Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Expedito Mduda
Truth is a concept in philosophy that treats both the meaning of the word true and the criteria by which we judge the truth or falsity in spoken and written statements. Philosophers have attempted to answer the question “What is truth?” for thousands of years. The four main theories they have proposed to answer this question are the correspondence, pragmatic, coherence, and deflationary theories of truth.
One of the earliest versions of the correspondence theory was put forward in the 4th century bc by the Greek philosopher Plato, who sought to understand the meaning of knowledge and how it is acquired. Plato wished to distinguish between true belief and false belief. He proposed a theory based on intuitive recognition that true statements correspond to the facts—that is, agree with reality—while false statements do not. In Plato’s example, the sentence “Theaetetus flies” can be true only if the world contains the fact that Theaetetus flies. However, Plato—and much later, 20th-century British philosopher Bertrand Russell—recognized this theory as unsatisfactory because it did not allow for false belief. Both Plato and Russell reasoned that if a belief is false because there is no fact to which it corresponds, it would then be a belief about nothing and so not a belief at all. Each then speculated that the grammar of a sentence could offer a way around this problem. A sentence can be about something (the person Theaetetus), yet false (flying is not true of Theaetetus). But how, they asked, are the parts of a sentence related to reality? One suggestion, proposed by 20th-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, is that the parts of a sentence relate to the objects they describe in much the same way that the parts of a picture relate to the objects pictured. Once again, however, false sentences pose a problem: If a false sentence pictures nothing, there can be no meaning in the sentence.
In the late 19th-century American philosopher Charles S. Peirce offered another answer to the question “What is truth?” He asserted that truth is that which experts will agree upon when their investigations are final. Many pragmatists such as Peirce claim that the truth of our ideas must be tested through practice. Some pragmatists have gone so far as to question the usefulness of the idea of truth, arguing that in evaluating our beliefs we should rather pay attention to the consequences that our beliefs may have. However, critics of the pragmatic theory are concerned that we would have no knowledge because we do not know which set of beliefs will ultimately be agreed upon; nor are there sets of beliefs that are useful in every context.
A third theory of truth, the coherence theory, also concerns the meaning of knowledge. Coherence theorists have claimed that a set of beliefs is true if the beliefs are comprehensive—that is, they cover everything—and do not contradict each other.
Other philosophers dismiss the question “What is truth?” with the observation that attaching the claim “it is true that” to a sentence adds no meaning. However, these theorists, who have proposed what are known as deflationary theories of truth, do not dismiss such talk about truth as useless. They agree that there are contexts in which a sentence such as “it is true that the book is blue” can have a different impact than the shorter statement “the book is blue.” More importantly, use of the word true is essential when making a general claim about everything, nothing, or something, as in the statement “most of what he says is true.”

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