The phrase “statements of fact” has a clear, unequivocal ring. It speaks of a stable place untouchable by contests in epistemology and in more secular places, around questions of constructivism, subjectivism, and the politics of knowledge. It offers fixity, a locus of constancy in a shifting landscape where traditional certainties have ceased to hold, maintains a vantage point outside the fray, where knowledge-seekers can continue to believe in some degree of “correspondence” between items of knowledge and events in the world. Within the social institutions and practices where knowledge is an issue, it designates a secure starting place for deliberation, a way of ensuring that processes of decision-making remain cognizant of the “realities” they have to address.
In the institutions of knowledge production and knowledgeable practice that generate the examples I appeal to in this essay – medicine and law – “statements of fact” appear to comprise an incontestable core around which interpretive strategies may indeed have to be enlisted, but which itself functions as a kind of interpretation-exempt zone. There are good reasons for its retaining that status, for resisting the instabilities and sheer whimsicalities that would follow from dislodging it.