What is Truth – Rebuttal

I can’t help but considering, in the recent article ‘What is
“Truth?”‘, that there is circular reasoning involved (ironically,
since the beginning of the article is itself concerned with revealing
the circular reasoning of the initial challenge). I feel that a proper
definition of “absolute truth” would be the idea that the state of
reality and existence is absolute, regardless of anything that humans
may think or believe concerning it (see end note for how I develop
this definition). In other words, the idea of “absolute truth” is the
idea of something that is beyond, greater or more concrete than humans and human reason.

The definition of “absolute truth” given in the article, however, is:
“the measure by which we can discern what is real and what is not.”
While this definition would logically be the *purpose* of absolute
truth, it is not a proper definition because it itself defines the
concept only in terms of human perception and understanding (keywords “we” and “discern”). Thus the definition of “absolute truth” given in the article, taken alone, presupposes the idea that absolute truth is an issue of human perception and understanding, and not an issue of something beyond, greater or more concrete than it. From this erroneous definition it is easy to “prove” that there is no “absolute truth” at the writer’s leisure.

End note: The definition of “absolute truth” is of primary importance,
and so must be defined in the simplest of terms. If you search on
Wikipedia for “absolute truth,” for instance, the page that comes up
will include the sentence “Truth is considered to be universal if it
is valid in all times and places.” I would argue that the word ‘truth’
here is used as per the dictionary term (“the true or actual state of
a matter”). Thus I feel that a proper definition of “absolute truth”
would be: “The idea that the state of reality and existence is
absolute, regardless of anything that humans may think or believe
concerning it”.

-Nat

16 Responses to What is Truth – Rebuttal

  1. The Atheist says:

    Nat,
    Very good catch!! Sorry it took me so long to get back to you – I’ve
    been a bit delinquent in checking email and I just saw this. I’ve got
    a busy work day today so I’ll respond this evening.

  2. Nat says:

    Since you seemed to agree with what I said, I’m not sure there’d be much
    left to say.

    I feel I have the upper hand, at the moment. I can tell merely by
    looking at the URL to your webpage what your beliefs are, but you can
    only guess at mine. In the interest of fairness, I’ll tell you right
    now that I am a confessional Lutheran, and have been my entire life.
    Right now, however, I’m conversing with you simply as one practicer of
    logic to another.

    Anyway, I’ll leave the original question – how and whether to continue
    my original argument – to you. You’re civil enough on your page that I
    won’t worry about convincing you that as a theist it’s still possible
    for me to conduct a calm and reasonable discussion.

  3. The Atheist says:

    I don’t necessarily agree with the charge yet, I only mean that I can
    see the possibility that the argument may be circular. But I’m not sure
    it is yet and I still want to explore that with you. And I agree that
    it would be ironic (I think a down right hoot!) if it turns out that
    I’m trying to use a circular argument to defeat a circular argument!
    :))

    > I feel I have the upper hand, at the moment. I can tell merely by
    > looking at the URL to your webpage what your beliefs are, but you can
    > only guess at mine. In the interest of fairness, I’ll tell you right
    > now that I am a confessional Lutheran, and have been my entire life.
    > Right now, however, I’m conversing with you simply as one practicer of
    > logic to another.

    Thanks for the heads up! But it really doesn’t matter to me – I agree
    that we’re talking about the logic of the argument at hand. Although
    on further reflection, our different religious beliefs may contribute
    some to this particular discussion since the belief of “what’s out
    there” may differ depending on our differing worldviews. We’ll see as
    we go along

    > Anyway, I’ll leave the original question – how and whether to continue
    > my original argument – to you. You’re civil enough on your page that I
    > won’t worry about convincing you that as a theist it’s still possible
    > for me to conduct a calm and reasonable discussion.

    I’m inclined to agree – let’s see where this discussion goes and then
    decide. And of course I don’t think that theists can’t be reasonable
    and thanks for recognizing that about me :)

    I’ll respond to your original notes below:

    > I can’t help but considering, in the recent article ‘What is
    > “Truth?”‘, that there is circular reasoning involved (ironically,
    > since the beginning of the article is itself concerned with revealing
    > the circular reasoning of the initial challenge). I feel that a
    > proper
    > definition of “absolute truth” would be the idea that the state of
    > reality and existence is absolute, regardless of anything that humans
    > may think or believe concerning it (see end note for how I develop
    > this definition). In other words, the idea of “absolute truth” is the
    > idea of something that is beyond, greater or more concrete than
    > humans
    > and human reason.

    I agree that the definition of “absolute truth” is paramount to this
    discussion, so let me start with that. Your proposal for the
    definition is: “The idea that the state of reality and existence is
    absolute, regardless of anything that humans may think or believe
    concerning it”. Frankly, that’s my operational definition too. But my
    deeper view is perhaps best described in the Tao Te Ching: “The Tao that
    can be spoken is not the Tao”. That is, any notion that we have about
    what’s out there is in our minds and is not what is actually out there.

