What Is Truth?


The definition of truth is not as easy as it may sound. The complexity of the rationale of its definition lies in the fact that various disciplines have their perspective of its deep meaning. Philosophy, in particular, has no definitions but explorations of what it may be according to the traditional or the contemporary philosophy. Western philosophy has been preoccupied with the notion of truth since the beginning, and yet it is paradoxical that since philosophy is the search for truth, few philosophers have inquired deeply into the question of what truth is. Nevertheless, theories of truth have been formulated in an attempt to answer the question of truth. They include coherence, correspondence and pragmatic (Walker, 10). The traditional theories have asked under what circumstances is something true or false, and philosophers seek to answer this question. One such philosopher is Martin Heidegger.

Martin Heidegger partly supports the theory of correspondence that equates truth with correspondence where judgment is the locus of truth (Dreyfus, 200). In this theory, true and reality are equated as a matter of fact. When one have a certain concept of a thing, and this thing corresponds to this concept, then the conclusion is its affiliation to the truth. The theory of correspondence in essence, therefore, speaks of the true state of affairs where matters that are as they should be are referred to as being true. Further, statements can also be termed as true or false by the matter with which the statement is made. A statement is said to be true if what it means and extorts is the matter about which the statement is made. Truth, according to the correspondence theory can be understood in two ways. That is, the correspondence of an idea as it is conceived in advance or, the correspondence of that which is intended by a statement with the thing itself. Either way, conformity is of the essence in this theory. The theory of correspondence, also known as realism has been criticized for its stand that every proposition is independent of the justification we may or may not have for believing that proposition.

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I agree with the criticism of Martin Heidegger on this theory because it is possible that any belief could be false no matter how well justified they are. According to Heidegger, belief is subject to the perceptions of people in different parts of the world. This, therefore, means that what is considered true by a certain group of people is not necessarily considered true by another (Dreyfus, 167). If this theory is anything to go by then, that means that referring to something or a situation as true based on wrong belief could bring contention and perhaps misleading. This theory could also have problems explaining the truths of law, economics, and morality. For instance, what makes it true that two and two make four is the certain fact about the number two and the addition function. But numbers and functions are not physical objects and hence unlikely to enter into any causal relationships. Surely, mathematical propositions can be true. 

The pragmatic theory is taken as the core of the doctrine of the meaning of truth (Lynch, 677). Pragmatists would argue that something is true when it is practically useful. The theory holds that truth isn’t some eternal first principal known by intuition or deduction. Rather, by looking at the practical consequences of belief through experience, it can be decided whether a belief is true or not. Pragmatists argue that truth is helpful and that true idea are those that help people to solve issues and overcome obstacles (Lynch, 678). False ideas, on the other hand, are not helpful and may be harmful. Further, the pragmatic theory of truth argues that abstract things such as friendship, justice, and patriotism are real or true regardless of the fact that they cannot be seen, heard or touched. This is because the truth is in essence, ‘working values in experience.’ This is to mean that the ideas, theories, and beliefs about the abstract things in life are those that are instruments that are meant to make our lives better. Therefore if an idea works or is helpful, then it is considered to be true. True ideas lead to a certain direction which can be verified through experience, and this explains the argument by Martin Heidegger that practicality of things is what makes them true (Dahlstrom, 27).

I agree with the argument of Heidegger on this theory because, in essence, the truth must give an account of itself and the sense of being that it presupposes. For instance, abstract things such as love can only be termed as so, only by what has been inexperience. That is, a mother, for example, will show their love to their children by putting their needs after those of the children. Whether or not the mother says to the children ‘I love you; does not disregard the fact that the mother does in an actual sense love her children. This is shown by the actions of kindness and self-denial for the sake of the children and cannot be disputed as being the love of a mother.

The coherence theory of truth has several versions (Schmitt, 432). In one perspective, coherence is consistency wherein this view; a proposition coheres with a certain set of the proposition. The proposition is consistent with the set and is therefore true. Martin Heidegger disagrees with this version of the theory since it suggests that things or situation whose description befits a certain set of standards then defines consistency. As much as this could be true, it would also mean that more one thing or situation may befit the set standard which then gives the notion that these two things or situations are the same. The second version of the theory holds that a proposition is an incoherence only if it befits certain elements of the set standards. That is to say, there is a strict entitlement to the definition of the standards such that two things or situations might have the same description in general but differ by way of certain specific elements of the definition. This version is more logical according to Martin Heidegger. The third version which in my opinion should be the definition of the coherence theory is where there is mutual explanatory support between propositions. In essence, however, all the three versions adhere to the fact that truth has to stick to the older body of truths and experience. This is, in my opinion, is logical. 

