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Which of the theories of truth—Correspondence, Coherence, or Pragmatic—is the strongest?

Updated on February 9, 2012
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The correspondence theory of truth “is that true statements [or propositions] are true in virtue of their matching up with or corresponding to the way things actually are in reality.”

“According to the coherence theory of truth, a proposition is true if and only if it coheres with the set of beliefs that a person holds.”

The pragmatic theory of truth is simply defined as being “truth that works.”

The Correspondence Theory Is Stronger

Understanding the meaning of truth is a controversial topic that is believed to be self-defeating. However, there are three theories of truth that assist philosophers in defining the definition of truth. Both the coherence and pragmatic theories of truth are strong; however, the correspondence theory of truth is stronger and is more accepted worldwide.

Correspondence Theory of Truth

The correspondence theory of truth “is that true statements [or propositions] are true in virtue of their matching up with or corresponding to the way things actually are in reality” (Cowan and Spiegel, 2010). This is the most accepted theory among scientist because it requires the individual to provide proof or scientific research to back up their claim. Scientific research has evolved our society, in that we now know more than we have ever before; denying the use of the scientific method to try to prove a belief is wrong.

According to the correspondence theory, “truth is defined simply in terms of a proposition’s accurately expressing or describing a fact about the world.” We base our knowledge off of facts. Critics have used this concept against this theory because the word fact is controversial; in that we can be mislead to believe something is a fact. An example would be that we originally thought the world was flat and at that time that was believed to be a fact. With further research, we soon discovered that our world was a sphere and not a flat surface. This discredited the previous fact and credited the new fact. However, discovering new facts and discrediting old ones is a part of the correspondence theory of truth, in that it used scientific research to discover a new fact that is believed to be true.

Coherence Theory of Truth

“According to the coherence theory of truth, a proposition is true if and only if it coheres with the set of beliefs that a person holds” (Cowan and Spiegel, 2010). This theory states that truth is based on what the individual believes. However, this is different for everybody, in that our beliefs are based on our past experience that others don’t experience.

According to this theory, there can be more than one belief as long as both of these beliefs do not contradict one another. This is referred to as logical consistency, in that these beliefs or propositions need to be consistent. The “coherence [theory of truth] involves some kind of inferential or explanatory relationship between beliefs in the system” (Cowan and Spiegel, 2010). This is in reference to whether or not the proposition that is believed to be true is logically possible. In accordance to this theory, truth is what the person believes it be, as long as it coheres with that person’s beliefs. Two different individuals can believe two different things as long as it holds up with what they personally believe. Therefore, this theory is flawed, in that the concept of allowing a proposition to hold true to the individual, allows it to not be consistent and contradicts another proposition.

Pragmatic Theory of Truth

The pragmatic theory of truth is simply defined as being “truth that works.” However, it really isn’t that simple. This theory believes that “a proposition is true if and only if it is useful to the believer in achieving desirable results” (Cowan and Spiegel, 2010).

This theory is contradicting, in that it allows more than one truths to be true at the same time, whether or not they contradict one another. An example would be an individual believing that they are the smartest person in the world. According to pragmatism, if that person thinks that they are the smartest, then that person is the smartest, and no questions are asked because that is the truth. What if another individual believes that they are the smartest individual in the world? Well, according to pragmatism, this person is the smartest in the world because they believes it. Both of these individuals can not be the smartest individual in the world at the same time. This is where pragmatism is majorly flawed and weak.

In conclusion, only God knows which theory of truth is stronger, because we truly do not know. Perhaps all of the theories are wrong or they are all equally correct in their strengths to attempt to prove what knowledge is. To the best of my knowledge as an open-minded individual I believe that both the coherence and pragmatic theories have flaws functioning in our society; the corresponding theory of truth is indeed the more reliable theory.

References

Cowan, S. B., & Spiegel, J. S. (2009). The love of wisdom, a christian introduction to philosophy. (pp. 264-267). Nashville: B&H Academic.

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      Amanda 5 years ago

      Thank you for your feedback! It is helpful. :)

    • lone77star profile image

      Rod Martin Jr 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      An interesting topic. Thanks. Thought provoking:

      In your discussion of coherence theory, you say that there can be more than one belief as long as both do not contradict one another. I suppose you mean that there can be more than one belief within one individual. Without such clarification, your illustration is weak. Certainly, different individuals have different beliefs and they do not need to have consistency between them. What is true for one individual is not necessarily true for another. What is good for the hunter is not at all good for the goose.

      In your discussion of pragmatic theory, your example sounds more like coherence theory, because again you're talking about belief, rather than a pragmatic basis.

      It seems to me that scientists like to think they use only correspondence, or perhaps that non-scientists like to think of scientists doing only this, but in reality they use all three.

      All scientific "law" is imperfect and essentially pragmatic. It works for the current set of knowledge and experience. Newtonian physics fell to Einsteinian relativity when it could not explain the phenomena found near the velocity of light.

      New discoveries are occasionally upsetting prior "truths," so scientists, to my knowledge, have given up on calling them "truths." Perhaps calling them "laws" is also wrong.

      When scientists do research or dig up evidence, this is pragmatic evidence, because it logically works with what they're investigating, but also corresponding evidence, because it corresponds to that which is found in reality. It can also be cohering evidence, because the scientist (like Newton, above) might not have all of the facts in hand, though they may believe they do.

      Scientific method warns against bias, but the chief tool of science inherently contains a great deal of bias. Skepticism contains the bias of doubt. Science really needs a new paradigm: one of restraint and humility.

      When scientists ridicule each other because of a new discovery, they are showing the darker side of skepticism--one heavily biased, and not at all objective. This has happened repeatedly throughout the history of science. Rather than humility and restraint, bruised egos lash out and condemn that which they "believe" to be false, even though they have not done the research to back up their "belief." Such happened with North American anthropologists and the "Clovis first" dogma. Such happened with many of the ancient myths which were later proven to have been based on fact (Troy, Mycenaean Greece, Minoan Crete, Amazon warriors, etc). Such happened when NASA scientists supposedly found an arsenic-friendly microbe.

      Belief can be delusion.

      If someone believes that they can fly and then they jump off a cliff, even if they believe it all the way to the ground, when they go splat, their belief is found lacking. It is found to be delusion.

      That no one knows anything, as you suggested, seems to me to be self-defeating and also wrong. For instance, I "know" that the sun tends to come up every morning, but I "believe" it will come up tomorrow.

      When someone has faith (perfect confidence), and then walks on water, they are knowing truth.

      And when a problem arises and one knows the truth of it, one is set free of it. That's the way Jesus described it, and I have experienced both this kind of freedom and the product of faith: miracles. And yet, there is so much more to learn.

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      Amanda-Dunstan 5 years ago from Twin Falls, Idaho

      I believe that it could potentially be an example of the correspondence theory for the mere fact that this hub is based on true statements. Before putting this article together I did research about each of these theories. Based off of the research that I did, I believe that I have the knowledge to make that judgment call. However; that doesn’t go to say that I do KNOW which one is the stronger theory. As previously mentioned in my past articles, nobody really KNOWS anything, which is the enjoyment of philosophy.

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      Flickr 5 years ago

      interesting hub, so is this hub considered a correspondence theory of truth?