    But to apply “Truth” to that of which we have no knowledge is an
    equivocation of the term Truth as defined in the original charge, “Is
    your statement that ‘Truth is not absolute’ an absolute truth?” That
    is, applying “truth” to a statement is not the same as applying “Truth”
    to an unknown “absolute reality”. A statement is falsifiable, but
    absolute reality (if we agree that it cannot be known) is not
    falsifiable: truth about it cannot neither be affirmed nor denied; it
    is therefore neither true or false. Applying the term “Truth” to
    something that is not falsifiable is either meaningless, or it is not
    the same term in the original charge.

    Note that by “falsifiable”, I don’t mean “false” – I mean something is
    falsifiable when it can be said to be false or not false (and therefore
    true). So only something that is falsifiable may be shown to be true.
    Then for “ultimate reality” to be falsifiable, it must be possible to
    show that it is false or not false (and therefore true).

    > The definition of “absolute truth” given in the article, however, is:
    > “the measure by which we can discern what is real and what is not.”
    > While this definition would logically be the *purpose* of absolute
    > truth, it is not a proper definition because it itself defines the
    > concept only in terms of human perception and understanding (keywords
    > “we” and “discern”). Thus the definition of “absolute truth” given in
    > the article, taken alone, presupposes the idea that absolute truth is
    > an issue of human perception and understanding, and not an issue of
    > something beyond, greater or more concrete than it. From this
    > erroneous definition it is easy to “prove” that there is no “absolute
    > truth” at the writer’s leisure.

    “The _idea_ that the state of reality…regardless of anything that
    humans may think or believe” in your proposed definition also
    presupposes that reality is a human idea (and of course I agree), which
    supports the argument of the “What is Truth” article. It doesn’t seem
    that specifying that the idea is about something that is beyond human
    thought solves the problem that we are still pondering the idea.

    “Truth is considered to be universal if it is valid in all times and
    places.” – the implication being that it “is considered” by humans”.
    this is the usage of “truth” as in: “Is your statement that ‘Truth is
    not absolute’ an absolute truth?” This is truth that can be justified
    or falsified, but not the Truth of the unperceived.

    So finally to the circularity in my argument. Let me know if you still
    see a circularity in light of this outline (and in light of the
    discussion above):

    * proposal:

    – my statement, ‘truth is relative,’ is true

    * challenge:

    – you cannot claim the truth of your statement without acknowledging
    absolute truth

    * justification:

    – ‘truth’ in “truth is relative” and ‘truth’ in “absolute truth” (which
    we are taking to mean ultimate reality) are not equivalent terms as I
    have argued above

    – the assertion “is true” of my statement is a judgment and again, not
    the same as “absolute truth”.

    – therefore, I can claim the truth (a judgment) of my statement that
    “truth is relative” without acknowledging absolute truth

    > End note: The definition of “absolute truth” is of primary
    > importance,
    > and so must be defined in the simplest of terms. If you search on
    > Wikipedia for “absolute truth,” for instance, the page that comes up
    > will include the sentence “Truth is considered to be universal if it
    > is valid in all times and places.” I would argue that the word
    > ‘truth’
    > here is used as per the dictionary term (“the true or actual state of
    > a matter”). Thus I feel that a proper definition of “absolute truth”
    > would be: “The idea that the state of reality and existence is
    > absolute, regardless of anything that humans may think or believe
    > concerning it”.

  4. Nat says:

    Sorry for taking a while to get back to you. Partially I’ve been busy,
    but partially I was trying to decide best how to reply. I felt I may
    have had a bit of trouble following your train of thought – if
    something I say seems out-of-place, it’s probably because of that.
    Anyway, I’ll reply as best I can.

    > I agree that the definition of “absolute truth” is paramount to this
    > discussion, so let me start with that. Your proposal for the
    > definition is: “The idea that the state of reality and existence is
    > absolute, regardless of anything that humans may think or believe
    > concerning it”. Frankly, that’s my operational definition too. But my
    > deeper view is perhaps best described in the Tao Te Ching: “The Tao
    that
    > can be spoken is not the Tao”. That is, any notion that we have about
    > what’s out there is in our minds and is not what is actually out there.

    Your quote and last sentence suggests two different meanings to me.
    The first would be that what we _think_ is out there (“out there”
    meaning “the universe” or “reality”) is unique to ourselves, and not
    the same as what’s actually out there. As far as I can tell this
    actually assumes that both sides of the argument are correct, that is,
    there _is_ an absolute reality (and therefore and absolute truth
    regarding that reality), but also, since nobody can know it, the
    presence of absolute truth does not affect us (and thus absolute truth
    does not matter, at least in the practical sense). The other meaning
    it suggests to me is a more rhetorical one, that the “notion” we have
    in our minds is not the same as “what’s out there,” for the reason
    that the former is an idea, while the latter is not an idea (or at the
    very least, is not an idea in the same sense). These two meanings
    could arguably mean about the same thing, but I think the former has a
    greater agreement with the argument that there is no absolute truth,
    while the latter has a greater agreement with the argument that there
    is absolute truth.

