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TRUTH . The concept of religious truth expresses various aspects of human experience: reality that is permanent, immeasurable, unconcealed, effective, powerful; personal character that is sincere, good, genuine, valuable; and knowledge that is certain, accurate, pure, clear, and convincing. Truth emerges out of the basic human experience of valuation (both as assessment and appreciation) as a necessity for human survival and well-being. Human life is characterized by the need to distinguish between what is real and unreal, powerful and powerless, genuine and deceptive, pure and contaminated, clear and confused, as well as relative degrees of one extreme or the other. In an attempt to understand the character and variation of the existential engagement with truth in different religious traditions, we can recognize three aspects of truth: (1) the character of accurate knowing, (2) the nature of the reality known, and (3) the formation of value as the power to actualize this reality in authentic living. As a general concept, religious truth can be defined as the knowledge and expression of what-is for the purpose of achieving the greatest well-being possible (i.e., salvation, absolute freedom, or total harmony).

Inherent in religious truth is the recognition that a person who knows, manifests, or orients his or her life to ultimate reality is achieving ultimate transformationfor example, being saved or attaining complete liberation. In knowing the truth a person becomes authentic because he or she places his or her self-consciousness in a comprehensive context of what-is. The object of religious knowing is not simply information about another thing or person; it is recognition of the deepest reality or resource for fulfillment of life. Such an object, called God, the Dharma, the Dao, tathatā ("thusness"), or nirvāa, is not a conventional object in a subject-object relationship, but the original source, the nature, or quality of all conventional objects as they really are. This understanding of truth cannot be limited to a conception of truth as a relationship between words or between ideas and things (though words, ideas, and mental images may evoke the quality of truth whereby self-consciousness responds appropriately to what-is). Religious truth entails the continuing development of a valid relationship between self-consciousness and one's most extended and most profound environment (reality).

When people express religious truth, they are aware of different levels, kinds, or functions of truth. At the extremes are absolute and relative truth, or transcendent and conventional truth. The former expresses the deepest reality, the sacred, God, or "what-is"; the latter indicates accurate information about life the importance of which is limited to specific situations and short-term goals. The assumption of all religious truth is that personal estimations of what-is or decisions of momentary value must be affirmed only insofar as they are an aspect of the transcendent or absolute truth. Such absolute truth transcends and incorporates the concerns defined by information dependent on time-space conditions; it establishes an overarching value in relation to which the information has significance and meaning. This value is not external to the reality experienced, as an idea about something or a momentary feeling would be. Rather, it is experienced as a total orienting impetus providing coherence for the ideas and feelings that prompt a person to act in a certain way. Thus, truth is the valuation achieved by self-consciousness as it becomes a particular organizing center of self-awareness, meaning, feeling, and actionan individual participating in, and responding to, reality.

To respond appropriately or accurately to what-is can be understood as a release of ultimate power enabling a person to avoid self-deception and dissipating entanglement with unimportant activities and destructive forces. Religious truth is a transforming orientation leading to superlative well-being, known in traditional religious terms as the conversion from sin to salvation, illusion to insight, bondage to freedom, and chaos to order. It expresses not only what is apparent or of relative worth but also what-is at the deepest level. From the standpoint of sin, bondage, or chaos, this ultimate reality is experienced as what ought to be. By affirming the highest truth, a person declares a strategy for both knowing the ultimate reality and actualizing it in his or her daily experience, because such truth is of highest value for achieving superlative well-being. It expresses a comprehensive purpose as part of a person's perception of reality.

In world religions, truth is advocated as a corrective to three general sorts of deception: (1) intentional deception between people, or lying; (2) error due to lack of information; and (3) an inclination toward self-deception. These are interrelated because, in the last analysis, the expression of truth between people and the correction of ignorance find their capacity in the awareness developed through a continuing effort to avoid self-deception about "the way things really are." People often lie to each other in the sense that they deceive themselves about their own deepest resource; they lack information about ultimate values and reality because they are too easily satisfied by short-term pleasures.

At the same time, there is a wide range of solutions to self-deception in the different world religions. This is due to the fact that there are different orientations having different structures of valuation for determining which way of being authentic is really the best and which is derivative or secondary. Since truth is a solution to a process of self-deception, the correcting process that communicates and actualizes what-is at the deepest level, and thus what ought to be, is a comprehensive transformation of one's life-orientation. To examine different expressions of truth in world religions, we must not only look at different ideas about truth as a conceptual formulation but describe the processes in which the truth as description or information about reality is also a reevaluation of what is significant in life. We will look at five different approaches or ways of knowing the truth so that it might actualize the deepest well-being possible, sometimes specified as the good, heaven, salvation, liberation, or total harmony. These approaches to truth are (1) intimate experience of spiritual presence(s), (2) symbolic duplication of sacred reality through myth and ritual, (3) cultivation of appropriate relationships, (4) awakening transcendent consciousness, and (5) cognition of necessary and eternal realities. Then we will consider some of the problems of formulating and reformulating the deepest truth in relation to other, general claims to truth in changing historical and social contexts.

Intimate Experience of Spiritual Presence(s)

One way of knowing the ultimate truth is the awareness of what-is through the extraordinary experience of spiritual presence(s). These are most often unseen but powerful, controlling forces in life. This type of truth does not appeal for its validity to universal ideas or the coherence and meaning of culturally accepted symbols, even though the social-mythic system communicates the reality of these powerful presences in symbolic and mythic language. For this type of truth the adequacy and meaning of reality is encountered by direct personal acquaintance with usually unseen spiritual presences as they provide healing, regenerative resources, wholeness, and joy. The validity of this truth depends on the intimate and direct experience of such a presence. I shall describe two kinds of intimate knowledge of sacred presence. The first is found in many archaic cultures in North and South America, Africa, Siberia, and the South Pacific islands; it is expressed in the ecstatic experiences of diviners and shamans. The second is found in the ecstatic devotion to, and often prophetic utterance for, God in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the theistic forms of Hinduism.

An essential element of this religious knowledge is the rupture of conventional, everyday experience, a personal, heightened sensitivity to the usually hidden, but ultimately real, presence of power(s). While the wisdom of the shaman is often described as "supernatural," it is probably better to regard thisfrom the standpoint of the advocatesas a deeper or clearer knowledge of the natural forces that make all life possible. For example, the kilumba or nganga (one who possesses a healing vision) among the Bantu-speaking Luba in Africa is a man who is "seized" by a spirit or disembodied ancestor in order to reveal why some person or a society has inappropriately interfered with the powers of life and therefore has manifested disease, social disharmony, or natural catastrophe. Or, among the Huichol of north-central Mexico, the shaman (mara'akáme ) is a person who is more deeply aware of the hidden forces contending with each other; he has transcended the apparent conditions of conventional existence and becomes the medium or mouthpiece of these forces in life. The unusual character of his knowledge is described as coming from the spirits (divine powers), who know and determine everyday happenings.

The shamanic communication requires crossing over from the biosphere to a hidden (spiritual) plane and then returning to the mundane world. The mundane sphere is a state of separation, pollution, and mortality, as evidenced by illness and social conflict. The hidden, but more powerful (spirit) realm is also one of contending forces who (which) can be benevolent or beneficent toward the members of the biosphere. The shaman needs to have the capacity and skill to maintain a balance between the contending forces; he engages the spirit forces as they "possess" him while deftly remaining balanced between two worlds. According to the Tucano of the Amazon forests, the soul of the shaman (payé ) is said to be luminous, penetrating the darkness, and generative of life and healthlike the sun. His skill and purity of soul allow him to ascend to the sky or descend into the netherworld, described as "death" or "dismemberment," and then return to the everyday world.

When the shaman becomes "possessed" by a spirit, his ecstatic experience is interpreted by the audience within a cosmology that affirms hidden vital forces, and his "seizure" is seen as a sign that they will soon hear the voices or sounds of these spirits that will aid them in dealing with vital problems. The truth of the shaman's utterances, then, is part of a total orientation to life in which the members of the community respond emotionally, socially, and physically to the perceived forces affecting them day in and day out. Shamanic utterances are distinguished in these societies from psychotic experiences among the people by their predictive force and concrete results in solving problems. At the same time, when the utterances of a recognized shaman are not effective by empirical examination, some extenuating circumstance, such as impurity or inadequate following of a prescription, can be given to account for the failure.

The second kind of religious truth that requires an intimate knowledge of a sacred presence is the overwhelming experience of a devotee to God. This, too, requires a sense of a usually hidden force that directs one's life as well as all existence. Direct personal experiences of God in Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism are described as awesome, uncanny; they can provoke fear and terror. At the same time, they can provide deep comfort, evoke a sense of wonder and joy of life, and transform one's self-consciousness from a feeling of weakness, corruption, and worthlessness to strength, purity of heart, and profound value. In the theistic traditions of all cultures are found examples of pious devotees whose personal experiences of God are described as spontaneous eruptions of a divine force that, on the one hand, compels them to lead a new kind of existence and, on the other, provides a serene strength to meet life's traumas of personal loss, illness, and death. The devotee who lives his or her life in the presence of divine love and judgment feels reconnected with the source of life, so that even when mundane life is seen as full of evil and impotency, there is confidence in the divine power's ability to overcome the apparent meaninglessness and self-destructiveness.

The validity of the truth known from personal experience depends directly on an evaluation of one's self-consciousness within the context of a transcendent presence of the powers of life or the Holy One. The awareness is perceived as an overwhelming disclosure that transcends other norms of validity, such as empirical verification or rational analysis. Such divine disclosure provides a direction for living and a principle for knowledge not available in other norms of validity. The response to this disclosure is faith or trust in the final control of a powerful, loving, and caring divine presence. In the last analysis, such a divine presence remains a mystery, one that cannot be controlled by personal wants or verified by the mundane experience of health or prosperity. The response of faith is one of service in (and servitude to) the divine will. The truth known in such response is validated by the devotee in the experience of being known by the Holy One.

Symbolic Duplication of Sacred Reality through Myth and Ritual

Symbolic expressions of truth in the form of divine words, sacred myths, and sacramental rites and initiations are found throughout the world. They reflect the power of symbolic gestures and language to construct a realm of meaning. While often combined with the experience of powerful forces and the sense of social obligation and order, the communicative power of religious symbolic forms is found in their capacity to express several levels of meaning simultaneously, so that such activities as dancing, eating together, body marking, telling stories, and the use of special words or sounds can have more than a single signification. Verbal language, especially, has the mental-emotional force to construct multiple levels of meaning whereby self-consciousness attends to, and structures, experienced reality. The formation of ideas woven together by syntax (i.e., language) identifies and orders (often overlapping) conceptual units of consciousness into meaningful awareness. Thinking or imagining is more than a presentation of external sensations to the mind; the formation of ideas is a projection of self-consciousness toward, and into, the sensations of the experienced world. To speak about the world creates a relationship of symbolic meaning between self-consciousness and the world. The use of language demands a choice whereby a person separates one "thing" from another, classifies similar appearances into concepts, and makes evaluations between more or less significant features of one's experience.

The power of language to construct a symbolic realm of meaning relates self-consciousness to the world by creating a "center" in the individual and, at the same time, placing the individual in a universe "as it is"that is, as it appears directly to self-consciousness. Thus, symbols that express truth are those consistent with the deepest (often presumed) valuation inherent in one's experience. Religious symbols are those mental-emotional lenses that provide images of oneself (a psychology) and the universe (a cosmology); they teach human beings not only what to see, but how to see. As scholars of mythology have pointed out, religious myths are those symbolic expressions that are recognized as true simply by being expressed.

A religious symbol, such as a divine name, sacred myth, ritual action, or visual image of a deity, is seen by religious advocates as the manifestation of a pure, original, mysterious, and powerful reality in a particular concrete form. The symbolic bodily gesture, sound, or physical image is a paradigm of realitydivine reality. Myths and rituals are repetitions of original life-creating actions by the gods, primal ancestors, and cultural heroes and, therefore, must be carefully preserved and meticulously duplicated. They disclose the divine resource that makes any life at all possible. It is the sacred that is eternal, genuine, whole, and purethe opposite of the profane, corrupt, and fragmented mundane human experienceyet, paradoxically, it is expressed in and through the mundane form, where it usually remains hidden. The religious power of the symbols derives precisely from the fact that they claim to repeat the primal action of creation, the divine rescue of the world from devouring demons, or to describe the joys of paradise in the eternal realm. In providing the paradigmatic truth regarding reality, myth and ritual also provide a model for successful human living. The appeal to divine action is a basic principle of justification for social relations, morality, and, in many cases, all human activities.

Sacred words (divine names, sacred actions and laws, blessings, curses) and sounds (mantra s, chants) are perceived by religious devotees to have a special capacity to release power. According to the perspective of Mīmāsā, a school of Hindu philosophical thought, the sacredness of mantra s (sacred sounds, phrases, or verses) derives from the eternity of the word. The use of the mantra in prayer, meditation, or worship reveals the deity or divine energy because the sound is intrinsically related to the divine energy; it is an eternal causal principle. The sound (śabda ) of words is not arbitrary; it represents an eternal principle or force that is manifested in many forms of changing existence. The mantra s, thus, express the essence of divine powers in their very repetition; the sacred utterance in the hymns of the gveda is a direct testimony to the primal energies of the universe. This view is basic for several subsequent Hindu theistic schools that appealed to the validity of verbal testimony on the basis of the intrinsic power of sound (speech) to express the eternal principles so long as the revealer, the source of knowledge, is adequate.

In Zoroastrianism, a sacred utterance, the Ashem Vohu, is used in most devotions to concentrate a person's mind on asha ("truth"). Asha is the name of an abstract principle of truth or righteousness in the cosmos, but also the name of a divinity often invoked in the Gāthās, one of the Amesha Spentas ("bounteous immortals"). As one of the immanent powers who maintain the universe, Asha is also symbolically identified with fire, a focus of much Zoroastrian ritual. In this religious tradition, truth is symbolically expressed in a divine name, a concrete ritual image, and evoked through a sacred prayer. In Islam, "truth," as identical to reality (al-aqq ), is an attribute of God, the creator of the world and maintainer of righteousness. Al-aqq is that which is steadfast and permanent; it is genuine and authentic. God, as the reality, is the source of truth for humanity, especially as found in the sacred recitation (Qurʾān) given to Mu-ammad.

The validity for truth in religious symbolic expression, then, is found in the recognition that its source is eternal, of the realm of the sacred. The activity of God, of bounteous spiritual beings, or of primal ancestors is the real and significant activity. The duplication of the sacred realm in symbolic gestures, physical objects, names, stories, and sounds provides the paradigm for meaning, regeneration in life cycles, and the norm for righteousness. True human knowledge and behavior imitates that of the gods or God. In religious initiations, sacrifices, and sacraments, people release eternal power that purifies as it discloses the foundation for human well-being. The deepest problems in life arise from forgetting one's sacred source, neglecting to repeat the sacred action symbolically, or rejecting the sacred word (such as the Jewish Torah, Jesus Christ as the divine word made flesh, or the Muslim Qurʾān) as the basis for all well-being. When the effects expected from following the sacred rituals and words are not attained, the devotee usually recognizes some failure in perfectly duplicating the sacred paradigm. When there are conflicting myths competing for the loyalty of believers, the sacred reality of one myth is often judged to be demonic power by those holding another myth (an exclusive position), or it is seen as a lesser but related aspect of the true sacred reality according to advocates of another myth (an inclusive position).

Cultivation of Appropriate Relationships

Another approach to truth that expresses self-consciousness of what-is is through practical moral wisdom characterized by honesty, trustworthiness, and sincerity. Here the emphasis is on moral action that is consistent with personal integrity. This approach holds that a person cannot truly know the nature of reality without demonstrating what it means to "be" in everyday activities. The means for attaining wisdom combines intuition with observation and learning drawn from ancient tradition. We will discuss first the expression of this truth from Chinese and Indian sources, which appeal to a natural cosmic order (law), and then briefly note several theistic expressions whose ultimate source is divine but that emphasize the moral character of truth.

In the classical Chinese expression of truth there is no sharp distinction between the knowledge of what-is and a person's moral action. Authentic awareness of reality is expressed more in daily practice than formulated in arguments about the nature of the good. The law of life is known not through a personal experience of a divine presence, duplication of a sacred word, or rational reflection; rather it is known through living out a sensitivity to the inherent cosmic harmony within the self and the world. Moral wisdom is found typified in the ancient Sage Kings by the phrase "sageliness within and kingliness without." The goal is to develop a moral attitude that is tested in social relationships, one that is based on the general notion that there is an intrinsic order in all things that must be actualized in concrete relationships with nature and society.

