What is Truth? Does Absolute Truth Exist?

Truth is defined as “that which corresponds to reality.” Other theories have been proposed, of course, and these other theories deny the view that says that truth statements must correspond to that which is real. However, each of these other views proposes to explain how the world works, how the world is. Therefore, each theory of truth proposes to explain how their view corresponds to reality.

Our next question is more controversial: whether absolute truth exists. Today we are told that absolute truth does not exist, that all truth is relative. But if we examine this statement, we find that what it is actually saying is “it is absolutely true that there is no absolute truth,” or “it is true in all cases that all truth is relative.”

In fact, it is a rather simple matter of defining truth as absolute in all cases and corresponding to reality.  Take any explanation of truth that a person may give…….any proposed system of how truth is explained…….no matter what degree of relativity it claims about truth….we can merely ask the question, “is that just your opinion, or does it apply to everyone?” If the person says that it is merely their opinion, then the explanation does not purport to be an explanation of truth, and we do not have to respond to an opinion. But if the person claims that it applies to everyone, then they have made a statement claiming universal, absolute truth that explains how things are for everyone.

In effect, all truth statements are absolute and universal, corresponding to reality, or else they are false.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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9 Responses to What is Truth? Does Absolute Truth Exist?

  1. Pingback: Common Questions, with Answers | Thomistic Bent

  2. T-money says:

    “Truth is defined as “that which corresponds to reality.””

    Really? What is “that”? What is “reality” And what do you mean by “corresponds”? Not a very good definition if you wanted to know…

    Truth is nothing more than a concept, a mere function of language. See, we use “truth” to verify a proposition’s adherence to the world, that’s all. In fact, we all go throughout life trying to weed out the “true” statements from the “not-true” statements. We essentially build two distinct piles of statements, but if we try to apply the concept of truth to complete languages, it becomes nonsensical, like asking if the french language is true or not.

    Even further, we only apply questions of truth to statements and not objects or physical conditions. Truth isn’t a property or characteristic of an object or state of being. It does not make sense to think of a tree as being true. But then again, many people think truth is synonymous with existence, which would in fact imply objects do “instantiate” the property of truth. Again, all we have to do is ask them if the object in question has the characteristic, like is the tree here (having the property of location), is the tree in bloom (having the property of blooming) and is the tree true (the property of truth), and see if we get weird looks after the last question.

    Once we realize that truth is a concept, and not an object, like a computer or a tree, then we realize, that truth is a construct, created by humans for the purpose of communication. It now becomes clear truth is, in fact, a function of language. Any other way to “make” it more always results in equivocal and inconsistent definitions. If you’re definitions are not concise and objective, you WILL commit a fallacy in your “rational explanation” for truth.

    But now, lets take a look at what you might mean by “absolute”…. From your post above, I gather you equate “absolute truth” to be synonymous with the mere notion of “truth”, i.e. no matter what, if something is true, its absolutely true. Please correct me if I’m wrong. But here you run the risk of of making the notion of “absolute” meaningless. So why even defend the idea? Unless you are attempting to make the notion of “absolute” meaningless. But I think you are trying to defend the notion of “absolute” as it relates to truth, albeit, not very successfully.

    But let’s grant you do wish to make the notion of ” absolute” irrelevant. I don’t think too many people would agree with your assessment. Just for example, the statement, “Barack Obama is President” is a true statement, but not an absolute truth. See, an absolute, in the common sense of the word, implies unchanging, independent from any condition, such as place or time, and therefore not dependent on any relationship to other objects or even existence itself. Can this statement be said to be absolute truth 10 years ago? How about in the Phillipines?

  3. T-money says:

    In case you do think the notion of absolute is relevant, then ultimately, the concept of “absolute truth” is inconsistent. The concept of “absolute” means no relationship to objects or conditions, and the concept of “truth” means the relationship between at least two objects, the speaker of a statement and at least one other object that statement is referring to. The notions together are nonsensical. Its all in the definitions. But we put nonsensical phrases together all the time, so it shouldn’t be too surprising to see it happens in philosophy and theology.

    • humblesmith says:

      I have dealt with most of this in other posts. See:
      http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/all-truth-is-absolute-truth-there-is-no-relative-truth/
      http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/all-truth-is-absolute-truth/

      You’re comments are insightful, thank you. I am not sure I understand everthing you are saying, but I will attempt to clarify.

      First, “truth” in our context is a statement about a real world that exists independent of our minds. If we doubt the existence of such a real world, we will never prove it exists through philosophy. If our friend Descartes proved anything, he proved that if you start in the mind, you are forever locked there, unable to get to the outside world. So at least for the purposes of our definitions of truth, we will assume a world exists about which we can make statements.

