Thursday, October 22, 2009

What Is True?

I have been trying to think what it means when someone says, "It may not be true for you, but it is true for me." That, to me, has seemed to be an illogical statement, for I have accepted what is called "the correspondence theory of truth" to be universally true.

The correspondence theory of truth holds that the truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to external reality, whether is accurately describes (that is, corresponds with) what is real. In all situations, something is true if it corresponds to reality; it is false if it does not. There is no third possibility. Given that theory of truth, to say that something is true for me but not true for you is nonsense.

But people use words in different ways, and that evidently is case for the word true. From what I gather, some seem to use true to refer to ideas that they believe and are willing to live by. Since other people have other ideas they are willing to live by, those ideas are true to them. To that way of thinking, there seems to be no real problem if those ideas are contradictory. Obviously, that position is quite different from and contrary to the correspondence theory of truth--as well as different from the dictionary definitions of true.

My recent postings have been about Columbus, who clearly thought it true that the earth is round. So he was willing to set sail for the unknown West. The spherical nature of the earth was true for him in that he acted on what he believed. Those who thought it was not true that the earth is round would have nothing to do with the voyage. Even some on board Columbus' ships began to think it was not true and wanted to turn back. So, in a sense the spherical nature of the earth was true for Columbus, but not true for others.

But with the correspondence theory of truth, it is obvious that only one "belief," that of Columbus, was true. Those who thought that the earth was flat were in error. No postmodern or relativistic maneuvering can change that situation. Only Columbus' view corresponds to reality. Those who held to a flat earth view were wrong. Columbus' belief did not make the earth spherical, and the "flat-earthers'" ideas didn't change the fact that the earth is round. Relativism just doesn't work in some situations.

Of course, we don't have as much sure knowledge about many things as we do about the shape of the earth. It is not clear in a multitude of situations what does correspond to reality and what does not. But that lack of knowledge doesn't make it any more logical to say about anything, or about all things, "it may not be true for you, but it is true for me." Complete relativism is a logical contradiction in this way, and in others. That is why I believe that logical thinking cannot accept metaphysical relativism.

I certainly admit that there are problems with absolutism, as I have previously acknowledged. But the answer to absolutism is not relativism. I want to uphold a position that corresponds to reality and that is not self-contradictory. In spite of those who reject assertions about Truth (absolutes), I maintain that logical thinking demands such a position.

1 comment:

  1. I’d agree that what you say is true…as far as it goes. But I certainly wouldn’t stop with things that can be determined to be universally or objectively true. The surface layer of life that can be objectively determined as true or false (never mind that such “facts” routinely are updated and changed) isn’t nearly as interesting to me as the deeper layers of meaning and perspective that are necessary for facts to matter or have any “juice.” And the moment you get below that surface layer nothing is objectively true.

    Even at the surface level, labeling things true or false can be dangerous. Much conflict arises from one person being sure they know the truth so that if another person sees anything differently, that person must be lying. Many conflicts end by each person simply recognizing that the other is sincere in his or her view of the truth, even if one person must be honestly mistaken. In fact, it is often hard or impossible to determine objective truth even on basic matters, such as whether the traffic light was green or red at the time of the crash. As a federal judge once said to my shock in a trial advocacy class when I was a young lawyer, “the truth is what the jury will believe.”