fact which corresponds to this proposition, or not? By the time tomorrow has come around, we may find that there was indeed a sea-battle, and thus my proposition about there being a sea battle at a particular date and time will be true. It would seem like there is a fact which falsifies my proposition - namely whether or not a sea battle occured. But was there a fact at the time I made my proposition?

Still with me? Okay, what about this - I believe some inconsistent things. For example, I believe in the laws of physics, but I also believe in free will. That I believe those things is a fact. However, at the same time, those facts (fact one : I believe in the laws of physics, fact two : I believe in free will) are not consistent. The laws of physics - well at least some conceptions of them - aren't really able to be true at the same time as free will being true. So what is going on there? If inconsistent facts can exists, does this say anything about the universe as a whole? Or are the only valid facts physical ones, and the things we believe not really facts at all?



Blogger Richard said...

You're confusing the belief with its content. There's nothing inconsistent about the fact that you believe X and the fact that you believe not-X. Those facts are quite consistent. What's inconsistent is the beliefs.

The problem would only arise if both those beliefs were true. If it were a fact that X, and a fact that not-X, then that would be inconsistent. But that's clearly quite different from the sort of scenario you've described here.

(Another inconsistency would be if it were a fact that you believe that X, and also a fact that you do NOT believe that X. But again, that's not what you were discussing.)

1/16/2005 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

That's quite right - actually I wasn't in a state of confusion myself over the distinction, but I was speaking towards the idea that sometimes it's not so clear. For example, there might be some propositions where it's unclear as to whether we're referring to a belief as a fact, or the fact itself. How to respond?...

Maybe by example. If you consider identity, for example, or self-identity. Is there some fact that captures your identity which it's possible to express through logical proposition? Or is the self existent only as a belief?


1/16/2005 04:35:00 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Fair enough. Though I'm not sure propositions themselves (as metaphysical entities) can ever be ambiguous in the way you suggest. Rather, I think a sentence (linguistic entity) may be unclear as to which proposition it is meant to express.

So I think we can accept semantic ambiguity without having any worries about metaphysical ambiguity (whether of propositions or facts).

I'm not sure I understand your last paragraph. I would have thought there were objective facts about identity. (I am identical to myself but different from you - isn't that a fact?) Is that what you meant by 'capturing', though? Perhaps a more specific example would help, if you can think of one.

1/17/2005 10:18:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

Food for thought, Richard, I have no immediate response, but I think the question is open.

As another thought, do you think there is anything that is true just because you believe it? Apart from the belief-as-a-fact, is is possible to make a fact true by believing it?


1/18/2005 08:55:00 PM  

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