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Re: [ontolog-forum] [ontology-summit] Estimating number of all known fac

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From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 26 May 2012 10:17:00 -0400
Message-id: <4FC0E5DC.1080101@xxxxxxxxxxx>
On 5/26/2012 6:57 AM, John Bottoms wrote:
> Maybe a cheap shot, but the more recent interest in historicity
> indicates that there have been personal interests affecting professional
> work. I take it as a cautionary tale. Without the observation that
> historians' work can be flawed we would not have the ability to model
> some historical reporting.    (01)

I agree with everything except the word 'recent'.  There has been over
two millennia of analysis and debate about these issues.  Herodotus was
a pioneer, who tried to distinguish history from the epic poetry.  He
mentioned many things that were dubious, but he cited sources so that
his readers could have a starting point for checking the facts.
Unfortunately, most of the alternatives have been lost.    (02)

Thucydides has become the model for good reporting by an eyewitness or
at least a contemporary of the events.  But historians most definitely
acknowledge that he wrote from the Athenian point of view.  There is
nothing wrong about a historian writing from some particular point of
view.  But everybody who knows anything about the subject would love
to see a history of the same period written by combatants or partisans
from other Greek cities.  Unfortunately, very little exists.    (03)

Historians emphasize that it's essential to study multiple sources,
especially *primary* sources such as records and letters written by
the participants in an event as close as possible to the time of
the event.  They also emphasize the importance of physical evidence
that can supplement any written records and provide a check on the
level of accuracy of the reporting.    (04)

For examples of how such checking can be done, I recommend the PBS
shows such as History Detectives and the search for ancestry by
Henry Lewis Gates.  The kind of leg work that those people do is
an example of what a good historian does.  The WWW is an enormous
boon to such searches, but visiting the physical sites and talking
to people is still very important.    (05)

> The problem arises when people agree on a statement, "The chameleon is
> red". And then they state that it is a fact that chameleons are red
> without qualifying that that they can be other colors.    (06)

When two people agree on a statement, that does not make it
an expression of fact.  In a court case, lawyers use the word
'stipulation' for a statement that both sides accept without
continuing to argue about it.    (07)

Lawyers (and anybody else who uses language carefully) distinguish facts 
from statements.  From http://www.merriam-webster.com
we get five word senses of 'fact' with a few special cases.    (08)

  1. a thing done
     Example in the domain of crime:  "accessory after the fact"    (09)

  2. (archaic) performance, doing    (010)

  3. the quality of being actual: actuality
     Example:  "a question of fact hinges on the evidence"    (011)

  4a. something that has actual existence
      Example:  "space exploration is now a fact"    (012)

  4b. an actual occurrence
      Example:  "prove the fact of damage"    (013)

  5. a piece of information presented as having objective reality
     -- "in fact" : in truth    (014)

Recommendation for anybody who contributes anything to Ontolog Forum: 
Before arguing about word meanings, please use a decent dictionary
to check how the words are used.    (015)

Lexicographers are not infallible, but they are experts about word
senses.  They have analyzed many examples of how people actually
use the language.  There are often good reasons for discussing fine
points about how a word is used in a particular case.  But the word
senses listed in a good dictionary are useful starting points for
any such discussion.    (016)

John Sowa    (017)

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