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Facts do not exist independently of "theories", that is to say of concepts. But if it is the raw percept unconceptualized, unfactualized, untheorized, that Goethe wants to study or examine, then what it is that he wants to do is undefined language and method.

Context: These are logic of language remarks, remarks about Wittgenstein's ways for distinguishing between language with meaning and nonsense (i.e. language without meaning) in the context of philosophical problems. Note that I have never seen Goethe's words in context and therefore that I am only imagining meanings that might be given to what is for me an undefined combination of words.

What is the meaning of "Everything factual is already theoretical"?

Can we say that a world-picture (Weltbild) says what is and what isn't a statement of fact? But can we say further that a world-picture says what really is and what really isn't a fact -- i.e. what is the relationship between "the conceived facts" (i.e. those conceivable within a particular world-picture) and reality itself? Then is Goethe's statement correctly rendered into English by 'A fact is only a fact within a particular theory (conception or world-picture)', that there are no facts independent of theories?

« Das höchste wäre zu begreifen, daß alles Faktische schon Theorie ist »

"The most important thing to remember is that all fact is already theory." (Goethe)

That statement sounds quite Kant-like: Percepts without concepts are blind, and if 'concept' = 'theory' in Goethe's vocabulary ... Unconceptualized sense-perceptions are not facts. Conceptualized sense-perceptions are. Empirical propositions are the statement of conceptualized sense-perceptions. But Lichtenberg: "Don't call it a theory, but a way of presenting it to the mind", that is, 'theory' in the sense of 'testable hypothesis', for an hypothesis is not what a concept is (By 'concept' we mean 'rules for using a word'); there are no true or false concepts (The word 'misconception' has no application in this context; it is not the antithesis of 'conception' here). As if Goethe were to say, "Remember that all fact is already concept-ualized."

But does the combination of words "... that everything factual is already theoretical" have only one possible meaning? Or are there instead various meanings that could be given to it ("various interpretations")? (I don't know the original context in which Goethe made his statement.)

Taken out of context, Goethe's words have no meaning (Undefined language is nonsense even if written in the mind of God). And taken out of context and treated as an aphorism (cryptic oracle) is how I have made use of Goethe's words. But there may be many ways that someone might define that particular combination of words. How have I, contradictions and all?

When I collect, as I have done below, the instances where I refer to Goethe's words on this site, what do these instances show? That I have given Goethe's words only one meaning: that a fact -- i.e. a statement of fact, or, factual proposition, (in contrast to an artifact -- (Note that what is said here about statements of facts can also be said about artifacts or signs (ink marks or spoken sounds, the physical aspect of language only) --) -- is only a fact relative to (i.e. within) a particular frame of reference. In another frame of reference that same statement of fact: (1) might be nonsense (i.e. an undefined combination of words), or (2) might state a rule of grammar (in Wittgenstein's jargon) (i.e. it might belong to a definition or explanation of language-meaning), or (3) might be a demonstrable misconception, or (4) might even be false.

But now, as whenever else a general statement is made in logic of language, examples are needed (1) to make my general thesis about statements of fact clear, and (2) to test whether that thesis stands up to being refuted in the cross-questioning of Socratic dialectic (in this case, the dialectic would be me holding discourse with myself). (Although propositions about space or time within or without Kant's categorical frame of reference may be an example here, that is only a vague allusion so far.)

