What makes a statement true?
For an idea to be true or otherwise it needs to have a truth value. This means that it needs to be decided whether or not it has this elusive quality of 'truth'. It is tempting to designate 'true' as philosopher GE Moore did, as a ?simple unanalysable property? - a property which can be isolated as part of an idea, part of a checklist which makes up a 'full' idea, such as the 'criterion of truth' Descartes searched so hard for. However, this application of 'truth' as a property leads to problems when understanding why a statement is true. As phrased by Pitcher:
?What makes it true that 2+2=4?? must surely make plain sense and have some kind of informative answer... The only possible kind of reply would be ?It just is, that's all?...
To solve this problem of inexplicability, various theories have developed in order to understand an idea of truth
which has so much more depth than a standard property of a statement than 'grammatical' or 'comprehensible'. In this case, to understand what it means for a statement to be true, it is necessary to examine these theories and consider their valid
Firstly, however, consideration must be given to the idea of a 'statement'. The question "What makes a statement true?" implies that a statement holds a truth value ? that a statement is either true or false. This causes problems: it means that when considering the statement 'It is raining'; only that specific set of words is evaluated. 'Il pleut' (French) and 'Es regnet' (German) say the same thing, but are different statements. According to this question, each of these statements would therefore have to be evaluated for truth separately. This is ridiculous as it is clear that they are all saying the same thing and present a common idea, only in different languages. This idea that is common to all these sentences is what is the 'bearer of truth' - the element to which the truth value should be applied. This idea is, rather than a statement, a 'proposition'. Pitcher describes propositions as
...timeless non-linguistic entities capable of being apprehended, and of being believed or disbelieved by any number of different minds.
The idea of a proposition is vital as a statement needs to illustrate a proposition in order to be allocated a truth value, according to Strawson:
?My statement? may be either what I say or my saying it. My saying something is certainly an episode
. What I say is not. It is the latter, not the former, we declare to be true.
When theories of truth are considered, they should be done so in relation to propositions rather than with regards to the semantics
of a statement. Also noted should be the difference between the truth and truthfulness ? as Abel states the distinction:
...how or in what way a true proposition differs from a false
one, rather than to identify when a proposition is true (which refers to the adequacy of reasons for believing it, or the basis of knowledge
The most clearly perceived theory of truth is the 'correspondence' theory. This appeals to intuition as it states that a true proposition is one which corresponds with or to 'reality'. In this case reality is considered a fact, state of affairs, situation, event and so on. To look back at the question posed by Pitcher ?What makes it true that 2+2=4??, it can be seen that correspondence theory shows this to be true because two plus two actually does total four. The idea is not
something inherent in the thought itself, as if the nature of the numbers 2 and 4 had nothing whatever to do with it; on the contrary we are strongly inclined to suppose that what makes it true must be something about the numbers 2 and 4 and their relationship to one another...
On a simpler level, the proposition 'It is raining' can be easily verified with correspondence theory by looking out of the window and seeing if it is raining (assuming the suppressed premise
that it is raining refers to 'here'). Aristotle
placed the idea as such
To say of what is that it is and to say of what is not that it it not, is true.
Many consider this 'is and is not' attitude to truth too black and white ? Austin contends that to
require a proposition either contend or not contend is like saying that a map must be either accurate or inaccurate
Truth is here something of which there can be considered different degree
s. Something that is 'half true' however, tends to defeat the concept of truth ? as if something is not true, for example half true; then it is false
as it is not true!
A common criticism of correspondence theory is that compares ?dissimilar entities? - the 'idea' and the 'reality'. To some this is like drawing a comparison between the sound that is made when the letter 'B' is spoken aloud, and the shape of the letter 'B' on the page ? although the 'same' thing, they bear no relation to each other, therefore it is ridiculous to compare them to see if they really are the letter 'B'. To avoid this problem, the theory of coherence was advanced by 'Hegel' and his followers. This proposes deriving truth by comparing like with like, i.e. comparing propositions with other propositions, which when true, cohere with each other. The truth then forms a
perfectly integrated system in which each proposition implies (=>), and is implied by, all others.