      We would deny a coherence view of truth, which holds that statements are only true if a group of such statements cohere into a consistent, logical unity. Such a position either claims that the coherence view of truth corresponds to the way the world is, or not. The first option is a correspondence view, and the second makes no statements that are relevant to the world, or to me, as a part of the world.

      Second, truth statements are necessarily only communicated via language. It is absurd to say we have a claim to truth without any meaningful statement in some sort of language. Language is thus the containers of meaning about which we communicate about the real world.

      Third, more specific to your points: If we draw a circle around everything you are saying, and have a complete description of your view of truth, then you apparently claim that this system is ‘how things are’ in the world, and systems that disagree with this system are false. You are thus claiming that your description of truth corresponds to how the world is, and is therefore true. You would hold that ‘T-money’s description is true’ because it corresponds to the way the world is. If you are not claiming your view applies to the world, I do not see that you have said anything at all.

      Fourth, if you make a statement that purports to be a true statement of how truth works in the world, I would assume that you hold this statement to apply to everyone else, and not just yourself. You would likely reject someone who said ‘I disagree for no particular reason. I just don’t want truth to work that way.’ You are thus making statements about how truth works, statements that you purport to be universal and objective.

      Fifth, I hope you’re not making statements that you claim to be objective and universally true, and saying that there is no objective universal truth. This would be self-refuting.

      Sixth, you say “The concept of ‘absolute’ means no relationship to objects or conditions…” I am not sure where you get this idea. It is absolutely true that A is not non-A, and this is universally true for all ojbects and conditions. Firther, the statement “The concept ‘absolute’ means no relationship to objects or conditions” is a statement that purports to apply to all object and conditions, which is self-refuting. Unless you have some other definition of absolute, I fail to understand your meaning.

      Seventh, you claim that truth statements cannot be made about objects. This is also self-refuting, for it claims to be a true statement that applies to the real world of objects. But you are correct in that ultimately, truth statements are about being (existence). Object A either exists or not. We cannot hold to pure skepticism about the world (“I know I can’t know anything about the world”), for this also is self-refuting. A statement is true if and only if it corresponds to how a thing is in the world. All meaningful statements can be reduced to predicating through “is” statements about existence.

      Eighth, by “absolute” I mean universally and objectively true for all people, times, and places. As I pointed out in the posts I linked above, the statement, “on his fifth birthday, little Bobby is 35 inches tall.” This statement is universally true for everyone, in all times, and all places, even though little Bobby will grow up to be big Bobby, and will not always be 35 inches tall. It is true for everyone everwhere that he was 35 inches tall on his fifth birthday.

      We can make statements which we cannot tell whether they are true (It is cold on planet Zorg), or are imprecise statements (That thing is odd), but if a statement is true, it is universally true, applies to the real world, and is objective.

  4. T-money says:

    “First, “truth” in our context is a statement about a real world…” – Yes, truth is a function of language, not something akin to what the X-Files claims, i.e. “…the TRUTH is out there…”,… rubbish.

    “So at least for the purposes of our definitions of truth, we will assume a world exists about which we can make statements.” – Yes, “the world” and the objects in it, can never be “proven” to exist, only assumed to exist.

    “…statements are only true if a group of such statements cohere into a consistent, logical unity.” – What are you talking about? So the statement, “Barack Obama is President” is true if it coheres into a consistent, logical unity? This does not make sense. What is the statement cohering to? A consistent, logical unity? A unity of what? Lets have clear definitions, please. Truth is: _____, simple question, please provide definition.

    “truth statements are necessarily only communicated via language.” – Exactly, but we already went over that earlier (see first response). Truth is a function of language, nothing more. It is not an object in the “world” that we assume to exist. It is a concept relating two objects, namely the subject positing a statement about the world and the object/conditions the statement is describing. Question: Where does your “unity” come in here?

    “If we draw a circle around everything you are saying,…” – We can draw circles all day long, but it won’t get us a definition of truth.

    “…then you apparently claim that this system is ‘how things are’ in the world…” – I have made no such claim about the world, other than it’s existence is assumed. Again, my claim is that truth is a concept, not an object in the world. Its a function of language. How many times do I need to say it!

    “… and systems that disagree with this system are false.” – What systems? Fuel injection systems?

    “You are thus claiming that your description of truth corresponds to how the world is, and is therefore true.” – No, I am claiming that truth is what we use to verify statements made about the world, not how the world is. Truth has nothing to do with how the world is, statements do that. Truth is not in the real world. It is a concept, not an object with location. Please do not commit a strawman fallacy.

