Three Different Types of Truth


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Here I will explain the differences between the Correspondence Theory of truth, the Coherence Theory and the Pragmatic Theory.

What is truth? This is an interesting but also difficult question to answer. It is possible to distinguish several different definitions or approaches of truth. Here are three of them.

  • Correspondence Theory of Truth: This theory states that a statement (a “proposition”) is true if it corresponds to (or reflects) reality. If somebody states “It is raining” (the proposition) then it is true only if it is really raining outside (reality). The interesting question is now: “What is reality”? We know that senses can deceive us. So how is reality really like? And of course we have to assume that something like reality really does exist and is not simply a product of our mind.
  • Coherence Theory of Truth: This theory states that a statement (a proposition) is true if it is consistent with other things that are considered true (and do not contradict it). Whether the statement reflects reality or not is not of primary importance. A proposition is true if it “fits into the system”. For example, I hear a pencil falling to the ground. A second person in the room also hears it, and the pencil that I just saw on my table a moment ago is now gone. Three observations fit together: me hearing it, a second person hearing it and the missing pencil. According to the coherence theory, the proposition “the pencil hit the ground” is true. But did the pencil really fall to the ground or can something else explain these observations? This is of course a different question.
  • The Pragmatic Theory of Truth: This theory states that something is true if it is useful. Whether or not it reflects reality is of minor importance. Somebody (person A) may, for example, believe that earning much money is the most important thing in one’s life. This belief is true for this person and it is indeed a very useful belief. The person’s actions will be guided by this belief. The statement “Earning much money is important” is true for this person. Person B has a different view. B thinks that money is of minor importance. B thinks that having many friends is the most important thing. And guess what! This belief too is very useful! It is true for person B. His or her actions will be guided by it.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Maybe you have realized that some theories assume that truth is absolute (such as the Correspondence theory), others see truth more from a relative or subjective viewpoint (Pragmatic Theory). What is your view on this issue? Are you more an “absolutist” or more a “relativist”?
  • Does the Coherence Theory view truth more from an absolute or more from a relative viewpoint?
  • How are the “theories” of truth similar or different from scientific theories? To give you a hint, are the “truth theories” experimentally falsifyable? Why are they called “theories”? Do you consider this an appropriate term? Could this be a language issue?
  • “Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.” (Andre Gide). What’s so good about seeking truth? What’s so bad about finding it? – An Ethics question!
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3 Responses to Three Different Types of Truth

  1. Shannon

    I have always said there are three types of truth. But, the way I said it, is that, the first truth is what one person sees it as, the truth that makes it sound good. The second is the way the other person sees it, the way that makes it seem worse. The third truth, well, that’s the way it really is. I usually use this sentence to explain: “There are three things that each person must discover, a thing called ‘light,’ a thing called ‘dark,’ and a thing called ‘Truth’…”

  2. admin

    There are several other types of truths as well, such as the constuctivist theory of truth, and the consensus theory (“true is what one agrees to be true”). In my view the terms “relative”, “objective”, “universal” are adjectives that describe the other theories of truth (coherence, correspondence, pragmatic). The correspondence theory of truth assumes that an objective, universally valid truth exists. A statement is true, if it reflects this truth. The correspondence theory assumes the existence of absolute truth. According to Plato (who was a follower of absolute truth), truth should be independent of anyone’s belief (objective), eternal and public (it must be true for everyone, so it must be universal).

    Relative truth, in contrast, depends on something else (such as the individual). According to the coherence theory, truth depends on other established truths, so it is relative (depends on) these truths. Often the term “relative truth” is used in the context to say “it’s relative to me”, but I think that it can also be validly used when one wants to say “it is relative to other statements that are considered true”.

  3. thinker

    are there aby other types of truth?

    what about relative truth, objective truth, universal truth? Do they fall under the same category or not?

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