User:LGreg/sandbox/Approaches to Knowledge (LG seminar 2020/21)/Seminar 9/Truth

This is the sandbox page for the issue: Truth.

Truth in LiteratureEdit


While the fictional and interpretive nature of literature seems to undermine the notion of objective truth, its position in the artistic canon lends aesthetic truth, the universal function of art, and contextual information as well as experiential and emotive truth as experienced by the writer and explored and interpreted by the reader.

Aesthetic truthEdit

Deconstructionist literary theory advocates the union of philosophy and literature and demarcates aesthetics as the point of convergence[1]. While the aesthetic underpinnings of literature are contested due to a lack of perceptual appearance, an analytically aesthetic approach explores different properties of literature related to the aesthetic experience[2], a prominent common denominator between literature and other works of art being meaning and concepts. While this seems too contrary as a reason for the aesthetic approach to literature to be held as truth, Kant’s rejection of a relativist approach to aesthetic judgement and his assertion that such a judgement requires a demand for normativity underlines the fact that while not empirical, one’s experiential perception of art is enough of a truth in itself[3].

The insistence the expressive truth art induces in the works of Kant and Croce supports the notion of literature as a receptacle of truth and contends with the rejection of the idea that due to interpretive role of the reader literature cannot lay claim to truth[4].

Historical TruthEdit

Whether literature holds historical or empirical truth is a less contentious point than that of aestheticism and the question lies in the mode of its conception: language[5]. It has been established that the emotive nature of literature is capable of conveying interpretive and experiential truths but its fictional nature seems to undermine any assertive claims it makes. Despite this, the influence of contemporary context is inseparable from any close reading of a text. For example, two thematic focuses of the Lost Generation[6], a group of expatriate American writers including, Fitzgerald, Stein and Hemingway, were disillusionment and hedonism; this very much reflected the Post-WW1 cultural dissatisfaction characteristic of 1920s America. While it is still limited in describing the contemporary mentalities of those living at the time[7] except that specifically of the writer, literature is inevitably a contextually reflective or reactive response thus can be used as a mode of conveying truth from the time it was written.

Truth in Criminal LawEdit

What is Truth in Criminal Law?Edit

Truth is defined as "the property of being true,"[8] although the process of deriving truth differs across disciplines. The aim of the law, is to uphold the truth[9] and therefore to differentiate right from and wrong. In criminal law, those who are found guilty are punished, and this means heavy emphasis is placed on unearthing what are the facts, and seeing information through an objective, rather than subjective lens. Although the legal system has no theories of truth of their own, other theories of truth can be applied to help make sense of how truth is realised in the court setting.

How does Criminal Law realise its truths?Edit

Truth is realised in criminal law through the evaluation of evidence, which can include oral and written witness statements and forensic evidence, amongst other forms. Before giving a statement, a witness must take the oath, where they "swear to tell the truth,"[10] demonstrating the importance of truth in criminal courts, and how fundamental a part of the legal system they are. Witness statements can, however, be more nuanced and prone to personal biases.[11] This means that although the witness may try to be objective, because the witness statement is a personal account of an event that's occurred, it is dependent on their own perspective and perception of the events that have occurred, rendering their version of the truth subjective. Although the ultimate goal may be to provide objective truths, this is incredibly hard to achieve, because an individuals perception of the truth is relative, so witness statements are an example of relative truth used in criminal law. With relative truths, the 'truth' differs from person to person, depending on a wide range of factors. So what might be true for one person, may not be true for another, showing how truth is not just an extension of facts, but rather a fusion of facts and beliefs. This is an example of the constructivist theory of truth, where the truth is dependent on our own human perception.

Forensic evidence is based on objective scientific evaluation, with the goal of using scientific method to assess relevant data in criminal trials and uphold justice.[12] The aim of forensics is to use physical evidence and the data it provides to give an accurate representation of the events that occurred and the reality of what happened. The truths formed from this type of evaluation are not seen to be a social construction: they are not influenced or biased by language or personal emotion and opinion, so are the opposite of witness statements, offering a positivist approach to the truth.[13] This relationship between truth and reality is the correspondence theory of truth,[14] which is, and has historically been, heavily relied upon in natural scientific disciplines,[15] and by extension, forensic science in the legal system.