A rather interesting theory that Martin Heidegger seems to agree with is the deflationary theory of truth (Dreyfus, 160). The theory is also known as the redundancy theory, the disappearance theory, the no-truth theory, the disquisitional theory or the minimalist theory. According to this theory, to assert that a statement is true is just to proclaim the statement itself (Armour, 23). For example to say that gold is yellow is true or that it is true that gold is yellow is equivalent to simply saying that gold is yellow and this according to the deflationary theory is all that can be significantly said about gold. This includes suggestions such as correspondence to facts, that truth consists of coherence to a set of beliefs or propositions and that truth is the ideal outcome of the rational inquiry. For a deflationist, therefore, the truth has no nature beyond what is captured beyond the ordinary claims such as ‘gold is yellow.’ I disagree with the rationale of this theory for the following reasons. First, the theory does not allow for clarification on whether the truth of statements refers to their proposition or whether the statements themselves. To this end, Heidegger opposes the theory as it suggests that propositions are independent of the being. For instance, to say that snow is white, according to this theory would mean exactly that, snow is white. But snow is in some instances not white. This does not, however, mean that it is not snow. The theory suggests that in such a case if it is not white then it is not snow, which is false. Secondly, the theory disregards the rule of correspondence in defining truth. It lacks the adequacy upon which theories are nested to be referred as truth. For example, to say that snow is white according to this theory means that snow is white because snow is white. This is false since there is an explanatory relationship between the two. 

The definition of truth according to traditional philosophy has criteria of determination, and that is, the truth has to cohere with the older body of truths, has to be helpful in solving problems and is capable of being verified or validated (Rusell, 33). Contemporary philosophy may have differing definitions as regards the exploration of the subject of truth, but the ideas are based on the above theories. Truth is an extremely basic concept which makes it ambiguous in the definition. In philosophy, the term is narrowed down to refer to certain concepts. The first concept is that of belief. Truth is wound to belief such that certain things are said to be true if who is saying them beliefs in them. For instance, a witness in court will give their story as concerns the case at hand and swears to say the truth and nothing but the truth. Similarly, those in the audience may or may not believe what the witness says, according to their beliefs. Therefore the witness may give her testimony which is true to them but may not necessarily be considered truth by the rest of the people in the courtroom.

Secondly, the truth is looped to assertion or endorsement. When we assert ourselves, we present ourselves as speaking the truth. For instance, a jury’s judgment in court will depend on the way the witnesses present their testimonies. Their decision as regards the case will be considered the truth at that moment in time.  Further, the truth is wound to knowledge. Evidently, whether something is considered true or not depends on the knowledge of the people involved in the subject matter. For instance, a ruling in court given in court is made on the assumption that the evidence provided is reliable to inform the decision of the judge. 

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Various contemporary philosophers argue that none of the above theories answer the question of what truth is. According to Martin Heidegger, there are three levels of truth (Davidson, 122).The lowest level is propositional where truth is taken to be an agreement between a proposition and a thing. In this level, affirmation and denial come into play where affirmation of the proposition is what makes a thing true. The next level of truth is ontic. This stage presupposes that the being-true of an assertion is a derivative mode of the primordial characteristic of truth. That is to say, how something ‘shows itself’ is more primordial characteristic of what it is that the mere criterion of correspondence. The last level of truth is ontological which refers to the being of beings (Davidson, 13)

Truth is indeed an indefinable concept (Davidson, 178). The concept is not ambiguous as it can be explicated in different logical ways. The arguments of various philosophers make the concept of truth an increasingly interesting subject to explore. Further perspectives should, therefore, be brought forward and especially to clarify on issues of theories of traditional philosophy and those nested in contemporary philosophy.

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  1. Armour-Garb, Bradley P., and J. C. Beall, eds. Deflationary truth. Vol. 1. Open Court Publishing, 2005.
  2. Dahlstrom, Daniel O. Heidegger’s concept of truth. Cambridge university press, 2001.
  3. Davidson, Donald. “The folly of trying to define truth.” The Journal of Philosophy 93.6 (1996): 263-278.
  4. Dreyfus, Hubert L. “How Heidegger defends the possibility of a correspondence theory of truth with respect to the entities of natural science.” Dreyfus, HL, & M, A. Wrathhall (eds.), Heidegger Reexamined, London, Routledge (2002): 219-230.
  5. Lynch, Michael Patrick, ed. The nature of truth: classic and contemporary perspectives. Mit Press, 2001.
  6. Russell, Bertrand. An inquiry into meaning and truth. Routledge, 2013.
  7. Schmitt, Frederick F. “Theories of truth.” (2003).
  8. Walker, Ralph. “Theories of truth.” A Companion to the Philosophy of Language (1997): 532-555.
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