Truth in both verbal expression and behavior is defined as chang ("constant"). A statement or behavior is "constant" when it promotes appropriate relationships within an organic order. Thus, truth is not an idea or abstraction but a human expression that shapes practical behavior. It has a practical function in communication that attempts to promote good behavior. In the Confucian classic Zhong yong (Doctrine of the Mean) the insight into the way (dao ) of life focuses on "sincerity" (zheng ). Sincerity is the demonstration that one perceives the reality of all life; it is a manifestation of the ultimate coherence between self-consciousness and the objective world. The capacity to cultivate such sincerity or integrity is inherent in human beings, but its actualization is not inevitable, so the potential must be fulfilled by constant personal effort.

In classical Hinduism, also, there is the recognition that truth about what-is is most profoundly expressed in everyday activity. From the beginning of the common era, when the Brahmanic tradition that grew out of Vedic rituals was synthesized with a concern for social order, down to the present a prominent notion has been that of dharma ("law, reality, truth"). The cosmic order that pervaded all things is expressed also in appropriate social relationships. The dharma, what people should do, is the correct arrangement of everything in life. Knowledge of oneself is found in following one's dharma, one's way of being in relation to the organic whole. Everything and everybody has a place in the universe. The moral duties of farmer and ruler, husband and wife, or child and parent were defined by their appropriateness to each person's station. To act contrary to one's obligations and responsibilities destroys one's own character and creates chaos in society and nature.

According to the Brahmanic text Manusmti (The laws of Manu) the sources for knowing one's dharma were first the Veda, then the tradition, then the virtuous conduct of the religious leaders and holy men, and, finally, self-satisfaction. Most of the society did not study the Vedas, so they learned appropriate conduct from the tradition as expressed in popular stories, festivals, and social rules as they were reinforced by interaction with others. The truth of one's existence was defined by participation in the fabric of society, and the cultivation of personal character was found in the virtues of sincerity, self-restraint, and honesty.

In the theistic traditions of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Islam there has also been a deep sense of expressing truth through moral behavior. Truth is expressed in the qualities of veracity, integrity, and trustworthiness. In Zoroastrianism, truth (asha ) is the order that governs human conduct. Those who are honest, keep their oaths and covenants, and are loyal to Ahura Mazdā are the righteous ones (ashavan ), those who uphold asha. They look for the final victory over the wicked (drugvant ), those who follow falsehood. In Judaism, truth (ʿemeth ) is expressed in righteousness, justice, and peace. In such actions Jews worship "the God of truth." God keeps his word, and those who speak the truth come near him. Thus, those who avoid deceit and hypocrisy in all their dealings practice the truth. In Islam, the word adaqa means integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness. It is the quality of expression when one tells the truth; it requires that a person be honest with himself or herself and with others, as well as recognize the actual situation with which one is dealing. To express the truth is to follow the will of God, since he is the source of everything. A statement that corresponds to reality is an action that is trustworthy.

Awakening Transcendent Consciousness

A fourth religious way that truth is viewed as the accurate self-consciousness of what-is focuses on the quality of consciousness. Rather than centering the nature of truth on the intimate experience of a spiritual presence, on the symbolic structuring of a sacred realm of meaning, or on cultivating appropriate relationships within a cosmic network, the power by which one can attain comprehensive well-being is the liberating insight that purifies inner dispositions, attitudes, and the thinking-feeling processesall aspects of consciousness.

The truth of oneself and the world is perhaps partially expressed in symbolic imagery, ideas, and behavior, but the key condition for attaining true (or transcendent) knowledge, say the practitioners of this way, is the avoidance of attachment to these conventional habits of knowing. Here the concern to transform the manner or mode of knowing from a self-limiting, fabricating, and distorting process to a freeing, direct-intuitive insight is crucial because it is assumed that there is an intrinsic and reciprocal relation between the knowing process and the reality known. It is also assumed that there are different qualities of knowing, each of which leads to one or another kind of "becoming real." For anything to exist, it has to come into existence, or "become something," within the context of some manner of perception, process of knowing, and mode of consciousness. The concept of realization includes the two elements of knowing and becoming, as when we say that someone realizes certain possibilities. To realize transcendent consciousness requires a shift away from the conventional habits of consciousness aimed at perceiving (understanding) what-is. In this shift to another process of knowing, a person also comes to exist, "becomes," in a new way.

The highest truth, then, in this approach requires insight into the nature of the process of becoming; it stresses how a person contributes positively or negatively to this process by the manner or quality of his or her awareness. This means that the expression of truth must "fit" the level or quality of the hearer. Truth is not a single idea or proposition that stands eternally and to which all particular forms partially correspond. Ideas and concepts are useful as pointers to truth, or catalysts for freeing a person from habitual mental-emotional entanglements, but a statement that would "fit" a lower spiritual condition, and thus be "true," might be denied as an appropriate expression for someone at a higher level of spirituality. Because thought, emotions, and inner dispositions are interrelated, say the teachers of this way, a true statement is not a universal abstraction, an idea known by the intellect, but a catalyst for insight. Also, the hearer of truth must be prepared to receive it; for a religious idea to bear spiritual fruit, it must be received with a pure heart, or liberated mind. Such an apprehension requires more than intellectual skills or socially conditioned reflex responses; it is cultivated through serenity, courage, diligence, and love (compassion). To know the highest truth, then, is an illumination of "becoming" as an aspect of what-is, which is experienced as unconditional freedom.

The methods for attaining insight, which liberate one from self-imposed bondage according to several spiritual disciplines in India, include quieting the mind through meditation, separating oneself from conventional perceptual and emotional stimuli, sustained and detailed awareness of the factors in one's self-conscious "becoming," concentration (samādhi ) on the unmoving or unifying center of consciousness, and various levels of mental absorption (dhyāna ). These are techniques through which a person is reeducated to "see" himself or herself in relation to the world so that he or she is not constructing mental-emotional chains that cause suffering. For example, in Theravada Buddhist practice, the meditation procedures are intended to help one to withdraw from external conditioning forces and to concentrate one's consciousness, so that one can avoid the habitual confusion of one's pure consciousness with the shifting appearances of things, people, ideasall aspects of the "objective" world. Once a person is not attached to conventional perceptive and ideational imagery, he or she can expand consciousness through trance or mental absorption and eventually, in a freed state of mind, be intuitively aware of "the immeasurable" or "emptiness." In such a state of awareness, say the Buddhist sutta s, the Buddha perceived the nature of "becoming" as dependent coarising and also understood the root cause of suffering and the possibility of its elimination. Similarly, classical Hindu Yoga advocated the use of certain body positions, controlled breathing, detachment of the senses from external objects, and concentrated mental states to quietthat is, to avoid producingconventional procedures of knowing, such as habitual perceptions, inference, memory, or authoritative (sacred) words. These conventional means of knowing are useful as practical vehicles for business, getting physical pleasure, or establishing social relationships, but they are not useful in knowing the deepest reality, pure consciousness (purua ). Yoga intends to free one from the small, limiting consciousness, or the image of one's ego, so that one may become directly aware of universal con-sciousness.

A common metaphor in both theistic and nontheistic religious traditions for the transcendent consciousness is the identity or union of the self with ultimate reality (God). Well-known examples of this are found in Advaita Vedānta Hinduism, in Muslim ūfī recollection of God, and in Christian mysticism. Śakara (eighth century ce), as an exponent of "nondual highest knowledge" (advaita vedānta ), asserted that a genuine and deep investigation into dharma led to the inquiry into brahman, the single undifferentiated reality that pervades all differentiated existence. The eternal brahman is pure being-consciousness-bliss (sat-cit-ānanda ), and the most profound spiritual truth is to realize that self-consciousness (atman ) is identical to brahman. The ūfī master Ibn al-ʿArabī expresses a comparable insight in his assertion that true submission to God is an all-pervading sense that the self vanishes in the only true reality, God. He says in his Fuu al-ikam : "When you know yourself, your 'I'-ness vanishes and you know that you and God are one and the same."

The Spanish Christian mystic John of the Cross (15421591) makes a similar claim in his manual on spiritual discipline, Ascent of Mount Carmel, when he writes: "This union comes to pass when God grants the soul this supernatural favor, that all the things of God and the soul are one in participant transformation; and the soul seems to be God rather than a soul, and is indeed God by participation." The soul, then, is like an unstained window that allows the divine rays to illumine it and "transform it into its own light." These examples indicate a common concern to know the highest truth through emptying the self of its conventional consciousness so that the ultimate reality itself is manifest; however, because mystics each use a distinctive method interwoven with their own psychological and cosmological concepts, their statements about the nature of consciousness and ultimate reality remain significantly different.

Cognition of Necessary and Eternal Realities

A fifth approach to the expression of truth is that found in classical Greek reflection on the nature of reality. While Greek philosophy is not a religious tradition in the conventional contemporary sense, Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle wrestled at a profound level with the relation between self-consciousness, the perceived world, and eternal reality (or realities). Their reflection had a significant influence on patristic and medieval Christian theology and on Islamic theology, as well as on the post-Renaissance European philosophical discussion of truth. Despite important differences in the understanding of truth found in the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, they shared several assumptions in their approach that have been carried forward in the way Western philosophers, and some Christian and Muslim theologians, have addressed the issue of truth.

One of the basic assumptions is that reality (the being of things) is universal, necessary, and, consequently, prior to any knowledge of it. Truth (Gr., alētheia, from alētheuein, "to disclose") is a disclosure of what-is. Whether the eternal being is defined in terms of eternal ideas, as in Plato, or in terms of substances, as in Aristotle, the object of true knowledge is a necessary reality that is effective (even active) in the experienced world. The being of things is objective, presenting itself to the mind. Another important assumption is that whatever is real is intelligible; reality is that which can be known by the intellect. It has a signifying character, or a meaning of its own, which is known by cognition and, for Plato, intellectually contemplated by the mind. The "being" of things is the subject of any true judgment, which is basically a response to the disclosure of being. Whatever is real has a universal potentialit is potent and is a possibilityand is disclosed in particular forms and events. Plato asserted that being is itself a unity expressed by many particular forms, and such being is known by an integration of self-consistent judgments. By means of the intellect, human beings can know the universal potentials (reality), that is, can identify their meanings as they disclose themselves. By knowing the eternal ideas, especially the Good, human beings respond appropriately to life and achieve their own well-being.

In this context true knowledge is the mind's inner appropriation of the universal potentials that are disclosed by cognitive judgments pertaining to the continually changing appearances of the outer world. The mind has both a passive and an active role in becoming aware of the meaning that is exposed in the changing appearances. The passive aspect receives the impressions through observation, while the active aspect constructs the meaning mentally, by thinking or judgment. In this act the self-consciousness appropriates to some degree the meaning inherent in the being of things. The truth cognized is the valuable quality of the meaning appropriated, and it is evident to the degree that the mind signifies to itself what is disclosed by what-is. In this approach to truth, then, the primary effort is to respond with the intellect to a meaning found in an impersonal but active reality outside the mind. Truth is universal and has an inherent signification that must be reflected by the intellectual grasp of that objective meaning. The basic conceptual signification of reality should be the same in the mental experience of all human beings, regardless of their particular languages or symbolic systems.

Unlike the approach to truth through myth and symbol (which establishes the true meaning in symbolic duplication of a sacred realm), the meaning in this approach is assumed to be in an external reality that is only reflected in corresponding concepts. When mental images or concepts that intend to signify the meaning inherent in nonsymbolic facts conflict with each other, it is an indication that one or more of the symbolic significations do not correspond to the meaning, or self-signification, of reality. Such meanings are simply "beliefs," which may have emotional force but are not regarded by people taking this approach as signifying what-is. In the Western religious traditions, this approach has led to both dogmatism and scientific theorizing: the former identifies eternal, universal, and objective signification with divine revelation and its explication in theological dogmas; the latter identifies eternal, universal, and objective signification with scientific theories based on empirical verification and general inferences that are presumed to function alike in the experience of all people.

Interpretation, Communication, and Verification

All religious truth, as an existential expression of what-is, is tested and verified by ever-changing human experience. Regardless of the nature of ultimate reality and its relation to the process of its becoming actualized in self-consciousness, as discussed in the approaches to truth given above, the quality of one's awareness, symbolic expression, or social relationship is tested in the changing circumstances of personal maturation and cultural-historical development. There is a basic question arising in each religious and cultural tradition: how is knowledge of the transcendent reality related to a general human means of knowing, for example, perception and inference? Another question arises: how is the original, eternal truthwhich itself became manifest in a specific historical-cultural-linguistic situationto be known in changing and sometimes quite different cultures? We will look at various answers to these questions by first considering the issues of continuity, meaning, and interpretation of symbolic and moral truth. We shall then examine levels of meaning, practical techniques, and the use of language to communicate the special awareness found in the experience of spiritual presence(s) and transcendent consciousness.

In the claims of truth that are based on a sacred word (divine revelation) and/or found in a tradition of trained scholars (such as priests, lawyers, or Confucian literati) who conserve and interpret the eternal moral law, there is a profound concern to understand or make intelligible the meaning of the sacred word and the eternal moral law. Great effort is made to learn, preserve, and interpret the normative teaching so that it is relevant to a community of believers in a specific lived experience. The difficulty in exposing the genuine intention of the original symbolic expression in light of new situations and personal differences of interpretation has resulted in the development of various schools or denominations within all religious traditions. For example, the center of Jewish life is the study and interpretation of the Torah. In this tradition there are different interpretations regarding the relation between the written Torah and the oral Torah. All faithful Jews try to live in the basic myth of the Exodus and according to God's commandments, but there are different interpretations of the purpose of God relative to the historical experience of the Jewish community, the nature of the promised salvation (in this life and the next), and the degree to which certain customs and ritual laws are to be observed in different cultural situations, as well as the centrality and character of study, prayer, moral action, and observance of sacred days. For the past two millennia the leadership of the Jewish community has centered on the rabbi, who not only was trained to interpret the Torah in a creative fashion but also served in many communities as judge and administrator of the law. Especially since medieval times, the rabbis and philosophically inclined thinkers have had to relate the expressions of the Torah to reason and, in the last two centuries, to scientific analysis of the human condition. Such questions as the nature of free will, divine providence, and the psychological conditions for faith are important considerations for contemporary efforts to worship God in truth and to fulfill divine moral obligations of justice and love.

Similarly, Christian faith is based on the divine revelation in Jesus Christ, and study of the Bible, especially of the New Testament, has been central to the life of the Christian community. Already in the first centuries of the Christian church, as the New Testament canon was taking shape and the creeds (the "symbols" of the church) were formulated to define the normative understanding of faith, the impact of the Classical Greek philosophical language helped to shape the doctrines of the Trinity, the person of Christ, and the nature of humanity. A continuing issue in the proper intepretation of scripture, devotional life, and worship was the authority of one or another bishop to declare the official understanding of Christian faith, which was settled by the convening of councils in the fourth and fifth centuries.

The concern to formulate statements of belief that would gain intellectual assent by believers has pervaded the history of the Christian church. During the thirteenth century a watershed formulation was made by Thomas Aquinas that eventually was recognized as authoritative and has remained the supreme theological statement for the Roman Catholic Christian community. In his Summa theologiae and De veritates he synthesized an understanding of Christian faith with Greek philosophical thought, especially from Aristotle, affirming that truth is a transcendental property of being that, in turn, is dependent on God, the ultimate intellectual cause. According to him, faith is human understanding, but the truth of faith rests on the truth of God, and beliefwhich includes church dogmais a result of divine grace. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, Christian reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, rejected the medieval understanding of a single ministerial (papal) office and, thus, many Roman Catholic dogmas; they emphasized the need to base Christian faith on the primal sacred word, the Bible. During the past three centuries, Christians in western Europe and America have engaged in theological reflection in a cultural context dominated by rationalism, scientific analysis, and industrial socioeconomic structures. These intellectual influences condition the formulation of Christian faith on issues such as the nature of human life, the meaning of revelation, and the role of men and women in the political and social order.

Some basic problems encountered by advocates of truth derived from an intimate experience of spiritual presence(s) and from transcendent awareness are (1) communicating an inconceivable reality through the use of words or appeals to conventional human experience, (2) relating unusual inner experience to general criteria of verification in common-knowledge perception or inference, (3) justifying the claims for a superior inner spiritual quality within the person who claims unusual and authoritative states of consciousness, and (4) avoiding the apparent circularity entailed in the claim that those who do not affirm the validity of supraconscious truth are not qualified to understand or judge the validity of this truth. The manifestation of the ultimate source of truth in an experience of spiritual presence(s) or an unconditional transcendent awareness is seen by its advocates to be a source of knowledge beyond logic, symbolic imagery, and conventional perception.

Nevertheless, advocates use words, symbols, and inference to argue by analogy or by logical analysis. For example, the vision of Lord Viu in the Hindu classic Bhagavadgītā (Song to the Lord) includes such imagery as "many mouths and eyes," and "the light of a thousand suns springing forth simultaneously in the sky" to portray the Lord. The Muslim devotional mystic Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (d. 1273) describes the true devotee as a person with "a burning heart." With regard to the use of inference to communicate transcendent awareness, a prime example is the second-century ce Indian Buddhist philosopher-monk Nāgārjuna, who used a rigorous logical dialectic to reject the claim of unchanging essences as the reality of existence. Or, in the Zen Buddhist tradition, logical riddles (kōan ) are used to break the habits of language and conceptual imagery that cause attachment to things or ideas. Logic and symbolic imagery, then, are never wholly descriptive of the transcendent realityonly suggestive, or preparatory to moving to a new level of awareness.

