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Humanities LibreTexts

2.1: Truth

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  • As varieties of rational inquiry, it’s natural to think that science and philosophy are mainly concerned with getting at the truth about things. There are some interesting and some confused challenges to the idea that philosophy and science are truth oriented. But for now let’s assume that rational inquiry is truth oriented and address a couple of questions about truth. Let’s focus on just these two:

    • What is it for a claim to be true?
    • How do we determine that a claim is true?

    It’s important to keep these two questions separate. Questions about how we know whether something is true are epistemic questions. But the question of what it is for something to be true is not an epistemic issue. The truth of a claim is quite independent of how or whether we know it to be true. If you are not sure about this, consider the claim that there is intelligent life on other planets and the claim that there is no intelligent life on other planets. I assume we don’t know which of these two claims is true, but surely one of them is. Whichever of these claims is true, its being true doesn’t depend in any way on whether or how we know it to be true. There are many truths that will never be known or believed by anyone, and appreciating this is enough to see that the truth of a claim is not relative to belief, knowledge, proof, or any other epistemic notion.

    But then what is it for a claim to be true? The ordinary everyday notion of truth would have it that a claim is true if the world is the way the claim says it is. And this is pretty much all we are after. When we make a claim, we represent some part of the world as being a certain way. If how my claim represents the world fits with the way the world is, then my claim is true. Truth, then, is correspondence, or good fit, between what we assert and the way things are.

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