Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What is Truth?

I wrote this essay about ten years ago, but I believe it is still pertinent and true. Let me know what you think.


EP said...

Hi Doug,

I have two thoughts about your essay. First, at the beginning of the third paragraph, you state that you will briefly argue for the correspondence theory of truth (CTT). However, what follows in the next few paragraphs is, I think, just a statement of the theory along with some of the claims entailed by it. I see no argument for the theory. You mention that the theory is commonsensical and that it has been commonly held by philosophers and theologians, but I don't think you meant these claims to be part of an argument for the theory. So, what (or where) is your brief argument for the theory?

Second, there are many philosophers who both claim that CTT is false and are just as unsympathetic toward postmodernism as you are. While it is true that if CTT is true, then relativism and pragmatism (as views about the nature of truth) are false, it is not true that if relativism and pragmatism are false, CTT is true. Some other theory may be true. Whether or not CTT is true seems to be a live issue for many epistemologists, and its being a live issue has, I think, nothing to do with the postmodern attack on truth. Rather, it has to do with legitimate philosophical problems. What do you think?


Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

I find it difficult to respond to non-persons. I like to know a little about the person who responds to me. Who is EP? I know nothing.

That is not to say that EP doesn't raise good points.

My fuller views on the CTT are found in "Truth Decay," chapter four. This short essay articates the view and commends it as commonsensical. I take the CTT to be a transcendental truth; it must be presupposed to communicate anything (like the law of noncontradiction). When it is denied, absurdities result.

Postmodernism denies the CTT; it must. If it didn't, it couldn't claim that truth is socially constructed and a matter of pragmatics: "Truth is what my colleagues let me get away with"--Richard Rorty.

Just who are the philosophers who oppose CTT and also oppose postmodern/constructivist views? Are you thinking of deflationary views? That level of complexity was beyond the level of the essay.

EP said...

Hi Doug,

I signed my comment 'Ed', not 'ep'. I don't mind telling you more, but I do mind telling others, non-persons as you call them (I know nothing about them), more. The only other thing I will say is that I am a former student of yours and now reside in the sunshine state. Thanks to my father-in-law I recently came across your blog and thought I would contribute something.

You seem to be offering a reductio for the truth of CTT: If CTT were false, then communication would be impossible; of course communication is possible; therefore, CTT is true. Fair enough (I still do not see that argument in the article though).

I do not deny that Postmodernists reject CTT. However, it seems to me that the scope of their attack is much broader in that they are attacking a much more general notion of truth than that supplied by the correspondence theorist. Correspondence theorists are not the only ones who would claim that truth is objective or that truth is not relative. I should add that I think you address this more general notion of truth in much of your work. As I see it, Christians are committed to the more general notion, but are not committed to the truth of CTT. Perhaps this means that I do not think that CTT is a transcendental truth (although I do think that it is true).


wellis68 said...

These are some great and big thoughts for my small mind. I think your essay hits the nail on the head in many regards. I think this reletivism is what the "emerging church" is really criticized for. But I'm afraid that they are not at all reletivists. I believe in absalute truth but i am skeptical about who gets to decide what that is. A lot of people think they know absalute truth and that they find it in the bible but it's still not that easy. It's more complex. Whose interperatation is the truth. Many people find many different "truths" in the Bible. Yes Jesus is the truth, and I am confident in this, but what if people disagree on who Jesus is? It's difficult for me. And I realize I'm still learnign a lot. I do believe in absalute truth but I'm becoming less and less a believer in certainty. I think God's truth transcends certainty.

I hope you'll have patience with me. I am interested in dialogue on this subject.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Ed (Perez?):

Which theories to you have in mind? I have always understood the notion of objective truth as requiring the CTT.

EP said...


I have in mind deflationary and identity theories of truth.


Prof. David Opderbeck said...

While I agree generally with the correspondence theory of truth, I'm not sure why that has to imply the binary choice of either a common sense realist theory of knowledge or complete relativism.

Truth is that which corresponds to reality, and reality ultimately finds its source in God. We can know true things about God because He made us in His image, gave us certain noetic equipment, and revealed Himself to us in His Son and His Word. However, even aside from the noetic effects of sin, He didn't give us noetic equipment or minds that are capable of knowing Him in anything near the fullness with which He knows Himself, and His self-revelation is limited primarily to what we need to know for the purposes of redemptive history.

So, it seems to me that we can say Truth is that which corresponds to reality, but that human statements about reality never correspond absolutely to reality; and therefore, human statements about reality are never "absolute Truth." When we judge human statements, then, we can only make conditional judgments, and we can't use our limited reason and limited noetic equipment as the ultimate foundation for true knowledge claims.

Because of these limitations inherent in human statements about reality, I think I lean towards a "web"-based epistemology as developed by Nancy Murphy via Quine.

jazztheo said...

How does Jesus' claim to be the truth (Jn. 14) effect your line of reasoning? Was he just claiming to be that which corresponds to reality or something more?


David Anderson said...

Prof. David Opderbeck, your comment caught my attention and I wanted further clarification if possible. If you agree that "We can know true things about God because He made us in His image, gave us certain noetic equipment, and revealed Himself to us in His Son and His Word" then why do you "lean towards a "web"-based epistemology as developed by Nancy Murphy via Quine." Isn't scripture thoroughly "foundational" in its noetic structure? Is changing the noetic metaphor in light of the revealed metaphor an issue for you? I am not challenging you, I was just curious to know your thoughts between the revealed will as seen in Scripture, and the freedom to change the noetic framework because it might have some benefits?(Which I am not arguing) In other words, is there something significant about the fact the the Bible is "foundational", not "web" in its noetic structure?

just curious, I appreciated your comment.


Prof. David Opderbeck said...

David Anderson --

I'm not so sure you can say the Bible is foundational in its noetic structure. "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD" (Isaiah 55:8). How is that "foundational"?

What I'd suggest is this: the Bible is foundational in ontology, but not in epistemology. There is such a thing as reality, which means there is such a thing as real, objective Truth. We as limited, broken, fallen humans are able to comprehend some of that Truth, which gives us real, but limited knowledge. There's a nice essay in this month's First Things that makes this distinction.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Isaiah 55:8 hardly sets aside the whole conceptual system of the divine Logos that permeates creation, making it intelligible and revelatory of God. Carl Henry ("God, Revelation, and Authority") developed that them further and better than anyone, but Ronald Nash ("The Word of God and the Mind of Man") and Arthur Holmes ("All Truth is God's Truth" worked on it as well.

Prof. David Opderbeck said...

Prof. Groothuis:

I thought someone might say I was proof-texting. I certainly agree with you that this one text doesn't end the discussion. But I think throughout the OT we see references to God's transcence. In the NT, particularly in Paul's epistles, we see repeated references to the noetic effects of sin. I don't think scripture promotes mere fideism, but I can't see how it promotes a foundationalist epistemology based on human perception and reason either. Obviously, scripture speaks often of Truth, and I agree that a foundationalist ontology is clear from scripture, but the question for me is what our perception and reason is capable of. What do you make of Cornelius Van Til's approach to these questions?

The Christian Hedonist Blog Dude said...
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