Critics, on the other hand, argue that since the religious reality that its advocates claim to know is so different from any communicable description of it, religious experiences indicate more about the simply subjective (perhaps only psychological) conditions of the knower than about any universal reality. Or, since the nature of religious truth requires a change in the quality of apprehension through special techniques or through transcendent power (e.g., God's grace), any special appeal to unusual states of consciousness cannot provide the norm of validity for a general theory of truth that also relies on conventional inference or perception.

Truth in world religions, then, is a concept that not only has different meanings and uses in religious language but also indicates different approaches to the religious concern for the becoming self-conscious of what-is that makes possible the attainment of the highest well-being. Each of the approaches described here provides an evaluative process that structures the conditions, goals, and nature of truth. The different approaches each have their own development, principles of validation, and impact on people's lives. While different religious and cultural traditions emphasize one or two approaches to truth, the major world religions and civilizations have included several of them as sometimes permissible options.

In the contemporary world, where people of different, and sometimes conflicting, religions and ideologies are in a network of political, economic, and ecological relationships, there is a heightened sense of urgency to develop strategies for at least existing safely within a plurality of ultimate commitments, if not for integrating or discovering the principle of unity in that truth that declares the source of well-being for all humanity. One of the most difficult issues in attempting to integrate the various approaches is that each holds that a distinction must be made between lesser, conventional truth and the highest, or divine, truth. Each approach is itself a system of evaluations about the nature of ignorance, the ultimate reality, and the mechanism of knowing the truth that rejects alternate systems of evaluation.

Especially in those communities that identify their survival and highest fulfillment with a single form of truth, through orthodoxy (normative or prescribed teaching) or orthopraxis (normative or prescribed behavior), the tolerance of alternative approaches to truth is difficult to maintain. Paradoxically, a society often holds rigidly to a form of truth when there is change in, or confusion about, the underlying system(s) of evaluation (as, for example, the conflict between the epistemological assumptions of the scientific method and those of the symbolic self-consciousness attained in myth and sacrament), and often an openness to explore alternative forms (contents) of truth emerges when there is stability in the basic system of evaluation.

The contemporary world is characterized by rapid changes in technology and the development of a worldwide communication network. This situation requires new concepts of the self and the universe and an exchange of cultural and religious approaches to truth. The challenge for contemporary people is how to live within some system of comprehensive evaluation (as found in a religion or ideology) and how to respond in a mutually life-enhancing way with people committed to another system of evaluation. The survival and well-being of people in all cultures necessitates a creative reexamination and critical assessment of varied truth claims that implicitly give weight to different ways of valuation.

See Also

Epistemology; Knowledge and Ignorance; Philosophy; Religious Experience.


Introductory discussions of the concept of truth in world religions can be found in the following works: William A. Christian, Jr.'s Meaning and Truth in Religion (Princeton, 1964) and his Oppositions of Religious Doctrines (New York, 1972); Truth and Dialogue in World Religions: Conflicting Truth-Claims, edited by John Hick (Philadelphia, 1974); Wilfred Cantwell Smith's Questions of Religious Truth (New York, 1967); and my Understanding Religious Life, 3d ed. (Belmont, Calif., 1985).

For introductions to the nature of truth in shamanism and the symbolism of archaic cultures, see Joseph Campbell's The Masks of God, 4 vols. (New York, 19591968); Mircea Eliade's The Sacred and the Profane (New York, 1959) and his Shamanism (New York, 1964); S. F. Nadel's Nupe Religion (London, 1954); and Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff's Amazonian Cosmos (Chicago, 1971).

The religious significance of truth in Western traditions is discussed in Mary Boyce's A History of Zoroastrianism, 2 vols. (Leiden, 19751982); Jacob Neusner's The Way of Torah (Belmont, Calif., 1979); Understanding Jewish Theology, edited by Neusner (New York, 1973); Stephen Reynolds's The Christian Religious Tradition (Belmont, Calif., 1977); Leslie Dewart's Religion, Language and Truth (New York, 1970); W. Montgomery Watt's Islamic Philosophy and Theology, 2d enl. ed. (Edinburgh, 1984); and Islam from Within, edited by Kenneth Cragg and R. Marston Speight (Belmont, Calif., 1980).

The nature and cultivation of truth in Eastern traditions is described in Hajime Nakamura's Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples (Honolulu, 1964); Revelation in Indian Thought, edited by Harold Coward and Krishna Sivaraman (Emeryville, Calif., 1977); K. Kunjunni Raja's Indian Theories of Meaning (Madras, 1963); Padmanabh S. Jaini's The Jaina Path of Purification (Berkeley, 1979); Kulitassa Nanda Jayatilleka's Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge (New York, 1963); Francis Dojun Cook's Hua-Yen Buddhism (University Park, Pa., 1977); Tantra in Tibet, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins (London, 1977); Toshihiko Izutsu's Toward a Philosophy of Zen Buddhism (Tehran, 1977); A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, translated and edited by Wing-tsit Chan (Princeton, 1963); Fung Yu-lan's The Spirit of Chinese Philosophy (Boston, 1962); Invitation to Chinese Philosophy, edited by Arne Naess and Alastair Hanney (Oslo, 1972); and Tu Wei-ming's Centrality and Commonality: An Essay on Chung-yung (Honolulu, 1976).

A critical assessment of various principles of validity emerging from different cultures is found in Eliot Deutsch's On Truth: An Ontological Theory (Honolulu, 1979); Modes of Thought: Essays on Thinking in Western and Non-Western Societies, edited by Robin Horton and Ruth Finnegan (London, 1973); and Knowing Religiously, edited by Leroy S. Rouner (Notre Dame, 1985). For an examination of the relation of language, meaning, and truth in the mystical experiences of different religious traditions, see Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, edited by Steven T. Katz (Oxford, 1978).

New Sources

Allen, Barry. Truth in Philosophy. Cambridge, Mass., 1993.

Blackburn, Simon, and Keith Simmons, eds. Truth. New York, 1999.

Field, Hartry H. Truth and the Absence of Fact. New York, 2001.

Gupta, Anil, and Nuel Belnap. The Revision Theory of Truth. Cambridge, Mass, 1993.

Hill, Christopher S. Thought and World: An Austere Portrayal of Truth, Reference, and Semantic Correspondence. New York, 2002.

Kölbel, Max. Truth without Objectivity. New York, 2002.

Luntley, Michael. Reason, Truth and Self: The Postmodern Reconditioned. New York, 1995.

Lynch, Michael P., ed. The Nature of Truth: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. Cambridge, Mass., 2001.

Soames, Scott. Understanding Truth. New York, 1999.

Williams, Bernard Arthur Owen. Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy. Princeton, N.J., 2002.

Frederick J. Streng (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated Jun 08 2018


The accordance or conformity between what is asserted and what is, or the conformity of intellection with being. From the viewpoint of the intellect as consciously conformed to being, truth is called logical or epistemological; from the viewpoint of being as conformed to intellection, it is called ontological. This article deals first with the history of the notion of truth, then with truth as studied in epistemology, and finally with truth as studied in ontology.


The historical development of the concept of truth may be divided into phases corresponding to the development of Greek, patristic and medieval, modern, and contemporary philosophy.

Greek origins. The problem of truth was implicitly treated at the dawn of Western philosophy (6th century b.c.), when men first sought principles that would explain the changing universe. It was explicitly treated by parmenides; rejecting the doctrine of heraclitus, he distinguished the world of sense as the domain of appearance, change, multiplicity, and falsity from the world of thought as the world of the stable, the one, and the true. The true, for Parmenides, is the object of thought or the intelligible, and the true or being is one. Multiplicity is appearance; it is the effect of the disintegrating influence of man's senses on being.

The sophists, holding that man cannot attain certainty and that the only truth he has is the contingent judgment of the senses, which differs from one individual to another, first posed the problem of necessary truth and of the subject-object relationship in the knowing process.

plato taught that on the occasion of sensation there is awakened in man a corresponding idea, which was dormant in the soul from its contemplation of the subsisting Ideas before its incarnation in the body. The Ideas are the universal, necessary, and immutable essences, the archetypes of the sensible reality that imitates and participates in them. The Ideas, existing in the intelligible world hierarchically under the supreme Idea of the Good, are more real than sensible reality. Necessary truth, therefore, is the conformity of man's thought to the Ideas. Contingent and changeable truth, or opinion, is the conformity of his knowledge to the sensible world.

For aristotle, truth is primarily in the judgment. The judgment is true when it attributes a predicate to, or denies it of, a subject, according to what reality itself demands. Truth then is the adequation of the intellect to reality. Judgment guarantees the necessary truth of the first principles, particularly that of contradiction, which are founded in being. The universal concept that functions in judgment is not had from an intuition of the subsisting Ideas, but is obtained by abstracting or dematerializing the formal notes of sensible reality (see abstraction). Aristotle even conceived God as Thought Thinking Itself (Meta. 1074b 151075a 11), and in this sense as subsisting Idea or Truth.

Patristic and Medieval thought. Christianity, as the revealed truth of God proposing the Second Person of the Holy Trinity as the Truth by whom all things that exist are made, opened up new vistas for philosophical speculation on the nature of truth. The greatest of the Church Fathers, St. augustine, inspired by Plato (as interpreted and synthesized with Aristotle by plotinus), made the idea of truth central in his philosophy (C. Boyer, L'Idée de vérité dans la philosophie de saint Augustin, 2nd ed. Paris 1947). Truth, as a property of knowledge, is the affirmation of that which is. Man knows immutable and eternal truths, e.g., the laws of number and essences, with certainty. By these truths he judges the sensible. These truths are not justified by sensible reality, but are a participation in man's intellect of the first and subsistent truth, which is God. Hence from necessary truth, such as two and two make four, one can prove the existence of God (Lib. arb. 2.8.2024). Truth as applied to reality is the identity of the idea and reality. Reality is true when it fully verifies what is said of it, when it fully verifies the idea, and hence when it is the idea. Only God fully verifies the idea. He is truth. Finite beings are true insofar as they are imperfect imitations of the first Truth, of the Subsistent Idea, which is God.

St. thomas aquinas, who achieved the most perfect synthesis of Christian philosophy, unlike Aristotle treated truth explicitly as a transcendental property of being. Being as true is being as related to man's intellect (De ver. 1.1). Since being does not depend on man's intellect, the relation that truth adds to being is a relation of reason manifesting the intelligibility of being. This intelligibility is the dependence of being on its intelligent cause, God. Hence every being as intelligible presupposes its idea in the mind of God. God is identically subsisting Intellection and Being, or subsistent Truth. Knowing His essence as imitable, He forms the idea of every creature He can produce. Creating, God conforms to His intellect the reality produced, making it identically intelligible and existing (Summa theologiae 1a, 15). Man attains truth properly in the judgment. His direct judgment is the affirmation of the nature of sensible reality according to the norm of being.

Modern development. R. descartes, the father of modern philosophy, was concerned primarily with certitude as this is found in mathematics. Hence, for him, truth is that which man conceives in a clear and distinct idea. Clear and distinct concepts, which are also innate and intuitive, represent reality exactly as it is in itself. Reality and the conceptual are identical. The analytical laws of connection of concepts are laws of reality. This is the principle of rationalism. It led N. malebranche to ontologism, wherein man is proposed as having immediate intuition of the divine ideas. It led G. W. leibniz, complementing Cartesianism by dynamism, to his doctrine of a pre-established harmony among the active elements of the universe, which he conceived as incapable of acting on each other. Rationalism found its logical conclusion in the absolute monism of B. spinoza: there is only one substance, God, of whose infinite modes man knows only two, namely, extension and cognition.

Diametrically opposed to rationalism is empiricism, which, prepared for by the nominalism of william of ockham and by the scientific method of Francis bacon, appeared in England under T. hobbes, J. locke, and G. berkeley, but found its full expression in D. hume. With the exception of mathematics, which he saw as a logical analysis of identities, Hume reduced all valid knowledge to sense impressions and to images derived from sense impressions and associated by habit. Therefore, for him, the notions of causality, of substance, of soul, etc., are invalid. Hence truth for man is the conformity of his knowing to sense impressions. B. russell and logical positivists such as A. J. Ayer (191089) follow Hume in making sense verifiability the norm of truth for all factual statements.

For I. kant, who reacted against the extremes of rationalism and empiricism, truth is the conformity of thought to its object. The object of thought is not reality as it is in itself, however, but is the product of the a priori forms of the unity of consciousness, which synthesize the elements of sensation received from reality. Hence necessary and universal truth is founded not in being itself but in the forms of man's cognitive faculties. Since the knowing subject produces the formal elements of knowledge, this system is called transcendental idealism.

The successors of Kant, J. G. fichte, F. W. J. schelling, and G. W. F. hegel, sought to remove the opposition between the two sources of valid knowledge in Kant, namely, the a priori forms of the subject and the material elements from reality itself. Hence they explained knowledge by the knowing Ego alone, thus reducing being to knowing. The most complete statement of this form of idealism is Hegel's. For Hegel truth is dialectically (i.e., by a synthesis of oppositions) evolving reason, realizing itself first as external nature, then as the human spirit, and finally as the absolute idea of absolute truth. This necessary evolution of reason constitutes history. Hence in this non-relative sense truth is historical.

Contemporary directions. Existentialists such as S.A. kierkegaard, K. jaspers, G. marcel, and J. P. sartre, reacting to the impersonal nature of idealism, reject objective and universal truth as superficial and of no personal value (see existentialism). Truth in the real sense of the word is practical and subjective. Real truth reveals itself to man only in and as the exercise of his liberty of accepting himself in the authentic human situation. Hence real truth is personal truth: the truth by which one lives and to which one commits oneself.

M. Heidegger holds the truth of judgment, as the conformity of judgment to reality, to be truth only in a derived sense. Truth in the primary sense, which makes the truth of judgment possible, is the revelation through man's being of the "to be" of being as such. This revelation takes place historically under different forms, all of which are true. In this sense truth is historical (see M. Heidegger, Vom Wesen der Wahrheit, Frankfurt-am-Main 1943).

For pragmatists, such as C. S. peirce, W. james, and J. Dewey, a proposition is true when, once admitted, it leads to satisfactory results.

Marxism, the doctrine of K. marx and F. engels as developed by N. lenin and J. Stalin, applies the dialectic of Hegel to matter. The only reality is matter, which evolves dialectically with historical necessity in function of economic factors toward a classless society. All man's thoughts, desires, and activity are a result of economic needs. Truth therefore is pragmatic; it is the conformity of knowing to that which here and now most promotes evolution toward the Communist society.

Bibliography: m. j. adler, ed., The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World (Chicago 1952) 2:915938. r. eisler, Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe (Berlin 192730) 3:450471. g. gawlick, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (3d ed. Tübingen 195763) 6:151825. a. carlini, Enciclopedia filosofica 4:154960. a. fossatti, ibid. 4:156061. a. michel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique v. 15 (Paris 1950) 2:267587.

[f. p. o'farrell]


epistemology is concerned with the efforts of the human mind to attain true and certain knowledge; it seeks to establish and evaluate canons whereby such knowledge may be differentiated from the false and the dubious. Truth in human knowing is the concern also of logic, however, and thus, before analyzing truth from an epistemological point of view, it will be advantageous to explain how truth is treated in logic.

Truth in logic. As the science and the art that directs the mind in its reasoning process, logic is concerned in some way with truth. In its instrumental role, however, logic considers the correctness of the thought processes by which man knows things and judges and reasons about them. Thus logic aims directly at formal truth alone and can assure only the correct form of the mind's constructions; the matter or content with which such constructions are concerned remain outside its scope. It is possible, for example, to argue correctly from premises to a conclusion, attaining in the process formal correctness, and yet to miss material truth because the premises are false in their content. The truth that logic seeks, therefore, is a truth of method rather than one of content. This is well illustrated in the treatment of truth functions in symbolic logic (see logic, symbolic). In a complicated argument, logical relations may be seen more clearly and manipulated more easily and correctly if symbols, rather than involved verbal expressions, are used. Particularly is this so in verifying the investigations of the physical sciences, where mathematics is an important tool.

