Common Sense Truth

by Aaron

“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate wasn’t the first to ask this.

The question, at first blush, sounds profound. In reality, I think we all know the answer to this age-old inquiry. I say that because we assume a certain definition of truth in our speech and actions every day of our lives. Perhaps the problem is not that we do not know what truth is but rather that we do not know that we know. And the reason we do not know that we know is simply because we haven’t taken the few moments necessary to reflect on the nature of truth.

Three Views on Truth

Historically, there have been three dominant theories of truth put forth by philosophers:

First, there is the pragmatic theory of truth: truth is what works. Three major problems with this view are as follows:

Problem #1: the view seems counter intuitive. For example, there are some true beliefs which are not very useful (e.g., the belief that my cat has grey and white fur), and some false beliefs which may turn out to be very useful (e.g., my false belief that people actually read my blogs is useful motivation to continue writing them).

Problem #2: the view is self-defeating. If truth is what works, than the pragmatic theory itself must not be true, since most philosophers throughout the ages have not held to the pragmatic theory but rather have found the correspondence theory to be much more useful!

Problem #3: the view implies relativism. Imagine two individuals who hold contradictory beliefs. On the pragmatic view, as long as these contradictory beliefs are useful for the respective individuals who hold them than we would have to conclude they are both true. But if that is the case than truth is relative, a view which itself is untenable and self-refuting…


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