Proof beyond reasonable doubtEdit

Beyond reasonable doubt is a legal standard that prosecutors must meet in order to find a deferent guilty in a criminal case in a court of law.[16] In the U.K, a defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.[17] On a fundamental level, this means that the evidence given in a courtroom is such a clear indication that the defendant is guilty, that it cannot be disputed by any person of sound mind. If a verdict is believed beyond reasonable doubt, it has been accepted as a truth in the court of law, because it cannot be contested. In this sense, the idea of belief beyond reasonable doubt is an example of an absolute truth, as if the verdict is not open to any doubt, it holds true no matter the context and personal opinions surrounding the case - the evidence is enough for the jury to be convinced that the defendant committed the crime and that this truth cannot be denied. Belief beyond reasonable doubt is an incredibly important truth in the law, as a guilty verdict will change the course of the defendants life completely. When using this legal standard, a much higher level of certainty must be held than with other truths we come across in everyday life, where decisions are often made despite considerable doubt, and where truths are not universally held by everyone.[18] This shows just how much power and authority truth can hold, as it has the potential to irrevocably change lives forever.


However, neither the prosecution nor the defence is really concerned with the truth, but with winning, and will do what is necessary to distract the jury from the truth. In other European nations, there is the concept of inquisitorialism, the neutral search for the objective truth.[19] An independent, impartial, judicial police team is appointed to collate all the evidence, both for and against, and all placed in one file to be inspected both by the prosecution and the defence. It is the essential gathering of the truth, as opposed to what any defence or prosecution might wish for the jury to decide upon. Under this system, there is no jury, no guilty pleas or plea-bargaining between parties. The dossier is presented to a single judge to rule upon.


Different theories of truth can be applied to criminal law to characterise its truths. Regardless of the type of truth, all truths hold high levels of power and authority in a criminal court, as each truth is a determiner of guilt vs innocence. Although positivism and social constructivism are often seen in opposition and as separate approaches,[20] in the case of criminal law, the truths work in tandem, resulting in a final truth from which a verdict is formed.

Truth in EconomicsEdit

Debate about Knowledge in EconomicsEdit

Economics can be seen to be at the crossroads between positivist and constructivist forms of knowledge. On the one hand many economists and experts contend its theories are as objective and absolute as those seen in ‘natural sciences’, while on the other, some argue that major crises and upheavals such as the 2008 financial crisis go a long way in showing how economic theories are simply constructed, and the ideas the discipline holds to be ‘true’ may in fact be subject to change.[21]

Assumptions in Economic Theory and Issues with TruthEdit

Several assumptions that economic theory holds true have been questioned. One of these is the rational ‘economic man’ or homo economicus, which is the concept that humans always behave rationally and seek to maximise utility.[22] Largely derived from Milton Friedman’s 1953 "Essays in Positive Economics", it became the default view within economic research despite valid criticism from Herbert Simon garnering interest, and him winning a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences precisely for an arguably more realistic alternative theory of ‘bounded rationality’.[23] It is also difficult to see how economics can produce evidence-based truths and knowledge which mirrors reality, as positivist proponents of ‘scientific economics’ in the last 50 years have claimed is possible, when the complex phenomenon it seeks to explain relating to the real rather than a theoretical world are difficult to conclusively test and institute experimentation on.[24] An overarching theme of these assumptions within the discipline is the view that economics is ‘objective’, however it is easy to identify how concepts which are perceived as being factual in its study can in fact be influenced by and be in contention with political inclinations, policy preferences and individual biases.[25] The views of critical economists regarding these issues have themselves shifted over the last five decades.[26]

Truth in economics essentially has a history, and has changed depending on the prevailing school of thought at any given time. For example, economists were confident they could accurately predict inflation and unemployment in a nation's economy. This was seen as being true because it was seemingly ‘proven’ during periods of good economic performance such as in the mid-1960s and 1990s-early 2000s. Both these periods however were followed by crises, Great Stagflation in the 1970s and the financial crisis of 2008.[27] Edward Leamer, in the introduction to his book titled "Macroeconomic Patterns and Stories",[28] summarised this by writing, “You may want to substitute the more familiar scientific words "theory and evidence" for "patterns and stories." Do not do that. The words "patterns and stories" much more accurately convey our level of knowledge, now, and in the future as well.” (Leamer, 2008)[29]