Truth of knowledge. The word truth (Lat. veritas, Gr. λήθεια) means in general some kind of agreement between thought and its object, between knowledge and that which is known. It is sometimes applied to things, and a thing is said to be true in the sense of ontological truth. In reference to speech, truth is called veracity, or moral truth, and is present when a person expresses what is in his mind. see truthfulness (veracity). But the primary meaning of the word refers to the truth of the intellect, the truth of thought as opposed to the derived notions of truth of being and truth of speech. St. Thomas Aquinas reminds his readers that Aristotle maintained that "the true is properly not in things but in the mind" (C. gent. 1.59; cf. Meta. 1027b 25) and accepts as a satisfactory definition of truth "the adequation of intellect and thing," a definition that some trace to isaac israeli and others to avicenna. Whatever its source, it has come to be generally used and is the most frequently cited definition.

Apprehension and Sense Knowledge. Since truth in its most general sense is a conformity of knowledge with its object, it is possible to apply the term truth to any knowledge, including simple apprehension and even sense knowledge, insofar as these are in genuine conformity with their respective objects. The intuitive contact of the senses with their proper objects guarantees the validity of sensory knowledge and thus its truth. So, too, intellectual knowledge in its apprehensive dimension, i.e., simply knowing what a thing is, is impervious to falsity and must attain what it knows as it is; therefore it must attain truth. In other words, the kind of truth associated with apprehensive knowledge at both the sensory and intellectual levels is assured by the necessary relationship that exists between the powers of knowledge and their respective objects. Truth in this sense is necessary and unavoidable; it is built into the cognitive operations themselves; which may not be false. This type of truth, however, even though naturally guaranteed, is as imperfect as the apprehensive knowledge of which it is a necessary and infallible property.

Judgment. Truth in its full significance is found only in the second act of the mind, the judgment. St. Thomas implies this when he states: "Truth, therefore, may be in the sense or in the intellect knowing what a thing is, as in a true thing, but not as a thing known is in the knower, as the word truth implies; for the perfection of the intellect is the true as known" (Summa theologiae 1a, 16.2). To understand why St. Thomas holds that truth formally taken is found only in the judgment, one must recognize that in apprehension the human mind grasps only bits and snatches of the real. Through his ideas and concepts man appropriates to himself isolated elements of reality, or single aspects of the things he knows, without putting these aspects and isolated elements together as they are found in nature. Only through a series of judgments does he begin the process of unifying this knowledge to bring it into conformity with the constitution of things in the world. The real problem of truth arises in the process of putting unity into these isolated impressions. When the intellect makes the unification in a way that corresponds to the actual unity found in the object known, the mind enunciates a statement that is true. When the enunciation is at variance with the mode of being found in reality, the result is falsity. St. Thomas refers to this when he says: "Of all the types of intellectual discourse, the true and false exist only in enunciation, because only enunciation signifies absolutely the intellectual conception in which the true and the false exist (In 1 perih. 7.4).

Composition and Division. The meaning of truth becomes clearer if it is kept in mind that the very possibility of truth is implicit in the difference between the two intellectual functions of apprehension and judgment. In apprehension the mind simply grasps an object and represents it to itself conceptually. In this function of conception, the mind has no alternative to presenting the object that stimulates it to produce its own vital act of knowing. But in judgment, the act of composing or dividing apprehended concepts, the mind's function is different. Here, consequent upon apprehension, is a dynamic act in which the intellect does not simply report the things it knows but goes on to say something about them. The product of this operation, called enunciation, alone possesses the quality of being true or false. Here the mind no longer depends solely on the object represented but produces something new and original, i.e., a composition or division contributed by itself. It is this original element, a new unity, that opens up the possibility of truth or falsity. Truth is the property possessed by an enunciation that expresses a composition or division that is conformed to the real. falsity arises when the mind reassembles the aspects of the real in a way out of conformity with the actual mode that exists in reality.

Habits for attaining truth. "The true is the good of the intellect and the false its evil" (C. gent. 1.61). Thus the human mind is made to know truth, and "its ultimate perfection, according to the philosophers, is to have inscribed within it the entire order of the universe and its causes" (De ver. 2.2). Moreover, "although no man can attain to perfect apprehension of truth, yet no one is so completely deprived of it as not to know any at all. The knowledge of truth is easy in the sense that immediately known principles, by means of which we come to truth, are evident for all men" (In 2 meta. 1.275). Thus the pursuit of truth, the natural occupation of man, is not left to man's choice or inclination; there are certain basic truths that all men who begin to think must know. These are called first principles and may be exemplified in the first principle of all, viz, "being cannot be nonbeing," and in the first principle of arithmetic, "a whole is equal to the sum of its parts." Self-evident principles of this type are the source of all science and wisdom. The human intellect does not learn them, nor does it assume them; it arrives at them naturally and necessarily once it grasps the terms that make them up. The mind thus initially attains truth and certitude by knowing first principles; it then proceeds from these to conclusions. This does not mean that all knowledge can be deduced from these principles, but only that these principles must be admitted at least implicitly and then applied to experience before anything else can be deduced.

Understanding. The human intellect possesses a habit called understanding (intellectus) that is not properly innate but is gained by one act, the act by which it grasps the principle of contradiction. This act assures its first grasp of truth and necessitates its assent to immediate evidence. From further material supplied by the senses the intellect goes on to perceive other first principles that form the basis for each special field of knowledge. The precise way in which these primary judgments are formed is analyzed by St. Thomas at the very beginning of his treatise on truth (De ver. 1.1). These judgments are the primary mental assents at which the mind arrives in its inspection of reality, in terms of both the general modes of being common to all things, and the special modes of being proper to the different kinds of things encountered in experience. The judgments that relate to the general modes of being concern the transcendentals and are the source of all the principles and conclusions of metaphysics. The judgments that relate to the special modes concern the categories of being and are the sources of the principles and conclusions of the special sciences. The ultimate test of any fact is always experience itself, but the ultimate test of the truth of any judgment is the analytic resolution of that judgment back to first principles (see analysis and synthesis). St. Thomas states simply: "There is never falsity in the intellect if the resolution to first principles be rightly carried out" (De ver. 1.12).

There is, then, a minimum of truth that each man must possess, at least implicitly, and from which he may (though he need not) proceed to all other truths within the scope of his experience. In the speculative order, the habit by which this minimum is known is called understanding; in the practical order, the corresponding habit is referred to as synderesis. St. Thomas makes the distinction: "Just as there is a natural habit of the human soul through which it knows principles of the speculative sciences, which we call understanding, so too there is in the soul a natural habit of first principles of action which are the universal principles of the natural law. This habit pertains to synderesis" (De ver. 16.1).

Science and Wisdom. To assist man in the attainment of truth there are two other intellectual habits: one, called science (scientia), provides skill in moving intellectually from principles to conclusions; the other, called wisdom, disposes the intellect rightly to regard conclusions drawn from first principles and causes that are ultimate.

These two habits, themselves based on the habit of understanding, are indispensable for the proper operation of the intellect. Since they dispose the mind to attain truth, they are perfect qualities and therefore virtues (see virtue). Science and wisdom do not differ as being opposed or as regarding entirely different objects; rather, wisdom includes science and adds something to it. Science proceeds from any cause whatever, whereas wisdom proceeds only from ultimate causes. The habit of science, moreover, is concerned only with conclusions, whereas the habit of wisdom is concerned with principles also. It explains and defends both its own principles and those of the other sciences. One of the supreme works of wisdom is to contemplate the order connecting all truths and to show how these are derived from the first truth.

Awareness of truth. Men have always been concerned with the question how anyone can know that his judgment is true. In fact, the motive prompting the study of epistemology or of the critique of knowledge is that men are generally aware of their proneness to error; they are conscious of the ease with which the false can be mistaken for the true.

Egocentric Predicament. The problem is further complicated by the fact that truth and error are relationships that exist between thought and reality. To examine these relationships critically one must have a simultaneous grasp of the enunciation and that to which the enunciation refers. This seemingly simple requirement lays a trap for the unwary, into which not a few epistemologists fall because of their impoverished conception of knowledge. In their view, the process of knowing resembles what occurs when a camera takes a picture; the test of truth, for them, consists of comparing the picture with the reality to see how closely the two correspond. The attempt to apply this photographic analysis to knowledge runs into difficulties, however, since knowledge is involved in the very act of comparison, there is no way of attaining to reality apart from the knowing act itself. This situation, frequently called the egocentric predicament, has often been alleged as a reason why some form of idealism in epistemology is necessary. The difficulty here is actually the misconception of knowledge itselfthe reduction of what is really a vital and immaterial action to mere mechanical copying. Such a misconception makes any satisfactory answer impossible because it raises only false problems. The real problem can be solved only in the context of a sound psychology of knowledge.

On this general problem St. Thomas observes: "There is truth and falsity only in the second operation of the mind, in which the intellect not only has the likeness of the thing understood but also reflects upon it, knowing it and judging it" (In 6 meta. 4.1236). Here are noted the basic elements that make up a judgment. First there is the likeness of the object, which in this case is complex, being made up of subject and predicate; second there is the reflection, the intellectual consideration of the mental content; and third there is the knowing of the conformity, i.e., the consciousness that what the mind has grasped in its act of composing or dividing corresponds to what exists in reality. Formal certitude can be present only when the intellect knows itself to be conformed to the real. This can come only from a process of reflection on the content grasped by the mind in its act of apprehension. Such reflection, which is really a resolution back to reality, is psychologically complex because of man's nature and his connatural mode of knowing. Ultimately, to recognize conformity or its absence involves returning reflectively to the phantasms from which the ideas were derived, and finally to the senses themselves, which are in direct contact with extramental reality. As St. Thomas notes: "All our knowledge in its origin consists in becoming aware of the first indemonstrable principles. Our knowledge of these arises from sense experience" (De ver. 10.6).

Known Conformity. The ultimate test of truth is thus the reflective resolution by which the mind goes back to the thing as it really is. And the element to be emphasized here is that there is a genuine known conformity between mind and object insofar as the conformity can be traced back to its origin in the object as originally known. All the data come from sense ultimately; not only are concepts derived from sense but the connection or nexus between them also is sense-derived. This connection is already present in the apprehension and the related phantasm. The function of the intellect in the process of judging is to assent or to deny the connection as being in accord with the objective structure of the object in reality, i.e., to pronounce: so it is, or so it is not. In this act of judging nothing quidditative is added to what was represented by the apprehension. What is contributed is an assertion about the mode of the thing's existence.

The truth value of the judgment is thus based on a known conformity, which means that the judgment not only represents the object as complex but enunciates the objectivity of the connection represented in the very complexity. This enunciation, itself the heart of the judgment, can exhibit a known conformity precisely because the mind is simultaneously aware both of the complex object and of itself in its ability to understand and encompass the thing as it exists in reality. Only on this basis can the mind pronounce the judgment. The mental act of composing or dividing does not simply affirm that the predicate belongs to the subject. This relationship has already been perceived in the simple apprehension. What the judgment asserts is the awareness of the mind that the complexity enunciated is conformed to the mode in which the object actually exists and that the intellect is aware of its ability to grasp things as they really are. Here is the crucial point the idealists miss. Here also is the existential element that is a necessary component of every judgment.

Objectivity and Existence. The dynamic assertion in the judgment differs from the representation of the object in simple apprehension in that, in the former, the reflective power of the mind simultaneously grasps the two poles of the process, i.e., itself knowing and the objective structure of the thing known. This reflective procedure is neither unusual nor something to which the mind has to force itself. It is rather a natural tendency of the intelligence, a natural curiosity that is stimulated whenever the intellect faces an object that is not completely or satisfactorily known. When the natural tendency of the mind is fulfilled in seeing and asserting a positive relationship between the two elements in the apprehended complexity, a positive judgment results. When the relationship is seen to be contradictory, a negative judgment is made, with the mind denying the objectivity of any positive nexus between the predicate and the subject because it sees that the connection is not there in reality. Finally, it is possible that the mind's tendency remain unactualized when intelligibility is absent. In this case no judgment occurs, even though a composite concept has presented the two elements together. But the mind sees that their relationship in reality is not intelligible, and therefore makes no judgment. What must be stressed is that, while the objectivity of the content is guaranteed by its derivation from sense experience, the motive for the intellectual affirmation is not the sense apprehension. The motive is rather the intelligibility of the connection seen in the object, and the simultaneous intuition of the intellect as a power able to understand and encompass the thing in its existence and objective structure. It is in this sense that the judgment is concerned with existence.

Every judgment, therefore, of its nature has an existential component, and because of this it has a guaranteed objectivity. This does not mean that every judgment is automatically true. It happens frequently that the intellect misses part of the evidence, or mistakes partial evidence for total, or misconceives the significance of the evidence. Whenever such situations occur, the result is error and the possibility of false judgment. Even though the mind of man was made for truth, except in the case of first principles it can fail in its efforts to attain truth. Yet the pursuit of truth can be successful in many areas. Proceeding from first principles, the mind of man can reach true conclusions, but not always immediately or easily. It is for this reason that it must be fortified by the habits of understanding, science, and wisdom.

Other theories of truth. Theories contradicting the view of truth presented here usually have their roots in metaphysical and psychological doctrines that deny the basic Thomistic theses concerning being, existence, the spirituality of man's soul, the immateriality of his intellect, etc. Only if this be kept in mind do any of these theories make sense in light of the foregoing.

Intellectualist Theories. Among the intellectualist theories may be noted those associated with R. descartes and with H. spencer. Descartes maintained that after doubting everything he was finally unable to doubt his own existence, for he saw very clearly that in order to think he must exist. From this he derived the general rule that the things man conceives clearly and distinctly must be true. As far as this test goes it is correct, for the clearly perceived nature contained in the judgment is really the adequate ground for asserting its truth. It was Spencer's thought, on the other hand, that through an evolutionary process the intellectual dispositions of the human race have been so conditioned by gradually accumulated and inherited experiences that the mind is unable to conceive the opposite of that to which it has become accustomed. The evolutionary hypothesis aside, there is a partial truth in the theory of the inconceivability of the opposite, but it is stated in a negative and misleading way. One does not see judgments as true became he cannot conceive the opposite; rather he is unable to conceive the opposite because he sees his judgments to be necessarily true.

Another test of truth, offered by G. W. F. hegel and his followers, is the theory of coherence or consistency. Rooted in the metaphysics of idealistic monism, this view assumes that thought and thing, the real and the ideal, are all fundamentally identical in the absolute. There is no genuine dualism and thus no extramental reality with which a judgment can be compared. Hence the truth of a proposition must be its coherence with the whole system of knowledge, that is, the harmony of all judgments with one another. The proponents of this theory are quite ready to admit that the mere consistency of one judgment with another does not necessarily bespeak truth and that it is possible to have even a conformity among a limited set of judgments without having truth. But they insist that truth consists in the wider conformity of the whole system of accepted judgments. Once this is recognized, they are willing even to accept the definition of truth as the conformity of the mind judging with the reality judged, since, for them, reality is nothing more than the whole system of judgments. Truth, then, consists in this coherence throughout the entire system, and the criterion of truth is the consistency of any judgment with the entire system.

This view without doubt contains a partial truth, but it also implies much that is false and inadequate. Consistency and coherence are certainly a negative criterion of truth in the sense that truth cannot contradict truth; of two contradictories, moreover, one at least must be false. But the fact remains that both may be false and that any series of judgments may be totally compatible and yet totally untrue. Besides this, it becomes clear on examination that consistency and coherence, even as a negative test, have no value apart from evidential being itself. For if a judgment be rejected as false because of its lack of compatibility with other judgments, this can occur only because the incompatibility is clearly seen, and thus one comes back to evidential being. Seeming incompatibility between a new judgment and a judgment already maintained can only be the cause of further reflection or of more complete investigation to discover which one is to be accepted. The only basis for a decision in any case will ultimately be the evidence available for either.

The theory of consistency maintains that a judgment is true if it conforms to other judgments. This criterion is rejected by those who insist that truth is more properly contained in a judgment that is conformed to reality. Reality itself is not to be identified with the sum total of judgments already known, for it may be that a particular reality is known solely through this individual judgment. It is true, of course, that any judgment based on mediate evidence will be in conformity with knowledge already possessed; yet this cannot be so for all judgments, and certainly not for those that are self-evident. Otherwise knowledge could never begin; it would always require a point of reference in other judgments. This theory, therefore, is as unsatisfactory as the idealistic monism in which it has its roots.

Anti-Intellectualist Theories. Contemporary pragmatism and instrumentalism, which offer the best illustrations of anti-intellectualist theories of truth, are associated with the names of C. S. Peirce, W. James, and J. Dewey. Dewey's idea of truth is in harmony with his general notion that reality is in flux and is to be identified with becoming rather than with being. Truth in this view is something relative; it has reference to a changing reality. Things are never true in themselves but only in their application to existential situations. Since the only test here is experimental verification, Dewey says that truth means verification, either actual or possible. His theory is one of correspondencenot a static but an operational correspondence.

