From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"What is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins. --Friedrich Nietzsche in "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense", tr. Walter Kaufmann
"Everyday truths are important, and their importance should be stressed, for several reasons. One is a central concern of this book: their role in an account of truth and meaning, and in constructing a philosophical anthropology. Second, everyone knows that there are everyday truths, and what many of them are. Philosophy here, on lines variously laid down by Hume, Wittgenstein, Stanley Cavell, needs to recall us to the everyday."--Truth and Truthfulness (2002) by Bernard Williams, p. 10
"If there is no truth, there is no injustice."--Solidarity in the Conversation of Humankind (1995) by Norman Geras
The opposite of truth is falsehood, which, correspondingly, can also take on a logical, factual, or ethical meaning. The concept of truth is discussed and debated in several contexts, including philosophy and religion. Many human activities depend upon the concept, which is assumed rather than a subject of discussion, including science, law, and everyday life.
Various theories and views of truth continue to be debated among scholars and philosophers. Language and words are a means by which humans convey information to one another and the method used to recognize a "truth" is termed a criterion of truth. There are differing claims on such questions as what constitutes truth: what things are truthbearers capable of being true or false; how to define and identify truth; the roles that revealed and acquired knowledge play; and whether truth is subjective or objective, relative or absolute.
From Middle English trouthe, truthe, trewthe, treowthe, from Old English trēowþ, trīewþ (“truth, veracity, faith, fidelity, loyalty, honour, pledge, covenant”), from Proto-Germanic *triwwiþō (“promise, covenant, contract”), from Proto-Indo-European *drū- (“tree”), from Proto-Indo-European *deru- (“firm, solid”), equivalent to true + -th. Cognate with Norwegian trygd (“trustworthiness, security, insurance”), Icelandic tryggð (“loyalty, fidelity”).
- La Vérité (1870, "Truth") by Jules Joseph Lefebvre (truth is always naked)
- Nuda Veritas (1899) by Klimt
- La Vérité sortant du puits, a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme
The ancient Greek origins of the words "true" and "truth" have some consistent definitions throughout great spans of history that were often associated with topics of logic, geometry, mathematics, deduction, induction, and natural philosophy.
Socrates', Plato's and Aristotle's ideas about truth are commonly seen as consistent with correspondence theory. In his Metaphysics, Aristotle stated: “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”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy proceeds to say of Aristotle:
Aristotle sounds much more like a genuine correspondence theorist in the Categories (12b11, 14b14), where he talks of “underlying things” that make statements true and implies that these “things” (pragmata) are logically structured situations or facts (viz., his sitting, his not sitting). Most influential is his claim in De Interpretatione (16a3) that thoughts are “likenessess” (homoiosis) of things. Although he nowhere defines truth in terms of a thought's likeness to a thing or fact, it is clear that such a definition would fit well into his overall philosophy of mind.
Very similar statements can also be found in Plato (Cratylus 385b2, Sophist 263b).
In Hinduism, Truth is defined as "unchangeable", "that which has no distortion", "that which is beyond distinctions of time, space, and person", "that which pervades the universe in all its constancy". Human body, therefore is not completely true as it changes with time, for example. There are many references, properties and explanations of truth by Hindu sages that explain varied facets of truth, such as "Satyam eva jayate"(Truth alone wins), "Satyam muktaye" (Truth liberates), Satya' is 'Parahit'artham' va'unmanaso yatha'rthatvam' satyam (Satya is the benevolent use of words and the mind for the welfare of others or in other words responsibilities is truth too), "When one is firmly established in speaking truth, the fruits of action become subservient to him ( patanjali yogasutras, sutra number 2.36 ), "The face of truth is covered by a golden bowl. Unveil it, O Pusan (Sun), so that I who have truth as my duty (satyadharma) may see it!" (Brhadaranyaka V 15 1-4 and the brief IIsa Upanisad 15-18), Truth is superior to silence(Manusmriti), etc. Combined with other words, satya acts as modifier, like "ultra" or "highest," or more literally "truest," connoting purity and excellence. For example, satyaloka is the "highest heaven' and Satya Yuga is the "golden age" or best of the four cyclical cosmic ages in Hinduism, and so on.
- "What corresponds in the mind to what is outside it."
- "The truth of a thing is the property of the being of each thing which has been established in it."
However, this definition is merely a translation of the Latin translation from the Middle Ages. A modern translation of the original Arabic text states:
- "Truth is also said of the veridical belief in the existence [of something]."
Following Avicenna, and also Augustine and Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas stated in his Disputed Questions on Truth:
- "A natural thing, being placed between two intellects, is called true insofar as it conforms to either. It is said to be true with respect to its conformity with the divine intellect insofar as it fulfills the end to which it was ordained by the divine intellect... With respect to its conformity with a human intellect, a thing is said to be true insofar as it is such as to cause a true estimate about itself."
Thus, for Aquinas, the truth of the human intellect (logical truth) is based on the truth in things (ontological truth). Following this, he wrote an elegant re-statement of Aristotle's view in his Summa I.16.1:
- "Veritas est adæquatio intellectus et rei.