Nassim Taleb wrote in "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable", "Our tendency to construct and believe coherent narratives of the past make it difficult for us to accept the limits of our forecasting ability."[30] It is argued that everything is easier with hindsight and predicting economic outcomes is more algorithmically based than theory based. Emotion is involved in the interpretation of economic truths.[31]

Potential SolutionEdit

One potential way to refocus economics is to consider it in terms of the concept of ‘effective theory’. Derived from one of Harvard astrophysicist Lisa Randall’s publications[32], it seeks to investigate how knowledge is derived and argues knowledge may be accepted without full awareness of what underlies it. Instead of thinking of it as a “science” with absolute truths, effective theory is relational in that it states a theory is only ever effective when there is certainty it will work in that particular context.[33] Knowledge is therefore always verifiable, which would be an important standard for economics because while economists have knowledge, they may apply theories to contexts and problems far beyond the scope of the ‘truths’ they are working with.[34]

Truth in TheologyEdit

The Bible

Theology is organised around a set of disciplines that interact with each other. The study of all these branches, each with its own tools and methodologies, is therefore one of the humanistic study courses within the university system. Theology refers to the philosophical discipline which deals with the nature of God. It strives to identify God's properties in an argumentative and deductive way. By this we mean that theology is the study of religions.

What is Truth in Theology?Edit

The question of truth is a point of convergence of all philosophical questions, so it is therefore very complicated to define truth and therefore to teach this discipline. For this reason, people find it very difficult to agree on the definition and criteria of truth. Philosophers observe that if one knew what truth was, one would not need to search for it. In everyday life, truth is knowledge that is recognised as a right, consistent with its purpose and possessing an absolute and ultimate value. In short, it is the opposite of falsehood.[35] For some people, a proposition or theory is "true" when it conforms to reality and can be attested by observation or experimentation.

Is there Truth in Religion?Edit

This question, which is nowadays largely occulted, is quite decisive for those who believe, who adhere by tradition or by choice to a religion, although truths vary between different religions. One way to answer this can be seen through the Christian religion, known as Christianity. Indeed, for them, "God is Truth Himself."[36] Christian theology is based on God's revelation to mankind, as long as man can understand the Truth.[37] In the Bible, which is the whole of the Holy Scriptures of the Christian religion, God himself says "Now this is eternal life : that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17 : 3).[38] . For Christians, the Bible helps to pass on a form of truth to future generations. Truth can therefore be seen as a form of knowledge.

The issue of EvidentialismEdit

One key aspect of theology revolves around the question of God's existence. Throughout history there have been numerous attempts at trying to prove that God does exist. Theories began with the Ontological Argument, formed by Anselm, and have been continued by a huge variety of theologians, like Aquinas and Augustine, as well as numerous philosophers such as Descartes, Hume and Locke. Particularly with Descartes, he sees God's existence as the first truth that we experience beyond the comprehension our own existence of ourselves in a form of ontological argument [39]. None of these proofs have successfully and undisputedly proved the existence of God, but instead they have introduced the concept that it isn't entirely irrational for God to exist and that there are ways that we could potentially rationalise God's existence.

Today the debate has shifted towards the concept of Evidentialism, which entails that a belief is only justified if there is conclusive evidence for it. Hence, the tradition of proofs for God's existence stand aiming to provide the evidence to justify a belief in God in an evidentialist fashion. However, the debate, today, exists around whether religious beliefs should be governed by these rule of evidentialist, or to what extent religious beliefs should be[40]. To exemplify recent challenges to this belief, I will draw upon the works of two key 20th century philosophers, Wittgenstein and Plantinga. Wittgenstein, a once logical positivist turned fideist, introduces the concept of language games. A language game is the concept that words only hold any meaning in the context of the language, ie. the game played[41]. This relates back to epistemology as the concept of epistemology differs depending on which one of these games are being played. We are transposing scientific standards of epistemology into an area where the scientific approach shouldn't be used. Plantinga has many issue with evidentialism, but his main idea, of reformed epistemology argues that a belief in god is a "fundamental belief" and should not be deduced from other truths. He draws upon concepts such as the fact that we can believe in other minds, it should be equally rational that we can believe in God for both are based of which we cannot prove but we should take to be true.[42]. He also criticises the evidentialist roots in classical foundationalism, where he argues that the latter is "self-referentially incoherent" due to it failing its own rules [43].

