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On Facts

From an After the Fact New Yorker article:

Lynch thinks we are frighteningly close to this point: blind to proof, no longer able to know. After all, we’re already no longer able to agree about how to know. (See: climate change, above.)

In England, the abolition of trial by ordeal led to the adoption of trial by jury for criminal cases. This required a new doctrine of evidence and a new method of inquiry, and led to what the historian Barbara Shapiro has called “the culture of fact”: the idea that an observed or witnessed act or thing—the substance, the matter, of fact—is the basis of truth and the only kind of evidence that’s admissible not only in court but also in other realms where truth is arbitrated. Between the thirteenth century and the nineteenth, the fact spread from law outward to science, history, and journalism.