Critical Thinking Part 5: When is a Fact not a Fact?

Ultimately, analysis comes down to discriminating between facts and opinions. This relates to the preceding discussion in two essential ways. First, objectivity seems to imply you are dealing with facts, whereas subjectivity implies you are dealing with opinions. Second, the debate about absolute vs. relative truths and perspectives is itself contingent on the distinction between facts and opinions.

Since, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, the first step in analytical critical thinking is to define your terms, how might we define a fact? “Some thing, some issue, some belief that almost every rational person everywhere would agree is a true and accurate representation of reality.”

But that’s a might slippery definition! Note the “almost,” which allows for exceptions. And how do we define a “rational” person? Or “a true and accurate representation of reality”? What is “true”? What is “accurate”? What is a “representation”? And what the heck is “reality”?

We just can’t get away from subjectivity—from relativity! We must struggle endlessly, it seems, to arrive at a definition we can all agree upon. So, undeniably, viewpoints, positions, terms, words themselves are agonizingly complex and difficult to settle. They can always be “traced” further back, as the deconstructionists note.

Thus, even the very first step of defining terms often hangs us up in analysis. But let’s go with that definition of Fact and add to it the definition of Opinion (or inference) as: “Some thing, some idea, some belief which may or may not be true, and needs factual support to prove it’s a fact.” That’s easier than a fact. Because what isn’t a fact is an opinion. Of course, what’s a fact to you is just an opinion to someone else who holds the opposite viewpoint. And vice versa. It’s very frustrating, isn’t it, to believe something is an absolute fact and to be confronted by someone else who believes it’s not a fact at all?! Thus, the necessity for a rigorous analysis and discriminating critical skills.

The point is that those who have been raised on the tolerance and non-judgmental propaganda of the radical relativists and p.c. crowd need to be reconditioned. In the interest of us “all getting along,” many people have had it drilled into their heads to not discriminate, not make judgments, not think that one thing is any better than any other thing, not criticize, and to be tolerant of every opinion and every viewpoint. But such an approach to life is not only counter-productive, it’s hypocritical. We all make judgments and discriminations all day long. It’s what our minds do. We have to in order to survive.

To be continued…

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