Truth By Dr. Hendrik van der Breggen


It is my privilege to kick off the Philosophy Foosball Blog by writing its first official entry. The blogmaster—Mark Jensen—wisely suggested that I begin with the question of truth, and so I shall. My hope and prayer is that this blog, under Mark’s guidance, will encourage its readers and contributors to draw closer to Him who is The Truth.

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“What is truth?” the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate famously asked Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate, however, didn’t seem interested in waiting for an answer. Without entering into the deep theological/philosophical waters of what Jesus meant by claiming to be the truth—let’s call this capital T truth—it might be helpful first to get clear on the ordinary notion of truth, i.e., truth with a lower case t.

When the contemporary philosopher Francis Beckwith was asked, “What is truth?”, he promptly responded, “Do you want the true answer or the false one?” Beckwith’s answer is both humorous and insightful. The humor in Beckwith’s answer disarms us while the answer’s implication reveals, almost glaringly and all-too-personally, that we already know what truth is. Truth is telling it like it is.

Significantly, the concept of truth that Beckwith helps us to intuit isn’t anything new. (Slight digression and unashamed plug for the Bible: the more I study philosophy, the more I realize that the writer of Ecclesiastes is correct—there really isn’t anything new under the sun, at least not when it comes to the deep questions of philosophy.) For example, Aristotle understood truth similarly when he famously wrote, “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true” (Aristotle, Metaphysics, book 4, chapter 7).

Read Aristotle’s words again, slowly. Don’t let the fact that none of Aristotle’s words has more than five letters escape your notice, and don’t let this fact take away from the profundity of the words. The commonsensical, garden-variety understanding of truth that Beckwith and Aristotle set out is what philosophers call the Correspondence Theory of Truth.

In other words (longer words I’m afraid), on the correspondence view of truth, truth is a condition or state of affairs that exists when a statement of what is the case is the case. That a claim or proposition is true means that it corresponds with or appropriately represents what is the case in reality. Falsity, on the other hand, is a condition or state of affairs that exists when a statement of what is the case is not the case. And lies are deliberate falsehoods (i.e., lies are falsehoods intentionally presented as truths).

A corollary of the correspondence view of truth is that, as philosopher J. P. Moreland points out, “Reality makes thoughts true or false” (J. P. Moreland, “Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, and the Postmodern Turn,” in Whatever Happened to Truth?, edited by Andreas Köstenberger [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2005], 77).

Also, as the philosophically-astute theologian Kevin J. Vanhoozer observes, propositional statements are not the only candidates for the correspondence view of truth: “[S]tories too are truth-bearers that enable us both to ‘taste’ and to ‘see,’ or better, to experience as concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an abstraction. What gets conveyed through stories, then, is not simply the proposition but something of the reality itself.” (Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Lost in Interpretation? Truth, Scripture, and Hermeneutics,” in Whatever Happened to Truth?, edited by Andreas Köstenberger [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2005], 122). (On the same page Vanhoozer goes on, correctly I believe, to describe God’s Word as “richly propositional.”)

Still, Moreland’s corollary remains: reality makes the stories (and “rich propositions”) true or false. That the stories are true means they correspond to reality (whether that reality is physical, abstract, moral, or spiritual); otherwise they’re false.

Of course, there are other views of truth—e.g., the coherence theory, the pragmatic theory, the redundancy theory, perspectivism—and there are skeptical views concerning our appreciation of truth as knowledge. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to ask of each of the competing views concerning truth: Is it true? Interestingly, this seems to bring us right back to the correspondence view.

So, here is a philosophical question to kick around: Is the correspondence view of truth a foundational philosophical concept? Whatever your answer might be, be sure to ask: Is it true?

Let the Philosophy Foosball Blog begin!

2 comments:

Dr. V said...

I think that a philosophical-theological postscript is appropriate.

Truth (with a lower case t) is this: an accurate portrayal of reality. Truth (with an upper case t) would be what—or who—is ultimately Real. Theologically, then, Truth (upper case “t”) is, according to Scripture, understood to be Jesus.

Some comments from Kevin J. Vanhoozer may be helpful (again) here:

“God is the paradigmatic communicative agent, and his word is true because it is absolutely reliable. There is a correspondence between what he says, what he does, and who he is. Jesus Christ is the truth because he is God-keeping-his-word; as God’s ‘kept’ word, Christ not only bears but is the truth, a personal bearer of the way God is. Truth in the context of theological interpretation must never be merely theoretical (a mere correspondence relation) but practical, transformative, and relational (a covenantal relation). We enter into the convenantal relation of truth when our words, thoughts, and deeds conform to the image of the one who is the truth incarnate.” (Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Lost in Interpretation? Truth, Scripture, and Hermeneutics,” in Andreas Köstenberger, ed., Whatever Happened to Truth? [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2005], 124.)

Landon said...

I recently started a blog and I thought it fitting by defining truth as well! What a coincidence! Although, my little article is far from original (actually most of the things I say in it I learned from the author of this one).