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Truth Explored

Updated on August 26, 2012

Truth is independent of the observer. This is a criterion for truth which has been around for a long time. But some philosophies include conditions in the definition. They say absolute truth is independent of the observer and independent of conditions.

My observations have led me to think that absolute truth cannot be independent of conditions, because truth is a set of conditions.

Those who say absolute truth is so regardless of condition often sight this statement as an example: There are no circular squares. It cannot be denied that this is an example of absolute truth. But it is only true because a square is a geometric set of conditions.

A square can only be a square when specific conditions are met., which is really what we are saying when we say there are no circular squares.

There are many schools of thought on what truth is and obviously more than one meaning given to the word over the ages including: Being true to an idea or a person as in fidelity. It was also used to mean constancy of character. But in this text we are talking about its definition in the context of fact and reality.

So lets take a look at some of these theories.

Consensus theory, on the other hand tells us that truth is whatever we agree on. It is a very ancient philosophy of truth. This is not a subjectivist or relativist theory where whatever we decide is fine, It tells us not that it is truth just because we agree, but that we all agree because it is truth. If we could communicate perfectly and precisely, it is thought we would be more easily able to universally agree on truths because they would become self evident.

This is akin to the idea that if you understand something completely the truth of the situation becomes self evident with the understanding.

While I do not agree with consensus theory, there is one aspect of it that is interesting to me. If I experience something and no one else does there is a good likelihood that the experience might just be in my head. But if others agree that an event took place even if we all interpret that event differently, I have a form of verification that at least the event happened in real terms and not just in my imagination.

The constructivists tell us truth is a social construct. Truth is culturally based and biased. They do not believe humans have access to external reality at all. Giambattista Vico is the originator of the theory. He said:truth itself is constructed"

Hegel and Marx used this theory in their own understanding of truth with some variations. For most constructivists though, there is an objective reality. We just have no access to it.

Correspondence theory tells us, on the other hand, that there is an objective reality and that truth corresponds to that objective reality. So we can find truth through deliberation. The theory was summed up nicely by Thomas Aquinas when he said: “A judgment is said to be true when it conforms to the external reality. “ Strange as it seems to me, Christianity has a firm belief in objective reality and that it can be represented by human thought and symbols.

I think this is the theory most people gravitate toward.

Coherence theory was first brought to us by the Greeks. The big three: Aristotle, Plato and Socrates held to the idea that truth is a consistency of elements in a system. In a real sense they were the forerunners of formal logic. More recently Spinoza and Hegel used a lot of this theory in their own work. Notice that Hegel was not shy when it came to taking parts of one theory and mixing with them with another.

It was Walter Benjamin, I think, who said: "Coherence theory of truth is the theory of knowledge which maintains that truth is a property primarily applicable to any extensive body of consistent propositions, and derivatively applicable to any one proposition in such a system by virtue of its part in the system"

The Pragmatic theory of truth tells us that: truth is verified or falsified by putting our concepts into practice and experiencing the results.

Charles Sanders Peirce said: "Truth is that concordance of an abstract statement with the ideal limit towards which endless investigation would tend to bring scientific belief, which concordance the abstract statement may possess by virtue of the confession of its inaccuracy and one-sidedness, and this confession is an essential ingredient of truth."

Another version of this idea was proposed by Richard Feynman: "We never are definitely right, we can only be sure we are wrong."

This statement comes from the fact that science finds it much easier to falsify a claim than to prove one. By weeding out the wrong theories, the right ones must eventually emerge which cannot be falsified. In this way, if something cannot be falsified it has a high probability of being true. But as Feynman points out, there will always be a next experiment in which we could find that what we thought was actually wrong.

Science is an endless investigation, and it deals directly with the universe as a whole system. So more often than not, science philosophy mixes Coherence theory in with Pragmatic theory in the matter of truth.

Nietzsche did not believe in truth as such at all. He created a theory called Perspectivism in which he claims there is no objective or truth or reality. Reality is subjective. Perspective is just sea of metaphor. There are many theories that claim there is no objective truth and no absolute truth. However, making such an assertion is like saying that the statement: There is no objective truth, is the objective truth which negates the theory.