    “You are thus making statements about how truth works, statements that you purport to be universal and objective.” – How something works is not equivalent to it being universal. Perhaps some insightful definitions would be helpful. Universal: ________ (def.). But then again, you are creating a strawman here.

    “…you purport to be universal and objective.” – No, you are purporting this, not me. How can language be universal and objective? We have already established language is necessarily spoken by people, subjects, this makes language subjective, not objective, in nature. And any notion of applying truth to a language as a whole is nonsensical. Please read my initial comments for reference.

    “Fifth,…..” – Whoa? Again, you are the one saying this….

    “Sixth,….” – OK, you don’t know what I mean or where I got this definition. Then please define your terms and we can proceed with rational explanation. Until then, it is you who are making irrelevant, meaningless statements about the world. Simply define “absolute”, here:______.

    “you claim that truth statements cannot be made about objects.” – Who said that? Careful, you might be making another strawman fallacy. I said truth is not a property or characteristic of objects, its a function of language, much the same way adjectives are functions of language, they describe nouns. I thought I made that clear earlier. Please read my comments before refuting your own.

    “A statement is true if and only if it corresponds to how a thing is in the world.” – This is a second definition of truth you have provided, how many definitions for truth do you ascribe to? Are they all correct? “How a thing is” and “consistent, logical unity” do not seem t o be the same definition.

    “truth statements are about being (existence).” – No, this is what YOU say. I know numbers are concepts, not objects, but I can still meaningfully say that 2 plus 2 equals 4. Furthermore, even you understand the statement to have truth value. Interestingly enough, you have provided a third definition for truth; that which exists. But I have already described the mistake many people make regarding this definition. Again read my comments above. Existence is not synonymous with truth. Perhaps your philosophy professor doesn’t know the difference either. Again, perhaps a time-out for definitions is necessary,

    Truth: ______
    Absolute: _______
    Exist: ______
    Concept: _______
    Object: ________

    Please make sure your definitions are objective and consistent.

    “by “absolute” I mean universally and objectively true for all people, times, and places.” – So you are defining truth as absolute to prove truth is absolute. Sounds like you are committing the fallacy of circular reasoning. In real philosophy, we use concise definitions that are objective and consistent, completely exhaustive and mutually exclusive. We do not allow definitions to include the very terms we are attempting to define. Perhaps a review of critical thinking is needed, before we begin Philosophy 101. The quandary here is that we must first define truth in a rational, consistent manner, then define absolute in the same way, THEN we can define what an “absolute truth” is. Then we can argue about its “existence” (as long as you can provide a definition for that term as well).

    “on his fifth birthday, little Bobby is 35 inches tall.” This statement is universally true for everyone, in all times, and all places, even though little Bobby will grow up to be big Bobby, and will not always be 35 inches tall. It is true for everyone everwhere that he was 35 inches tall on his fifth birthday. – Is this true before Bobby is born? How is this a “consistent, logical unity”, or “how the world is”? Your notion of “absolute” seems to fall apart here. But your notion and my notion of “absolute” do not differ as much as you think they might. I do not think this statement is true before Bobby’s birth, nor, in my estimation, do you.

    If you wish to respond to my comments, by all means read them, then proceed with your refutation. It does no good for you to “disprove” your personal constructs of my positions. You would not be describing “how the world is”….

    • humblesmith says:

      In the literature that discusses truth theory, the dominant positions are the correspondence theory and the coherence theory. The correspondence theory is correct.

      • T-money says:

        humblesmith – So, truth is now defined by an appeal to authority…. and asserting such an appeal makes this correspondence theory of truth (CTT) correct, right? But I still don’t know what your definition of truth is. You submitted three separate accounts of truth, all different from one another. Is this your CTT you wish to defend and appeal from authority as correct? Rather disappointed…

        Perhaps, as I have mentioned above, your definitions should be more concise and consistent. If this CTT is so widely accepted as correct, it should be rather easy to define. Here, I’ll let you begin by providing the definition below.

        truth: __________

        Maybe, I should write “correspondence” to the philosophy department you trained at, perhaps they can provide a definition.

        Regardless, I have submitted a definition for truth and its function in language. You have provided several definitions. I have submitted the case that the notions of “absolute” and “truth” are inconsistent, therefore, according to YOU and LNC, cannot “exist”.

        If you wish to respond to my case, please do. But let’s avoid weezle-wording, reification, and strawmen fallacies, agreed? If you do not wish to respond, then why post such nonsense to begin with? You are open for critical examination once you assert your case. I suggest welcome such examinations, or erase you site and go about preaching to those who wouldn’t know any better.

  5. T-money says:

    “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence… ” – L.W.

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