References on this site to Goethe's maxim about Facts

  1. Indeed, isn't that what we mean by 'the good for man' -- 'life lived in accord with the specific excellence (areté) that is proper and unique to him'? As to exactly what that excellence is, argument can be taken -- but is that not the case with all facts (Goethe: "A fact can only be a fact within some frame of reference or other")?
    (Source: Plato's Gorgias - Selections - Comments)
  2. Questions about "meanings" belong to "the logic of our language" -- but until we have set a criterion for distinguishing between sense and nonsense -- i.e. for determining the "meanings of common words" ... "Every fact is already a fact within some theory" (Goethe) -- i.e. there are no facts that are independent of a way of looking at things/a frame of reference/a point of view/a view point or stand point. "The facts about how we use language" e.g. In "Wittgenstein's logic of language", ok we can give a grammatical account -- but is Wittgenstein's the only possible logic of language or are there alternatives? (If you cannot even describe a single alternative, then what?) But we seek in logic a non-theoretical "theory" of meaning (The theory of abstraction is an example of a theoretical theory of meaning). And so where does that leave us? In search of an objective distinction between sense and nonsense that will "support [Plato's] ideas about recollection and learning". (That I can think of none/cannot describe even one, more's woe to me.)
    (Source: The Limits of Language: "... but until we have set a criterion for distinguishing between sense and nonsense")
  3. But, now, that is very different from philosophy, for philosophy does not consist of mere sayings but of reasons forged into arguments that are able to stand up against refutation in Socratic dialectic. (Although statements are made within a frame of reference (Goethe's "every fact is only a fact within a particular theory"), but within that frame of reference they can be put to the tests of clarity, reasoning, and experience.)
    Note.--Goethe's "every fact is already a fact in some theory" comes after trying to describe the facts in plain view to anyone's eyes and experience; Wittgenstein: "Don't think, but look!" (PI § 66). Look and describe ('to think' = 'to theorize' or 'speculate' or 'conjecture' here), and only then worry about which thought-world (world-picture) your description is biased toward. Wittgenstein's account of games (i.e. of the concept 'game', i.e. of the grammar of that word) is biased toward a thought-world? How so? (If you cannot describe an alternative thought-world you are not thinking philosophically.)
    (Source: "Socrates, wise man story", or, "words of wisdom of Socrates' and their meaning".)
  4. For then our picture would be designed for a god who sees what we cannot see (PI § 426). No, that is not the picture's application; that is not what justifies it. But then how is that picture justified? In the same way as the picture of "those sub-tropical times ... when the coal measures were laid down" (DW p. 108). I.e. circumstantially. The circumstances we know -- and even these are "already facts in some theory" (Goethe), are "the geological formations and the fossil record" (DW p. 111). From these circumstances we proceed to build up our imaginative picture of "those sub-tropical times" or of "man opening his seeing eye". But these pictures have no application to reality; they are not a picture of any known reality -- otherwise they could be compared with reality. They are extrapolations from the evidence, children of the human imagination.
    (Source: "Concerning Mind and Body")
  5. In the context of "Facts are theory laden", there is Kant's "Percepts without concepts are blind", and Goethe's Das höchste wäre zu begreifen, daß alles Faktische schon Theorie ist ("The most important thing to remember is that all facts are already theory", meaning possibly that any fact only exists as a fact within some theory -- or, way of looking at nature -- we have conceived or preconceived, rather than somehow (I don't know how) letting nature be what it is rather than in any way forcing it to be what we wish it to be.
    What does Goethe mean by alles Faktische ist schon Theorie? That "all fact is already theory" / "Everything factual is already theoretical" / "All facts are merely theoretical constructs"? Question: but if everything is theoretical, then nothing is? What, then, however, are frames of reference -- or is there "an absolute point of view"? Any fact is only a fact within some frame of reference ("theory", "way of looking at things", "relative to some reference point/s" or even "space frame") or other; none is absolute.
    (Source: Is Seeing Theory-laden? Is Seeing Concept-laden?)
  6. Speculation remains speculation, the theories of scholars are still no more than imagination added to the facts [i.e. added to the believed to be known facts (which may be mistakes [delusions, even wishful thinking] and are always subject to [at the mercy of] further historical evidence); -- remember that there is no grammatical essence of the word 'fact' and also how Kant and Goethe saw facts; we hear the word 'fact' and assume we know "what is meant by that word", which is something that we certainly don't know without a grammatical investigation of the particular case] and theories should never be treated as if they were the facts themselves [never allowed to be substituted for the facts]. The theory is not the reality: even the cleverest theory about distant historical events is at best only a picture of a possible reality [of a possibility]: it may have been that way (which implies that it may also not have been that way).
    (Source: "Preface to my study of the Philosophy of Religion")
  7. Percept language is concepts. ['concept' = sign + rules of grammar.]
    To be talked about is to have already been conceived (Goethe: "The most important thing to remember is that all fact is already theory", i.e. that any fact only exists as a fact within some theory or other ("Das höchste wäre zu begreifen"), etc).
