“Archaeology is the search for fact … not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.” -Dr. Henry (Indiana) Jones Jr.
Of course, my post and James’ comment were in the context of the testimonies yesterday of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh. What James said was, “What we’re looking for is (or should be) facts. What we might have to settle for is truth, but I don’t see how we’re going to get it.”
The Indiana Jones quote and what Jim wrote reminded me of my fourth or fifth post when I started this blog. And so, since it basically went unread when I posted it, I thought it might be a good time to shed some light on it.
When I first read Faulkner’s quote (above), I was perplexed. I had always considered “facts” and “truth” to be synonyms. Even the definitions of the two words cross-reference one another:
Fact: something that actually exists; reality; truth.
Truth: conformity with fact or reality; a verified or indisputable fact.
Facts are used as proof of what is undeniably “the truth,” but are these words truly interchangeable or do they actually have different meanings and usage?
I was curious enough about the similarities and differences between these two words to do some Google research. And I learned that not everyone believes that they are synonymous. Some folks actually differentiate between the them using diametrically opposed logic.
One site argued that facts can be fleeting, enduring for but a moment. For example, the “fact” of someone’s location on a fast-moving train changes every instant. Truth, on the other hand is a more enduring type of fact, this source claimed.
Another site argued that if it’s a fact now, it will be a fact in the future, whereas truth is more temporal. Facts indicate a universal truth, while truth depends upon temporal circumstances. For example, that the sun appears to always rise in the east and set in the west is a fact. It will never change.
I found an interesting site, differencebetween.net, which provided four facts (or truths?) about facts and truths:
- Facts are more objective when compared to the more subjective truths.
- Facts are more permanent when compared to the more temporary truths.
- Facts exist in reality, whereas truths are usually the things that one believes to be true, or the things that are true in the current situation.
- Facts can also answer the ‘where,’ ‘when,’ and ‘how’ questions, whereas truths answer the ‘why’ question.
And then there is “truthiness,” a word first coined by Stephen Colbert a dozen years ago. Like when Bill Maher says, “I don’t know it for a fact…I just know it’s true,” truthiness is the quality of seeming to be true based upon one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic or factual evidence. It’s when someone feels, believes, or wishes that something is true even when it is not supported by the facts.
So with both facts and truth under siege by Donald Trump and his surrogates, and with “alternative facts” and “false truths” being promulgated, I have to wonder if Faulkner’s statement was extremely prescient and sadly reflective of where we are in the second decade of the 21st century.
So what do you think? Are the words “fact” and “truth” synonyms? Do you use them interchangeably in your oral and written communications? Or do these two words, as Faulkner believes, have little to do with each another?
And in today’s world, where truthiness means more to a lot of people than either facts or truth, does it even matter anymore?