Reply To: What is truth?


    To say that a truth is relative and not absolute is not the same as saying nothing can be relied upon. Edward deBono*, who did extensive work in lateral thinking, proposed the concept of proto-truths. Proto-truths are true according to what we know at a given point in time. They may, at a later point in time, be replaced by better approximations of the truth if new, more compelling evidence emerges. But for now, if our proto-truths are arrived at through rigorous investigation, they offer a way of making sense of the world given the information available at the time. As such they provide a provisional foundation of understanding upon which to base our thinking and actions.

    I have to agree that some things seem obviously true in the sense that it is hard to imagine them being otherwise but I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are absolutely true. As is so often the case this discussion of the nature of truth depends on how those involved define the terms being examined. In my mind to be absolutely true literally means there can be no doubt about the truth claim nor even the possibility of a doubt. Absolute truth, then, requires that there be no omission of any information, otherwise a truth would be incomplete and hence not absolute. Our understandings of the formation of ice and the nature of electric current are based on our present scientific understandings of the way things are. I am not saying these understandings are not absolute because they wrong. I am saying they are not absolute because they are necessarily incomplete. There is plenty that we don’t know about the electrons that form the molecules of water. Are they waves or particles or both? When I use the word “electron” I am not talking about a thing that is actually any particular kind of “real” entity. The word “electron” itself is a proto-truth-based label built on informed assumptions about the mystery at the heart of reality.

    When I assert that when water freezes it becomes ice it is certainly true for all practical purposes. It is a reliable and useful proto-truth. It is true relative to the scientific facts as we currently understand them.  But our knowledge of the fundamental nature of matter is necessarily incomplete and will always be so. An absolute statement of truth would have to be based on a complete comprehension of every facet of reality. Since this is not possible it is not, IMO,  possible to make an absolutely true statement.

    That being said, not all truth claims should be given equal status. Truth claims vary in reliability according to the criteria used to evaluate them. The best tool we have to evaluate the “truthiness” of a statement is science. The more a claim is supported by empirical evidence the more faith we can afford it. But no claim, no matter how well supported by available evidence can be said to be absolutely true.

    *Edward Charles Francis Publius de Bono (19 May 1933 – 9 June 2021) was a Maltese physician, psychologist, author, inventor and broadcaster. He originated the term lateral thinking, wrote many books on thinking including Six Thinking Hats, and was a proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools

    • This reply was modified 4 months, 2 weeks ago by tfindlay.
    • This reply was modified 4 months, 2 weeks ago by tfindlay.