I am engaged in the neverending disagreement with someone who argues, based on theory-ladenness, that there are no facts. Seems like they implicitly make the following moves, without explicitly arguing for them, even if stated here and there.

  1. We cannot establish the facts without a theory

  2. There are no facts independent of theory

  3. There are no facts

Is there a term for this style of argument, especially from 1 to 2?

  • 1
    The move from 1 to 2 seems valid. Each is 3 which you might be able to refute. Apr 5 '16 at 15:47
  • i can't see how it is valid, as it would make idealism pretty trivial. but thanks for the reply
    – user6917
    Apr 5 '16 at 15:57
  • i suppose its inflationary: that the facts are determined by theory does not mean that they are only determined by theory; and that theory is always implicated does not mean only it is.
    – user6917
    Apr 5 '16 at 16:14
  • 1 to 2 does not seem valid to me. For realists there are theory independent facts even if we can never establish them at all, or establish them without a theory (in which case we can't know that they are theory independent). The theory-ladenness thesis seems to assert 2 directly though, if "the meaning of observational terms is partially determined by theoretical presuppositions" then it's not that we can not establish theory independent facts, but rather that "theory independent fact" is a meaningless oxymoron. I do not see how to get from that to 3 though without an extra premise.
    – Conifold
    Apr 5 '16 at 22:16

Without some better definition of "fact" and "theory" the question makes little sense to me, and hardly seems resolvable by simple logic.

It looks more like an example of the self-refuting nature of skepticism. Or an antinomy based on a false distinction. If we are to take (3) as a "fact" of some sort, then isn't it refuted if (1+2) constitutes a rudimentary "theory"... and equally refuted if it does not?

Or it is refuted by something like "common sense" in the way that Berkeley is. There is no convincing basis for "theorizing" that there are "no theory-independent facts," just as we cannot "prove" there are no "mind-independent objects" without recourse to mind, and it all tumbles into nonsense.

On the other hand, it is easy to accept some pragmatic idea of "fact" and that there are no absolutely stable facts because there are no absolutely completed theories. Nothing wrong with that. The "for-now-sort-of facts" are fragilely embedded in some Quinean web.

In any case, it seems to me there is nothing analytically wrong with (1) and (2), provided (1) gets rid of the vague "we cannot" to read: "No facts can be established without a theory." One could then assert, provided "facts" are things that must be "established," that there are no "theory-independent facts." Pretty meaningless.

But (3) as given is just a non sequitur. It requires something like (2.5) "There are no theories" or "There are no theories fully established by the facts." Then the circularity becomes evident.


I'm gonna post what I told them, my apologies if no-one likes it.

My opponent agrees that we cannot establish the facts without theory.

They then wrongly decide that this means there are no facts independent of theory. There are two fallacies you could be making.

  1. Affirming the consequent.
  • If P, then Q
  • Q.
  • Therefore, P.

. That there there are no facts without theory (If F, then T) does not mean that theory is all there is to the facts, that T is sufficient for F (T, therefore F)..

  1. The fallacy of composition.

The fallacy of composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole (or even of every proper part)

That part of what we know is determined by theory, does not mean all we know is, that there are no facts independent of theory.

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