Fact-checking is a vital first step to navigating the news and getting to the truth. Here's the second.
As the late Gary Gutting, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame and a regular philosophy columnist at The New York Times, pointed out:
“ ...strictly speaking, facts by themselves provide only the premises of a rational argument. To draw a conclusion, we also need a logical process of reasoning. Sometimes, the process is obvious and insisting on it a mere technicality: if the train is in fact bearing down on you, the conclusion is that you should get off the tracks. But in political debates, there’s often a questionable move from facts to a conclusion.”
Why truth is more than "just the facts"
In an age of unfiltered media, hyper-partisanship and political upheaval, it is tempting to seek refuge in basing one’s beliefs only on “the facts.” Most news sources promise to deliver to their readers “the truth” (i.e., true facts) and, when they don’t, there are increasing numbers of fact-checking organizations dedicated to providing quality control over statements coming out of the mouths of politicians or words that appear in advertisements and editorials.
The problem with making “truth” synonymous with facts that can be proven true or false is that facts are the building blocks of something larger: arguments and, as Gutting highlights, if we don’t understand the moves someone makes to get from facts to conclusion, we might not spot when people are using true facts to lie to us.
This is because facts – even unquestionably true ones – can be marshalled in support of unjustified, unjust or just plain false conclusions. Have you ever encountered a speech or editorial, maybe one on a hot-button issue like impeachment, immigration or global warming, that you knew was wrong (or at least questionable) even though all the facts checked out? Without the ability to peer into the logical structure of an argument, you can be left at the mercy of someone trying to manipulate you by building accurate facts into a weak or immoral argument.
What is LogicCheck?
LogicCheck is an educational web site that uses the news of the day to illustrate the steps and skills required to become a thoughtful consumer of the news. As described here, this project is non-partisan and dedicated to improving the understanding and discourse required for democratic citizenship. Such improvement will come not from above, but from each of us committing to becoming a critical thinker dedicated to a society that values the power of reason.