In contemporary philosophy, a brute fact is something that cannot be explained. To reject the existence of brute facts is to think that everything can be explained. ("Everything can be explained" is sometimes called the principle of sufficient reason). There are two ways to explain something: say what brought it about, or describe it at a more "fundamental" level. For example, the fact that there's a cat displayed on my computer screen can be explained, more "fundamentally", as the fact that there are certain voltages in bits of metal in my screen, which in turn can be explained, more "fundamentally", as the fact that there are certain subatomic particles moving in a certain way. If we keep explaining the world in this way and reach a point at which no more "deeper" explanations can be given, then we have found some facts which are brute or inexplicable, in the sense that we cannot give them an ontological explanation. As it might be put, there exists some things that just are. The same thing can be done with causal explanations. If nothing made the big bang expand at the velocity it did, then this is a brute fact in the sense that it lacks a causal explanation.
G. E. M. Anscombe invented the concept of a fact being 'brute relative to' some other fact—the fact that I have handed over certain coins and stated that they are to pay for the potatoes is brute relative to the fact that I have paid the bill for the potatoes. Which in its turn may be among the facts which are brute relative to the fact that I am solvent. The propositions standing for the facts which are 'brute relative to' a certain fact F belong to a range some subset among which holds if F holds.(Anscombe ' Modern Moral Philosophy' Philosophy 33 No. 124 Jan 1958) No subset among this range logically implies F, as there may always be some further fact which puts the brute facts in a different light. e.g. the whole deal may be a piece of theatre.The brute facts usually amount to F in the context of an institution, e.g. the institution of money, but F does not itself contain a description of the institution in question. The range of propositions which can stand for facts which could be brute relative to F cannot be completely enumerated.
John Searle developed Anscombe's concept of brute facts into what he called brute physical facts—such as that snow is on Mt. Everest—as opposed to social or institutional facts, dependent for their existence on human agreement. Thus, he considered money to be an institutional fact, which nevertheless rested ultimately on a brute physical fact, whether a piece of paper or only an electronic record.
Searle thought that the pervasiveness of social facts could disguise their social construction and ultimate reliance upon the brute fact: thus, we are for example trained from infancy (in his words) to see "cellulose fibres with green and gray stains, or enamel-covered iron concavities containing water...[as] dollar bills, and full bathtubs".
The principle of sufficient reason is sometimes understood to entail that there are no brute facts.
- Is and ought problem – the distinction between factual claims and value or normative claims
- Matter of fact and matter of law
- First principle
- John Hospers, An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis (1997) p. 211
- Gary Gutting, French Philosophy in the Twentieth Century (2001) p. 32
- Gutting, p. 34
- Searle, p. 121 and p. 1-2
- Searle, p. 56 and p. 4
- "Brute Fact". Oxford Companion to Philosophy. 2005.
- Anscombe, G. E. M. (1958). "On Brute facts". Analysis 18 (3): 69–72. JSTOR 3326788.
- Nicholas, Bunnin; Yu, Jiyuan (eds.). "Brute fact". The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy.
- Rosen, Gideon (2010). "Metaphysical Dependence: Grounding and Reduction". In Hale, Bob; Hoffmann, Aviv. Modality. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199565818.
- Melamed, Yitzhak; Lin, Martin (2011). "Principle of Sufficient Reason". In Zalta, Edward N. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 ed.).