Relativism is the theory that truth is relative and so there is no objective truth. Again we must then take this to mean that it is objectively true that there is no objective truth, which again negates the theory through this blatant contradiction.

However, my contention is that most truth is relative. But not to perspective. Rather truth is relative to set of variables in a system and dependant on them staying the same. A square must remain a square for it to be true that it is a square.

I have probably used this example too many times in my essays already, but: If I turn my tap and get water, then the next time I turn my tap I will definitely get water unless something in the system has changed.

Another example I like to use is boiling water. While we all learn that water boils at 212f or 100 C, this is not exactly true in all cases. The boiling point of water is dependant on a number of factors. The main factors being altitude/pressure and the purity of the water. So water has a range of boiling points.

However, relative to the specific place you boil your water and the specific altitude you are at, as long as you stay there your water will always boil at the same temperature.

Too many people use the phrase “Truth is Relative” without realizing that such a statement is not enough. Truth is relative to something. Not just relative. So like in Coherence theory absolute truth is a property of a system. My formulation of this being: Truth is relative to set of variables in a system and dependant on them staying the same..

Absolute truth, then, is a fact found at the end of the road, when all conditions are taken into consideration. We can say that X outcome will happen every time all the conditions exist that make X happen. Change any of the variables though, and a completely different fact may well become the absolute truth of those specific conditions.

The set of conditions themselves are the truth of the matter.

There is a lot of controversy as to whether truth is objective, subjective, relative or absolute. But in my opinion the controversy is a waste of time. Truth is all of those things. There is an objective reality which is difficult for subjective humans to get to, but can be gotten to through rational deliberation, observation, experiment, experience and logic.

Truth is subjective in how it effects us. People talk about their reality when they mean their predicament or their particular situation within objective reality.

And finally as I have said above, truth is relative and absolute at the same time but not in the same way.


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    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 6 years ago from Ottawa


      I had the same thought when I was about 9 years old. I imagined myself a rat in an experiment. I was the only real person.

      I think that a lot of people feel that way at one point in their lives. I think it speaks to the isolation we feel as individuals sensing the world through very inefficient senses.

    • profile image

      Cromper 6 years ago

      Very interesting hub!

      One thing that strikes me, given all of these possiblities, is that we could all be living in our very own separate universes! How cool is that?

      I have to say, when I was a kid I had the scary thought that I was the only person alive and that everyone else were just a part of my world and only existed if they were summoned by my actions. Once out of my sight they would simply cease to exist. The same applied to objects.

      This might sound strange, but a school friend of mine had EXACTLY the same thoughts about his own life!

      I suppose this raises questions about how dangerous discussing 'truth' is in this way. And how theists claim the Bible is 'the truth' without fear of accountability because truth can be whatever one wants it to be.

    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 6 years ago from Ottawa

      Well thanks for reading it. ;) Some of these philosophies are much more complex than others and I have just given a basic run down of them. There are many more, actually, but these are just he main ones.

      Hegel's theory is particularly interesting because he tells us that all our deliberations and search of truth are a way for nature and the human to perfect themselves. The end result being perfection or the creation of god.

      In a way that makes sense and I've had that thought a few times in my life before I read Hegel. But I am not clear yet on whether he thought reaching such a state was possible or if he like I, think it is just a tendency but too massive an undertaking and filled with too many obstacles to ever be fulfilled.

      And in my opinion since all of humanity is just a virus on the butt end of the universe, any creation of a god state would have to be a universal one and humans would have little to do with it.

      Anyway, all the thinkers and philosophers have had a crack at what truth is. Were I too try to include most of them I'd have to do a series again.

      suffice it to say that most of them are just variations on the philosophies I mentioned.

    • emichael profile image

      emichael 6 years ago from New Orleans

      I started reading this and realized my brain has not woken up enough yet this morning. So I bookmarked for later reading :) Philosophy is so intriguing to me...what little of it I can actually understand, anyway.