Does Truth Exist?

As far as I am able to see, there are only two positions one can adopt in answer to this. They are: “truth exists” and “truth does not exist”. One cannot say “truth sometimes exists”, because that means that it does. Nor can one say “truth is subjective”, because there are otherwise no true standards by which we can measure its validity. Saying “maybe truth exists” is neither here nor there.

The problem with the question “does truth exist?” is that it can only be answered within a framework that assumes the existence of truth. If one says “truth exists”, what they are really saying is “truly, truth exists”, and when someone says “truth does not exist”, what they are really saying is “truly, truth does not exist”, or “truth has a truth-value of zero”, a contradiction not just of terms but of logic. If this point is answered by saying, “how do I know that logic is true?”, we can see that the disbeliever of truth has it all ahead of them: if one does not believe in truth, one does not believe in logic, and, of necessity, nothing can be believed. We must concede that truth exists if we are to do or think anything. The exact nature of this truth is another matter, but truth undoubtedly exists.

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18 responses to “Does Truth Exist?

  1. So that doesn’t seem question-begging to you? That is, to assume that an assertion implies the commitment to the truth of what is asserted? Because it strikes me that the question whether anything is true is a real and substantive question over which we could reasonably disagree. Which leads me to think that someone could reasonably hold assertion to play a role other than “asserting as true”. No?

  2. While I happen to wholeheartedly agree with you…now I have to try to come up with a criterion for holding beliefs that’s orthogonal to logic.

    Can, for instance, genetic instincts be interpreted as beliefs? If so, the holding of them isn’t due to anything directly related to logic.

  3. i disagree with the thought that without true propositions, there would be no such thing as belief. imagine a world in which there is one sentient being with a twig for a body in a void, and this thinking twig has all kinds of false beliefs. here, even though there may be many existent though irrelevant true propositions (i.e. that if there were babies in this world, it would be wrong for the twig to scratch them for fun), this does none of the work in establishing the existence of the twig’s belief states. thoughts?

    i think the question you should ask is, what does it mean to say that truth exists? i’m sure that the ["truth does not exist", if true, establishes its own falsity] has been taken up by many minds greater than mind, but i don’t currently recall which ones. so, maybe it’s more interesting to ponder whether or not truth exist in the same way that numbers can be said to exist, or in comparison to things like say, fundamental particles, does truth not _really_ exist? this may be what you are hinting towards the end of your post…something akin to nominalism vs. realism (i found zoltan gendler szabo’s “nominalism” very helpful, and interesting: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~zs47/Nominalism.pdf) .

  4. First, it is puzzling why you think you could find an answer to the question “Does Truth Exist?” via seeing. “Do echidnas exist?” can be answered (partly) by seeing an echidna, and realizing that since it is an object (or set of objects), it is the type of thing that either does exist or does not exist. But, it is puzzling why you suggest that this dilemma should be suggested for “Does Truth Exist?,” for an alternative answer to your dichotomy may be, “That question is based on a category mistake!” Truth is not an object like an echidna, and thinking that it is only makes you generate strange disjunctions (although you express it as a conjunction): ““truth exists” and “truth does not exist”.” In the place of “truth sometimes exists” you might consider, “there is at least one truth…” In this case, if you can quantify over “a truth.” If you can, then this may suggest that it is an object of your theory (whatever theory that may be) and, therefore that truth is a candidate for existence. But, if you go this route, notice that you are not using ‘truth’ as an abstract noun, as your post suggests you are inclined to, but instead, you are talking about Xs that are true. And, the candidates that are usually suggested here for X are assertoric sentences, beliefs, or thoughts. So, assertoric sentences exist, some of which are true and some which are false, and there is no need to ask your question.

  5. Colin:
    It possibly is question-begging. But is there any question you can think of regarding existence and non-existence that doesn’t implicitly assume that truth exists? If I ask “does that apple exist?”, you can either say “yes” or “no” or “I don’t know”, none of which make sense if truth doesn’t exist. It is only with the question “does truth exist?” that this underlying assumption becomes immediately apparent. Perhaps it only seems question-begging because the assumption of truth’s existence is built into all languages. It would be as ridiculous to answer “if truth exists then the apple exists” as it would be tautological to say “if truth exists then truth exists”; which is why we simply say “the apple exists”, and “truth exists”. If you see what I mean.

    By the way, I didn’t mean that an assertion implies the commitment to the truth of what is asserted. I merely meant that any assertion betrays an implicit belief in the existence of truth.

    Alrenous:
    You may be onto something with your idea about genetic instincts being related to beliefs. However, our capacity for logic may also be a genetic instinct. So it may be difficult to completely disconnect logic and belief…

    MvL:
    I didn’t mean that without true propositions, there would be no belief, merely that there can be no belief without the belief that truth exists. The twig’s belief about babies is basically: “it is true that it would be wrong to scratch them for fun”. Whether that is true or not is irrelevant: it is impossible to have that belief unless he believes that truth exists.

