Wednesday, December 10, 2003
Continuing Examination of Truth
Although we do speak of true friends and false identities, philosophers believe these are derivative uses of 'true' and 'false'. The central use of 'true', the more important one for philosophers, occurs when we say, for example, it's true that Montreal is north of Pittsburgh. Here,"true" is contrasted with "false", not with "fake" or "insincere". When we say that Montreal is north of Pittsburgh, what sort of thing is it that is true? Is it a statement or a sentence or something else, a 'fact', perhaps? More generally, philosophers want to know what sorts of things are true and what sorts of things are false. This same question is expressed by asking: What sorts of things have (or bear) truth-values?
The term "truth-value" has been coined by logicians as a generic term for "truth or falsehood". To ask for the truth-value of P, is to ask whether P is true or whether P is false. "Value" in "truth-value" does not mean "valuable". It is being used in a similar fashion to "numerical value" as when we say that the value of "x" in "x + 3 = 7" is 4. To ask "What is the truth-value of the statement that Montreal is north of Pittsburgh?" is to ask whether the statement that Montreal is north of Pittsburgh is true or whether it is false. (The truth-value of that specific statement is true).
The principal problem is to offer a viable theory as to what truth itself consists in, or, to put it another way, "What is the nature of truth?" To illustrate with an example - the problem is not: Is it true that there is extraterrestrial life? The problem is: What does it mean to say that it is true that there is extraterrestrial life? Astrobiologists study the former problem; philosophers, the latter.
In the first century AD, Pontius Pilate (John 18:38) asked "What is truth?" Jesus did not respond. He did say, when asked about the way, that he was the way, the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him. (John 14:6).
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