Saturday, 18 October 2014

Private Facts?


I’m not sure that everyone does "
assume that all the facts in the world are equally accessible to standard, objective, third-person tests (Searle, 497)". This is a peculiarly scientific account of fact or facts. That's not to say, however, that this account is not all-pervasive and even common; though it is still largely scientific in origin and nature. We do see some things that aren't susceptible to "objective, third-person tests" as factual.

For example, if you formulate a mental image of Tony Blair in your mind, surely that imaginative act and the mental image itself have a factual status. If not to me, then to you. Surely it is a fact if one formulates a mental image of Tony Blair no matter how private and first-person it is. Something happened. And the mental image of Tony Blair is something. If these things aren't factual, then what are they?

We can accept the stipulatory account of the word or concept [fact] and say that facts must be objective and susceptible to third-person tests. However, we can just as easily reject that stipulation and provide our own. Or we can adopt Wittgenstein’s Tractatus view of facts in which all facts must be worldly or part of the world. With this too we can either reject or accept it. So it depends on what we mean by ‘fact’ in the end.

For example, one definition is "the worldly correlate of a true proposition" or "that which makes a true proposition true". Can a mental image be a "worldly correlate"? Is a pain a part of the world? These things surely must be parts of the world – unless the mental is a ‘third realm’, as in Karl Popper. It's easier to accept that a mental image or pain can be that which makes a true proposition true.

However, even this version of fact is problematic for mental items. Then, if something is truly first person or private, how can it be factual? Surely what is factual needs some kind of communal or third-person agreement. Is that same kind of thing true of knowledge and even of truth?

Take non-mental private though first-person facts. Jim can say that he's a millionaire. He can say it is a fact; though he refuses to prove it in any way or show us what he has bought with his money. He may well be a millionaire. Why should anyone else think that he is? And if no one else has a reason for thinking him a millionaire, how can it really be a fact? However, perhaps he really is a millionaire and he's just playing with us, as it were. Would it even be factual in this case? He either has or doesn't have a million pounds. If he has a million pounds. Then it is a fact that he has a million pounds. It's a fact that only one person knows about and it's not even a mental ‘fact’. It does seem to be private, at least in a looser sense. Unless, again, it is a definitional point that facts must acquire, as it were, objective or third-person status. In that case, it is not (yet) a fact that Jim is a millionaire, which seems odd. It's odd even if he has not spent a penny of it and simply keeps it all under his bed. Whether or not he spends it, it is still a million pounds. And if it is still a million pounds, he is a millionaire. Thus it is a fact that Jim is a millionaire?

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