    I’ve bookmarked the “nominalism” article and will take a look at it one of these days. Thanks for the tip.

    jmcd:
    Your point about the category mistake occurred to me as well. It may well have been badly phrased; how about, “is anything true?”. If you phrase it that way, my point still applies: it is impossible to believe anything unless you believe that the proposition must be either true or false.

    I actually agree that there’s no need to ask the question. That’s partly what I tried to show! It was meant mainly as a retort against those insistent Socrates’ who attempt to defend an absurd argument by the even more absurd suggestion that truth doesn’t exist. It’s a bit like Clinton saying “it depends what your definition of ‘is’ is.”

  6. Logic exists independently of our capacity for it.

    We are merely accessing it through genetics.

  7. Yes, but what I meant was that, given that our capacity for logic is pretty much universal, it may be inextricably tied in with the way beliefs are formed, also pretty much universal.

  8. Please find three related references which insist that Truth with a capital T does exist—and that all of the usual philosophical exercises are an attempt to deal with the seeming absence of this Truth.

    1. http://global.adidam.org/books/eleutherios.html

    2. http://www.dabase.org/truthfrl.htm

    3. http://www.adidabiennale.org/curation/index.htm

  9. Well then, you have even more explaining to do. My shih-tzu clearly believes that her toys are in a basket by the side door, without (likely) having any thoughts, let alone beliefs, about truth or falsehood.

  10. so, I don’t think it’s so much that the twig or shih-tzu needs to believe that truth exists. I’ve given two examples where it’s pretty clear that these creatures may not have this belief. “We must concede that truth exists if we are to do or think anything” is pretty controversial without further argumentation (and, I still think this focus on the ‘subject’ is a part of the problem. Why must one concede anything about truth in order to have thoughts or beliefs about entirely unrelated things?)

  11. The belief in truth is not necessarily a conscious thing, so I guess it might strictly speaking be wrong to call it a belief. It’s more of an assumption. Furthermore, this assumption is pretty natural — perhaps in evolutionary terms it’s there for purposes of survival. Let’s put it this way: I’m assuming your shih-tzu doesn’t have the sophistication to have the thought “truth does not exist”. Given that she doesn’t, the only way she can believe she knows the whereabouts of her toys, without absurdity, is to assume that truth exists (unconsciously, of course). If she was constituted to think that truth doesn’t exist, she could never consistently believe she knew the whereabouts of her toys. If she could think to such a degree, she would think, “I believe that they are in a basket by the side door, but truth doesn’t exist, so it’s impossible to know.” Since she presumably can’t think that thought, I cannot see any other way she can believe she knows the whereabouts of her toys without at least being constituted to assume that truth exists.

  12. Pingback: The Infinite Regress of Illusions « Mr. Contrarian

  13. Ok see, but I would argue that absolute truth doesn’t exist because you can’t prove anything completely. Try arguing with the Flat Earth Society and you’ll see what I mean. On the other hand, perceived truth does exist and perceptions are considered reality by those who own them.
    The only middle ground is found if one recognises that nothing they believe is actually truth because it cannot be proven, and is therefore only perceived truth, does that make sense?

  14. But if there’s only perceived truth, by what standards can you call it true? Just because there are lunatics like those of the Flat Earth Society who won’t be convinced by your arguments, doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as truth. It’s true that the earth is round, it’s just that they don’t believe it. Let’s put it this way: if the overwhelming amount of evidence showing that the earth is round is not enough to convince them, then the same should apply to everything else, such as their existence and the facts of their daily lives. If they were to take their attitude to its logical conclusion, they just wouldn’t be able to live.

  15. See, that’s just the thing that Ben is saying, though. There are no standards by which you can call that true. But, similarly, there are no standards by which you can call that untrue. And the flat earth example is a good one because it was once widely considered to be the TRUTH. And now it is not. So, it just shows how fluid “truth” can be, and thus there doesn’t seem to be objective truth, or objective anything. Objectivity is not dynamic.

  16. But to use any argument, no matter how “logically sound” is to invoke the concept of a logical argument.
    Such an argument requires certain assumptions, one of which (included with the concept of logic) is that truth exists, since logic mandates that a truth-value of 1 is possible.

    If truth does’t exist, then no statements can be made. About anything.

    The argument doesn’t necessarily have to be that truth does or doesn’t exist as a semantic concept (it most certainly does exist in that regard, due to this conversation), which implies existence is about any cases in which it exists.
    Basically, are any things true?
    This is not necessarily the case.

    Also, your argument that “if we are to do… anything… truth… exists” is flawed, in that we may be perfectly able to think and do things, however, everything is false. Any statements about our thought would be false, and so would any about the system itself. However, this does not prevent us from thinking or doing, only denies its logic.

  17. nao intendi nada dessa merda so entrei por causa do trabalho de filosofia

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