Correspondence Theory of Truth

What is Truth? Theories of Truth

The Correspondence Theory of Truth is probably the most common and widespread way of understanding the nature of truth and falsehood — not simply among philosophers, but even more importantly in the general population as well. Put quite simply, the Correspondence Theory argues that “truth” is whatever corresponds to reality. An idea which corresponds with reality is true while an idea which does not correspond with reality is false.

It is important to note here that “truth” is not a property of “facts.” This may seem odd at first, but a distinction is being made here between facts and beliefs. A fact is some set of circumstances in the world while a belief is an opinion about those circumstances. A fact cannot be either true or false — it simply is because that is the way the world is. A belief, however, is capable of being true or false because it may or may not accurately describe the world.

Under the Correspondence Theory of Truth, the reason why we label certain beliefs as “true” is because they correspond to those facts about the world. Thus, the belief that the sky is blue is a “true” belief because of the fact that the sky is blue. Along with beliefs, we can count statements, propositions, sentences, etc. as capable of being true or false.

This sounds very simple and perhaps it is, but it does leave us with one problem: what is a fact?

After all, if the nature of truth is defined in terms of the nature of facts, then we still need to explain what facts are. It isn’t enough to say “X is true if and only if X corresponds with fact A” when we have no idea whether A is indeed a fact or not. It is thus not entirely clear if this particular explanation of “truth” has really left us any wiser, or if we have simply pushed back our ignorance to another category.

The idea that truth consists in whatever matches reality can be traced back at least as far as Plato and was picked up in the philosophy of Aristotle. However, it was not long before critics found a problem, perhaps best expressed in the paradox formulated by Eubulides, a student of the Megara school of philosophy which was regularly at odds with Platonic and Aristotelian ideas.

According to Eubulides, the Correspondence Theory of Truth leaves us in the lurch when we are confronted with statements such as “I am lying” or “What I am saying here is false.” Those are statements, and hence capable of being true or false. However, if they are true because they correspond with reality, then they are false — and if they are false because they fail to correspond with reality, then they must be true. Thus, no matter what we say about the truth or falsehood of these statements, we immediately contradict ourselves.

This does not mean that the Correspondence Theory of Truth is wrong or useless — and, to be perfectly honest, it is difficult to give up such an intuitively obvious idea that truth must match reality. Nevertheless, the above criticisms should indicate that it probably isn’t a comprehensive explanation of the nature of truth.

Arguably, it is a fair description of what truth should be, but it may not be an adequate description of how truth actually “works” in human minds and social situations.