Monday, May 25, 2015

Some quotations on facts (revised, Oct. 23, 2016)

(Part II is here.)

Bernard Mandeville (1732):
Facts are stubborn things.
(Mandeville, 'An Enquiry into the Origin of Honor, and the Usefulness of Christianity in War' [1732])
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1831:
You cannot state any fact before a mixed audience, which an opponent as clever as yourself cannot with ease twist towards another bearing, or at least meet by a contrary fact, as it is called. I wonder why facts were ever called stubborn things: I am sure they have been found pliable enough lately in the House of Commons and elsewhere. (Coleridge, Specimens of the Table Talk, Dec. 27, 1831) 
John Donne (1608):
Contemplative and bookish men must of necessity be more quarrelsome than others, because they contend not about matter of fact, nor can determine their controversies by any certain witnesses, nor judges. But as long as they go towards peace, that is Truth, it is no matter which way. (Biothanatos,'Preface', 1608)
Emily Dickinson (c. 1875?):
Opinion is a flitting thing, but truth outlasts the sun; if then we cannot own them both, possess the oldest one
 Cicero: res ipsa loquitur, the basis for the English phrase,
Let the facts speak for themselves
T. H. Huxley (1860):
Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. (Huxley, letter to Charles Kingsley [September 23, 1860])
Coleridge (1830):
He told me that facts gave birth to, and were the absolute ground of, principles; to which I said, that unless he had a principle of selection, he would not have taken notice of those facts upon which he grounded his principle. You must have a lantern in your hand to give light, otherwise all the materials in the world are useless, for you cannot find them; and if you could, you could not arrange them. (Coleridge, Specimens of the Table Talk, Sept. 21, 1830)
Charles Dickens (1854) -- Mr. Gradgrind in Hard Times:
Now what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them. Stick to Facts, sir  .... We hope to have, before long, a board of facts, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact.
John Dewey (1933):
The feeling that instruction in 'facts, facts' produces a narrow Gradgrind is justified, not because facts in themselves are limiting, but because facts are dealt out as hard and fast ready-made articles. No room is left to imagination. Let the facts be presented so as to stimulate imagination, and culture ensues naturally enough. (Dewey, How we think : a restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process [Boston: D. C. Heath and Company, 1933])
John Tyndall (1871):
Facts looked at directly are vital; when they pass into words half the sap is taken out of them. (Tyndall, Fragments of Science for Unscientific People [1871], p. 360)
Thomas Carlyle, 1836:
I grow daily to honour Facts more and more; and Theory less and less. A Fact it seems to me is a great thing: a Sentence printed if not by God, then at least by the Devil; -- neither Jeremy Bentham nor Lytton Bulwer had a hand in that. (Carlyle, letter to Emerson, April 29, 1836)
From the Dictionnaire de théologie dogmatique, liturgique, canonique, et disciplinaire: Volume 3 (1851):
Les faits ne parlent pas d'eux-mêmes. [The facts do not speak for themselves.]
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1829:
The most important thing to remember is that all facts are already theory.
(Goethe, Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years, 1821/1829) [The original German:Das Höchste wäre, zu begreifen, daß alles Faktische schon Theorie ist.]
Johann Gustav Droysen (c. 1860-1880):
It is only in appearance that the 'facts' speak for themselves, alone, exclusively, 'objectively'. Without the narrator to make them speak they would be dumb.
(Droysen, Outline of the principles of history [Grundriss der Historik] trans. E. Benjamin Andrews [1897], pp. 52-53[The original German: Nur scheinbar sprechen hier die „Thatsachen" selbst, allein, ausschliesslich, „objectiv". Sie wären stumm ohne den Erzähler, der sie sprechen lässt.]
Joseph Conrad (1899): 'They wanted facts. Facts! They demanded facts from him, as if facts could explain anything.' (Lord Jim)

Pierre Duhem (1906): 'What the physical states as the result of an experiment is not the recital of observed facts, but the interpretation and the transposing of these facts into the ideal, abstract, symbolic world created by the theories.' (Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, Part 2, ch. 4, p. 159)
Arthur Sidgwick (1914):
In either case what we call the 'fact' is only our opinion about the fact. (Elementary Logic, p. 237)
Arthur Dukinfield Darbishire (1917):
'The facts speak for themselves,' we say. But it is an illusion .... Facts do not speak. If the reader should answer and say, 'Well, at any rate they speak to me,' I would come out and meet him on the same ground and reply, 'Very well, then; so do they speak to me, but they do not say the same thing.' Facts are like the dolls of the ventriloquist and say what we want them to. (Darbishire, Introduction to Biology [1917], p. 9)
Aldous Huxley (1944):
Facts are ventriloquist’s dummies. Sitting on a wise man’s knee they may be made to utter words of wisdom; elsewhere, they say nothing, or talk nonsense, or indulge in sheer diabolism. (Huxley, Time Must Have a Stop, 1944)
Talking Heads ('Crosseyed and Painless')
Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don't do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out
Facts are getting the best of them
Facts are nothing on the face of things
Facts don't stain the furniture
Facts go out and slam the door
Facts are written all over your face
Facts continue to change their shape

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