Correspondence Theory

  • Best known, most widely used conception of truth
  • Maintains there is a relationship (correspondence) between people’s internal beliefs and realities in the external world (truth means agreement between thought and reality)
  • Belief is true if it agrees with fact or coincides with the physical world or objective reality
  • Truth claims should be checked against measurable facts and observation

Famous proponent: Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

  • “Our knowledge of truth must be such as to admit of its opposite, falsehood.  A good many philosophers have failed to adequately satisfy this condition: they have constructed theories according to which all our thinking ought to be true, and have then had the greatest difficulty in finding a place for falsehood.”
  • “Truth and falsehood are properties of beliefs and statements; hence a world of mere matter, since it would contain no belief statements, would also contain no truth or falsehood.”
  • “The truth or falsehood of a belief is always dependent upon something that lies outside of the belief itself….they are properties dependent upon the relations of the beliefs to other things, not upon any internal quality of the beliefs.”

Criticisms:

  • Impossible to determine truth of claims human’s cannot measure or do not have direct experience of (e.g. God)
  • Some believe it is an oversimplification of truth- everything is true or false and nothing in between

Coherence Theory

  • Response to correspondence theory
  • Belief is considered true if it coheres or is consistent with an existing belief or body of knowledge
  • Beliefs or judgements are compared to other beliefs or judgements (not to something unlike a belief or judgement like a measurable fact)
  • Allows for different degrees of truth (not simply untrue because it does not match facts).  Also allows for the possibility that belief accepted as truth now could be rejected in the future

Famous Proponent: Georg Hegel (1770-1831)

  • Led to coherence theory through his metaphysical beliefs
  • Was a radical idealist- believed that reality was composed of a collection of beliefs
  • A belief cannot be true because it corresponds to something which is not a belief.  Instead, the truth of a belief can only consist in its coherence with other beliefs.

Criticisms:

  • Cannot guarantee truth- what if the body of knowledge using to verify the truth of a belief is false?
  • Circular logic- X is true because Y is true.  Y is true because X is true.

There is no such thing as shades of truth- nothing can more or less true.  Judgements are either completely true or false

Pragmatism

  • Truth must be discussed in terms of its consequences
  • Holds that the ideas of true or false relate directly to the usefulness or uselessness of beliefs, propositions or statements
  • If something works, is useful or successful, then it is for all intents and purposes true
  • Pragmatists object to traditional ideas that truth is fixed and absolute- human beings create their own truth- there can be many truths at once

Famous Proponent: William James (1842-1910)

  • The true is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief, and good, too, for definite assignable reasons: ‘The true’, to put it very briefly, is only the expedient in the way of our thinking, just as ‘the right’ is only the expedient in the way of our behaving.”
  • “Any idea upon which we can ride …; any idea that will carry us prosperously from any one part of our experience to any other part, linking things satisfactorily, working securely, saving labor; is true for just so much, true in so far forth, true instrumentally.”
  • “Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. Its verity is in fact an event, a process: the process namely of its verifying itself, its veri-fication. Its validity is the process of its valid-ation.”

Criticisms:

  • It is possible for a belief to be true and not useful or be false and useful
  • What if two people or communities have opposing views that work for them- how can they both be true?
  • Leads to ethical issues- if everything is a matter of opinion, nothing is wrong
  • If truth is relative, why does it matter?  Why even care if something is true or false?

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