Thursday, January 12, 2006

True and False


What is truth? How can we describe it? Does it even exist? Some might laugh at this last question: "Does truth exist? Of course it exists! What kind of question is that?" Well, it's a philosophical question, and there's no such thing as a silly question in philosophy.

I find those areas of philosophy which question our most deep-rooted assumptions the most fascinating. Our belief in truth is an interesting one indeed. In Primary School, we are asked to sort out the true questions from the false ones, with that familiar "T" and "F". From there on, we associate true with right and good, false with wrong and bad. But is the world really divided into two halves? Heroes and villains, heaven and hell?

In philosophy, we call sentences which can be true or false, "propositions". So, "I am eating an apple" is a proposition but "eat an apple" is not a proposition because it is neither true nor false. Now, all we have to do to find the essence of truth is gather all the true propositions that we know, and see what they all have in common.

Let's see. We know that the two following propositions are true (if you don't agree, just pretend they're true anyway): "1 + 1 = 2" and "apples grow on trees". What do these two have in common, apart from the fact that they are both true? What makes them both true? Nobody knows. Nobody has yet found a commonality between all the true propositions in our knowledge. And this has lead many to the conclusion that there is no such thing as truth.

But let's not be so hasty. Maybe there is no essence of truth. Maybe "truth" is a word that simply describes all those propositions which accurately describe the state of things in the world. And, as the two propositions above show, there are different ways of ascertaining the truthfulness of propositions (the first proposition uses deductive logic and the second proposition uses sensory experience and inductive logic).

Philosophers who do not believe in truth are called "anti-realists". Among the anti-realists are people who believe in relative truth. These are the "relativists", and they believe that if something is true for you, then it is true. So if you think the world if flat, then the world is flat. The problem with this view is that it can't claim to be true, because it can only be true if you think it is true. As such, it is not taken very seriously.

6 comments:

Doctor Marco said...

Finding truth is more difficult than one would expect. In medicine, when there is a hypothesis to test, in order to find if it is true or false, there is a battle against biases. Most of the times the biases of the experimental design leave what could be true as part of a relative world.

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N B Saunders said...

that's an interesting point you raise. when i studied history, i learnt the importance of bias and relative truth. everyone's account of a specific event will be different, so which one is correct? perhaps they are all correct...
but i can't agree with this. it seems that there is an objective truth out there, and some accounts will get closer to it than others, but never really reach it

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