Cogitations from Jacques Barzun

But what is a fact? Let us hear the usual answer: “For scientific purposes a fact is anything that is potentially susceptible of measurement, and that is all that scientific work is about.” What this definition implies if that the mind can take the peas out of the pod of experience without regard to anything but their size. Yet to carve something out of its environment and call it a fact is to make a judgment and to be doing it for a purpose which expresses value. It is a judgment again, charged with value, to note a relation that has not previously been shown or named. And since like other disciplines science aims at relevance, coherence, and simplicity of form, the facts and theories of science result from judgments of value. Fact and truth embody emotion as well as thought. This is what Pascal meant when he said that a proposition in geometry could become a sentiment. It is no doubt useful at times to separate fact and value, and it might be harmless if the distinction did not abet the tendency to make science the only knowledge, discrediting thereby “mere” choice, “mere” preference, “mere” value. The unspoken reasoning goes: “Fact is reality; the rest is illusion. Science delivers facts; ergo, other modes of thought deliver only illusion.”
(Science: The Glorious Entertainment)


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