What Is Truth?

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If you believe it, does that make it true?

What is truth, anyway?

This question has come up more than once lately among my friends and writing colleagues.  In this age of “fake news,” what have the sages said about truth?  I thought I’d take a look.

truth

/tro͞oTH/

noun

That’s from Oxford Dictionaries online.  Not much help, is it?

Here are some thought-provoking excerpts from Psychology Today:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201808/what-is-truth

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. –Thoreau

…In Plato’s Cratylus, on the philosophy of language, Socrates says that aletheia (Greek, ‘truth’) is a compression of the phrase ‘a wandering that is divine.’ (I love this phrase) Since Plato, many thinkers have spoken of truth and God in the same breath, and truth has also been linked with concepts such as justice, power, and freedom. According to John the Apostle, Jesus said to the Jews: ‘And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’

…Today, God may be dying, but what about truth? Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, claimed that ‘truth isn’t truth,’ while Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s counselor, presented the public with what she called ‘alternative facts.’ Over in the U.K. in the run-up to the Brexit referendum, Michael Gove, then Minister of Justice and Lord Chancellor, opined that people ‘have had enough of experts.’

Truth is a property not so much of thoughts and ideas but more properly of beliefs and assertions. But to believe or assert something is not enough to make it true, or else the claim that ‘to believe something makes it true’ would be just as true as the claim that ‘to believe something does not make it true.’ For centuries, philosophers have agreed that thought or language is true if it corresponds to an independent reality. For Aristotle, ‘to say that what is is, and what is not is not, is true.’ For Avicenna, truth is ‘what corresponds in the mind to what is outside it.’ And for Aquinas, it is ‘the adequation of things and the intellect’ (adæquatio rei et intellectus). Unfortunately for this so-called correspondence theory of truth, the mind does not perceive reality as it is, but only as it can, filtering, distorting, and interpreting it.

There’s the crux of the matter: our minds interpret “reality,” (whatever that is) and so we have the premise of the old Rashomon film: one event, multiple interpretations of the situation.

“The Rashomon effect describes how parties describe an event in a different and contradictory manner, which reflects their subjective interpretation and self-interested advocacy, rather than an objective truth.”— www.enwikipedia.org/wiki/Rashomon_effect

My quest for an answer quickly lands me in theology:

https://www.gty.org/library/Articles/A379/What-Is-Truth  (John McArthur)

Here’s a simple definition drawn from what the Bible teaches: Truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God. Even more to the point: Truth is the self-expression of God. That is the biblical meaning of truth. Because the definition of truth flows from God, truth is theological.

Truth is also ontological—which is a fancy way of saying it is the way things really are. Reality is what it is because God declared it so and made it so. Therefore God is the author, source, determiner, governor, arbiter, ultimate standard, and final judge of all truth.

OK, but if we go with this, then who relays God’s truth to us?  Trump?  The Pope?  Is anyone out there getting the word directly from God?  The author of this article claims that truth is found in nature and in Scripture.  He continues:

Truth is not subjective, it is not a consensual cultural construct, and it is not an invalid, outdated, irrelevant concept. Truth is the self-expression of God. Truth is thus theological; it is the reality God has created and defined, and over which He rules. Truth is therefore a moral issue for every human being.

I can accept that truth and morality are closely connected. Onward!

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, we find a gathering of many thinkers on truth.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth/ (Michael Glanzberg)

The problem of truth is in a way easy to state: what truths are, and what (if anything) makes them true. But this simple statement masks a great deal of controversy. Whether there is a metaphysical problem of truth at all, and if there is, what kind of theory might address it, are all standing issues in the theory of truth .* (for the complete outline, see below)

  • The basic idea of the correspondence theory is that what we believe or say is true if it corresponds to the way things actually are – to the facts.

The coherence theory:

  • A belief is true if and only if it is part of a coherent system of beliefs.

I don’t know about you, but this hasn’t gotten me much closer to the meaning of “truth.”

It is, as the Oxford Dictionary points out, easier to say what truth isn’t.

And that’s the truth.

*

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