CRITICAL THINKING; Facts, truths, opinion, and possibilities

Welcome to the editorials section, a page on critical thinking and theory of hot topics and getting down to the basics and interpretation on the common factors. Let’s start with the differences of facts, truths, opinions and possibilities. Very common words with simple meanings often used out of context.

What is a fact?

A fact is something that is indisputable, a reality that is concrete and cannot be rejected due to the fact that no amount of reasoning can change them, they are not discovered or created, their existence is simply acknowledged. Facts are objective, not subjective, so they cannot be influenced by emotions, opinions, or personal feelings, no matter what. They are proven without a shadow of doubt to be real and are verifiable through strong evidence.

Now, in this day and age of the internet we have to research twice as hard to the point of looking for a needle in a haystack because anyone can put anything online, and someone else is going to believe it, it does not make it fact, or even truth for that matter. Facts can involve numbers, dates, and can even be testimonial, one example is “World War I ended in 1918”, you know this to be fact because there are countless records out there speaking of the “Treaty of Versailles” that ended it in November of 1918.

Facts are beyond arguments, they are presumed by the measuring devices, records and/or memories that are correct and they provide crucial support in the face of an argument. With that in mind, facts by themselves are worthless, we have to put them in context, draw conclusions, and give them meaning.

Technically, there are four types of facts; empirical, analytical, evaluative, and metaphysical.

  • Empirical facts are verified by scientific observation; If I said that the Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world, we would know it to be fact because geographers have measured the oceans and their conclusion was that the Pacific is the largest, that cannot be disputed.
  • Analytical facts are verified by the rules of a symbol system; If I said 2+2=4 (Arabic) or X-VII=III (Roman), those numbers cannot be disputed, no matter where you are since math is a universal language, the only difference being Arabic or Roman numerals.
  • Evaluative facts are confused with opinions and even morality so they are a little more difficult to understand. They are verified by applying objective standards of value, such as the claim that theft is wrong, it may be verified by applying the standard of the right to own property. If someone says it is not wrong, steal something from them and see how they feel. The claim that theft is wrong is a statement about the validity of actions in the real world, and is really not just opinion because matters of right and wrong can be known objectively so they are not matters of opinion or even morality. Another example is an appraiser of homes, jewelry, etc. that we rely on to assess the value of our homes, jewelry, etc. These experts use trained senses as well as have a wealth of knowledge and understanding in their field so their expert evaluations belong to the realm of fact, not just opinion either. These facts are very loose though because you can have two experts with two separate outcomes of value that something has, but still, it would fall under fact and either of their findings, would hold up as factual documentation when presented.
  • Metaphysical facts can be confusing as well since metaphysics itself is too broad of a term (branch of philosophy that deals with abstract theory on the foundation and principle of things). They are verified by revealing and self-evidence. The claim that all men are created equal is verifiable by self-evidence, while the presence of angels or ghosts can be verified by revealing evidence as well as self-evidence. Accordingly, we assume those to be true without external evidence. It is the record of the communications of divinity with humanity, mainly found in religious traditions or sacred texts and expert judgment may be required to determine whether claims are true.

Facts are thrown around a lot and seem to be used out of context during discussions more times than not. One example is statistics, people like to point at them as facts to end an argument but in reality statistical numbers are disputable because numbers can fluctuate with each researcher, they are more of a ball park area, so they are hardly facts. Statistics can be truthful and great for comparative purposes but they alter depending on who is doing the research and what sources they used for their findings. Statistics are out there, that is a fact, but statistics themselves, are not, by the very definition.

People will throw out “facts” left and right, from studies they read in class or other articles on the subject but those can be just as much truth, possibilities or just the opinion of the author.  You can research events from hundreds of years ago and pass it off as facts because documentation will back you up, but considering you were not there and have no real proof that the author was, is it really a fact? Hardly, many historians dispute each other’s finding, as do scientists. People should tread lightly on the use of this word.

What is truth?

By the very definition, truth is an accurate statement of facts and reality. The difference between truth and facts is facts are permanent and cannot be disputed no matter how your viewpoint is, while truth is more temporary and tends to fall on one’s own perception of things such as a belief.

An example is if I said 2+2=4, that would be fact because it is the only result you can achieve for that question and no other answer can come from it,  but if it was stated as 4=2+2 that would only fall under the realm of truth because you can have multiple results as 3+1, 6-2, 5-1, etc.

All facts are true, but not all truths are facts. Facts are objective, they just exist, while truths are subjective, they need to be observed.

What is an opinion?

By the very definition, it is a view or judgement of something not always based on facts or truth. It is a subjective perspective open to greater interpretation based on personal feeling and emotion.

An opinion is an honest attempt to draw a reasonable conclusion from one’s own evidence. They can be potentially changeable, depending on how the evidence is interpreted, because by themselves, opinions have little power to convince others. With evidence, opinions are formed through interpretation. Without evidence, opinions are formed from possibilities.

Facts, truths and opinions are equally important but should not be confused with each other.

What are possibilities?

Possibilities are subjective scenarios that may have, or can, occur. They are born from the state of a likelihood and are found to be alternatives that can change truths and opinions. In reality we should all keep an open mind and try to look at all the possibilities and take them for what they are.

Here are a few opinion pieces I have made loaded with facts, truths, opinions, and possibilities. These were done in hopes of opening minds to new points of view, feel free to discuss if you have something you would like to add or something you feel should be removed.

Higher Education vs Skills