The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates

Friday, 14 January 2011

True and False

In my usage:

"Truth" is a potential property of ideas, and only ideas. An idea is true to the degree that it corresponds with (accurately accounts for) the reality which it purports to represent.

So: "This coin is circular" is pretty much true - not entirely, though, as no coin can be perfectly circular.

So: "This politician is a liar" is also liable to be pretty much true, in general - though most politicians tell the truth sometimes.

So: "Every massive body attracts every other massive body with a force that is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centres" is excellent as an approximation under most common circumstances in the local universe and for decades was accounted as being true without qualification; but in fact, it is false when bodies get very large or very close.

So: "Stephen is French" is false - though I may have a few "French genes" for all I know, and I speak a modicum of the language.

All of the above statements "exist" and have reality (as statements) so it is possible for "falsity" to exists and "be real" - as a true property of a false statement, which is the most that it ever could be!

Hence "reality" =/= "truth", as some of "reality" consists of "falsehood".

"Is it possible to attain truth?"

This is the crucial question, and it depends on a deeper one: "If one had a true idea, would it be possible to recognise it as being true?"  The point is that it isn't much good "accidentally hitting on the truth" if one can't definitely notice the fact that one has done so.

At the deepest level, I think this cannot be answered by logic or reason. These all rely in turn on the assumption that other ideas are themselves true - when this has not yet been established.

I believe that it may be possible to "recognise" that some ideas are true - that some ideas have "the ring of truth" to them. Plato believed that this was because we all have an instinct for truth, based on a direct access to knowledge and understanding of reality which we possessed before and apart from our mortal existence. I don't go along with the specifics of his theory; but I think that something similar must be true, or else one has a real "bootstrapping" problem in epistemology.


  1. A suggestion: truth is a Person, and is only secondarily a property of things that are not-God (AKA creatures).

    Another complication: *aletheia* in Greek & *emeth* in Hebrew may overlap, but in the OT, truth is "done" - it is not simply a property of assertions.

    ISTM that Christian faith comes by personal encounter with this Person, Who is also "God-with-us" - not by assertions. They do not have the personal dynamism that meeting a person does. Friendships engagr our whole persons, not just our intelligences. Which is why the intellectualism of so much popular apologetic STM to be misguided: knowing =///= loving, let alone being Loved. Truth is not enough. It's like the human skeleton: necessary for life, but not enough.

  2. The Hebrew word you refer to may be translated as "truth", but from what you say it is a richer concept than "truth" in English. Also, people misuse and extend the use of words in all sort of poetic ways.

    Of course "truth is not enough": not even when it comes to ideas. An idea that is true is not, by virtue of its truth, *known* to be true. Ortho-doxy is not episteme.

    To know (episteme) is to love God; but "true-belief" about God is compatible with mortal sin.

    To say that "truth is a Person" is true poetically, but not technically. What it might mean is the the human nature (not Person) of Jesus (Jesus does not have a human person, but is only a divine person) authentically manifested the Divine Nature as "the visible ikon of the invisible God".

    I strongly concur that faith in God arises from an encounter of love with God. Hence my emphasis on Liturgical worship, which is the closest thing we have in this world to "making love with God."