As a fictional character, I’m fascinated by people who don’t exist. There are just so many of us — fictional people, imaginary people, hypothetical people and people who will exist but don’t exist yet. But despite our non-existence, we are able to generate facts about ourselves just as you are. And as the opponents of postmodernism will assure you, there is nothing more real than a fact.
The very sensible Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that "The world is the totality of facts, not of things." But unlike (the early) Wittgenstein, postmodernists seem happy to acknowledge the existence of physical things but reluctant to acknowledge the existence of the real world. They constantly outrage their opponents by claiming that facts are ‘socially constructed‘. For critics like Kevin Donnelly, this scepticism about facts threatens to undermine both educational standards and civilization as we know it.
The real world — that is, the world of facts — is crowded with entities like prime numbers so large that nobody has ever thought of them, circles that are perfectly round, and the real reason the crew of the Marie Celeste abandoned ship. Much of the real world will never be known by flesh and blood human beings, yet it exists. Wittgenstein said that "The world is independent of my will." And he’s right — the facts are the facts whether we like them or not.
Facts about people and things continue to exist long after the people and things themselves have gone. It is a fact that Henry V invaded France and won a glorious victory at the battle of Agincourt. And while Henry no longer exists the facts about him will remain forever. That’s why it’s possible to study history. Even if there is nobody left to think about them, there will be historical facts. Facts are clearly more substantial and important entities than people.
I find this comforting. Even though I am not a real person, there are real facts about me. It is a fact that my name is Dr Troppo. It is a fact that I have a bad-tempered receptionist. And it is a fact that Nicholas Gruen misses me when I’m not around. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I wonder whether a world full of things like you is an unnecessary construct. After all, as William of Ockham might have said "Don’t multiply entities beyond necessity". Perhaps I shall just stick to the facts…. unless of course you have any problems you wish to discuss.