Originally posted by CosmoNut
OKAY, TIME OUT.
You're all losing track of the point here. I wasn't intending for you to debate whether Jesus existed or whether Bush is a good president.
The question is: Do you believe there is a difference between fact and truth? If so, what are they?
Like many words, the words "truth" and "fact" aren't strictly defined. If you're looking for any single, clear-cut answer I don't think you'll find one.
I think it's fair to say that the word "fact" generally applies to narrower, more concrete, more easily objectifiable assertions, while "truth" is broader, dealing more with conclusions or syntheses drawn from a broader context, perhaps from a collection of supposed "facts".
We toss these words around very casually and interchangeably, however: "Were you, as you claimed, at home all evening on the night of the 15th?"
"Yes, that's the truth."
There's nothing wrong with that last sentence. Yet, in the context of a court trial, establishing the truth
regarding someone's whereabouts at an important time would merely be a matter of establishing one of the facts
which help lead, hopefully, to a broader truth of innocence or guilt.
The words "innocence" and "guilt" are also, of course, slippery words. We might clearly and undeniably establish with a mountain of evidence that Alice pointed a gun a Bob, pulled the trigger, and ultimately fired a bullet which was the cause of Bob's death. That said, is Alice guilty
of killing Bob? Well, was it dark and Alice thought Bob was a burglar? Was Bob threatening Alice with a weapon at the time? Did Alice think the gun she held wasn't loaded? Was Alice, while not in immediate physical danger, so traumatized and threatened by Bob, and so afraid that the police and legal system wouldn't protect her or her children from Bob, that in a moment of great stress and fear she felt she had no other escape?
Different people are going to accept different types and degrees of justification for such a killing, which will lead to different views on the "truth" of whether or not Alice is guilty, innocent, or in some gray area in between.
I don't take such fuzziness, however, as many seem to do, to mean that the truth itself is a matter of personal perspective. I don't think we should confuse the difficulty of defining what we mean by "guilty" with whether or not it's true
that someone is guilty of a particular act. It can be simultaneously true that Alice is guilty of killing Bob by Carol's definition of "guilt", and not guilty by Don's definition.
After all, most of us wouldn't insist that varying acceptance of the statement "chocolate is delicious" poses any baffling epistemological or ontological challenges. The enjoyment of chocolate, or lack thereof, is merely a matter of perspective. To insist that there is some ultimate Yes/No truth to the question, "Is chocolate delicious?", as if there's some Platonically ideal answer to that question, seems pretty silly. Rather than say that truth about the tastiness of chocolate is personal, I'd say it's not at all personal, but merely that the real, objective truth is very complicated and detailed, as complicated and detailed as the sum total of all reactions anyone ever has or will have to chocolate. There isn't a different "truth" for each person, each person simply possesses one facet of a larger true picture.
Of course, when it comes to something more important than confectionary predilections, like innocence or guilt in a case of murder, I think a lot of people long for the simplicity and comfort that there's a single, ultimately authoritative right answer "out there", and that a search for that truth is a matter of discovery -- and not, as I see it, a matter which also includes the very subjective element of deciding what we mean
by saying that a person is "guilty".