Theories of truth

The question what is truth and how it can be discovered has been one of the major issues in philosophy for more then 2500 years.  Since the days of Tales and the first physicians till today, to modern philosophers this question stays provocative and intriguing, too. But no matter how many different theories was offered to readers worldwide, still philosophy has not offered an accurate answer to that question. Science? Can science offer answers to countless number of questions about everything we raise every day?  Even today when  development of science is so progressive, we claim that some things, claims, explanations etc. cannot be verified or proved by scientific methods. We can measure the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, for instance.  Or, we can discover the four new chemical elements, we can work on decoding of human DNA chain. We can claim that something is really true because it was proved by the word of science but what about questions that we call metaphysical, supernatural and all that are beyond materia visible or the observable world ? Have we found answers to questions about the first cause of the Universe? Or who have supremacy in owning the right answer about God, theist or atheist? How can we measure love or can we do it all? For how many universes we know?  Enquirers search for truth every day. Some of them prefer the word of science, others are keen to accept rational explanations. The danger lies in opinions who pretend to be the only and one truth. The history of human kind has been witnessing to numerous attempts of people (individuals) or different groups who wanted to put on a pedestal truth for which they claimed it was only acceptable. If one or a group pretends to posses truth, we might get in a dangerous situation. Every dangerous political ideology was lead by one truth. Many atrocities were done in the name of one truth. Terms that we connect with supremacy of one truth are dogma, prejudices,  bias, ideology (in negative context) etc. And, finally, while finishing an intro to the lecture, we have to ask ourselves when a scientific proof becomes  scientism, and therefore, forced to be accepted as the only truth.
Class time: 90 minutes

Goals and objectives:

Students are able to:

  •  identify different theories of truth and where they can be applied

  • discuss investigation methods with others

  •  share ideas about the quality of the inquiry process

  • develop formal criteria while evaluating  quality of their own statements so as statements of other people

  • understand that every theory of truth can reveal truth only to certain degree

  • understand that truth is not absolute always


Opening: 15 minutes

An introductory part of a class starts with a short explanation what is logic. Then follows an announcement that we will extract some things from logic such as coherent theory of truth, correspondence theory of truth and the pragmatist theory of truth, with examples added, in order to deepen this lecture.

Two definitions of logic, according to Hofweber Thomas  (“Logic and Ontology”) are:

” Logic is the study of certain mathematical properties of artificial, formal languages. It is concerned with such languages as the first or second order predicate calculus, modal logics, the lambda calculus, categorial grammars, and so forth”  and

“A second discipline, also called ‘logic’, deals with certain valid inferences and good reasoning based on them. It does not, however, cover good reasoning as a whole.”

  • examples given for warming up:

2+2 = 4

The sky is clear today.

An illness is a part of life.

Students are asked to think about the amount of truth said in these statements and to discover is there any difference between said. What kind of knowledge is exposed in these statements?

Development: 60 minutes

Our knowledge (about everything) depends of its coherence with thinking or its correspondence with reality.  It doesn`t mean if we believe that something is true, it is true. Every of proposed theories of truth aim to offer an explanation of truth in its own manner. For instance, we usually say that two different things cannot be equal at the same time. Something is and something is not at the same time in the language of logic, and there is no way between two of that.  When something cannot be different from itself in the very same moment, we proof that according to law of non- contradiction.  A = A. Aristotle was the one who introduced the world with this law, aiming to define distinction(s) between everything that exists. A ofrog is different then a horse. Or a house is different then a penthouse (distinctions based on its qualities). Although we can claim that we see the sun while it rains. It happens sometimes although very rare. Or that we see the sun on the sky while the moon starts to appear.

However, let`s not forget that TOK is not philosophy.

Qualities of theories of truth should be justification and evidence. Or we will find a rational way to justify certain statement (through philosophical thinking) or we will seek for empirical evidences when want to proof something.

  • It is useful to mention here the difference between false and true beliefs.

People believed for centuries that the Earth was the center of the Universe. false belief

Dogs are devoted to humans. true belief 

  • After that goes the story about  justification. Warrantability.

Here comes the more complicated part of an explanation of the lecture.

Classification of warrantability:

  • Logical warrantability – laws of logicl

This kind of warrantability is found in language and thinking. Something is true because it is logical.

  • Semantic warrantability – analyzing the meaning of words

How do we define something? How do we express something? How people perceive what we say to them?

  • Systemic warrantability

The Pythagorean theorem (an all axioms in mathematics)

  • Derive warranty from logic interdependence of all propositions in a deductive system
  • Empirical warrantability – confirmatory relation to specific qualities of first person experience

  • different documents used as proofs
  • Testimonial warrantability

Few people witnessed to see a theft in a store across the street.

But what if reality is different that the picture seen no matter how strong is wish to believe in something perceived by sense perception?

In addition to said, an explanation of difference between correspondence theory of truth and coherence theory of truth can be continued.

What we say (or for what we claim that is true) has to be in correspondence with observable reality. It can be verified by experiments, for instance.

Students are asked to guess which sentence  is adequate for correspondence theory of truth.

Dogs prefer to eat meat.

Obi wan Kenobi used more then once his light sabre against Darth Vader. 

When finish with an explanation of coherence theory of truth thoughts of Descartes, Kant and Hume on discovering truth will added to the explanation.

After this part of the lecture students may do a quick exercise. They can write on a sheet of paper examples of three different sentences. The first one statement would be “a statement according to Descartes explanation of truth”, the second would be “a statement according Hume`s understanding of truth” and the third would be “a statement according Kant`s understanding of truth”.

When they finish the exercise, few students may read what they wrote.

Very TOK part of this TOK (in my humble opinion) class might be spot right here (although I predict how boring this might be to students) , when realist point of view with antirepresentationalist point of view.

Realists say that it truth (as we mentioned already when talked about correspondence theory of truth) only what can be noticed by sense perception and verified experimentally. Antirepresentationalists, such as Kant, say that we are not able to understand complete truth while not being able to leave the space of our own subjectivity.

Supporters of coherence theory of truth say that is true in what they believe in. 

Questions for students:

Can we apply coherence theory of truth for those who we call (radical) religious believers or just for those who believe that belief is equal to truth? Or is more evident, no matter how surprisingly this might sound, that coherence theory of truth is accepted in many court rooms?

The last part of the development part of class is dedicated to pragmatist theory of truth.

According to pragmatists, something is taken as truth of it works!

And the last for an explanation in this lecture is – The Ewe Creativity Test

What is so beautiful about this theory of truth is its core idea – it not enough that something works (as this would be accepted criteria for pragmatists), it has to improve a quality of human life.

(an example is offered here)

Closure: 15 minutes

  • to critically evaluate all the components of the lecture  with students (Have they understood everything what was said during the lecture time? What did they like the most? What did they dislike?)
  • to open 10 – minutes discussion about truth with students
  • to assign a homework for them:
  • They have to find two examples of truth that is revealed in Zen buddhism and in the religions of the Book



Helen Mitchell, Roots of Wisdom: A Tapestry of Philosophical Traditions,++truth&source=bl&ots=pHlFRQ41Ou&sig=fW0Yfa7B0G09zADESKj4OLjBgRM&hl=hr&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjA9M6qiprKAhVpp3IKHZt0CGIQ6AEITDAH#v=onepage&q=warrantability%2C%20%20truth&f=false

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition)


Aristotle on Non – contradiction

Discover magazine, To the edge and back

Truth test,%20ch.%206.htm

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