Philosophy 122 - 7.1.4 Truth

Philosophers who argue that knowledge of the external world is impossible do so based on the idea that one can never be certain of the truth of one’s external world beliefs. But what does it mean to claim that a belief is true? People are sometimes tempted to believe that truth is relative. A person may say things like “Well, that’s just their truth” as if something can be true for one person and not for others. Yet for statements and propositions, there is only one truth value. One person can believe that Earth is flat while another can believe is it round, but only one of them is right. People do not each personally get to decide whether a statement is true. Furthermore, just because one has no way of determining whether a statement is true or false does not mean that there is no truth to the matter. For example, you probably don’t quite know how to go about determining the exact number of blades of grass on the White House lawn, but this does not mean that there is no true answer to the question. It is true that there is a specific number of blades of grass at this moment, even if you cannot know what that number is.

But what does it mean for a statement to be true? At first, this question may seem silly. The meaning of truth is obvious. True things are correct, factual, and accurate. But to say that something is correct, factual, or accurate is just another way of saying it is true. Factual just means “true.” Creating a noncircular and illuminating account of truth is a difficult task. Nevertheless, philosophers attempt to explain truth. Philosophers often are curious about and question concepts that most people accept as obvious, and truth is no exception.

Theories of truth and the debate over them are a rather complicated matter not suitable for an introductory text. Instead, let’s briefly consider two ways of understanding truth in order to gain a general understanding of what truth is. Aristotle claimed that a true statement is one that says of something that it is what it is or that it is not what it is not (Aristotle 1989). A possible interpretation of Aristotle’s idea is that “A is B” is true if and only if A is B. Notice that this simply removes the quotations around the proposition. The idea is simple: the statement “Dogs are mammals” is true if dogs are mammals.

Another way of understanding truth is as a correspondence between statements and the world. The correspondence theory of truth proposes that a statement is true if and only if that statement corresponds to some fact (David 2015). A fact is a state of affairs in the world—an arrangement of objects and properties in reality—so the statement “The dog is under the bed” is true if and only if there exists in the world a dog and a bed and the dog is related to the bed by being underneath it. The correspondence theory of truth makes truth a relation between statements and the world. If statements are appropriately related to the world—if they correspond to the world—then those statements can be said to be true.

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The content of this course has been taken from the free Philosophy textbook by Openstax