Double Truth, Theory of
DOUBLE TRUTH, THEORY OF
The theory of double truth proposes a proposition may be false according to reason (and philosophy) and at the same time be true according to faith (and theology), or vice versa. It implies that two propositions, one of which is contrary or contradictory to the other, can be true simultaneously. For example, the immortality of the human soul might be considered false in philosophy and true in theology; or, the mortality of the human soul and the immortality of the human soul might both be regarded as true, the first in philosophy, the second in theology.
Historically this theory derives from the teaching of 13th–century Latin Averroists as interpreted by some of their adversaries (see averroism, latin). It can best be understood against the background of Aristotle's impact on Western Europe.
Heterodox Aristotelianism. During the 12th and 13th centuries, works of aristotle such as the Metaphysics, Physics and De anima were introduced into Europe in Latin translation, together with commentaries by Arabian thinkers. "The Philosopher," previously admired for his logical works, in time became identified with philosophy itself. As interpreted by Arabian thinkers, especially Averroës, Aristotle seemed to be saying that only one agent and possible intellect exists for all men (see intellect, unity of) and that the world is necessary and eternal. This implicit denial of personal immortality and creation contradicted the teachings of Christian faith. How, then, could a man be at once a philosopher and a Christian?
Ibn Rushd or averroËs (1126–98) had faced a similar problem in Muslim Spain. While he recognized the need of religion to maintain social order, Aristotle, to him, was the "exemplar that Nature found to show forth ultimate human perfection" (In 3 de anima, comm. 14). Could he say, then, that religion was true when its teachings differed from Aristotle's? In The Accord between Religion and Philosophy he answers that religion presents in an allegorical way, suitable to simple believers, the truth that philosophers grasp in purely intelligible fashion. For him there can be no double truth, for he says, "Truth could not be contrary to truth." There is only one truth, and the philosopher attains this, not in symbols, but as it is in itself.
That the absolute truth in its precise and perfect expression is identical with philosophical truth could not be professed by a Christian who accepted divine revelation. The Christian "Latin Averroist" or "heterodox Aristotelian," siger of brabant (fl. 1277), was careful to identify truth with the Catholic faith. His own intention, as he repeatedly insists, is merely to report the philosophers' views, especially those of Aristotle, and not to assert them as true (De aeternitate mundi, 80b; De anima intellectiva, c. 7). Where the Philosopher's opinion is contrary to faith, Siger will give preference to faith. In any doubt, faith must be adhered to since it exceeds all human reason (De anima intellectiva, cc. 3, 7). In his own work, however, Siger is concerned "not with miracles," but with what can be concluded through natural reason. He is only discussing "natural things in a natural way" (ibid., c. 3).
Ecclesiastical Condemnation. Necessary conclusions of reason that contradict faith are not asserted as true by Siger or his fellow "Averroist," boethius of sweden (Dacia). But their position was interpreted as a doctrine of double truth by Bishop tempier of paris. In the prologue to the condemnation of March 7, 1277, he accused the Averroists of saying that what was true according to philosophy was not true according to the Catholic faith, "as if there were two contrary truths (quasi sint due contrarie veritates ), and as if there were truth in the sayings of the accursed pagans contrary to the truth of sacred Scripture" (Chartularium universitatis Parisiensis, ed. H. Denifle and E. Chatelain, [Paris 1889–97] 1:543). Ever since this statement was written, the theory of double truth has been associated with the Averroists. Regardless of what the Averroists had actually said, it seemed to Bishop Tempier, as to thomas aquinas, that necessary conclusions of reason must be consonant with faith. An Averroist who said, "I necessarily conclude through reason that the intellect is one in number, but I firmly hold the opposite through faith," must, in Thomas's mind, be implying that faith is concerned with something false and impossible (De unit. intell. 5).
The irreverent implication that Thomas saw in the 13th–century Averroists was to become more explicit in john of jandun (d. 1328) and Pietro Pomponazzi (d.1525). Both openly opposed philosophical conclusions to the truths of faith, but then added that the latter must be believed.
While the theory of double truth as stated in the 1277 condemnation does not seem to have been formally taught in the texts that are known to us, the Christian Averroists experienced a conflict they never resolved. Some 20th–century Christians have sensed a similar conflict: not between the teachings of faith and the conclusions of Averroës' Aristotle, but between teachings of faith and the conclusions of modern science. To Christians of any era whose faith seems menaced by the new learning of their time, St. Thomas would say: "Since faith rests upon infallible truth, and since the contrary of truth cannot be demonstrated, it is clear that proofs brought against faith are not demonstrations, but arguments capable of being answered" (Summa theologiae 1a, 1.8). He would add that "the truth of reason is not opposed to the truth of the Christian faith," for "every truth is from God" (C. gent. 1.7; De ver. 1.8).
See Also: faith and reason; scholasticism; thomism; aristotelianism; arabian philosophy.
Bibliography: É. gilson, "La Doctrine de la double vérité," Études de philosophie médiévale (Strasbourg 1921); Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages (New York 1938); "Boèce de Dacie et la double vérité," Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen-âge 30 (1955) 81–99. p. f. mandonnet, Siger de Brabant et l'averroïsme latin au 13 me siècle (2d ed. Louvain 1911). a. maurer, "Boetius of Dacia and the Double Truth," Mediaeval Studies 17 (1995) 233–39.
[b. h. zedler]