I often start a discussion of “Exploring the Gap between Science and Religion” ( http://www.explorethegap.net) by asking the question “Is science equipped to reveal truth?” More often than not, I get the answer: “It depends on how you define truth?”
This response and other discussions have led me to explore, read, and write about “the nature of truth?”
Let me explain why the question is phrased this way. I find many instances of people either discussing truth, or claiming to hold the “absolute truth”. When I encounter such discussions, I find myself wanting to ask “what do you mean by truth?” In some settings, I have found people reluctant to tackle the question of truth, and I find many people claiming “there are many truths.”
What occurs in response, of course, isn’t truth truth? And it would appear that even though truth is illusive, and some don’t want to tackle the topic, many seem to hold firmly that there is some kind of absolute, unchangeable, immutable truth.
So here is why I ask the question “What is the nature of truth?” If we once develop detailed criteria of what truth IS, we can then apply those criteria in evaluating things which someone might claim to be true. In fact, these criteria can be—once established—used to evaluate this analysis of the nature of truth. Yes, this appears to be backwards in approach! But by doing it this way, we can have an discussion that does not start out with an unverified premise.
I found a paper posted on the web that provides a detailed analysis and discussion titled “What is the nature of truth?”
Here is an outline of the areas considered by the paper. A brief definition of each follows.
- Truth as correspondence.
- Truth as a quality of independent entities.
- Truth as a coherence, to which I would add the term “comprehensiveness.”
- Truth as regional/temporary versus absolute truth.
TRUTH AS CORRESPONDENCE: A match between observation and model/concept.
TRUTH AS QUALITY OF INDEPENDENT ENTITIES: “Experiencing makes no difference to the facts.” “The theory maintains that greenness is what is in complete independence of any and all forms of experiencing, and indeed of anything other than itself.” “Greenness is an entity in itself. And though, as experienced, it is related to a sentient consciousness, yet even in that relation it remains in itself and unaffected by the sentience.
TRUTH AS COHERENCE: “Anything is true which can be conceived. It is true because, and in so far as, it can be conceived. Conceivability is the essential nature of truth.” “To ‘conceive’ means for us to think out clearly and logically, to hold many elements together in a connexion necessitated by their several contents.” (P. 66) I interpret this to be that the concepts collectively are logical and consistent with each other. I add to it, the notion of comprehensive.
REGIONAL OR TEMPORARY TRUTH: “Universal judgments of science” “What is once true, it must be agreed, is true always: for truth, since it holds irrespectively of time, holds indifferently at all times.” (p. 88). This is contrasted with theories that change when additional information is obtained.
I will periodically pose further questions about about the nature of truth. Remember, we are trying to separate examples of truth with the criteria of truth. Here is the first question:
If we encountered truth, would it be self-evident? Or, stated differently, would the truth be independent of the observer/decider?