The Truth about Truth, Part 2 (What Truth Is)
My previous post was primarily an effort to dispel inadequate concepts of truth prior to discussing what truth actually is. Now that those partial concepts have been dealt with I can proceed to do just that. Thomas Aquinas wrote, in his Summa Theologiae, that “A judgment is said to be true when it conforms to the external reality.” Truth is that which corresponds to reality. To put it in more contemporary and applicable terms, and how theologian and apologist Norman Geisler phrases it, telling the truth is “telling it how it is.”
The primary reason for seeing this as a superior concept of truth is that without correspondence, the notions of truth and falsity would be utterly meaningless. The way we understand truth in our experience is by recognizing the correlation between reality and statements about reality. Likewise, the way we recognize falsehood is by discerning the difference between reality and statements about reality. If the correspondence view of truth was not so comprehensive, we should not expect to see any differences between statements and reality. However, this is clearly not what we do see (even my explanation here is contingent upon the reality of correspondence!).
For example, if I were to claim to you that I was present at the launch of the first manned space mission, there would be plenty of ways to verify whether I was telling the truth. However, all of these ways would accomplish the same goal: verification of whether my statement corresponds with the facts. In this case, the best place to start would be by verifying my own date of birth, which, having fallen long after the historical event in question, would prove that I was lying about having witnessed the launch. (For the record, this event occurred on May 5, 1961, 19 years prior to my birth.) In fact, a claim like this would not even fall within the ability of the pragmatic truth theory to verify, nor the coherence theory, nor even the intentions theory. No matter how sincere I might be in my delusion, the facts show that it is not possible that I would have been present for this event.
When a witness makes an oath to tell ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,’ he or she is making a promise that depends on the correspondence theory in order for it to be coherent. Without the idea of truth being that which corresponds to reality, there would be no means of discerning the validity of testimony. If a witness’ statements need not correspond to reality, then it seems to me that there is hardly any need for such an oath to be made. In fact, if this were truly the case, all statements would be true, and theoretically, any dispute would be resolved without the need of a trial. In my mind I can imagine millions of lawyers joining force to defend the correspondence view, and in doing so, the validity of their careers!
In Part 1 of this post, I discussed several other views on truth. However, what I hope I made clear is that each of these views is inadequate to deal with the full scope of truth, and that most of the views were self-contradictory. Each view, whether it is the pragmatic, coherence, intentional, or existential, makes correspondence implicit in its claim. Thus, for one to claim that the existential view of truth is true, implies that the existential view corresponds to reality!