Actually, in discussing truth and verification, Dewey uses the terms equivocally. In the Thomistic theory, truth is inseparable from being; if there is no being, there is no truth. In a world of pure becoming there can be no question of truth, for becoming without being is unintelligible. Thus, for the Thomist, Dewey's truth is unintelligible. Even the shift to verification does not help; for if truth consists in making sure experimentally, then there must be some standard of surety and ultimately some absolute. Without such a standard there is no possibility of verification: all that is possible is a series of guesses. In general, pragmatic epistemology shares in the inadequacy of pragmatic philosophy. Such a philosophy canonizes the empirical method, effects a reduction to sensism, and amounts to a denial of intellect. While supremely concerned with the practical, it neglects the speculative on which the practical is based, and offers no substantial base from which the changing and the ephemeral must ultimately be judged.

See Also: certitude; epistemology; knowledge.

Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Truth, tr. r. w. mulligan et al., 3 v. (Chicago 195254). l. m. rÉgis, Epistemology, tr. i. c. byrne (New York 1959). j. maritain, Distinguish to Unite; or, The Degrees of Knowledge, tr. g. b. phelan (New York 1959). f.d. wilhelmsen, Man's Knowledge of Reality (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1956). t. gilby, Phoenix and Turtle: The Unity of Knowing and Being (New York 1950). l. rougier, Traité de Connaissance (Paris 1955) 435442. p. prini, Enciclopedia filosofica 2:813840.

[g. c. reilly]


The following analysis of ontological truth treats of intelligibility as a property of being, the intelligibility of finite beings as caused by God's creative intellect, the analogy of ontological truth, and Subsistent Truth as the origin of all truth, both epistemological and ontological.

Intelligibility as a property of being. The truth of man's intellection depends on being as such; it is caused by being. But being does not really depend on intellection. Being founds intellection; intellection does not found being. Hence intellection is really related to being in a relationship of conformity or of measure. Man cannot think his intellection as really related to being without by that very fact thinking being as relatedby a relation of reasonto his intellect as intellect. Being as standing in relation of conformity to the intellect is being as true, as founding truth. A relation of conformity to the intellect is what is expressed by the word intelligible. Hence being as true, or the ontologically true, is being as intelligible. By the very fact that man thinks, he thinks being, and insofar as he thinks being, he affirms implicitly that being is necessarily intelligible. He affirms that being as such and the intelligible as such are really identical.

Since being as such and the intelligible as such are identical, the act of being (esse ) and intelligibility or ontological truth are identical. Hence everything that possesses the act of being, insofar as it does, possesses intelligibility. Or everything that is, insofar as it is, is intelligible. Or every being as being is ontologically true. What is excluded from intelligibility is excluded from being (see intelligibility, principle of).

Intelligibility caused by God's intellect. Being as such includes everything that is, a plurality of particular beings, each of which has its own act of being and exists with others in the one order of being. Hence each particular being has the same ultimate ontological explanation, i.e., the one Uncaused Cause of the act of being. This cause is the subsisting and therefore infinite act of being, God.

Every being therefore is because God has freely willed it to be. If it were not freely willed, God would depend on it and hence could not be infinite, nor God. Freely to will something to be presupposes the knowledge or idea of that which is so willed. Hence each particular being presupposes its idea in the mind of God. God, willing this or that reality to be, conforms this or that reality to the idea in His mind or realizes the idea in reality.

The example most helpful in understanding this creative action of God is that of the artist. When Michelangelo executed in the Sistine Chapel his painting of Adam, he wished to realize his conception, his idea of the newly created Adam. The painting of Adam exists because Michelangelo freely decided to paint it. The painting depended on the idea in Michelangelo's mind to be what it is; it has its intelligibility, therefore, from the mind of Michelangelo. It is essentially true by dependence on his mind and is the realization of his idea outside himself. When someone contemplates that painting of Adam, he conforms his mind to it and hence, through the medium of the painting, conforms his mind to Michelangelo's.

To apply this example to God's creative action, one must remove the imperfection that the example implies. The surface of the ceiling on which Michelangelo painted existed independently of him and so continued to exist when Michelangelo died. Hence the configuration or conformity to Michelangelo's mind, which the surface of the ceiling received from his brush, once received, no longer depended on him. But no matter exists prior to the creative activity of the divine Artist. His action reaches not only to the surface of reality, but to the whole of reality, in its innermost fibers and in all the details of its being. Exactly as it is, and in all that it is, and in its ordination to its proper activity, the created being is the realization of God's idea. If it ceased to depend on God's idea, it would, by that very fact, cease to be. If God ceased to think it, it would immediately cease to be.

Hence every being, insofar as it is, is conformed to God's intellect. Its total intelligibility is received from God's intellect. Its intelligibility is identified with its act of being: it is intelligible. Hence every created being depends essentially on God's creative intellect; and the ontological truth of such a being is measured by God's intellect.

The possible is a possibility of being: only as a possibility of being is it intelligible. Why is the possible possible, i.e., why can God produce this form of being? Because God's act of being is imitable in this way or according to this mode of participation. Hence the intrinsic possibility of possibles, or the necessary truth of possibles, is founded in the necessity that God is. This necessity is the exclusion of nothingness or contradiction from being.

Again, contingent truth implies necessary truth. That James is, is true; but James need not have existed, had God not so willed. James's being denotes an ontological truth that need not have been and hence is contingent. Once he is, however, he is necessarily conformed to God's intellect and necessarily conformable to every other intellect. The contingent truth of James implies the necessary conformity of intellect and being. Further, when James is taking a stroll through the park, it is true to say that he is walking. When, however, he sits down to rest his limbs, it is no longer true to say that he is walking, but that he is sitting. The truth about James has changed in successive moments, not into falsehood, but into another truth (De ver. 1.6). Thus his truth is changeable insofar as his being is changeable. But his changeableness and the contingency of his truth imply once more the necessary conformity of being and intellect, without which James could neither be, nor be intelligible, nor even change. Hence no truth is so contingent that it does not presuppose and manifest necessary truth (ST 1a, 86.3).

Analogy of ontological truth. Every being, insofar as it is, is true by a relation of conformity or assimilation to the intellect. There are only three possible ways in which this assimilation of intellect and (finite) being can be brought about. Either one causes the other or another causes both, since a cause causing assimilates to itself. Hence either the intellect renders being similar to itself (God's creative knowledge); or being renders the intellect similar to itself (man's natural knowledge); or the intellect that renders being similar to itself, namely, God's, renders another intellect similar to being (angel's natural knowledge).

Practically considered, therefore, one can reduce to two the relationships of conformity to intellect that being as true denotes: the relationship to man's intellect and the relationship to God's. Being as true is being as actually conformed to God's intellect, on which it depends, and as conformable to man's intellect, on which it does not depend. The truth of being is constituted by God's intellect; it is manifested and not constituted by man's intellect. Being, therefore, is primarily true by relation to God's intellect, secondarily true in relation to man's intellect. Hence ontological truth, implying this secondary and primary sense, has a meaning that in the two cases is neither fully the same nor fully different; it has an analogical meaning (see analogy).

Considering ontological truth as that which has relation to the intellect, or as the intelligible, it is analogical in another sense, namely, in the same way as being is analogical. In his proofs for the existence of God (ST 1a, 2.3), St. Thomas argues from things that are more and less true to a most true; and these degrees of truth are identically those of being. His argument, therefore, means that intelligibility is a perfection that is verified in some beings more perfectly, in others less perfectly. This fact implies a being that is pure or subsisting intelligibility (see god, proofs for the existence of).

Subsistent truth. Because self-consciousness means consciousness of oneself as one is or has being, self-consciousness depends on consciousness of being as such. If, as in man's case, the self is not identically the plenitude of being, there is an opposition, or nonidentity, between the knower and being, which expresses itself in the opposition of subject and object. As a result of this opposition, man's knowing being is not simply being; or, in other words, in his knowing as knowing being, ontological truth and epistemological truth are opposed.

Hence his way of knowing, by its imperfection, reveals itself as limited in being and hence as caused by another Being. Or, man's way of knowing presupposes and depends on a Being whose way of knowing is not limited, viz, God.

God is identically self-consciousness and consciousness of being, since He is pure act of being, which is identically unlimited act of intellection. No other being except God is intelligibility (intelligibility is the act of being), and no other being except God is intellection (intellection is the act of knowing). Intelligibility is ontological truth; intellection is epistemological truth. Other beings besides God are ontologically true or have ontological truth, and in their cognition have epistemological truth. God alone is identically and unlimitedly ontological truth and epistemological truth. God, therefore, is subsisting truth: He is the self-thinking act of being.

From God as subsisting truth, as self-thinking act of being, all truth without exception is derived. Every finite being, insofar as it is, is caused by God; and insofar as it is, it is ontologically true. Hence all ontological truth is from God, who knowing Himself knows all that He can will to be, all that can be. Again, every finite being that is capable of intellection is as such created immediately by God, who fashions its intellect to know truth and thus ordains it and inclines it to the knowledge of truth as to its proper good. Hence its good, which is epistemological truth, is from God and is achieved under His inclination and cooperation (De ver. 1.8). Hence all epistemological truth is from God. God is the inner teacher without whose guidance and light no truth, even the most seemingly insignificant, would be discovered (De ver. 11.1).

See Also: double truth, theory of.

Bibliography: b. j. f. lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (New York 1957). l. de raeymaeker, The Philosophy of Being, tr. e. h. ziegelmeyer (St. Louis 1954). g. smith and l. kendzierski, The Philosophy of Being: Metaphysics. 1 (New York 1961). a. d. sertillanges, St. Thomas Aquinas and His Work, tr. g. anstruther (London 1933). É. h. gilson, Being and Some Philosophers (2nd ed. Toronto 1952). p. rousselot, The Intellectualism of Saint Thomas, tr. j. e. o'mahony (New York 1935). m. d. roland-gosselin, Essai d'une étude critique de la connaissance (Bibliothèque Thomiste 17; 1932). a. marc, Dialectic de l'affirmation: Essai de métaphysique réflexive (Paris 1952). j. marÉchal, Le Point de départ de la métaphysique, 5 v. (3rd ed. Paris 194449), v.5 (2nd ed.). j. deninger, "Wahres Sein" in der Philosophie des Aristoteles (Monographien zur philosophischen Forschung 25; Meisenheim am Glan 1961).

[f. p. o'farrell]


views updated May 14 2018


Theories of truth investigate truth as a property of one's thoughts and speech. We attribute truth and falsity to a wide variety of so-called truth-bearers : linguistic items (sentences, utterances, statements, and assertions), abstract items (propositions), and mental items (judgments and beliefs). What is the property we are attributing when we call a truth-bearer true? The question is crucial because of truth's involvement in central philosophical claims: For example, it is often said that truth is the aim of science, that the meaning of a sentence is given by the conditions under which it is true, that logical validity is the preservation of truth, or that ethical statements are neither true nor false. A proper understanding of truth promises to illuminate fundamental issues in metaphysics, the philosophy of language, logic, and ethics.

The two traditional theories of truth are the correspondence theory and the coherence theory. Further theories of truth have emerged since the last part of the nineteenth century, most notably the pragmatic theory, the identity theory, and the semantic theory. There has also been a reaction against the idea that truth has a substantive nature to uncover, which has led to markedly increased support for so-called deflationary theories of truth.

A different motivation for theorizing about truth is the challenge posed by the semantic paradoxes, especially the Liar paradox. Theories of truth prompted by the Liar tend to be concerned less with the nature of truth, and more with the logic and semantics of the predicate true. There has been surprisingly little contact between these two groups of theories (though see Priest, Beall, and Armour-Garb 2005).

The Correspondence Theory of Truth

According to the correspondence theory truth consists in correspondence to the facts. A truth-bearer (say, the proposition that snow is white) is true if and only if it corresponds to a fact (that snow is white). Broadly speaking, truth is a relational property between truth-bearers on the one side and the world on the other.

There is the suggestion of the correspondence account in Plato's Sophist (263b), where in Theaetetus's presence the Stranger contrasts the true statement "Theaetetus sits" with the false statement "Theaetetus flies": "The true one states about you the things that are as they are [w]hereas the false statement states about you things different from the things that are." In Categories Aristotle writes, "The fact of the being of a man carries with it the truth of the proposition that he is the truth or falsity of the proposition depends on the fact of the man's being or not being" (14b1422; see also 4b8). The correspondence idea may also be present in Aristotle's famous definition of truth, "To say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true" (Metaphysics Γ, 1011b25). Echoes of the Platonic-Aristotelian account are present in the Stoics and medieval philosophers (e.g., St. Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, and Jean Buridan), and many modern philosophers from René Descartes onward endorse the correspondence idea, though with little or no discussion.

A classic statement of the correspondence theory is given by G. E. Moore: To say of a given belief that it is true "is to say that there is in the Universe a fact to which it corresponds" (1953, p. 302). Moore takes it that we are all perfectly familiar with the relation of correspondence, "That there is such a relation, seems to me clear; all that is new about my definitions is that they concentrate attention upon just that relation, and make it the essential point in the definitions of truth and falsehood" (p. 304). Moore's remarks bring out both a strength and a weakness of the correspondence theory. The correspondence theory is the most natural account of truthit seems that no one need deny that a true belief corresponds to how things are. But this raises the suspicion that the correspondence theory is platitudinousto say that a truth-bearer corresponds to the facts is just an elaborate way of saying that it is true. There is no distinctive theory of truth unless more can be said about the correspondence relation. And Moore admits that he can offer no analysis of it; the best he can do, he says, is to "define it in the sense of pointing out what relation it is, by simply pointing out that it is the relation which does hold between this belief, if true, and this fact, and does not hold between this belief and any other fact" (p. 301).

Bertrand Russell (19061907, 1912/1959) attempts to shed light on the correspondence relation by arguing for a structural isomorphism or congruence between beliefs and facts. Beliefs and facts are structured complexes, and when a belief-complex is suitably congruent with a fact-complex, the belief is true. Consider Othello's belief that Desdemona loves Cassio. According to Russell, believing is a four-place relation; in the present case it is the cement that unites Othello, Desdemona, the loving relation, and Cassio into one complex whole. The last three items are what Russell calls the objects in the belief, and these objects are ordered in a certain way by the believing relation (Othello believes that Desdemona loves Cassio, not that Cassio loves Desdemona). Now consider another complex unity, Desdemona's love for Cassio, composed of the objects in Othello's belief. Here, the loving relation is the cement that binds together Desdemona and Cassio in the same order that they have in Othello's belief. If this complex unity exists, then it "is called the fact corresponding to the belief. Thus a belief is true when there is a corresponding fact, and is false when there is no corresponding fact" (p. 129).

Objections to the Correspondence Theory

It is central to Russell's elucidation that there is a structural congruence between the content of a true belief and the corresponding factfor example, between the proposition expressed by the sentence "Desdemona loves Cassio" and the fact that Desdemona loves Cassio. But sentences and the propositions they express come in a variety of logical structuresnegations, conditionals, universal generalizations, and so on. Are there, then, "funny facts": negative facts, hypothetical facts, universal facts, and other logically complex facts? It might seem that the real worldthe world of dated, particular events and things in specific spatial and temporal orderingsjust does not seem able to contain anything of this kind of complexity: negative, universal, or hypothetical situations, for example. We seem to be presented with a dilemma: either facts are too "linguistic," too closely tied to the logical structures of our language, or facts are worldly items that are not structurally congruent with the propositions we express.

Russell (1956) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (1922) go on to develop their philosophy of logical atomism, according to which there are no logically complex facts, only atomic facts. True propositions that are logically simple or atomic correspond to atomic facts, but logically complex true propositions no longer correspond to logically complex facts. Rather, complex propositions are recursively broken down into the simple propositions that compose them, and the truth of complex propositions is ultimately explained via the atomic facts to which true atomic propositions correspond. Difficulties remain, however: certain complex propositions, for example, "because" statements and subjunctives, are resistant to a recursive breakdown into simple components; and we can still ask whether universal facts are required for true universal generalizations, and negative facts for true negations. Despite these well-known problems, versions of logical atomism are not without their supporters (e.g., see Armstrong 1997). In a different vein J. L. Austin avoids "funny facts" by denying that correspondence is a matter of structural congruence, "There is no need whatsoever for the words used in making a true statement to 'mirror' in any way, however indirect, any feature whatsoever of the situation or event" (1999, p. 155)even a single word or simple phrase can correspond to a complex situation. Rather, correspondence is a correlation that is determined by our linguistic conventions: it is "absolutely and purely conventional" (p. 154).

A far-reaching and influential family of objections to the correspondence theory takes issue with a certain distinction of standpoints that the theory seems to imply. There is the standpoint we occupy when we judge, say, that there are cows in the garden, and then there is the standpoint we occupy when we determine whether our judgment is true. When we occupy this latter standpoint, the correspondence theory seems to require us to judge whether our judgment is appropriately related by correspondence to the facts. Gottlob Frege (1999) objects that there really is no further standpoint to take up, and no further judgment to makerather we should simply verify whether there are cows in the garden. This line of thought leads Frege to the conclusion that truth is undefinable; it also tends toward deflationism, since it may seem that truth drops out of the picture.