Truth in PoliticsEdit

Political science deals with day to day public life, the interaction of systems on a local, regional, national and international level. Political science searches for the analytical or logical evidence so that the political system can deliver solutions for the common good. Political theory, economy, methodology are all aspects of the discipline and largely dependent on normative argument that gives perspective across a large spectrum, appealing to the public mood and wins elections. In the UK, politics is separate from religion. In the US, religion plays a fundamental part in political partisanship.

Truth.... or Not.Edit

Winston Churchill once said, "Truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies".[44] In today's political arena, truth is obscured by lies, pseudo-lies, half-truths, claims and counter-claims, distortion and social media platforms, in particular Facebook and Twitter where anyone or bot can put up any story, true or untrue.

There is an argument that our political systems have moved into a post-democratic, post-truth world where it is accepted that there are no truthful politicians. As the new Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma shows us, what you see on your newsfeeds is different to what I see, depending on your political slant, and in his book Homo Deus, [45] Yuval Noah Harari says this doesn't matter because "Humans are a post-truth species". Recent political events in Russia, Ukraine, Syria, China, the United States of America, the United Kingdom - any country where the leader could be a demagogue, re-enforce this (Crimea, Brexit, Syrian war, ISIS), but it is not a new phenomena; propaganda and disinformation have always played a large part in wars and politics. George Orwell said “Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.”

Polarising PopulismEdit

However, as the public, we accept that politicians lie to us and unconsciously decide where on our personal "lie-scale" they are. In the run up to the British election in December 2019, in one televised debate, a member of the public asked Boris Johnson if he valued the truth; the audience burst into laughter [46]. This infers that the electorate does not believe in how truthful our politicians are, but who seems to be the more capable at "getting things done" - driving through their political theories (Brexit for Boris). Political theory is subjective; constructivist; referred back to the individual. In this context then, objective argument, empirical evidence and truth, are less important. Johnson is a good example of a 'populist'politician - trying to separate the "people" from the "elite", even though he is himself a part of the elite.

In the US, Donald Trump is also a populist, and polarising, President. Unable to undertake many of the things he sought to do on being elected ("Draining the Swamp", "Building the Wall"), he turned to Executive Orders [47] which bypass agreement from the Senate or Congress. He has also appointed 194 judges (24% of the total) in his first term. [48] He has appointed three Supreme Court judges,(lifetime appointments), swinging the influence of the Judiciary behind Right leaning political thought, by 6-3. This, then, blurs the independence of the Executive that is found in the UK system, it questions the case for applying "Inquisitorialism" within the political system. It asks about the independence of the Judiciary and their ability to make impartial judgements, whether on American Civil Liberties or Women's Rights such as Roe vs Wade.


Politics causes an emotional response in us, with little attention to the truth. When we agree with a politician, it makes us feel good and happy about ourselves; when we disagree we have feelings of anger, outrage, even disgust. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote in 1771 that fiction caused as much emotional response as real events [49]. We are in an age where politics relies on the interpretation of facts, how they emotionally charge us. Truth in politics is interrelated to the evidence, the power and the history behind the story and little to do with the evidence-base of the science.

