I am so confused about the many different a vague words people use when talking about claims. Some people talk about belief as separate from fact and value. Some separate opinion from belief. If you recognize that you can never be certain about anything and that language is a slippery tool then you must recognize that all claims are in a way ('just') interpretations/opinion/belief/guesses, even though some interpretations are obviously better than others :). (I am not a relativist; I believe there are objective criteria for measuring such things).

In 'argumentation -the study of effective reasoning' (a lecture series from the teaching company) they separate claims/beliefs into 4 types: facts, definitions, values and policies. All claims can be interpreted as being one or more of these 4 types (but nothing else) e.g. 'E=mc2' can be a 'fact' about how matter function or it can be a claim about how to 'define' energy (i.e. a definition of energy). 'You should not steal' can be either a policy claim (we have the rule that you should never steal), a fact claim (it is true that you should not steal), a value claim (I don't like people stealing) depending on how you choose to interpret it. How you interpret it will determine what questions you need to ask to test whether it is a sound belief or not.

Does anyone know how popular this approach is or does anyone have an alternative all encompassing theory of claims.

  • This is a highly relevant and interesting question. There is an ongoing debate about these kind of notions in formal epistemology, where there are many different formalized concepts such as rational belief, opinions, strong and weak belief, conditional belief, cautious belief, belief sets and belief bases, etc. together with a myriad of different ways of revising and updating them. Unfortunately I'm not well enough into this topic to give a good answer, so perhaps someone else will jump in. Apr 17, 2013 at 9:44

4 Answers 4


From the perspective of a basic philosophical education, that kind of division looks familiar, but strikes me as a little weird. I believe the problem you might be having is that the lecture series, by presenting those "categories" of claims, is conflating a few basic ideas about knowledge, beliefs, and epistemology with philosophy of mind. Let me try a brief explanation of what I hear when you use the word "claim" in these various ways.


A claim is any statement which promises to be true or false. How the truth-value of a statement is determined is what we normally look to when categorizing statements, and these can fall along four axes. This is by no means an exhaustive or studied account, I'm simply describing it in this manner to better illustrate the relevance or irrelevance which these different categories may have to one another.

  1. First, the semantic axis: Is the statement analytic or synthetic? A priori, or a posteriori? Known via deduction from axioms (such as Euclidean geometry), or via an inductive method of empirical verification?
  2. Second, the syntactic axis: can the statement be expressed in simple propositional logic? Does it require predicates? Modal operators? Does the statement have a corresponding symbolic expression?
  3. Thirdly, do we consider this to be an objective statement which is true irrespective of the particular relations it holds, or is it a subjective claim- can it only be assessed as true or false with relation to a particular individual?
  4. Fourth, and last- is the statement rendered true or false by the way the world is, or is it a claim about how the world ought to be?

Among these four axes there's a lot of room for all sorts of combinations, but I believe that covers them all. Hopefully someone will let me know if I've neglected any, but as you can see there's already a great deal more to be said about how to correctly categorize and identify different claims.

The next problem is how statements relate to beliefs.

Beliefs vs. Claims

So far we've been talking about claims as statements, that's important; it's currently unclear and hotly debated between a few camps in the philosophy of mind as to whether beliefs can even be described as statements. The problem is that in epistemology, all claims have a truth-value (ostensibly- there are always people ready to believe in exceptions); however in philosophy of mind, beliefs might not permit a statement-like structure. To give you a taste of how deep this argument runs, it's enough to know that the brain's biological structure is invoked and investigated to support or counter the different sides in these conflicts,

All this said, it should be clear that philosophical inquiry into categorizing arguments has little to do with, or is wholly irrelevant to beliefs and ideas; what's at issue in epistemology is always the truth of statements and claims alone, and the validity of the methods by which we arrive at those conclusions. The course you're describing, with it's confused talk about facts, suggests to me that it may be geared more towards rhetoric, debate, and public speaking- that is, it's more strategically useful than it is intellectually rigorous.