(Truth is the conformity of the intellect to the things.)"
Aquinas also said that real things participate in the act of being of the Creator God who is Subsistent Being, Intelligence, and Truth. Thus, these beings possess the light of intelligibility and are knowable. These things (beings; reality) are the foundation of the truth that is found in the human mind, when it acquires knowledge of things, first through the senses, then through the understanding and the judgement done by reason. For Aquinas, human intelligence ("intus", within and "legere", to read) has the capability to reach the essence and existence of things because it has a non-material, spiritual element, although some moral, educational, and other elements might interfere with its capability.
Truth is said to consist in the agreement of knowledge with the object. According to this mere verbal definition, then, my knowledge, in order to be true, must agree with the object. Now, I can only compare the object with my knowledge by this means, namely, by taking knowledge of it. My knowledge, then, is to be verified by itself, which is far from being sufficient for truth. For as the object is external to me, and the knowledge is in me, I can only judge whether my knowledge of the object agrees with my knowledge of the object. Such a circle in explanation was called by the ancients Diallelos. And the logicians were accused of this fallacy by the sceptics, who remarked that this account of truth was as if a man before a judicial tribunal should make a statement, and appeal in support of it to a witness whom no one knows, but who defends his own credibility by saying that the man who had called him as a witness is an honourable man.
According to Kant, the definition of truth as correspondence is a "mere verbal definition", here making use of Aristotle's distinction between a nominal definition: a definition in name only, and a real definition: a definition that shows the true cause or essence of the term that is being defined. From Kant's account of the history, the definition of truth as correspondence was already in dispute from classical times, the "skeptics" criticizing the "logicians" for a form of circular reasoning, though the extent to which the "logicians" actually held such a theory is not evaluated.
Hegel tried to distance his philosophy from psychology by presenting truth as being an external self–moving object instead of being related to inner, subjective thoughts. Hegel's truth is analogous to the mechanics of a material body in motion under the influence of its own inner force. "Truth is its own self–movement within itself." Teleological truth moves itself in the three–step form of dialectical triplicity toward the final goal of perfect, final, absolute truth. For Hegel, the progression of philosophical truth is a resolution of past oppositions into increasingly more accurate approximations to absolute truth. Chalybäus used the terms "thesis", "antithesis", and "synthesis" to describe Hegel's dialectical triplicity. The "thesis" consists of an incomplete historical movement. To resolve the incompletion, an "antithesis" occurs which opposes the "thesis." In turn, the "synthesis" appears when the "thesis" and "antithesis" become reconciled and a higher level of truth is obtained. This "synthesis" thereby becomes a "thesis," which will again necessitate an "antithesis," requiring a new "synthesis" until a final state is reached as the result of reason's historical movement. History is the Absolute Spirit moving toward a goal. This historical progression will finally conclude itself when the Absolute Spirit understands its own infinite self at the very end of history. Absolute Spirit will then be the complete expression of an infinite God.
For Schopenhauer, a judgment is a combination or separation of two or more concepts. If a judgment is to be an expression of knowledge, it must have a sufficient reason or ground by which the judgment could be called true. Truth is the reference of a judgment to something different from itself which is its sufficient reason (ground). Judgments can have material, formal, transcendental, or metalogical truth. A judgment has material truth if its concepts are based on intuitive perceptions that are generated from sensations. If a judgment has its reason (ground) in another judgment, its truth is called logical or formal. If a judgment, of, for example, pure mathematics or pure science, is based on the forms (space, time, causality) of intuitive, empirical knowledge, then the judgment has transcendental truth.
When Søren Kierkegaard, as his character Johannes Climacus, ends his writings: My thesis was, subjectivity, heartfelt is the truth, he does not advocate for subjectivism in its extreme form (the theory that something is true simply because one believes it to be so), but rather that the objective approach to matters of personal truth cannot shed any light upon that which is most essential to a person's life. Objective truths are concerned with the facts of a person's being, while subjective truths are concerned with a person's way of being. Kierkegaard agrees that objective truths for the study of subjects like mathematics, science, and history are relevant and necessary, but argues that objective truths do not shed any light on a person's inner relationship to existence. At best, these truths can only provide a severely narrowed perspective that has little to do with one's actual experience of life.
While objective truths are final and static, subjective truths are continuing and dynamic. The truth of one's existence is a living, inward, and subjective experience that is always in the process of becoming. The values, morals, and spiritual approaches a person adopts, while not denying the existence of objective truths of those beliefs, can only become truly known when they have been inwardly appropriated through subjective experience. Thus, Kierkegaard criticizes all systematic philosophies which attempt to know life or the truth of existence via theories and objective knowledge about reality. As Kierkegaard claims, human truth is something that is continually occurring, and a human being cannot find truth separate from the subjective experience of one's own existing, defined by the values and fundamental essence that consist of one's way of life.