Truth in ArtEdit

The Philosophy of Truth in ArtEdit

As the etymology "poiesis" of the word Art indicates, we are talking about a discipline where one has to create. Effectively artists reproduce the truth and the realities of our world. As the etymology "Aletheia" demonstrates, the work of art is to reveal the forgotten truths. Through art, one displays a revelation, creation, and expressions. [50]

Heidegger and truth in ArtEdit

Heidegger doesn't use a scientific definition to talk about truth. For him, truth isn't just the adequation between a name and an object. He goes back to the meaning of Aletheia seeing truth as an essence that hides behind a veil that we need to tare apart to grasp. [51]The cover put over things are the illusions, the appearances that hide the idea, the essence. In the Platonic tradition, the truth is the being hidden behind the appearance. Heidegger departs from Platonic thought when he asserts that Art reveals the truth. The work of Art draws each thing and each emotion out of the generality that covers them, to make them appear in their singularity and reveal their uniqueness. Faced with the impoverishing generalizations of action and idea, Art makes us rediscover the wonders of the world in front of us. In this world, each being, each emotion, shines with a unique and singular radiance. [52]

Plato and truth in ArtEdit

According to Plato, the sensitive world is filled with appearances that are always deceptive, where everything changes and is corrupt. Indeed, Plato wrote in his Republic, that he believed the artist to be “an imitator of images and is very far removed from the truth” (Republic X, 27)[53]. And the painter reproducing appearances only takes us further away from the essence. Indeed, suppose the idea of the object is already a degradation of the concept of the flower, the idea which is eternal, which is the essence. In that case, the painter's canvas representing the object flower takes us away from the idea a second time by the admiration it can inspire. It is a second degradation of the idea. [54] Plato drew a distinction between two types of imitative art: a true likeness (akin to the scientific idea that their truth corresponds to the state of the world, i.e. mirroring reality) versus intentionally distorted representations of reality (which he described as "the art of making appearances").[55] This idea can be seen as a precursor to Jean Baudrillard's conceptualisation of the simulacrum.

The Western Canon and The History of Truth in Visual ArtEdit

The Western CanonEdit

In the arts, a canon is a selection of works which are agreed upon by a group of individuals to be of high quality and importance. Largely this term is used in the context of Western academia: the Western canon is a selection of works, primarily literature, which are seen as worth studying in an academic context in the West. Despite this, the Western canon’s concept of “classic” literature exists elsewhere; hip-hop communities mark influential and important albums as “classics”.[56]

The Western canon can be seen as a form of truth in studies of the arts. There is an observance among those who study art that its expression and appreciation are highly based in subjective experience. However, the existence of a canon, through university reading lists and the description of certain works as "masterpieces", promotes the idea that consensus among academics on the merits of a work shows an objective level of quality. It should be stressed that canons are not fixed, and are subject to change.

History of Truth in the Form of Objective Quality in Visual ArtsEdit

Giorgio Vasari's 1550 book The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects has been described as "the first important book on art history".[57] Largely a selection of biographies of Italian artists, the act of titling the artists contained within as the "Most Excellent" suggests an attempt from Vasari at creating an objective canon of great visual artists. An earlier example of attempting to objectively assess art is found in Leon Battista Alberti's 1441 book De Pictura,. In this he put forward that history paintings (those depicting historical events) were the "noblest" genre, mainly because they are the most difficult to create.[58] This hierarchy of genre continued through to the 18th Century: academies like the French Academy of Fine Arts, influenced by Italian renaissance values such as those in De Pictura, created a hierarchy where history remained at the top, with still life paintings marked as least important.[59]

A paradigm shift began in the 19th Century where these rigid genre conventions, along with their rankings, began to be seen as limiting and too conservative.[59] Today, if the Western canon isn't being described as a classist metric of quality, it is being expanded to include a more wide range of voices: in the 20th Century the Western literary canon saw an expansion to include more works by women and ethnic minorities, for example via the awarding of a Nobel Prize in Literature to Wole Soyinka in 1986.[60]

Truth in Conceptual EngineeringEdit

Conceptual Engineering as a DisciplineEdit

Conceptual engineering has emerged as both a useful methodology and, more broadly, a growing field of metaphysical research and study. A working definition of the field as provided by Australian philosopher David J. Chalmers reads as follows: "Conceptual engineering is the process of designing, implementing, and evaluating concepts."[61] Some may argue the approach of conceptual engineering has been used throughout philosophical history, though it has not been until recent history in which a distinct disciplinary study of conceptual engineering has emerged.[62] The case for conceptual engineering as a discipline seems justifiable insofar as it implements a unique methodology, quite an established lexicon, and a subject matter that while thoroughly considered in other sub-disciplines of metaphysics, presents entirely differently based on the framework conceptual engineering provides.

