Can other than natural phenomena be facts?

def. ideal of fact:

a thing that's consistent among all participants, i.e. a thing that appears intersubjectively "the same". And that has empirical/physical correspondence (i.e. verificationist, logical empiricist).

Note: this doesn't mean/require universality. This way e.g. a health claim can be factual, if it's factual in a group to which it is demonstrateable to apply. On the other hand it's not "universally" factual, because its factness is context-sensitive.

Metaphysical "presuppositions":

Physicalism. I.e. that all there exists is matter and it's measurable (if we know how). The better we can measure a claim against this physical, the more objective it's. "Actual physical" is the most factual context there exists and therefore it fulfills ideal of fact fully. But obviously not all interpretations fulfill it fully, so they cannot be fully factual.

The more interpretation between actual physical and [some interpretation], the less factual.

At the moment, I think that no.

The reason is that everything else than natural phenomena requires "interpretation" and everything else than "spontaneously created, emerged, ..." cannot be guaranteed to exist or have similar form (so that observers could observe similar phenomenon on successive times). Thus only natural phenomena can be consistently (time, place, observer -independently) observed and thus they're the only facts.

An interpretation of a natural phenomenon (by some observer, not necessarily the same for all) could be said to be "somewhat close to fact" or "factual" (meaning that it contains factuality, but is not necessarily fully fact). However, the interpretation contains the potential for "adding subjectivity" and thus interpretations about fact cannot anymore be consistently "as factual as the original fact".

  • 1
    the question could be worded less idiosyncratically, but i think the downvote wrong. +1
    – user38026
    May 6, 2019 at 16:08
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    just that it is not unclear, but not simple (to read) either
    – user38026
    May 6, 2019 at 16:18
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    Consider "there is a squirrel climbing on that tree"? This is about "as factual" a claim I can think of, but there's a lot of interpretation going on here. There's an object that I'm perceiving and judging to qualify as being a tree; there's another object that I'm perceiving and judging to qualify as being a squirrel. These objects have a particular relative spatial relationship that I am judging to qualify as being "in the tree". There are cases where this is controversial (is that really a tree? is that a genuine squirrel? Does that really count as being in the tree?) ...
    – H Walters
    May 7, 2019 at 15:57
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    ...so what kind of thing would be the "original fact" in this case? I see all qualifiers (this counts as a squirrel, etc) as adding subjectivity, if you mean by that to refer to first person phenomena (perception, judgement); and if you simply mean subjective as in controversial, then it's not very controversial that Clark Kent is Superman (and certainly that's not a description of a natural phenomenon).
    – H Walters
    May 7, 2019 at 16:08
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    You mean can there be facts about things other than natural phenomena? Sure. That a building was built in such and such year is a fact, that some party won elections is a fact, etc. What you probably have in mind is something like restricting facts to what can be decided based exclusively on perceptual reports, what positivists used to call protocol sentences. Alas, yes, even that involves some interpretation. Nothing's perfect, the real question is what is good enough. And there is no bright line for that.
    – Conifold
    May 8, 2019 at 22:49

2 Answers 2


Your position does not state your metaphysical presuppositions, nor does it define your primitive terms, so I'll answer one from mine.

FACT: A fact is an intersubjetively and tentatively approved consensus of truth based on the meaning derived from our physical experiences. As such, all facts are interpreted, because physical experiences per se are always subjective despite a real, verifiable external reality. Objectivity, then, is a social artifice that is often used for political ends. Reality in North Korea is very different than in the US, for instance, since it is considered a fact that former leaders of the country never defecated, for instance.

SCIENTIFIC FACT: This is a fact that has been subjected to scientific methods depending on the domain of the fact. For instance a fact in physics is determined differently than a fact in biology or sociology, and this is largely a function that there are many variations on the scientific method which has created the illusion that no adequate definition of science can ever exist.

To address your question, all phenomena that are considered natural phenomena are subject to being determined as scientific fact, but the method of science precludes any fact from being exempted from revision on account of skepticism. This being said, all scientific fact (facts about natural phenomena only since science rejects the supernatural) is open to argumentation and interpretation since truth generally functions along a series of lines of inquiry including does it correspond to reality, does it cohere with other facts, is the fact useful within the framework, etc.

  • Metaphysical presuppositions? Well, physicalism. But I don't consider it a presupposition, but rather "a given", as long as one believes in "physical matter". The other key "supposition" is that all human knowledge is subjectively constructed and interpreted and that it's not the same as "the actual physical".
    – mavavilj
    Aug 22, 2019 at 17:45
  • I've clarified these to the question.
    – mavavilj
    Aug 22, 2019 at 17:51
  • @mavavilj Thanks! My assertion still stands. All scientific facts are intersubjective and therefore interpreted psychologically as well as socially.
    – J D
    Aug 22, 2019 at 22:59

Your question is answered in the first sentence of the definition you cited for a "fact" -- there is nothing "physical" or "natural" required for a fact to be a fact. Your second sentence is simply false, and is not what "facts" require. The term "fact" is itself an excellent illustration of this point. "Fact's" meaning is not physical, it is a linguistic convention. If it has an objective existence it would be as an abstract object, not anything "physical". The meaning is established by intersubjective consensus, and the existence of the word, and of the concept, are themselves "facts".

Note that the two leading theorists of naturalism in the 20th century, Popper and Quine, both explicitly refute that naturalism == physicalism. Quine spelled out that the inference to a physical reality, and the inference to an abstract reality, were logically identical "naturalist" processes. And Popper noted that both the reality of world 2 experiences, and the recourse to world 3 hypotheses, were both preconditions to inferring the physical world 1.

Logical empiricism, and its Verification Principle, is widely considered to be among the most thoroughly refuted philosophies of the modern era.

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