2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

What is a Historical Fact ?──The Interaction Between Fact and Interpretation

Jyh-chyang Fang

Department of History, National Chung-Cheng University

The word “fact” has two current meanings. The positivist defines a fact as “a datum of experience,” but the idealist treats it as “a piece of evidence”. The former emphasizes the objective reality and thinks that it is the right way “to study the past for its own sake”; the latter stresses the subjective interpretation and argues that it is inevitable “to study the past for the present sake”. That is , the former treats a historical fact as an event really happened in the past; the latter thinks it as a piece of evidence chosen to support the interpretation given by historians. As a matter of fact, each way only respectively catches one meaning of “history”. It is natural that the “interrelated” way gradually reveals itself after the long controversy between historians and philosophers. This essay tries to conduct a theoretical inquiry into the definitions of terms such as “history,” “a fact,” and “a historical fact,” in term of the controversy between E. H. Carr and G. R. Elton as well as the current debate between traditional historians and post-modern historians. It will finally point out the possibility of an “intermediate” way of definition.


Keywords: history, fact, a historical fact, a datum of experience, evidence, correspondent, coherent, the intermediate way