Conceptual Engineering as a Mirror of RealityEdit

Given the apparent paradigmatic shift brought about with the emergence of conceptual engineering in metaphysics, it follows logically that many definitions of truth are likely to be fulfilled in the discipline given its broad newfound applications. One such example is that of the neo-classical realist conception of truth, or one which claims to mirror the presentation of reality as that which "is." The methodology and academic pursuit of conceptual engineering follows the classical correspondence theory quite closely. At its base level, the correspondence theory operates under the assumption that what is believed to be true is so if it corresponds to the facts of reality[63]. Conceptual engineering as a discipline aims to remove the ambiguity from, and therefore refine, our generally accepted understanding of established concepts. This task can be considered a movement toward more accurate reflections of reality which supports the central thrust of realist truth conceptions.

Pragmatist Definition of Truth in Conceptual EngineeringEdit

Conceptual engineering also implements pragmatist conceptions of truth. As the field attempts to continuously refine generally-accepted conceptual understanding, with each subsequent iteration of a concept theoretically approaching a more accurate, or "true" reflection of reality, it would follow that a concept is valid once it has reached the "end of inquiry." [64] The pragmatist understanding bases itself on the practical value of truth. The iterative nature of conceptual engineering aligns well with the view of pragmatism that current true beliefs are not beyond being subjected to future revision and inquiry and instead strives to reassess common assumption in the pursuit of the most accurate reflection of factual reality.

Truth In Social Anthropology Edit

Examining Truth in Anthropologist’s MethodologyEdit

Social anthropology is an academic discipline in which the examination of one’s society’s characteristics is performed. [65] The concept of truth within this discipline lies in the methods employed for conducting research and producing knowledge: conducting fieldwork, ethnography, data gatherings and analysis. Some would argue that analyzing and recounting one’s social and cultural context would systematically be partial and biased. The produced knowledge is shaped by the perception of the anthropologist, his experience, his own socio-cultural background and his interest. Upon these terms, the collected objective truths of an anthropologist is automatically tainted with his own social conditions. [66] Some would argue that to get closer to an objective form of truth, the anthropologist must “practice”. He must perform ethnographic work, which includes fieldwork, participant observation and gathering insights, as a research method to fully grasp and micro the reality of one’s subjective experience.[67] This immersion in one’s culture would put an emphasize on the other’s culture and allow the study conductor to enter the studied culture in a realistic way.[68] Although, once again some would claim that the worker’s positionnality automatically creates strong gaps between his perception of reality and the reality, the objective, neutral representation of a society and its culture. [69] One school of thought promote the idea that objectivity within the field of anthropology is a crucial element for the production of a form of truth. However, one can postulate that the simple fact of verbally recounting, using words and phrases leads to the loss of objectivity.[70] Yet the dilemma of truth and objectivity within anthropology, is one that is inevitable for a lot of anthropologists as this discipline studies social relations. Thus, by its own nature it involves a knowledge that is constructed upon intersubjectivity. [71]

Truth in LinguisticsEdit

Linguistics is the ‘science of language’[72], and examines the form, meaning, and contextual function of language[73]. Its study is the observation and examination of the relationship between sound and meaning, and encompasses a broad selection of subfields and cross disciplinary applications. Truth in linguistics is one of correspondence: finding, and most accurately representing and describing, what can be observed in the language. This requires meta-linguistic awareness. That there are any core truths in linguistics is debated. Stockhof and Van Lambalgen have argued that no central consensus in linguistics has been established[74].

Truth in SpellingEdit

Spelling is the order of letters used to form a meaningful synthetic translation of ideas, and is an application of an orthography[75]. An orthography is a general code for written language, forming a convention for spelling, capitalisation, hyphenation amongst other concepts. They are established through social standardisation of the transcription of ideas[76], taking into account linguistic constraints alongside non-linguistic factors including sociopolitics, economics, and culture[77][78]. Orthographies are not static, they change with shifts in the morphology and phonology of their associated spoken language. These shifts can be gradual or sudden[79]. Correct spelling depends on what conventions have been established in the current orthography. Dictionaries are ways to communicate orthography, along with other lexical information.


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