Is There Truth, and Can We Know It?

The "Real World" view of truth is, well…true. An explanation of this view should help demonstrate that it is the accurate description of truth.

Simply put, the Real World view says that my thoughts, ideas, or statements are true if they correspond to reality – the real world. Put another way, a statement is true when it matches up with the way the world really is. The ancient philosopher Aristotle captured the idea of correspondence this way: "If you say that it is and it is, or you say that it isn’t and it isn’t, that’s true. If you say that it isn’t and it is, or you say that it is and it isn’t, that’s false." Let me illustrate.

If I said to you, "There is a cup of Starbucks coffee on your desk," that statement would be true if it was actually the case that a cup of Starbucks coffee was sitting on your desk. Or, if you had a belief the grass outside is green and you walk outside and notice the grass is not red but indeed green, your belief is true.

Now, you’re probably saying, "Duh," and thinking to yourself that these are really unexceptional illustrations. Well, in one sense yes, because the Real World view is the common sense view of truth. In fact, I know I am not saying anything that you don’t already know. Indeed, this is your view of truth. How do I know? For the simple fact that you live life in accordance with this very description of truth every day.

Why do you look both ways before you cross the road? Because you hold to a Real World view of truth. We know that reality dictates the truth of the matter in such circumstances. If you cross the street without looking both ways and in reality a Mack truck is barreling down the road and runs over you, your physical appearance is going to change quite a bit. Reality will hurt. Reality is what you bump up against when your beliefs are false. In the case of the Mack truck, reality is what runs you over, chews you up, and spits you out when your beliefs are false.

Now, reflect for a moment. On this view, is reality a matter of your subjective opinion? In other words, does reality depend on what you believe? Absolutely not. Reality is what we call an objective fact. It exists independent of what anyone believes or thinks. It is not relative to our beliefs but indifferent to our beliefs. And since truth is grounded in reality, truth itself is objective. The truth of reality does not change based upon your beliefs or mine. Therefore, you want to be careful that your beliefs match up with reality.

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Brett Kunkle