The Difference Between Fact and Opinion
Truth and Facts Versus Opinions and Bias; Ideas on How to Honestly Present Facts and Opinions to Speak Truth and/or Convey Ideas
Facts are things that are the case for sure, they are stated plainly and without bias. Opinions meanwhile inject subjectivity and bias. Since most content in any form contains at least some subjectivity and bias, it is rare to find pure facts and common to find opinion. <— an informal theory, based on my experience, but which I am certain enough with to state, but which contains elements of opinion; informal deductive and inductive proofs found below.
NOTE: The terms truth, facts, opinions, bias, etc are used for lack of better terms on this page. Language can be tricky.
Theories About Facts and Opinions
I would make the following points in respect to what I say above (most of these are theory made from observations about attempting to convey facts honestly; essentially this is informal epistemological theory, which touches upon philosophical facts and truths of different sorts… but ultimately also contains opinion):
- Pure facts are hard to state in a way that doesn’t contain any form of bias. Even a simple list of facts can speak in subtext, in the order of presentation, in the omission of certain facts, in the specific language used to convey ideas, etc; all of those things can influence a reader. To influence a reader is to transmit bias. To transmit bias is to not present facts in their purest form.
- As a counterpoint, a theory is a type of truth that is not a pure fact. A theory, for example a syllogistic argument, attempts to state pure facts and reach a logical conclusion from those facts. This type of truth arguably belongs in, or close to, the category “facts”… but it is a certain type of truth that requires specific treatment to avoid being misleading.
- To avoid being misleading, it helps to offer a frame of reference and explanations. However, when one starts framing things and explaining things, they start moving away from pure facts. <— Rabbit hole
- Just like truths come in different forms, facts, scientific theories, statements on our personal condition (“I feel hot” for example), facts come in different forms, there are statistic, there equations, there are proofs, there is inductive and empirical evidence, etc.
- Meanwhile, just like facts and truths come in different forms, opinions and biases come in different forms as well. There is pure opinion, which may contain no facts and speak just to emotions and guesses, and then on the other end of the range there is opinions on facts. There is intentional bias, and then there is unintentional bias.
- Giving opinions on facts, where one frames facts or presents facts in a leading way to make a point, or offers insight, or offers arguments using facts is probably the most common way humans translate information.
- However, it is near impossible to filter out all bias when presenting facts alongside opinions (as some bias is unintentional or even subconscious).
- Since the above theory (which I’ll call a series of observations, but not a set of pure facts) results in a rabbit hole in which pure truth and fact are perhaps impossible to state in a way that fully avoids leading the receiver in some direction, a good solution is a set of standards.
- Some standards already exist, for example the header image shows how to state certainty when stating facts about inductive evidence and conclusions drawn from it (how to state facts about uncertain things essentially). However, one could argue that some sources of information lack effective formal standards (see the era of fake news and disinformation we live in <—- to some degree even me saying that is injecting bias via subtext, there will be a bit more of that below).
- A set of standards could apply to for example the media (who have a clear responsibility to the public; journalistic standards are akin to a Hippocratic oath in a way). It would say something like “if we are to call ourselves news, then we must follow these reasonable guidelines on how facts are stated, how opinion is stated, and how potential bias is noted” meanwhile, “if we don’t adhere to that standard, then we are opinion and entertainment.” If I am entertaining you and offering opinions, even if I’m attempting to offer truths, I am not reporting the news. For example, I am presenting a theory on truth, I am not presenting the news here. I convey facts and truths to you, in the form of epistemological theories, and we can discuss the news, but I am not framing what I say as pure fact, thus I am avoiding a type of dishonesty (where dishonesty is an opposite of truth).
In My Opinion, Conveying Facts Honestly is Hard
One might think stating facts only is easy, but in my opinion that is dreadfully wrong.
Instead of only stating facts, to convey information I would submit the idea that it is best to aim to convey facts honestly.
Conveying facts honestly means giving your audience insight into your certainty, into what is speculation and an attempt to help facilitate understanding, and even as to what your bias might be. It means using the extra words needed to frame arguments, it means thinking about the order you put the facts in, it means not presenting a cherry picked selection of facts that make the point you are trying to make.
Meanwhile, it is proper form to be honest when stating your opinion.
Meanwhile, those who seek to be entertainers should be labeled as such as to avoid confusing people.
Truth and language are incredibly complex, but humans aren’t stupid. We may get emotional confused, but at the end of the day we know the difference between an earnest and unbiased fact sheet and anything less.
Example of Facts Being Used in a Dishonest Way
Here is a list of facts that might lead you to a conclusion that is not an honest one:
- All green eyed people eat living things.
- All green eyed people consume important resources other humans need to live.
- All green eyed people defecate.
I just listed some basic truisms about humans, things that literally everyone does. But I presented them in a way that makes green eyed people sound bad. Thus this example should hint at the truth that a list of facts can be biased. Given this it isn’t enough to say “we must present facts” or “these are facts” we must have a standard for how facts are presented and, if we wish to speak truth, will likely need to inject in some form of opinion.
When I present a theory it can make sense to speak on “what do I think this means.” When an issue might have different people see it from different perspectives, it makes sense to note those perspectives and perhaps even have people from each camp present an argument.
Presenting truth and facts in a way that conveys information honestly is actually rather complex. But the key is understanding the difference between Truth and Facts versus Opinions and Bias (for lack of better terms) and how likewise how they can be used in tandem to speak honestly.
"The Difference Between Fact and Opinion" is tagged with: Epistemology, Logic and Reason, Philosophy of Language, Truth