According to another line of objection, it is an illusion that we can have access to an unvarnished realm of facts with which to compare our judgment. Our knowledge of the world is mediated by our descriptions, interpretations, and judgments; we cannot step outside our own system of beliefs and compare those beliefs with "bare reality." Since the correspondence theory says that truth consists in correspondence to the facts, and those facts are inaccessible to us, we can never know that a judgment is true, and we are led to skepticism. Those who endorse this line of criticism typically associate the correspondence theory with metaphysical realism and advocate instead some form of antirealism and an "epistemic" account of truth, say, in terms of verification (like the logical positivists) or assertibility (see Dewey 1938, Dummett 1978).

The Coherence Theory of Truth

If we cannot judge a belief against the facts, perhaps we should judge it against our other beliefs: does it "hang together" with the rest of our beliefs? The coherence theorist says that the truth of a belief consists in its coherence with other beliefs. Given some favored coherent set of beliefs, the truth of any of its members consists in its membership in that setin this way the skeptic is disarmed, since truth no longer requires access to an independent realm of facts. Versions of the coherence theory have been attributed to Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (see by way of comparison Walker 1989), and the theory was championed by idealists, including Harold H. Joachim (1906) and Brand Blanshard (1939), at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. Joachim rejects Descartes' idea that we can know truths individually, "The ideal of knowledge for me is a system, not of truths, but of truth"; knowledge of an individual truth "is the smallest and most abstracted fragment of knowledge, a mere mutilated shred torn from the living whole in which alone it possessed its significance" (1906, p. 48). So Joachim advocates a thoroughgoing holistic view of knowledge and of truth, "Truth in its essential nature is that systematic coherence which is the character of a significant whole" (p. 50). The coherence theory was subsequently adopted by some logical positivists, notably Otto Neurath (1959), who, like Joachim, endorsed a holistic view of knowledge and truth, and combined it with the positivists' verificationist doctrine that no sense can be attached to a reality that goes beyond what can be verified or falsified by the empirical methods of science.

There are attractive features of the coherence theory. In favor of holism, we can say that statements like "The Enlightenment brought about the French Revolution" and "Neutrinos lack mass" cannot be understood in isolation from a good deal of history and science; and we do often test the truth of a statement against a large body of background statements. But the coherence theory is a theory of the nature of truth, not a theory of how we test for truth, and as such it has been the target of a number of objections. Russell (19061907), Moritz Schlick (1959), and others have argued that an arbitrary set of propositions, say, those of a fairy tale or a good novel, would count as a set of truths as long as the propositions cohere with one anotherwhere coherence is taken in the sense of consistency or compatibility. An appeal to comprehensiveness seems not to help the coherence theorist here: Given a coherent set of propositions however large, there will always be equally large coherent sets incompatible with it (and with each other). And placing restrictions on membership in the favored setfor example, admitting only our actual beliefs, or ideal beliefs held at the end of inquiryseems to tie truth less to coherence and more to the successful tracking of the facts. A further objection derives from Russell: Suppose we have a large, coherent set of propositions about, say, the nineteenth century, and suppose that we can coherently add the proposition that Bishop Stubbs wore episcopal gaiters. According to the coherence theory this proposition is true, in virtue of its membership in a coherent set. If we protest that we cannot be committed to its truth because we do not know whether it is true or false, then we are using true and false in a way that the coherence theorist does not recognize. The difficulty is compounded if we now run the argument with the proposition that Bishop Stubbs did not wear episcopal gaiters (further discussion of the coherence theory can be found in Putnam [1981], Blackburn [1984], Davidson [1984], and Walker [1989]).

The Pragmatic Theory of Truth

The pragmatic theory of truth is associated primarily with the American pragmatists Charles S. Peirce and William James, and their influence can still be felt in the work of, for example, Richard Rorty (1982) and Robert B. Brandom (1994). According to Peirce we are to understand any idea or object through its practical effects, "Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object" (1955b, p. 31).

Peirce applies his rule to the idea of reality : the practical effect that real things have on us "is to cause belief" (1955b, p. 36), and so the question is how to distinguish true belief from false belief. Peirce's answer is that the true beliefs are the ones to which we will all agree, and only the methods of science can realize the hope of reaching this consensus. Peirce writes, "This great hope is embodied in the conception of truth and reality. The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real. That is the way I would explain reality" (p. 38). This is not the independently existing reality associated with the correspondence theory: For Peirce, what is special about science is its ability to settle opinion, and reality is whatever settled opinion says it is.

James applies Peirce's rule directly to truth. The practical effects of true beliefs are successful actions, beneficial dealings with the world; truths are "invaluable instruments of action" (1907, p. 97), truths "pay " (p. 104). And so, in accordance with Peirce's rule, truth is what is useful, what "works." James places less emphasis than Peirce on consensus and scientific method (indeed, Peirce renamed his theory "pragmaticism" to distance it from James's version). James applies his theory to individuals' beliefs as well as collective beliefs, and religious and metaphysical beliefs as well as empirical ones (e.g., "On pragmatist principles, if the hypothesis of God works satisfactorily in the widest sense of the word, it is true" [p. 143]).

It is standardly objected that we can have beneficial false beliefs and detrimental true beliefs. My false belief that I play the violin beautifully may in fact improve my performance; my true belief that I do not may worsen it. James has the resources for a response. While "the true is only the expedient in our way of thinking," truth is the expedient in a strong sense, "expedient in the long run and on the whole of course" (1907, p. 106). We have to take the long view: I may perform well this time, but overall I will be better served by an accurate assessment of my talents. The long view must be taken not only of individuals' beliefs, but of whole theoriesPtolemaic astronomy was expedient for centuries (p. 107). "The 'absolutely' true, meaning what no farther experience will ever alter, is that ideal vanishing-point towards which we imagine that all our temporary truths will some day converge. Meanwhile we have to live today by what truth we can get today, and be ready tomorrow to call it falsehood" (pp. 106107).

Along with a controversial commitment to relativism, James presents here a holistic theme that may suit his pragmatism: It is perhaps more plausible that the truth of an entire system of belief, as opposed the truth of our beliefs taken individually, is a matter of its working for us. Taken this way, pragmatism may be seen as a version of the coherence theory. Still, a basic objection remains: It is plausible that a body of truths should be useful or coherent, but it does not follow that truth consists in utility or coherencea correspondence theorist will say that truths are useful and mutually coherent just because they correspond to the world.

The Identity Theory of Truth

Despairing of the correspondence theory, F. H. Bradley wrote, "if we are to advance, we must accept once for all the identification of truth with reality" (1999, pp. 3536). Here, Bradley seems to embrace the identity theory of truth: a truth does not correspond to a fact, but is identical to a fact (Bradley's view is discussed in Candlish 1995). Another influence is Frege's remark, "A fact is a true thought" (1999, p. 101), though Frege himself did not endorse the identity theory. Versions of the theory are defended by Jennifer Hornsby (1997) and Julian Dodd (2000). The theory may appear counterintuitive: If true mental itemstrue judgments or true beliefsare facts, then it seems that the mind contains facts, that mind and world are literally the same. It may also be argued that the theory is unstable, collapsing into deflationism or leading to the elimination of true judgments altogether"straight to thought's suicide," as Bradley puts it (1893, p. 150).

The Semantic Theory of Truth

The semantic theory of truth originates with the mathematician and logician Alfred Tarski (19301931/1983, 1999). Tarski sought a definition of truth that was formally correct and met the following constraint: It must imply all sentences of the form exemplified by

"Aardvarks amble" is true if and only aardvarks amble,

that is, all sentences of the form: p is true if and only if p. These so-called T-sentences are so basic to truth, Tarski thought, that they must follow logically from any adequate definitionin this way, he said, we do justice to Aristotle's definition (see the previous discussion). Indeed, Tarski regarded each T-sentence as a "partial definition" of truth, and if we were dealing with a finite language (in the sense that it contains only finitely many sentences), we need only list all the associated T-sentences for a complete definition of truth for that language (see 19301931/1983, pp. 251253). But since Tarski was after a definition of truth for formal languages that were infinitary, such a list is not feasible. So instead Tarski provided a recursive definitionnot of truth, though, but of the more basic notion of satisfaction. In the simplest kind of case, satisfaction is a relation between an object and a predicatefor example, a London bus satisfies the predicate is red. Satisfaction is defined recursively, first for predicates (of a given language) that exhibit no logical complexity, and second for those that do. Tarski then defined truth in terms of satisfaction. The result was a definition of truth for formal languages that was formally precise and implied the T-sentences.

It is remarkable that both correspondence theorists and deflationists have found Tarski's account congenial. Correspondence theorists are drawn to satisfaction as a word-world relation and to the possibility that the correspondence relation between a sentence and a fact can be broken down into relations between parts of sentences (predicates and names) and the things they refer to (e.g., Devitt 1991). This raises the hope that correspondence is no more mysterious than the semantic relations between predicates and names and their referents. Deflationists, in particular disquotationalists, are drawn to the idea that the T-sentences say all there is to say about truth, as will be seen later on. Tarski himself emphasized the neutrality of his theory: "We may accept the semantic conception of truth without giving up any epistemological attitude we may have had; we may remain naïve realists, critical realists or idealists, empiricists or metaphysicianswhatever we were before. The semantic conception is completely neutral toward all these issues" (1999, p. 140).

Tarski's aim was not to uncover the nature of truth, but to place the concept of truth beyond suspicion. On the one hand, he thought, truth is fundamental to science, logic, and metamathematics; on the other hand, truth has an "evil reputation" because of its involvement with the Liar paradox. Tarski's aim was to find a way of defining truth in terms that no one could question:

The definition of truth, or of any other semantic concept, will fulfil what we intuitively expect from every definition; that is, it will explain the meaning of the term being defined in terms whose meaning appears to be completely clear and unequivocal. And, moreover, we have then a kind of guarantee that the use of semantic concepts will not involve us in any contradictions. (1999, p. 127)

Anyone wishing to turn Tarski's definition into a fully general account of truth faces a number of obstacles. Tarski defined truth only for regimented, formal languages, not for natural languages like English; the definition is a definition of truth for a given language, not for truth simpliciter ; and the definition, according to Hartry Field (1972), fails to explain truth since it merely reduces truth to further semantic notions that are not themselves adequately explained.

Deflationary Theories of Truth

Deflationists say that "substantive" theories of truthsuch as the correspondence and coherence theoriesare radically misguided: there is no substantive property of truth to theorize about. According to Frank Ramsey truth is redundant, "It is evident that 'It is true that Caesar was murdered' means no more than that Caesar was murdered" (1999, p. 106). Truth is less easily eliminated from generalizations like "Everything Socrates says is true," but Ramsey argues that it can be done (p. 106). The word true disappears, and any reason to investigate the nature of truth disappears along with it. According to a more sophisticated version of the redundancy theory, the prosentential theory of truth (Grover, Camp, and Belnap 1975), the word true is not even a genuine predicate, but a mere component of prosentences. If I say "That is true" in response to a claim of yours, I have produced not a sentence but a prosentence, referring back to your sentence just as the pronoun he may refer back to the name John. We might think of "That is true" as hyphenated, with no more internal structure than the pronoun he. On the prosentential view, true does not survive as a discrete property-denoting predicate. P. F. Strawson's (1949) variant of the redundancy theory attributes to true a performative role: we use true not to pick out a property, but to perform speech-acts such as endorsing, agreeing, and conceding.

Disquotationalists also ascribe to true a role different from that of ordinary predicates. According to the disquotational theory of truthchampioned by W. V. Quine (1970) and further developed and defended by Field (e.g., see 1994)to say that a sentence is true is really just an indirect way of saying the sentence itself. There really is no more to the truth of the sentence "Penguins waddle" than is given by the Tarskian T-sentence

"Penguins waddle" is true if and only if penguins waddle,

and the totality of T-sentences tells the whole story about truth. This prompts the question: Why not dispense with the truth predicate in favor of direct talk about the world? The disquotationalist will respond by pointing to generalizations such as "Every sentence of the form 'p or not p' is true" (see Quine 1970, pp. 1013). In such a case we could dispense with the truth predicate only if we could produce an infinite conjunction of sentences of the form "p or not p": "Aardvarks amble or aardvarks do not amble, and bison bathe or bison do not bathe, and ." But we cannot produce infinitely long sentences. So to achieve the desired effect, we generalize over sentences, and then, via the truth-predicate, bring them back down to earth by disquoting them. The truth-predicate is a device for disquotation. Despite surface appearances, true does not denote a property or relationit is a logical device. So there is no property of truth to explore and no work for truth to do beyond its logical role.

The disquotational theory takes the truth-bearers to be sentences, and this raises a concern about the scope of the theory (for further concerns, see David 1994). Suppose that on the authority of others I believe that Dmitri is always right, though I speak no Russian. I say, with apparent understanding, "What Dmitri says is true." But according to disquotationalism understanding what I have said is just a matter of understanding what Dmitri said; and since I cannot understand what Dmitri said, I cannot understand what I have said. Disquotationalists typically relativize their theory to the sentences of a given natural language such as English. And since an English speaker will not understand every sentence of English, some disquotationalists recognize the need to go further and restrict the theory to the sentences of a given speaker's idiolect (those sentences that the speaker understands). This seems to lead us away from the commonsensical notion of truthordinarily, it seems, we can apply the notion of truth to foreign sentences, and to sentences of English that we do not yet understand. In short, the concept of truth seems not to depend on the sentences that a speaker happens to understand at a given time. The challenge to the disquotationalist (taken up by Field and others) is to ease the counterintuitive restrictions on disquotational truth in ways that do not compromise the theory.

These difficulties for disquotationalism might motivate a different choice of truth-bearerpropositions instead of sentences. Paul Horwich (1998) presents a minimal theory of truth, according to which a complete account of truth is given by the propositional analogues of Tarski's T-sentences:

The proposition that aardvarks amble is true if and only aardvarks amble; The proposition that bison bathe is true if and only if bison bathe,

and so on, ad infinitum. Far from being restricted to speakers' idiolects, true applies to all propositions, including those expressed by sentences we do not understand. But now there is a new set of concerns. First, since we do not understand every proposition, we will understand only a fraction of the axioms that compose the minimal theoryand so our grasp of truth must always remain partial. Second, since the minimal theory describes truth in a piecemeal way, for each proposition individually, it does not include any generalizations about truth. So it may be objected that the theory cannot explain generalizations such as "Only propositions are true"the theory does not tell us what is not true, so it does not rule out, for example, the absurdity that the Moon is true. (For more on this objection, see Anil Gupta [1993]; Christopher S. Hill [2002] offers a version of minimalism that is responsive to it.) Third, consider the form shared by Horwich's axioms: the proposition that p is true if and only p. To obtain an axiom, we must be careful to replace each occurrence of p by English tokens of the same sentence-type, with the same meaning. But now sentences appear to be back in the picturetogether with the substantive semantic notion of meaning, which may not be as free of involvement with truth as minimalism requires.

This last remark relates to a general challenge faced by all forms of deflationism. Deflationists typically focus on uses of true such as "'Aardvarks amble' is true," or "Most of what Socrates says is true"what we may call first-order uses, where true applies to a particular truth-bearer or a set of truth-bearers. But true is also used in other ways: for example, consider the claim that the meaning of a sentence is given by its truth-conditions or the claim that to assert is to put forward as true. These uses of true, call them second order, purport to explain meaning and assertion. Unlike first-order uses, they do not apply to any particular truth-bearers, and so it is not easy to see how they might be treated as redundant and eliminable or given a merely disquotational role. These second-order uses must be explained. Moreover, the deflationist must show that it is possible to explain meaning and assertion (and many other concepts apparently related to truth, such as validity, belief, verification, explanation, and practical success) in terms that assign to truth a limited logical role or no role at all.

Theories of Truth and the Liar

One version of the Liar paradox is generated by the self-referential sentence:

(1) (1) is false.

Suppose that (1) is true, then what it says is the case, and so (1) is false. On the contrary, suppose that (1) is falsethen since that is what (1) says it is, (1) is true. A contradiction is reached either way and we are landed in paradox.

Hierarchical theories of truth have perhaps been the orthodox response to the Liar. Let L0 be a fragment of English that does not contain the predicate true. Let true-in-L0 be the truth predicate for L0, holding of exactly the true sentences of L0. If true-in-L0 is itself a predicate of L0, then we can construct the Liar paradox in L0 via the sentence "This sentence is not true-in-L0." Accordingly, the predicate true-in-L0 is confined to a richer metalanguage for the object language L0. But on pain of the Liar, this metalanguage cannot contain its own truth predicate; for that a further metalanguage is needed. In this way a hierarchy of languages is generated, each language beyond L0 containing the truth predicate for the preceding language. By a celebrated theorem of Tarski's (19301931/1983), no classical formal language can contain its own truth predicate, and we are led to a hierarchy of formal languages. Some have carried over this result to natural languages as a way of dealing with the Liar, though Tarski did not endorse this move. Russell's hierarchical approach was embodied in his theory of types and orders (1967). It is often complained that hierarchical approaches force an unnatural regimentation on a natural language like English; Russell himself at one time called the approach "harsh and highly artificial."