    (Source: ("The Language of Percepts" is Concepts)
  8. The "conceived facts"
    In a letter to Max Born, Albert Einstein uses the expression "conceived facts". Maybe, for there is no way to know (i.e. this is metaphysical speculation), there are raw percepts, a raw reality, but man knows percepts only as mediated by his concepts. There are no facts before man conceives them ("This is of course a grammatical remark"). (So far as I can see for now.)
    (Source: Is seeing "concept-laden"?)
  9. I want to say: the artifact doesn't change regardless of anything we may say about it; talking doesn't change reality. Or does it? Not if we picture reality to be independent of us [man] -- but is it? (i.e. in what sense is it not?) I want to say: our concepts may change but our percepts do not. -- But is this correct (or even: not nonsense), because percepts without concepts are blind?
    But on the other hand, Goethe: "Remember that all facts are already facts within some theory"; and N.R. Hanson: "facts are theory-laden". Both these statements are exaggerations [which is to say that they are not false in all cases]. "Our naive, normal way of expressing ourselves shows you not a theory but only a concept" (Z § 223). Unless you want this definition: 'concept' = 'theory', but adopting that form of expression would blur many distinctions that we want to uphold.
    (Neither the word 'theory' nor the word 'concept' has an essential meaning, and in some cases their grammars may overlap, e.g. 'theory' and 'conception [of something]' where both simply mean: a way of looking at things. So we find 'Freud's theory about dreams' or the question: 'What was Freud's conception of dreams?' Of course I would not use the word 'theory' this way, because in my jargon -- as in M. O'C. Drury's -- a theory must be falsifiable, in the sense of not anomaly-proof.)
    The word 'concept' is too vague by far. (RFM vii § 45, p. 412)
    (Source: What do I mean by 'fact': 'statement of fact' or 'artifact'?)
  10. But well, as Plato says in his Gorgias (460a, 490b), "Stop one moment!", "Hold there a moment!" Surely it is knowledge -- and absolute knowledge at that -- that all truth is only truth relative to some frame of reference or other (Goethe)! Or is that not a statement of fact? Actually it belongs instead to the definition of the word 'truth', and thus like all grammatical propositions is not falsifiable. The expression 'absolute truth' is simply an undefined combination of words. --
    [Comment: Or, what amounts to the same thing (for the following statement, which would be a statement of grammar, shows only a picture of our fancy: it is not a description (definition) of how we normally use the expression 'absolute truth', because normally we do not define that combination of words at all), we might say that absolute truth is only known to one with absolute perspective, namely, to God alone. (To say that we make use of a picture-definition spun on an analogy; cf. "the eye of God" [and here we do not talk about eyelashes (or "eyebrows" (LC p. 71)); i.e. an analogy is not a statement of identity: an analogy is a statement of like and unlike, or, alike and unalike).]
    -- But saying that all knowledge is relative to a frame of reference is very different from saying that there is no knowledge at all. Of course, it is possible to doubt everything -- however, it is not logically possible to doubt everything at the same time: because rational doubt requires rational grounds for doubt. The investigation of anything in doubt must proceed from something that is not in doubt. (But these are all grammatical remarks, all reminders of sense and nonsense.) And you cannot say that any randomly chosen frame of reference is just as useful to one's work as any other. For a frame of reference is a standard of measurement, and so, if e.g. a frame's smallest unit of measurement is a meter stick, then anything smaller than a meter is invisible to it -- and therefore does not exist, if to be is to be perceptible -- within that frame of reference [or, system of measurement].
    (Source: Herillus' view versus Wittgenstein's of the worth of knowledge)
  11. Query: everything is a theory.
    Goethe could be paraphrased: Every fact is only a fact within some frame of reference or other: there are no absolute facts. That would be clearer than the translation: "The most important thing to remember is that any fact is only a fact within some theory." Because the paraphrase says which definition of the word 'theory' we are using. Although: which definition was Goethe using?
    The word 'theory' has many meanings -- i.e. there is no general definition of 'theory' (although it is very hard to break one's irrational -- i.e. contrary to all evidence -- conviction that there is). [Is 'theory' an important word? | cf. How do we use the word 'fact'?]
    (Source: The subjective element in reason)
  12. Those are remarks about the concepts 'fact' and 'opinion', about how we use those words; or, again: remarks about the "depth grammar" (in Wittgenstein's jargon) of the words 'fact' and 'opinion'. As is this remark: that a fact is only a fact within the context of a particular world-picture, but of such pictures there are many, as many as there are "communities of ideas".
    (Source: How to distinguish facts from opinion)
  13. Query: physics, matter of fact.
    I wouldn't say (i.e. categorize things this way) that facts as such belong to physics, but that only theories about facts (although every fact is already "theoretical" -- i.e. conceptualized -- if percepts without concepts are indeed blind) belong to physics. But there are many, many issues to consider here. See M. O'C. Drury's Philosophy of Science: a scientific theory is a way of organizing a selection of data; as well as the fallacious view that a scientific theory can become a fact (for a theory is essentially fact plus imagination).
    (Source: Russell's sense of the word 'grammar')

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