Friedrich Nietzsche believed the search for truth or 'the will to truth' was a consequence of the will to power of philosophers. He thought that truth should be used as long as it promoted life and the will to power, and he thought untruth was better than truth if it had this life enhancement as a consequence. As he wrote in Beyond Good and Evil, "The falseness of a judgment is to us not necessarily an objection to a judgment... The question is to what extent it is life-advancing, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps even species-breeding..." (aphorism 4). He proposed the will to power as a truth only because according to him it was the most life affirming and sincere perspective one could have.
Robert Wicks discusses Nietzsche's basic view of truth as follows:
Some scholars regard Nietzsche's 1873 unpublished essay, "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense" ("Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen Sinn") as a keystone in his thought. In this essay, Nietzsche rejects the idea of universal constants, and claims that what we call "truth" is only "a mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms." His view at this time is that arbitrariness completely prevails within human experience: concepts originate via the very artistic transference of nerve stimuli into images; "truth" is nothing more than the invention of fixed conventions for merely practical purposes, especially those of repose, security and consistence.
Alfred North Whitehead, a British mathematician who became an American philosopher later, said: "There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that play the devil".
The logical progression or connection of this line of thought is to conclude that truth can lie, since half-truths are deceptive and may lead to a false conclusion.
According to Kitaro Nishida, "knowledge of things in the world begins with the differentiation of unitary consciousness into knower and known and ends with self and things becoming one again. Such unification takes form not only in knowing but in the valuing (of truth) that directs knowing, the willing that directs action, and the feeling or emotive reach that directs sensing."
Erich Fromm finds that trying to discuss truth as "absolute truth" is sterile and that emphasis ought to be placed on "optimal truth". He considers truth as stemming from the survival imperative of grasping one's environment physically and intellectually, whereby young children instinctively seek truth so as to orient themselves in "a strange and powerful world". The accuracy of their perceived approximation of the truth will therefore have direct consequences on their ability to deal with their environment. Fromm can be understood to define truth as a functional approximation of reality. His vision of optimal truth is described partly in "Man from Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics" (1947), from which excerpts are included below.
- the dichotomy between 'absolute = perfect' and 'relative = imperfect' has been superseded in all fields of scientific thought, where "it is generally recognized that there is no absolute truth but nevertheless that there are objectively valid laws and principles".
- In that respect, "a scientifically or rationally valid statement means that the power of reason is applied to all the available data of observation without any of them being suppressed or falsified for the sake of a desired result". The history of science is "a history of inadequate and incomplete statements, and every new insight makes possible the recognition of the inadequacies of previous propositions and offers a springboard for creating a more adequate formulation."
- As a result "the history of thought is the history of an ever-increasing approximation to the truth. Scientific knowledge is not absolute but optimal; it contains the optimum of truth attainable in a given historical period." Fromm furthermore notes that "different cultures have emphasized various aspects of the truth" and that increasing interaction between cultures allows for these aspects to reconcile and integrate, increasing further the approximation to the truth.
Truth, for Michel Foucault, is problematic when any attempt is made to see truth as an "objective" quality. He prefers not to use the term truth itself but "Regimes of Truth". In his historical investigations he found truth to be something that was itself a part of, or embedded within, a given power structure. Thus Foucault's view shares much in common with the concepts of Nietzsche. Truth for Foucault is also something that shifts through various episteme throughout history.
Jean Baudrillard considered truth to be largely simulated, that is pretending to have something, as opposed to dissimulation, pretending to not have something. He took his cue from iconoclasts who he claims knew that images of God demonstrated the fact that God did not exist. Baudrillard wrote in "Precession of the Simulacra":
- The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.
- —Ecclesiastes (Baudrillard's attribution of this quote to Ecclesiastes is deliberately fictional. In Fragments: Conversations With François L’Yvonnet, Baudrillard acknowledges this 'Borges-like' fabrication.
Some examples of simulacra that Baudrillard cited were: that prisons simulate the "truth" that society is free; scandals (e.g., Watergate) simulate that corruption is corrected; Disney simulates that the U.S. itself is an adult place. One must remember that though such examples seem extreme, such extremity is an important part of Baudrillard's theory. For a less extreme example, consider how movies usually end with the bad being punished, humiliated, or otherwise failing, thus affirming for viewers the concept that the good end happily and the bad unhappily, a narrative which implies that the status quo and institutionalised power structures are largely legitimate.
Philosopher and theologian Joseph Ratzinger, before his election as Benedict XVI, commented upon the relationship of truth with tolerance, conscience, freedom, and religion. For him, "beyond all particular questions, the real problem lies in the question of truth."
Ratzinger refers to achievements of the natural sciences as evidence that human reason has the power to know reality and arrive at truth. He also argues that "the modern self-limitation of reason" rooted in Immanuel Kant's philosophy, which views itself incapable of knowing religion and the human sciences such as ethics, leads to dangerous pathologies of religion and pathologies of science. He thinks that this self-limitation, which "amputates" the mind's capacity to answer fundamental questions such as man's origin and purpose, dishonors reason and is contradictory to the modern acclamation of science, whose basis is the power of reason.
In his book Truth and Tolerance, Ratzinger argued that truth and love are identical. And if well understood, according to him, this is "the surest guarantee of tolerance."
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