Another kind of approach abandons classical semanticsusually it is the principle of bivalence ("Every sentence is true or false") that is rejected. If we can motivate the existence of truth-value gaps, then we can say that (1) is neither true nor false and avoid the contradiction. Saul Kripke's (1975) influential theory of truth takes Liar sentences to be "gappy" because they are ungrounded : any attempt to evaluate a Liar sentence leads only to sentences involving true or false in the case of (1), we are repeatedly led back to (1) itself. Kripke constructs a language that, remarkably, contains its own truth and falsity predicates. It cannot, however, accommodate the predicates "is false or gappy" or "not true"and so ultimately we cannot dispense with a hierarchy.

The revision theory of truth (Gupta and Belnap 1993) is formally a variant of Kripke's theory, but provides a distinctive way of explaining the meaning of truth. Truth is taken to be a circular concept, and the revision theory describes how its meaning is given by the Tarskian T-sentences via a dynamic process that, through systematic revisions, provides better and better approximations of the extension of true.

Contextual theories of truth are motivated by so-called strengthened reasoning about the Liar. Start with a Liar sentence, say,

(2) (2) is not true.

Reasoning in the usual way, we will find that (2) is pathological. But then we may infer

(3) (2) is not true.

Now (2) and (3) are composed of the same words with the same meanings, and yet one is pathological and the other is true. Contextual theorists claim that this change in truth status without a change in meaning is best explained by a contextual shift (compare "I'm hungry" said before dinner and "I'm hungry" said after dessert). Most contextual theories are hierarchical (e.g., Burge 1979, Barwise and Etchemendy 1987), though Keith Simmons (1993) develops a suggestion of Kurt Gödel's, according to which an unstratified concept of truth applies everywhere except for certain singularities.

Any purported solution to the Liar faces the so-called Revenge Liara version of the Liar couched in the terms of the solution. Truth-value gap approaches must deal with the Liar sentence "This sentence is false or gappy," hierarchical approaches with "This sentence is not true at any level," and contextual theories with "This sentence is not true in any context." With no agreed-on solution in sight, and with the constant threat of Revenge Liars, some have concluded that we must cut the Gordian knot and embrace the contradictions associated with the Liar. According to dialetheists such as Graham Priest (1987) there are sentences that are both true and false, and among them are the Liar sentences (for critical discussions of dialetheism, see Priest, Beall, and Armour-Garb 2004). Besides meeting the obvious charge of counterintuitiveness, dialetheists must underwrite their theory with a plausible paraconsistent logic (a logic that challenges the principle that everything follows from a contradiction) and ensure that dialetheism is not itself vulnerable to a Revenge Liar.

See also Meaning; Semantics.


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Keith Simmons (2005)


views updated May 23 2018


The concept of truth is central to Western philosophical thought, especially to such branches of philosophy as metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of language. In particular, the correspondence theory of truth has long been associated with a realist metaphysics, according to which objects exist independently of cognition by the human mind. Alternatives to the correspondence theory have, by contrast, been associated with antirealist metaphysics.

The Correspondence Theory: Ancient and Modern

The correspondence theory of truth holds that a belief or proposition is true when it corresponds to the way the world is. The theory originated with Plato (c. 428348 or 347 b.c.e.) and held the stage in Western theories of truth through the eighteenth century. At Theaetetus 188c189b, Plato considered what is sometimes called the "existence" theory of truth: true opinion is thinking what is, while false opinion is thinking what is not (pp. 893895). Plato dismissed this view of false opinion on the ground that to think what is not is to think nothing, and this is no more possible than to see nothing. At Sophist 240d241a and 260c263d, Plato proposed an alternative theory of truth designed to circumvent this difficulty: a thought resembles a sentence in consisting of a noun and a verb, and one's thought can be about something even though it is false because the noun refers to an object while the verb misdescribes this object (pp. 984, 10071011). This is a correspondence theory in the sense that truth requires that the truth bearer concatenate a noun and verb just as the object to which the noun refers has the property expressed by the verb.

At De Interpretatione 16a1019, Aristotle (384322 b.c.e.) endorsed Plato's Sophist point against the existence theory when he proposed that truth and falsity require names and verbs in combination or separation (p. 25). His definition of truth at Metaphysics 7, 1011b26ff is committed to complex truth bearers: "To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true " (pp. 15971598).

The Stoics also offered a correspondence theory: "They [the Stoics] say that a true proposition [ axioma ] is that which is and is contradictory to something" (Sextus Empiricus, p. 203). However, the Stoics parted with Aristotle in defending the principle of bivalence, that there are only two truth values, true and false. St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 12241274) said that "truth is primarily in intellect; and secondarily in things, by virtue of a relation to intellect as to their origin" (p. 63).

Philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries also accepted the correspondence definition of truth, but they differed from their ancient and medieval predecessors in emphasizing that the definition has no utility as a criterion of truth, that is, as a means to judge whether given propositions are true. René Descartes (15961650) conceded that "the word truth, in the strict sense, denotes the conformity of thought with its object" (p. 65). But he denied that this definition is useful for clarifying or explaining the concept: "it seems a notion so transcendentally clear that nobody can be ignorant of it" (p. 65); a definition can only cause confusion. He offered clear and distinct perception as a criterion of truth.

Baruch Spinoza (16321677) expressly applied true to ideas in Ethics : "A true idea must agree with its object" (p. 410). The axiom is used to show that reason regards things as necessary.

John Locke (16321704) endorsed the Platonic-Aristotelian view that true applies strictly to truth bearers of subject-predicate formto propositions, in particular. He did not, however, formulate a correspondence definition of true proposition. Instead, he offered an account of the conditions in which truth is ascribed to ideas. Though ideas do not have a subject-predicate form and are thus not strictly true, one nevertheless ascribes truth to them in a manner that derives from one's "tacit supposition of their conformity to" their object (p. 514). When I ascribe truth to an idea belonging to another individual, I say that the idea is true when I suppose it conforms to my idea; and when I ascribe truth to my own idea, I suppose it is "conformable to some real existence" (Locke, p. 515). David Hume (17111776) loosely follows Locke in his account of the kinds of truth in the Treatise : "Truth is of two kinds, consisting either in the discovery of the proportions of ideas, consider'd as such, or in the conformity of our ideas of objects to their real existence" (p. 448). The second kind of truth, concerning matters of fact, echoes Locke's account of the ascription of truth to my own ideas and defines truth for matters of fact as conformity to the real existence of objects. Note that Hume endorses a correspondence theory only for matters of fact, not for matters of reason (or the discovery of proportions of ideas).

In the Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant (17241804) defined truth as correspondence: "The nominal definition of truth, namely that it is the agreement of cognition with its object, is here granted and presupposed; but one demands to know what is the general and certain criterion of the truth of any cognition" (p. 197). However, Kant denied that there is a universal material criterion of truth and observed that a universal formal criterion of truth, being nothing but logic, is sufficient only for consistency, not truth. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (17701831) too accepted a correspondence definition of truth in his Science of Logic : "Objective truth is no doubt the Idea itself as the reality that corresponds to the Notion" (p. 784). But he did not see this as helping us with subjective truth.

Pragmatist and Coherence Theories

In Logic, Kant noted that to judge whether a cognition is true, one must compare it with its object, and this requires another cognition of the object, which may be falliblehence the judgment of truth is not sufficient for truth. Kant took this to show that the correspondence definition is useless as a criterion of truth. By contrast, followers of Kant took it to show that correspondence truth is unknowable or even unthinkable, since it requires comparing a cognition with its uncognized object, which is uncognizable. One can compare a cognition only with other cognitions. Moreover, a cognition cannot copy or resemble an object. This difficulty led many philosophers in the nineteenth century to seek an alternative to the correspondence definition, and they naturally sought to define truth in terms of the criterion of truth.

In "How to Make Our Ideas Clear," the American pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce (18391914) proposed a method of clarifying our everyday conceptions: a conception is to be identified with the conception of the practical effects of its object. For example, "To say that a body is heavy means simply that, in the absence of opposing force, it will fall" (1992b, p. 48). Applying this to truth, to say that a belief is true is to say that it would permanently survive sustained inquiry conducted in a proper way. This is an epistemic definition of truth, since it defines truth in terms of proper inquiry. An epistemic definition runs into circularity if proper inquiry is in turn defined in terms of the aim of true belief. In "The Fixation of Belief," Peirce answered this threat of circularity by characterizing proper inquiry without employing the notion of truthas inquiry that fixes belief by eliminating doubt.

Like Peirce, William James (18421910) applied a pragmatist theory of meaning to true and identified the notion of true belief with that of the consequences for experience of the belief's being true"truth's cash-value in experiential terms" (p. 200). James differed from Peirce in characterizing a true belief as one that is eventually verifiable, rather than one that would be permanently fixed in sustained inquiry. This allows the possibility that a true belief will be permanently retracted after its eventual verification in sustained inquiry. James was more pragmatist than Peirce in attempting to use his pragmatist theory of true belief to explain the practical, and not merely cognitive, utility of true belief. A true belief is one that would fit my experience in a counterfactual circumstance. Because my true belief that the cowpath leads to a house would fit my experience were I to go down the path, it enables me to select the more useful course of actiongoing down the path that leads to food, as opposed to one that does not. Moreover, James, unlike Peirce, was guided in his choice of a definition of truth by the aim of finding a definition that explains the practical utility of true belief.

British idealists developed coherence theories of truth in the late nineteenth century. One motivation for these theories was epistemological: knowledge of whether a given judgment is true cannot result from comparing the target judgment with its object, as the correspondence theory requires; it must result from comparing judgments with other judgments. The available criterion here is coherence of the judgments with one another. This motivation for the coherence theory received its most extensive expression in the twentieth century in the American idealist Brand Blanshard (18921987) (pp. 225237, 268). An alternative metaphysical motivation, to be found in the work of Francis Herbert Bradley (18461924) and Harold H. Joachim (18681938), appeals to the doctrine of internal relations. According to this doctrine, every relation is grounded in the natures of the relata. This is said by Bertrand Russell (18721970) to be equivalent to the monistic theory of truth, that judgments are not true one by one, but only abstracted from a concrete known whole (19061907, p. 37). From monism, it is supposed to follow that the truth of a judgment consists in its coherence with the whole, rather than in correspondence. Russell objects to the coherence theory on the ground that it does not rule out contrary propositions both being true: "coherence as the definition of truth fails because there is no proof that there can be only one coherent system" (1912, p. 122).

The Correspondence Theory: Twentieth Century

The correspondence theory was revived at the beginning of the twentieth century by the founders of analytic philosophy, G. E. Moore (18731958) and Russell, in reaction to James, Bradley, and Joachim. The new correspondence theories addressed the worries of idealists and pragmatists about just what the correspondence relation is, if not the discredited copying relation, and what the terms of the relation are.

In lectures delivered in 1910 and 1911, Moore posed a problem like the one Plato urged against the existence theory of truth. On the one hand, if one believes that God exists, and this is true, one believes a fact (that God exists), and this fact is. On the other hand, one believes the same thing whether the belief is true or false; so there must be a fact even if one believes falsely that God exists; yet in this case there is no such fact (pp. 250251). In "Beliefs and Propositions," Moore resolved this dilemma by denying that what one believes in a true or false belief is a fact. The clause "that p " in the description "the belief that p " does not name any fact or indeed anything at all. A belief, whether true or false, is not a relation between a believer and a fact, or even between a believer and a proposition. So one can believe the same thing in a false belief as in a true belief, even though for the false belief there is no fact. Moore nevertheless found it convenient to speak of beliefs as referring to facts: "To say that a belief is true is to say that the fact to which it refers is or has being; while to say that a belief is false is to say that the fact to which it refers is notthat there is no such fact" (p. 267). Moore was unable to analyze what is involved in referring (which amounts to correspondence when the fact referred to has being), but he was quite clear that, although "the belief that p is true" is equivalent to "p " on the assumption that the belief p exists, this is not a definition of truth precisely because "p " says nothing about the belief p or a correspondence relation.

Russell tried to say what correspondence is in his work between 1906 and 1912. Othello's belief that Desdemona loves Cassio is a four-term relation between Othello, Desdemona, the relation of loving, and Cassio, while the corresponding fact (if there is one) is a two-term relation of loving between Desdemona and Cassio. Correspondence is then a certain match between the terms in the belief relation and the fact (1912, pp. 124130). Later, Russell abandoned the idea that a false proposition is one that does not correspond to a fact, in favor of the view that it is one that bears a different correspondence relation to a pertinent fact (1956, p. 187). The latter view avoids a commitment to the idea that the clause "that p " in the description of a false belief names a fact, but it is encumbered with the burden of defining the two correspondence relations so that they cannot both obtain, on pain of allowing a proposition to be both true and false.

The British ordinary language philosopher John Langshaw Austin (19111960) proposed a correspondence theory in his article "Truth" (1950). His theory takes statements as truth bearers and states of affairs as truth makers, and it defines correspondence as a correlation that relies on conventions of two kinds: "demonstrative" conventions relating token states of affairs to statements, and "descriptive" conventions relating types of states of affairs to sentence types expressing those statements. A statement is true when the state of affairs to which it is correlated by demonstrative conventions is of a type with which the sentence used in making the statement is correlated by descriptive conventions. The British philosopher P. F. Strawson (b.1919) attacked Austin's theory, and correspondence theories more generally, on the ground that there are no bearers of truth values, there are no entities in the world amounting to facts, and there is no relation of correspondence (1950). Strawson endorsed the opposing view that an assertion made by uttering "It is true that p " makes no assertion beyond one made by uttering "p, " although it may be used to do things other than make this assertion (for example, confirm or grant the assertion that p ).

The Polish-American logician Alfred Tarski (c. 19021983) offered a "semantic" conception of the truth of sentences in a given interpreted and unambiguous formalized language L. His account was intended to capture an Aristotelian notion of truth. Tarski set as a material adequacy condition on a theory of truth-in-L what is called Convention T: that the theory entails all sentences of the form "X is a true sentence if and only if p, " where X is a name of some sentence of L, and p is the translation of this sentence into the metalanguage of the theory. Tarski then demonstrated that a recursive truth definition satisfies Convention T.

The basic idea of the truth definition is that a sentence such as "a is F " (for a name "a " and a predicate "F ") is true just in case F applies to the object denoted by a, where application is defined case by case for each name in the language L. Now let us give a Tarski-like truth definition for a simple language L with two names, "a " and "b, " and one predicate "F. " We may begin by defining truth separately for each atomic sentence of L in semantic terms like "applies" and "denotes." (Tarski made central a notion of satisfaction related to application.) The basis clause is: "a is F " is true just in case "F " applies to the object denoted by "a "; and similarly for "b is F. " We then define "denotes" for each name: "a " denotes x just in case x a ; and similarly for "b. " We define "applies": "F " applies to y just in case (y a and a is F ) or (y b and b is F ). This has been called a disquotational definition of the semantic terms. Finally, we define truth for nonatomic sentences by exploiting the truth-functional properties of logical connectives like "or" and "not." Treating truth as involving subject-predicate form is mandated by the need to satisfy Convention T.

Tarski's theory formulated in terms of "denotes" and "applies" is plausibly regarded as a correspondence theory. However, Hartry H. Field (b. 1946) charged that Tarski's definition of truth does not reduce truth to a physicalistically acceptable property, as Tarski desired (1972). For Tarski's disquotational definitions of semantic terms do not provide an explanatory reduction of those terms to any general physical properties. This is shown by the fact that if we augment L by adding a new name or predicate to form a language L, the definition of truth-in-L gives no hint of what truth-in-L amounts to. Field proposed that we remedy such difficulties by fitting Tarski's theory in terms of semantic concepts with a physicalistically acceptable causal theory of denotation and application, rather than a disquotational definition of these concepts.

Deflationary Theories

Deflationary theories treat the truth predicate as having only a logical or grammatical function, rather than as ascribing a property or relation to a truth bearer, as on correspondence, pragmatist, and coherence theories. Frank Plumpton Ramsey (19031930) proposed, contrary to Moore, that true generally makes no substantive contribution to what is asserted in a statement: "'it is true that Caesar was murdered' means no more than that Caesar was murdered" (p. 157). "Whatever he says is true" comes out "For all p, if he says that p, then p. " This is called the redundancy theory of truth. It is deflationary in denying that true expresses a property of truth bearers or a relation of correspondence between truth bearers and the way the world is.

