(About a 6 minute read)
I confess the ancient Greeks are something of a mystery to me. Consider how they were known far and wide as an unruly crowd willing to debate any and all subjects. Many other peoples in the ancient world seem to have been reticent to debate some of the things the Greeks took up daily.
And yet, for all their fierce individuality, every last one of the truly ancient Greeks agreed on one thing: Not a single one of them decided to live later in history than about 2,000 years ago! Can you imagine? Even today with all of our sophisticated science, we still don’t know why the ancient Greeks all chose the same time frame in which to live.
Other than that, they made no exception to their habit of debating everything. Even truth itself was no exception. The Greeks were perhaps the first peoples of the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East to formally raise the issue of what is truth? They also invented lace, making lace panties possible for the first time in history, and thus allowing us to divide the Civilized Age from the Pre-Civilized Age of humanity. We are truly in their debt.
Nowadays, we have five major theories of what is truth, and 24 different styles of women’s panties, thus showing how we have progressed in the two most notable and esteemed key hallmarks of civilization. Of the five major truth theories, the
French briefs Correspondence Theory of Truth is the most popular with the Philosophers who study these things.
Fortunately, the Correspondence Theory is also the easiest to explain. Simply imagine a map. The map is said to be accurate or true to the extent it corresponds to a terrain.
Now simply imagine — instead of a map — a statement or proposition. According to the Correspondence Theory, the statement or proposition is said to be true to the extent it corresponds to a reality.
That’s it! As easy to understand and grasp — if you think about it — as how two teens on prom night might discover that both of their zippers had been glued shut. Obviously their dads did it. Not even mothers or siblings are that crazy.
To dress the Correspondence theory up in precise philosophical language, philosophers sometimes speak of it as the theory that a truth-claim (statement or proposition) is true to the extent that it corresponds to a state of affairs (a reality). The Correspondence Theory has been around for about 2,400 years now and it’s still looking good, especially in various modified forms which we will not get into here.
A subtle implication of the Correspondence Theory is that there can be statements which are neither true nor false, but simply meaningless. That happens when there is no way to demonstrate either that a statement corresponds to any reality or does not correspond to any reality.
Many philosophers will tell you “God exists” is just such a meaningless statement. To be sure, they do not mean “God exists” isn’t personally meaningful. Indeed, as everyone knows, the statement is personally meaningful to billions of people. Rather, the philosophers simply mean there is
no way the statement can hold their attention like a fine pair of French cut briefs no way or means whereby “God exists” can be proved or disproved to correspond to a reality. Of course, not all philosophers agree with them.
A second implication of the Correspondence Theory is that — so far as the theory is concerned — truth is not the same thing as reality. In everyday language, many people speak of “truth” as if the word were synonymous with “reality”. There’s nothing wrong with that so long as you don’t mind having two words for the same thing.
And who does mind that? After all, there are plenty of words and terms that mean the same or much the same thing. “Teenager” and “horny”, for instance. “Sunstone” and “insufferable”, for instance.
Which brings me to an interesting interpretation of a famous bible verse.
Traditionally, when Jesus says to Pilate, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”, Pilate responds by mocking Jesus with the “jest”, “What is truth?”
But some scholars do not believe John got that completely right. They say that John misunderstood a serious question, “What is truth”, as a jest. You see, Pilate was an educated man for his time, which would have meant that he was familiar with the Correspondence Theory. It would have been natural for Pilate, when he heard Jesus say, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me”, to wonder what Jesus thought truth was for — if you look at what Jesus said in full context — Jesus would have appeared to Pilate as mangling the meaning of the word “truth”.
In other words, Pilate was not jesting, or toying with Jesus, he was seeking clarification.
Last, according to the Correspondence Theory, truth is not merely a word denoting what some person’s or some group’s opinion is. Instead, truth is clearly distinct from opinion. In fact, opinions can be taken three ways in terms of the theory.
First, they can be statements of subjective truth or falsehood. If I say, “The chair feels comfortable to me”, then I can either be telling the truth or telling a falsehood. That is, the chair either can feel comfortable to me or not. But only I alone can test whether the chair feels comfortable to me.
Alternatively, if I say, “The chair feels comfortable to everyone”, then I am asserting a claim that can be tested by more people than myself alone. Again, the claim is either true or false.
Last, if I say, “The chair feels comfortable”, but mean that statement in some way that cannot be tested either by myself or others, then the claim is meaningless.
In sum, the noble and esteemed Correspondence Theory of Truth is the most popular truth theory with philosophers (according to polls) and basically states that the truth or falsity of a statement depends on whether or not — or the degree to which — it corresponds with a reality. Along with lace, it is one of the great inventions of the ancient Greeks that denotes the arrival of civilization.