A while back, I got into an argument with someone who gives a lot of value to facts. I won’t bore you with the details about the conversation itself, but it left me thinking a lot about what we call facts.

What exactly is a fact?

I’m really big on words and language. So, as usual, let’s see what the origin of the word can tell us about its meaning:

fact: From Latin factum (“a deed, act, exploit […])

The word fact comes from action, which explains a lot about why we now relate it to truth, or to something being real.

At this point in my research it dawned on me: this person wasn’t really talking about facts. He was talking about the value he gave to a specific fact.

Some context

To understand what comes next, we need to create some context. Let’s imagine a statement given by a totally fictional character. Let’s call him Emid:

Emid: I believe that people should work 100 hour weekdays.

Now, to me, that is a fact that in my mind proves that Emid is kind of evil. But, to another person, it might seem quite normal.

So, while I was assigning a value of evilness to that fact, the other person was valuing it much more mildly. And those different values that we all carry inside are what really matter.

We’re all judges

If there were such things as irrefutable facts, we wouldn’t need judges. In fact, we’re all constantly imparting judgement to everything around us. That’s how we make sense of the world, how we build a reality. And we need such a reality, we need anchors in which to base our actions, or we would be lost, cast adrift in this sea of chaos that is life.

So, the next time you find yourself asking someone for facts that prove something, remember that what you’re really requesting are facts that align with your own personal values about something. I assure you, the world will be all the better for it.