Most of these distinctions can be found in a variety of philosophy's introductory books and teaching materials. I've often cited Julian Baggini's The Philosopher's Toolkit and that will serve well enough, or otherwise try Papineau's Philosophical Devices, or John Shand's Arguing Well.


I'm not sure I quite understand the motivation of the question, but here's some thoughts that maybe will bring a little clarity.

Start from a grammatical observation: in English there are basically three kinds of sentences:

  • Assertions. "The cat is on the mat."
  • Questions. "Is the cat on the mat."
  • Commands. "Put the cat on the mat."

Now, logic (at the intro level) is concerned with assertions. The tools of logic can tell you, for any given set of assertions, whether they could all be true at the same time, or whether some subset of the assumptions provides a proof for other assertions, etc.

Epistemology is concerned with claims about knowledge, and knowledge involves at least the following two things: belief and truth. Whether a person believes something or not is a psychological matter. Let's say that somebody, S, believes some sentence p just in case, if you were to ask S "Is p true?" she would say Yes.

Now, as I've defined it here, belief is clearly connected to assertion in some way. Something you believe is something you would sincerely assert if provided the appropriate occasion to do so. (You probably have lots of beliefs that you never actually assert, e.g. that Nice is a city in France.) On this construal, "opining that p," "being confident that p," "fearing, in your heart of hearts, that p" and so on will all be just particular ways of believing p. The difference between these different expressions is just the difference in the way that the believer feels emotionally about p, or how strong the person thinks her evidence for p is or something like that.

Of course it is possible for people to believe false things. So belief and truth come apart. It is also possible to believe something, that actually happens to turn out to be true, but your belief just happens to be correct by accident. Having knowledge is something stronger again than merely having a belief. Let's say that S knows that p just in case: (i) S believes that p, (ii) p is actually true, and (iii) there is some justification for S's believing p that shows it isn't just an accident that S believes that p.

It sounds like the author of your teaching company lecture is thinking something like this:

  • ``facts'' are significant statements about the world that have to be established scientifically "There is lithium on mars"
  • "definitions" are trivial truths that are knowable a priori. "Bachelors are unmarried men"
  • "values" are subjective expressions of personal preferences. "Orange sorbet is the better than strawberry."
  • "policies" are recommendations for how to act so as to get what one is aiming at. "If you want to see a good movie, read Roger Ebert's reviews first; he's never steered me wrong."

All of these sentences are assertions, grammatically speaking. But it sounds like the point of making such a classification is to say that only the first two kinds of assertions could ever be things that somebody knows to be true, because only the first two are objective, whereas the second two are subjective. This is the so-called "Fact/Value Dichotomy".

If you want to see a first rate philosopher talking about this dichotomy and why it is false, see Hilary Putnam's remarks here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLJfEVu3kbY


I just realized I have one answer to this question myself which I'm not sure about but which must be highly relevant.

In studying grammar I learned that you can make at least 3 types of statements. You can make a claim about what someone or something 'is', 'have' or 'do'. I have seen added to these that you can make claims about what someone experience or believe, but these are only 'have' claims. A person 'have' an experience or a belief.

Are these really all the things you can claim/talk about?

How do the 2 theories fit together?

  • 2
    You should put this in the body of your question, not as an answer if you are in fact just asking more questions based off the first.
    – stoicfury
    Sep 14, 2013 at 4:33

This may be interesting for you:

  1. I. García-Honrado and E. Trillas, “On an Attempt to Formalize Guessing,” in Soft Computing in Humanities and Social Sciences, R. Seising and V. S. González, Eds. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2012, pp. 237–255.

  2. E. Trillas, S. Cubillo, and E. Castiñeira, “On conjectures in orthocomplemented lattices,” Artificial Intelligence, vol. 117, no. 2, pp. 255–275, Mar. 2000.

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