Sunday, May 30, 2010
What is Truth
What are the implications of having as many different versions of reality as there are people to experience them? I'm sure there are many but one in particular is this: If reality is relative there really is no Truth (with a capital "T"). Now I know there are many who would disagree, particularly in America where truth is that which can be demonstrated via the scientific method. Yet there are those who do not accept science as the keeper of truth. There are those who flatly reject even those facts which have been rigorously tested and repeatedly verified by scientific research.
Aristotle proposed a theory of truth centuries ago called the Correspondence Theory of Truth. The theory states that something is true if it accurately describes the world. According to this theory there is a truth-bearer - the person making the original claim - and a truth-maker - the entity that verifies the correspondence between the truth-bearer's statement and real-world conditions. Before the truth-maker can verify the accuracy of the truth-bearer's statement, however, one must first establish the precise meaning of the statement in question. For example, "grass is green" is true if what is meant is that grass appears green to the average viewer under normal conditions. However, "grass is green" is false if what is meant is that "green" is an inherent property of grass (because the green appearance of grass is created by light conditions, neural receptors in the eyes of the viewer, etc.). Truth can only be determined after meaning has been established.
And perhaps that's a big part of what truth is - shared meaning. After all, members of a given culture or religious group often share beliefs about what is true. The more people who believe something is true the "truer" it seems to become. Think about the Salem witch trials. A large group of people became convinced that there were witches among them. Whether there really were witches among them (truth) was irrelevant. Enough people believed it and these so called witches were burned at the stake.
To a certain degree I think truth exists in the eye of the beholder. What is true for one person may not be true for another. That's not to say that there are no facts -- I just think it might be more difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction than is commonly assumed.