In Philosophical Investigations (1958), Ludwig Wittgenstein (18891951) rejected his idea presented in the Tractatus (1961, originally published in 1922) that "This is how things are" expresses the general form of a proposition. This form of words does express a proposition, but "To say that this proposition agrees or does not agree with reality would be obvious nonsense." Rather, it is a propositional variable the value of which is fixed by an earlier statement, in the way the referent of a pronoun is fixed by an earlier use of a name. This proposal, known as the "prosentential" theory of truth because it treats "That is true" as a "prosentence," was subsequently developed by Dorothy Grover, Joseph L. Camp, Jr., and Nuel D. Belnap, Jr. (1975).

Willard Van Orman Quine (19082000) proposed that the truth predicate is used for semantic ascent, which in certain cases is indispensable for expressive purposes: "If we want to affirm some infinite lot of sentences that we can demarcate only by talking about sentences, then the truth predicate has its use" (p. 11). If we wish to say only that Tom is mortal, we can say "'Tom is mortal' is true," but we need not do so. But if we wish to affirm each of the sentences of Euclidean geometry, we have no option but to say "All the sentences of Euclidean geometry are true." We are saying no more than we would say by uttering each of the sentences, but since there are infinitely many of them, we cannot utter them all. For this reason, the truth predicate is practically indispensable. This suggests a disquotational theory of truth on which the content of true for a language is given by all the equivalences: "p " is true just in case p (for all sentences "p " of the language). Presumably, occurrences of true in contexts like "What he said is true" or "That is true" would be either spelled out in the manner of Ramsey or implicitly defined by the T-equivalences in virtue of the fact that the subject of the sentence refers to a particular sentence. Paul Horwich developed a related minimalist theory of truth by taking as the axioms of the theory all the equivalences: the proposition that p is true if and only if p (1990). These deflationary theories have, in common with Moore's and Russell's correspondence theories, the disadvantage of entailing the principle of bivalence, which prohibits "truth-value gaps," as in borderline vague sentences or sentences with presuppositions that fail. A correspondence theory such as Field's can be formulated in a way that avoids bivalence (1972). Deflationary theories also differ from correspondence theories in making it impossible to ascribe truth to sentences in a language we can't understand. Field argued in a 1986 article that a deflationary notion of truth cannot be employed to account for how our tendency to believe truths explains our practical success in action.

Some have denied that truth is definable. Gottlob Frege (18481925) argued that if truth is definable as a property, then any judgment of whether an idea is true would involve judging whether the idea has the property, and the question would then arise whether it is true that the idea has the property, generating a circle (1956). The early Moore (1953, p. 262) and Donald Davidson (19172003) also denied that truth is definable. Since 1980, philosophers (e.g., Huw Price) have shown an interest in functionalist accounts of truth, which characterize truth in terms of its cognitive or social function, rather than define the concept in other terms.

See also Logic ; Philosophy ; Platonism ; Pragmatism .


Aquinas, St. Thomas. Summa Theologiae. 2 vols. Edited by Thomas Gilby. Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1969.

Aristotle. The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation. 2 vols. Edited by Jonathan Barnes. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984.

Austin, J. L. "Truth." Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 24 (1950): 111128.

Blanshard, Brand. The Nature of Thought. 2 vols. New York: Allen and Unwin, 1939.

Bradley, F. H. Essays on Truth and Reality. Oxford: Clarendon, 1914.

Davidson, Donald. "The Folly of Trying to Define Truth." Journal of Philosophy 93 (1996): 263278.

Descartes, René. "Letter to Marin Mersenne, 16 October 1639." In Descartes: Philosophical Letters. Translated and edited by Anthony Kenny. Minneapolis: University of Minnestoa Press, 1970.

Field, Hartry. "The Deflationary Conception of Truth." In Fact, Science, and Morality: Essays on A. J. Ayer's Language, Truth, and Logic, edited by Graham Macdonald and Crispin Wright. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986.

. "Tarski's Theory of Truth." Journal of Philosophy 69 (1972): 347375.

Frege, Gottlob. "The Thought: A Logical Inquiry." Translated by A. M. Quinton and Marcelle Quinton. Mind 65 (1956): 289311.

Grover, Dorothy, Joseph L. Camp, Jr., and Nuel D. Belnap, Jr. "A Prosentential Theory of Truth." Philosophical Studies 27 (1975): 73125.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hegel's Science of Logic. Translated by A. V. Miller. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1989.

Horwich, Paul. Truth. Oxford: Blackwell, 1990.

Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. 2nd ed., edited by L. A. Selby-Bigge. Oxford: Clarendon, 1978.

James, William. Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, Together with Four Related Essays Selected from The Meaning of Truth. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1947.

Joachim, Harold H. The Nature of Truth. Oxford: Clarendon, 1906.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated and edited by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

. Logic. Translated by Robert S. Hartman and Wolfgang Schwarz. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1974.

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. 2 vols. Edited by A. C. Fraser. New York: Dover Publications, 1959.

Moore, G. E. Some Main Problems of Philosophy. London: Allen and Unwin, 1953.

Peirce, Charles Sanders. The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings. 2 vols. Edited by Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 19921998.

Plato. The Collected Dialogues of Plato. Edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. New York: Pantheon, 1961.

Price, Huw. Facts and the Function of Truth. Oxford: Blackwell, 1988.

Quine, W. V. Philosophy of Logic. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

Ramsey, Frank P. "Facts and Propositions." Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 7 (1927): 153170.

Russell, Bertrand. An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth. London: Allen and Unwin, 1921.

. Logic and Knowledge, Essays 19011950. Edited by R. C. Marsh. London: Allen and Unwin, 1956.

. "On the Nature of Truth." Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 7 (19061907): 2849.

. The Problems of Philosophy. New York: H. Holt, 1912.

Sextus Empiricus. Against the Professors 8.856. In The Hellenistic Philosophers. 2 vols. Edited and translated by A. A. Long and D. N. Sedley. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Spinoza, Baruch. Ethics. In The Collected Works of Spinoza, volume 1. Translated and edited by Edwin Curley. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Strawson, P. F. "Truth." Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 24 (1950): 129156.

Tarski, Alfred. "The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 4 (1944): 341375.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Translated by G. E. M. Anscombe. New York: Macmillan, 1953.

. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Translated by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuiness. London: Routledge and Paul, 1961.

Frederick F. Schmitt


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Sigmund Freud's notion of truth evolved from a factual conception into a relativistic method where the true and the false are defined both in relation to a conventional and bounded space (that of the cure) and the dynamic effects that "plausible" constructions might have on the psyche. Truth as an objective no longer remains "the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis" (1914g, pp. 147, 150). It inclines towards the notion of reality testing that demands that the subject partially abandon their illusions. Truth as an ideal is inseparable from psychoanalytic inquiry and is unattainable, except partially in the "nuclei" of truth present within individual and collective distortions.

The search for factors that cause psychic suffering can be confused with the search for truth inasmuch as they are both repressed, misrepresented, displaced, represented by their opposite, and the like. Initially Freud imagined rediscovering the traumatic events in the histories of his patients themselves, but promptly noticing "that there are no indications of reality in the unconscious, so that one cannot distinguish between the truth and fiction that is cathected with affect" (letter to Wilhelm Fleiss, 21 September 1897), he ended up privileging the psychical reality of the subject, wherein a dynamic verisimilitude was elaborated which would take on the value of truth. This relativization of truth seems to coincide with a Pirandellian conception of it (Each in His Own Way ). In fact, truth as a value has not disappeared from the Freudian purview but it has become subtler. Thus interpretation is not about the exhumation of truth but rather construction through the adoption of a coherent paradigm (Viderman, 1970), originating from the unperceived formulations of the subject's free associations or dreams.

Thus for Jacques Lacan, truth extricates itself from reality: "In psychoanalytic anamnesis, it is not a question of reality, but of truth, because the effect of full speech is to reorder past contingencies by conferring on them the sense of necessities to come" (1956, p. 48). Truth is not precisely being true to reality, rather it speaks and stutters through its symptomatic distortions.

The analyst has to engage with these "nuclei" of truth, then; Freud, for instance, defined them in relation to the sexual theories of children, which despite being untrue nonetheless each contain "a fragment of real truth" (1908c, p. 215). This is an adult, intellectual mode of investigation whose results, because they are limited to the possibilities of human understanding, would have been false in relation to a broader perspective, but which include nevertheless "inspired" partial but significant interpretations.

The quest for truth proceeds from a "truth fantasy" (Mijolla-Mellor, 1985), which relates to an image of lost harmony (transparency, luminosity) within the I, the others, and one's self. Truth, in terms of the demand for truthfulness, is central to the fundamental rule that requires the abandonment of secrecy; however, it also guides the behavior of the analyst in their relationship with the patient, in their vision of the world, and in their research, requiring them to relinquish personal illusions for the construction of a coherent schema. Challenging illusion and narcissistic comfort, truth, according to Freud, is a force in its own right: "The hardest truths are heard and recognized at last, after the interests they have injured and the emotions they have roused have exhausted their fury" (1910d, p. 215).

Piera Aulagnier gives truth a central place in relation to the identity of the subject. It is the object of a "battle never definitively won nor lost to which periodically the I must surrender in order to modify and defend its positions, failing which it would be unable to turn towards or invest in its own identificatory space" (1984, p. 147).

The notion of truth in psychoanalysis is tied to the history the subject, in the same way as it is to humanity, because it is not simply a case of a balance between understanding and the thing, but of a narrative that is reconstructed using the residues left behind by legend.

Alain de Mijolla

See also: History and psychoanalysis.


Aulagnier, Piera. (1984). L'Apprenti-historien et le maîtresorcier. Du discours identifiant au discours délirant. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

. (1914g). Remembering, repeating and working-through (Further recommendations on the technique of psycho-analysis II). SE, 12: 145-156.

Freud, Sigmund. (1908c). On the sexual theories of children. SE, 9: 205-226.

. 1910d). The future prospects of psycho-analytic therapy. SE, 11: 139-151.

. (1950a [1887-1902]). Extracts from the Fliess papers. SE, 1: 173-280.

Lacan, Jacques. (1989). Ecrits: A Selection. (Alan Sheridan, Trans.) 5th ed. London: Tavistock/Routledge.

Further Reading

Reed, Gail S. (1995). Clinical truth and contemporary relativism: Meaning, narration. Journal of the American Psycho-Analytic Association, 43, 713-740.

Sass, L. A., and Woolfolk, R. L. (1988). Psychoanalysis and the hermeneutic turn: On "Narrative truth." Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 36, 429-454.

Schafer, Roy. (1992). Retelling a life. In Narration and dialogue in psychoanalysis. New York: Basic Books.

Spence, Donald. (1982). Narrative truth and historical truth. Meaning and interpretation in psychoanalysis. New York: W. W. Norton and Co.

Spezzano, Charles. (1993). A relational model of inquiry and truth: Conversation. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 3, 177-208.


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truth there is truth in wine proverbial saying, mid 16th century; meaning that a person who is drunk is more likely to speak the truth. The saying is found earlier in Latin as in vino veritas, and in classical Greek (attributed to the lyric poet Alcaeus, c.620–580 bc). (Compare when the wine is in, the wit is out.)
Truth and Reconciliation Commission a commission set up by a South African Parliamentary Act on 26 July 1995 to investigate claims of abuses during the Apartheid era.
truth is stranger than fiction proverbial saying, early 19th century, implying that no invention can be as remarkable as what may actually happen; originally with reference to Byron's Don Juan (1823), ‘Truth is always strange, Stranger than fiction.’ (Compare fact is stranger than fiction.)
truth is the first casualty of war proverbial saying, early 20th century; the originator is sometimes said to have been Hiram Johnson, addressing the US Senate in 1918, but it does not occur in the record of the relevant speech.
truth lies at the bottom of a well proverbial saying, mid 16th century, sometimes used to imply that the truth of a situation can be hard to find. In earlier classical sources, the saying ‘we know nothing certainly, for truth lies in the deep’ is attributed to Democritus, and ‘truth lies sunk in a well’ is attributed to the 3rd–4th century Latin author Lactantius.
truth makes the Devil blush saying recorded from the mid 20th century; perhaps a variant of tell the truth and shame the Devil.
the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth the absolute truth, without concealment or addition; part of the formula of the oath taken by witnesses in court.
truth will out proverbial saying, mid 15th century; meaning that in the end what has really happened will become apparent. (Compare murder will out.)
what is truth? in biblical allusion, often with reference to the account in John 18:38 of the examination of Jesus by Pilate, when ‘Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?’

See also children and fools tell the truth, four noble truths, the greater the truth, half the truth, moment of truth, the naked truth, tell the truth.


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TRUTH (Heb. אֱמֶת, ʾemet). The Bible often speaks of God as "the God of truth" (e.g., Jer. 10:10; Ps. 31:6), as does the Talmud where this synonymity climaxes in the famous dictum: "The Seal of God is truth" (Shab. 55a; tj, Sanh. 1:5). The same idea is also found in medieval Jewish philosophy (Maim., Yad, Yesodei ha-Torah 1:4; Joseph Albo, Sefer ha-Ikkarim, 2:27). In rabbinic theology "Truth" is one of the 13 attributes of God (cf. Ex. 34:6).

In Judaism truth is primarily an ethical notion: it describes not what is but what ought to be. Thus, in the Bible, truth is connected with peace (Zech. 8:16), righteousness (Mal. 2:6ff.), grace (Gen. 24:27, 49), justice (Zech. 7:9), and even with salvation (Ps. 25:4ff.; cf. Avot 1:18, "The world rests on three things – truth, justice, and peace"). In *Maimonides' and Hermann *Cohen's concept of God as the absolute paradigm of morality, from "the God of truth" follows the human virtue of "truthfulness" (H. Cohen, Religion der Vernunft (1929), index, s.v.Wahrhaftigkeit). Since God keeps truth (Ps. 146:6), only the man who speaks truth can come near Him (Ps. 145:18; Yoma 69b). Thus, also, Moritz *Lazarus (Ethik des Judentums, 2 (1911), 123ff.) and E. Berkovits (God and Man (1969), ch. 2) translate emet as "faithfulness" (emunah), identifying it ultimately with Jewish faith.

God acts truthfully in that He keeps His word. Human truthfulness is to be faithful to God and man. This is specified in many ways: to speak truth even in one's heart (Ps. 15:2ff.); always to quote correctly (Meg. 16a); to engage in commerce honestly (Mak. 24a); and to abstain from all deceit and hypocrisy (bm 49a; Yoma 72b; Maim., Yad, De'ot 2:6). In sum, as God is truth so Judaism as a whole is the practice of truth (bb 74a).

Jewish philosophers generally accepted the Greek notion of truth as "correspondence with reality" (*Saadiah Gaon, Book of Beliefs and Opinions, preface and 3:5; Abraham *Ibn Daud, Emunah Ramah, 2:3). Even such intellectualism, however, is ultimately superseded by biblical ethicism (e.g., Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, 3:53, end).

In modern Jewish philosophy, Hermann Cohen designates the normative unity of cognition and ethics as "the fundamental law of truth" (Ethik des reinen Willens (1904), ch. 1). Martin *Buber also identifies Jewish faith (emunah) with truth as interpersonal trust. Thus, truth as a human, ethical criterion is commonplace throughout the mainstream of Jewish thinking.

[Steven S. Schwarzschild]


views updated Jun 08 2018

truth / troō[unvoicedth]/ • n. (pl. truths / troō[voicedth]z; troō[unvoicedth]s/ ) the quality or state of being true: he had to accept the truth of her accusation. ∎  (also the truth) that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality: tell me the truth she found out the truth about him. ∎  a fact or belief that is accepted as true: the emergence of scientific truths the fundamental truths about mankind.PHRASES: in truth really; in fact: in truth, she was more than a little unhappy.of a truth archaic certainly: of a truth, such things used to tell the truth (or truth to tell or if truth be told) to be frank (used esp. when making an admission or when expressing an unwelcome or controversial opinion): I think, if truth be told, we were all a little afraid of him.the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth used to emphasize the absolute veracity of a statement.


views updated Jun 11 2018

truth State or condition of being true. A ‘truth’ is something that is deemed to be genuine, an accurate representation of reality or a statement that accords with proven, provable, or observable facts. Two famous theories for determining the meaning of truth are the correspondence theory, which defines it as “that which corresponds with facts”, and the coherence theory, which defines it as “that which conforms with what we have come to accept”. Other theories, espoused by pragmatists, take a utilitarian view of truth, defining it as “that which it is good, useful, or helpful to believe”. This evaluative concept is also important in logic, where either of two truth-values can be assigned to a statement, describing it as either true or false. See also epistemology; ontology; pragmatism


views updated Jun 08 2018

truth quality of being true, faith, loyalty OE.; something that is true XIV. OE.trīwð, trēowð corr. to OHG. triuwida, ON. (pl.) trygðir plighted faith, f. -trīewe, trēowe TRUE; see -TH1.
Hence truthful (of statements, etc.) XVI; (of persons) XVIII; (of ideas, artistic or literary presentation. etc.) XIX.