    > But to apply “Truth” to that of which we have no knowledge is an
    > equivocation of the term Truth as defined in the original charge, “Is
    > your statement that ‘Truth is not absolute’ an absolute truth?” That
    > is, applying “truth” to a statement is not the same as applying “Truth”
    > to an unknown “absolute reality”. A statement is falsifiable, but
    > absolute reality (if we agree that it cannot be known) is not
    > falsifiable: truth about it cannot neither be affirmed nor denied; it
    > is therefore neither true or false. Applying the term “Truth” to
    > something that is not falsifiable is either meaningless, or it is not
    > the same term in the original charge.

    From this paragraph it seems you are using the first meaning I
    interpreted before. I am tempted to say something about your
    conclusion here, but I think that that would ultimately be superfluous
    when the real issue is your premise (that is, that absolute reality
    cannot be known). Again, I’ll wait with my real reply until I’ve gone
    through the rest of yours.

    > “The _idea_ that the state of reality…regardless of anything that
    > humans may think or believe” in your proposed definition also
    > presupposes that reality is a human idea (and of course I agree), which
    > supports the argument of the “What is Truth” article. It doesn’t seem
    > that specifying that the idea is about something that is beyond human
    > thought solves the problem that we are still pondering the idea.

    > “Truth is considered to be universal if it is valid in all times and
    > places.” – the implication being that it “is considered” by humans”.
    > this is the usage of “truth” as in: “Is your statement that ‘Truth is
    > not absolute’ an absolute truth?” This is truth that can be justified
    > or falsified, but not the Truth of the unperceived.
    >
    > So finally to the circularity in my argument. Let me know if you still
    > see a circularity in light of this outline (and in light of the
    > discussion above):
    >
    > * proposal:
    >
    > – my statement, ‘truth is relative,’ is true
    >
    > * challenge:
    >
    > – you cannot claim the truth of your statement without acknowledging
    > absolute truth
    >
    > * justification:
    >
    > – ‘truth’ in “truth is relative” and ‘truth’ in “absolute truth” (which
    > we are taking to mean ultimate reality) are not equivalent terms as I
    > have argued above
    >
    > – the assertion “is true” of my statement is a judgment and again, not
    > the same as “absolute truth”.
    >
    > – therefore, I can claim the truth (a judgment) of my statement that
    > “truth is relative” without acknowledging absolute truth

    I think that with your rephrasing of the challenge you’ve changed its
    meaning. I would propose that to equal its colloquial counterpart, it
    should read:

    – You cannot claim the absolute truth of your statement without
    acknowledging absolute truth.

    …Which, while we’re at it, belies the circularity of the challenge
    itself (remember that I never defended the challenge, just criticized
    your rebuttal). The relativist answer to the sentence above would, I
    think, be something like:

    – I do not claim the absolute truth of my statement; rather, I claim
    the relative truth of my statement.

    I have more I am considering saying, but I would rather read your
    reply to what I’ve written here, first, whether you agree with the
    things I’ve written or don’t (in order to avoid making the
    conversation more complicated than it needs to be. I’ll do my best to
    get back to you quicker this time, as well)


    -Nat

  5. Nat says:

    P.S. In the very first premise – the statement, “Truth is relative” –
    how would you define the word “truth?”


    -Nat

  6. The Atheist says:

    > Your quote and last sentence suggests two different meanings
    > to me. The first would be that what we _think_ is out there
    > (”out there” meaning “the universe” or “reality”) is unique to
    > ourselves, and not the same as what’s actually out there. As
    > far as I can tell this actually assumes that both sides of the
    > argument are correct, that is, there _is_ an absolute reality

    Not necessarily. All we know from “primary knowledge” is that “I exists” (a la Descartes). For all we know for certain, nothing else exists except our thought (a la solipsism).

    > (and therefore and absolute truth regarding that reality), but
    > also, since nobody can know it, the presence of absolute truth
    > does not affect us (and thus absolute truth does not matter, at
    > least in the practical sense). The other meaning it suggests to
    > me is a more rhetorical one, that the “notion” we have in our
    > minds is not the same as “what’s out there,” for the reason
    > that the former is an idea, while the latter is not an idea (or at
    > the very least, is not an idea in the same sense). These two
    > meanings could arguably mean about the same thing, but I
    > think the former has a greater agreement with the argument
    > that there is no absolute truth, while the latter has a greater
    > agreement with the argument that there is absolute truth.

