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Making Sense of Facts and Theories

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1297 words Published: 11th Sep 2017

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“Facts are needed to establish theories but theories are needed to make sense of facts.” Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

Facts are things believed to be true. There are different types of facts that can be distinguished, ‘real facts’ and ‘said facts’. ‘Real facts’ are those that are always true like not being able to walk through walls and ‘said facts’ are just plain statements which declare something as a fact but can be either true or false. One needs to be careful when declaring a fact because declaring makes it a said fact. Facts themselves need no declaration, not even in a theory, ‘said facts’ if true, are made true by facts. Theories, on the other hand, can be made up of facts or can be used to explain them. Theories do not depend on facts but their truth does. This had led me to explore the following knowledge question: how are facts needed to establish theories? While looking at history and natural sciences, we will see that facts are usually necessary to be able to come up with a theory. I will be exploring my knowledge question by looking at reason and language as the ways of knowing and natural sciences and history as the areas of knowledge.

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In the area of knowledge of natural sciences, facts are needed to establish theories. Sciences rely on the scientific method which involves doing background research – looking at previously known real facts -, constructing a hypothesis based on the facts obtained from the background research and testing it doing an experiment which is based on observation. During the observation process, one realises ‘real facts’, those that do not need to be declared because they are demonstrated through the experiment. Therefore, once a series of facts are compiled, a theory can be established explaining those facts. The theory would not be able to be reliable if it did not have facts that made it a true theory. One decides if a fact is indeed a true fact by using reason which is what allows us to form a logical argument from the observations made. Also, language helps to portray the facts and compile them into a theory since if there were no language, we would not be able to establish theories from any ‘real facts’ since there would not be a way to transmit or communicate them. Theories need to be tested and they must be able to be replicated by following the original process that was done to establish the theory, so in order for it to be explained or replicated, it needs the assistance of language and reason to communicate the theory and evaluate if it is logical, respectively. A real life example is when we tested Newton’s theories of motion in my physics class by doing an experiment with toy cars looking at inertia and impulse, we had access to the facts that made up those theories and hence, we were able to put it into practice and see how they behave.

However, it is possible that give access to the same facts, different theories may result. This is perhaps because the facts were not necessarily true because they could have been ‘said facts’, just plain statements declaring something as a fact but can be false (as well as true) or because they did not encounter any exceptions through the method they used in their investigation if they did not try in different situations. If they were said facts, then the researchers, most likely, did not follow the scientific method and simply derived a theory from an assumption for a specific hypothesis. Since all theories are subjected to at least one exception, they might not be a hundred per cent true because the same theory does not apply to every possible situation that may affect the outcome. An example of this in the natural sciences is on the laws of gases which only apply if the temperature is kept constant. But then again, the temperature having to be kept constant may be a key fact part of the theory. It was previously mentioned that reason is needed to make sense of the facts obtained. Reasoning methods may vary from a researcher to another which is why some theories are created but are reviewed after a few years because they did not put the facts together in a more logical manner. An example of this is Newton’s Universe theory in which he stated that the universe is infinite and static and contains and infinite number of stars equally dispersed however, it was many years later discovered by Olber that if there was an infinite number of stars equally dispersed then, the night would not exist since the universe would be bright in all directions at all times. However, how is it possible to tell if one theory is really true since they are occasionally subjected to sudden changes due to further research and more accessibility to facts into the field? Can we then believe all of the theories we are presented with? Language also has an important role to play since it can be interpreted differently by different researchers and also, when it is translated into other languages to make it accessible for other individuals, some of the sense might be lost and might stop being a true theory composed of true facts. It is therefore clear that facts are needed to establish theories in the area of knowledge of natural sciences but often, the theories might be subjected to changes due to further facts being discovered.

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In History, facts are needed to establish theories too. History needs to look at the facts as the evidence obtained from wars and past events to then evaluate and create a theory on what have been the motifs behind that specific event. This is a more controversial area of knowledge because even though we are all presented with the same facts, they can be put into a theory in different ways regarding to the individual’s beliefs or background. Given access to the facts about a war, the theory resulting might differ from one person to the other depending if the person is from a country that was more affected by it or not. A real-life example is the Spanish Holy Inquisition in which Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon forced everyone in their kingdom to be Catholics and executed those who refused to convert. From an open-minded point of view it seems clear that religion cannot be enforced on people. However, I have come across many strong Catholics who believe that the Spanish Inquisition was a good thing to enforce ‘good’ values onto people and that they even made them a favour helping them to get into ‘heaven’. Different people reason the facts in different ways and this is why extremely opposite theories for the same event are established. Also, these facts rely just on language found in manuscripts and stories passed down since none of us was alive at that time and hence, we cannot be sure if these facts are indeed true or if they have been subjected to any sort of manipulation.

It is important to know about how facts are needed to establish theories because they are the smaller bits of information we can obtain and make sense of to arrange them into theories. It is necessary to know that even though theories may seem to be true, they can still be subjected to changes once more research is done and more facts are discovered due to perhaps using a different way of reasoning or following a different investigation method. Additionally, different theories might result from the same facts due to someone’s beliefs or background and are therefore not always reliable but still, facts are needed to establish a theory, whether it is true or not.


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