This means that to be true, a proposition must be consistent with others, for example
'stars are in the sky'
'stars are made of wood'
'there is wood in the sky'
Both of these are coherent, consistent sets of ideas, however the second of these examples presents a major flaw with coherence theory: that it is possible to have a totally false set of ideas, which are 'true' because they cohere. Perhaps simple coherence is enough basis for truth in an artificial system such as mathematics; however it is perfectly obvious that the second example is simply ridiculous. This notion stems from the intuitive thought that this is wrong because it does not correspond to reality. Using coherence theory, it would be perfectly conceivable to have two total sets of ideas which contradict, yet are both, apparently, true. The example of creationist theory versus Darwinian evolution theory illustrate two contradictory sets of ideas which describe the same process. It is not possible that they are both true (in their full forms ? I am not denying that it is possible to combine the two ideas to form what may be the truth, however as they stand separately, the ideas are at loggerheads). To establish a consistent set of ideas which are true in reality rather than in a separate 'dimension', one proposition of the set would need to correspond with reality. Consider now
'stars are in the sky'
'stars are balls of burning gas'
'there is wood in the sky'
This is no longer a consistent set of ideas, so in order to cohere, adjustment is required:
'stars are in the sky'
'stars are balls of burning gas'
'there are balls of burning gas in the sky'
With a little leeway on the astrophysics involved, this can now be said to be true. It can then be seen that coherence is a requirement for truth, but does not suffice alone as a definition.
There is however, another problem with the idea of a ?perfectly integrated system in which each proposition implies, and is implied by, all others?. This deals with the implicit idea that the 'web' of propositions can encompass all propositions (?implied by all others?): Kurt Gödel developed his theorem (see Godel's theorem) ? which applies to arithmetic so can be transferred to other artificial systems, therefore illustrating the weakness of coherence in the area in which it was previously considered valid. Gödel's theory states that
... for every consistent non-trivial formal system there must be well defined formulae such that neither they nor their negations are generable (deducible) in that formal system... Some of the formulae are 'true' in the system in the sense that they are true when interpreted in terms of the system itself.
This means that any deductive
system that has a consistent set of axiom
s still has true statements that cannot be extrapolated from that set. In this case, it is impossible
to construct a ?perfectly integrated system in which each proposition implies, and is implied by, all others? that contains all propositions that are true.
A third proposal of what constitutes this predicate 'truth' is that advanced by the likes of Peirce, Schiller, James and Dewey: the 'pragmatic' theory. This theory argues that a true proposition is one which is made so by human activity: that is ?fulfills its function?, this function being to ?discover reality?, i.e.
... truth that opinion to which the community ultimately settles down... sufficient investigation would cause one opinion to be universally received and all others to be rejected.
This definition instantly projects two issues: it suggests that truth is consensus gentium
, and that truth is found by investigation of a proposition until it is discovered to be correct.
Truth as what is generally agreed upon as right ? general consensus
? seems firstly intuitively wrong, considering it was generally agreed in Nazi Germany
ish people were sub-human, or generally agreed that the sun
orbited the earth
? general consensus changes, yet 'the truth' should not. As said by Mohandas Gandhi
An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error just because nobody sees it.
Similarly, were it true that what is generally consented is true, there would be an inherent contradiction in developing the pragmatic theory of truth as it was general consensus that correspondence theory was truth for an extremely long time:
Before Kant it is impossible to find any philosopher who did not have a correspondence theory of truth.
The second point to the pragmatic theory of truth, that of sufficient investigation to determine the truth, seems to require another theory of truth to prove it ? the 'investigation' surely requires investigation into whether the proposition fits with either the real world or other ideas to ?cause one opinion
to be universally received?. Pragmatic theory seems to rely upon another theory of truth to prove itself.
A third problem with pragmatic theory is that it appears (as to some extent, does coherence theory) to overlook the distinction between accepting something and accepting something to be true; and again the difference between accepting something as true and it being true. In this way, pragmatic theory does not distinguish between that which is true being useful, and that which is useful being true.
When considering both pragmatic and coherence theories, it can be seen that neither tend to necessarily match reality, or 'what is'. The theologian Osiander said:
There is no need for these hypotheses to be true, or even to be at all like the truth; rather, one thing is sufficient for them ? that they should yield calculations which agree with the observations.
Naturally, correspondence theory also has its problems and limits ? the most prominent of which argues that people conceptually shape and classify the world, therefore to make a statement true all that has to be done is to represent it correctly within these classifications. However, it is undeniable that the idea of correspondence is what is intuitively seen as 'truth', and what basis can be made to deny instinct
? To actually believe and comprehend that something is true, it is near impossible to place reason above reaction to the 'real world
'. This said, coherence should not be summararily dismissed as it is also natural to fit a system of propositions together in a consistent manner in order to discern truth: the propositions however should also correspond with reality.
For a statement to be true, this statement should firstly be a proposition. This proposition should correspond with reality, and from this reality a network of implications can develop, with each proposition again having some basis in reality. Pragmatic theory can be applied in the sense that if a proposition is true, it should in fact 'work
Abel, R "Man is the Measure"
Armour, L "The Concept of Truth"
Horwich, P "Truth"
Joohnson, L "Focusing on Truth"
Pitcher, G "Truth"
Putnam, H "Reason, Truth and History"
White, A "Truth"
And Truth for the Gandhi quote ;-)
Node your homework, they said...