In summary, so far we have at least two types of claims that are neither facts nor opinions: factual false claims and unverified claims. The assumption that all statements are facts or opinions is based on a false dichotomy, because false factual assertions and unverified assertions are neither facts nor opinions. In addition, there are other facts that are not empirical facts, including analytical facts, evaluative facts, and metaphysical facts. Metaphysical facts are verified by revealing evidence or self-evidence. For example, the claim that all human beings are created equal is obviously verifiable. We could make endless empirical observations without finding two people who are exactly the same in size, beauty, strength, intelligence, or wisdom. Nevertheless, the axiom of equality must be taken for granted in order to have just government. Accordingly, we assume that this is true without external proof. Evaluative claims may require expert judgment. For example, suppose an English teacher says, “Emily Bronte and Jane Austen are better love writers than Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts.” Steele and Roberts probably sell far more books than Bronte and Austen, and legions of readers of novels might disagree with this statement.
However, there are literary standards that distinguish great literature from popular fiction. For example, great literature has fully developed characters, complex in their humanity, settings with rich visual and historical details, a precise vocabulary that avoids hackneyed expressions. Because the ability to apply literary standards requires expertise, we often rely on expert judgment when making evaluative claims about literature. The use of expert judgement in evaluative claims is common in many fields. For example, we rely on jewelers to judge the value of a diamond, art critics to judge paintings, and wine experts to judge the quality of a vintage. These experts use trained senses and deep learning to apply evaluation standards. Although only a small number of people are able to make judgments about diamonds, paints and wines, their expert criticisms belong to the realm of facts, not opinion. Analytical facts are verified by conforming to the rules of a symbol system.
For example, given the arithmetic rules in base 10, 3 + 2 = 5 is de facto. Analytical facts include definitions, e.g. trade means business, particularly the purchase and sale of goods or services on a large scale. Thus, competent speakers of English have agreed to use this term. Again, most people will allow analytical statements to be verifiable facts, provided there is converging evidence of their exact use in a symbol system. Historical facts, although not available for observation today, are also empirically verifiable by converging observations of the past as recorded in primary sources. Therefore, the claim that George Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787 is an empirical fact. Empirical facts are verified by observation, for example the Pacific is the largest ocean.
Geographers have studied the oceans, and their converging conclusion is that the Pacific Ocean is the largest. When we think of facts, we think first of empirical facts, of the conclusions of convergent scientific observations. In some cases, there is evidence to support an empirical claim, but this evidence is not convergent. In other words, the evidence is not supported by other submissions, which does not give us sufficient justification to assert that the allegation is a fact. For example, the claim that there is other intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is certainly plausible, given observations of our own intelligent life and the theory of evolution. However, we have not collected evidence of other intelligent life forms in SETI observations, which use radio telescopes to detect information transmissions from space. Therefore, the claim of other intelligent life in the universe is an unverified empirical claim, a plausible claim that is not supported by converging observational evidence. Things of good and evil can be recognized objectively – they are not matters of opinion. Although it is objectively wrong to seize or kill innocent people in order to terrorize governments and subjugate them, given the rights to life, liberty and property, many people do not realize that terrorism is wrong.
The fact that terrorists do not recognize that their actions are wrong does not make the claim that “terrorism is wrong” an opinion. In general, the number of people who acknowledge the truth of a statement does not determine its veracity. 500 years ago, only a small minority of people recognized the truth that the world is round. They were right, and everyone was wrong. Similarly, the terrorists` ignorance of the validity of terrorism is not taken into account in the veracity of the allegation. Unverified claims may be too vague, ambiguous, or incomplete to determine their validity. For example, the statement “This water is too hot” depends on the intended use of the water. Water that has 120 degrees can hurt a child who is bathing and is therefore too hot; Water at the same temperature is probably not hot enough to sterilize dishes, and therefore too cold. Vague, ambiguous and incomplete claims fall into the category of unverified claims.
Until they are specified more precisely, these claims cannot be verified. A tricky topic in critical reading are the ambiguous terms fact and opinion.