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fact–value distinction


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The presumed distinction between statements of fact, thought of as value-free, and statements of value. The distinction is often attributed to Hume, and the separation of fact from value is a platitude of many academic disciplines, and particularly sociology as it was conceived by Durkheim and Weber. It also coheres with common sense, in so far as that regards description and evaluation as different activities. Nevertheless the distinction is heavily criticized, most fundamentally on the ground that it fails to appreciate that the perception of anything as a ‘fact’ may itself involve value-judgements, as may the selection of particular facts as the essential ones. For example, we may say that it is fact that A owed B money, but that it is a value-judgement that it ought to be paid, yet the entire framework of social arrangements within which there arise such things as money and debt is itself a normative construction, and one evidently endorsed by someone claiming the former fact. In other areas, such as aesthetics, phenomenology suggests that recognizing aspects of things blurs into evaluating them. See also thick terms.

Subjects: Philosophy.


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