Political Science: A Philosophical Analysis

By Vernon Van Dyke | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Facts

"It is Facts that are needed," Bryce once declared, "Facts, Facts, Factst!"1

But what are facts? What is meant by a "specific" or a "general" fact? Which facts are "the facts" of political science? And what do facts have to do with theses about ends and means?


DEFINITIONS OF Fact

A number of definitions of fact have been advanced which may help to confer meaning on the word. Goode and Hatt define it as "an empirically verifiable observation"--a definition that is quite acceptable if both direct and indirect verification and observation are contemplated.2 Wilson says that "facts are situations or circumstances concerning which there does not seem to be valid room for disagreement"--a definition that is useful, especially if the terms "situations" and "circumstances" are interpreted broadly and loosely.3 Easton defines a fact as "a particular ordering of reality in terms of a theoretical interest"--a definition that should be clearer after we have discussed the meanings of the word "theory";4 it may be better now to think of an ordering of reality in terms of a question that has been posed. Another possibility is that we might define a fact as a finding or a statement about reality, arrived at by a reliable method. A method is reliable when it produces the same result for all those who employ it. Thus, the definition just offered can be translated to read that a fact is a finding or a statement about reality on which universal agreement is, in principle, achievable.

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