    I can see how the latter has a greater agreement with the argument that there is an absolute reality – but only if we can know for sure that there is “something out there”. You and I both believe that there is, but I claim that we can’t know that there “something out there” exists with the same certainty that “I know that I exist”. Some people believe that there really isn’t anything out there; that the only thing that exists is thought, and that thought is the source of all sense of reality. The point is that the only true independent premise is that “I exist”. All else is deduced, and our deductions are not identical.

    > From this paragraph it seems you are using the first meaning
    > I interpreted before. I am tempted to say something about your
    > conclusion here, but I think that that would ultimately be
    > superfluous when the real issue is your premise (that is, that
    > absolute reality cannot be known). Again, I’ll wait with my
    > real reply until I’ve gone through the rest of yours.

    Actually, I am attempting to use it in both ways – not to equivocate, but to address the original challenge in the article. I believe the original challenge itself is based on an equivocal use of the term “truth” so I’m attempting with my response to track the meanings in the challenge. Regarding your two scenarios above, I agree that we cannot know true reality (presuming it exists) and therefore it is pointless to claim certainty about its nature. But I also claim that we can’t have primary knowledge that anything other than our thoughts exist – we can only deduce that our thoughts are based on (or part of) an external reality.

    Just a suggestion to remove the equivocation: can we agree on 2 separate phrasings of the challenge that, when combined, form the original equivocal challenge? The first would use the word “truth” to describe the soundness of the claim without using it to mean ultimate reality. Maybe something like: “Is your statement that, ‘Truth is not absolute’, true absolutely?” This phrasing of the challenge demands a logical response that need not address the existence of an Ultimate Reality. It only requires a definition of truth to mean “that which each person holds to be true.”

    The second would address Ultimate Reality: “Does you statement that ‘Ultimate Reality is relative to each person’ require you to acknowledge the existence of an ‘Ultimate Reality’”? At first blush, I think it only demands a simple answer: “no”, but it you agree that splitting the challenge into 2 parts still addresses the original challenge, then we can explore further the possibility of the simple negation.

    > I think that with your rephrasing of the challenge you’ve
    > changed its meaning. I would propose that to equal its
    > colloquial counterpart, it should read:
    > – You cannot claim the absolute truth of your statement without
    > acknowledging absolute truth.

    I’m not sure that helps the challenge since the equivocation of the term “absolute truth” is still present. In fact, the only time it is not an equivocation is when it means: “You cannot claim to know unless you admit that you know.” In this case, the terms are identical. But it is an equivocation when it means: “You cannot claim to make an absolutely true statement unless you acknowledge an absolute reality.”

    > …Which, while we’re at it, belies the circularity of the challenge
    > itself (remember that I never defended the challenge, just criticized
    > your rebuttal).

    I’m with you on that. And I also believe that there is a “reality out there”; I’m only defending the claim that it is a deduced (and therefore relative to the deducer) belief.

    > The relativist answer to the sentence above would, I
    > think, be something like:
    > – I do not claim the absolute truth of my statement; rather, I claim
    > the relative truth of my statement.

    I agree that the answer is also a satisfying defeater for the challenge. But I believe it is possible to address the ultimate-reality aspect of the challenge.

    > I have more I am considering saying, but I would rather read
    > your reply to what I’ve written here, first, whether you agree
    > with the things I’ve written or don’t (in order to avoid making
    > the conversation more complicated than it needs to be. I’ll do
    > my best to get back to you quicker this time, as well)

    This time I was the one to take forever to respond! I apologize as well. But hey, there’s no hurry! :)

  7. Idetrorce says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

  8. The Atheist says:

    Idetrorce,

    Thanks for dropping by.

  9. JoSve says:

    This was well argued. I have been in the same line of thought. To me the issue of “truth” must be a difficult one for atheist because it so easily spreads over into metaphysics and a reality beyond materialism.

  10. gram says:

    You guys can spare yourselves a lot of confusion and anxiety over this topic by sticking to the following:

    Truth = Actuality: either rationally or empirically arrived at
    Reality = Highest truth: the relationship of anything to the all

    The concept of absolute truth is unnecessary. Truth is truth and anything less than absoluteness is mistruth, perhaps disinformation.

    • Barb says:

      Gram, it seems to me that you are ignoring the subjective reality of truth. Your responses are matter-of-fact, yet these statements implode on themselves. For example, you claim that reality is the highest truth, which is completely relative. You are justifying the Christian claim in stating this. Then, you go on to deny the need for absolute truth and follow with statements that are contradictory to your previous statements: “Truth is truth and anything less than absoluteness is mistruth, perhaps misinformation.” My comment to you would be that you are simply confirming the theistic arguement: The atheist cannot claim absolute truth, yet relies on it to accuse the theistic position of being untruthful, while claiming absolute truth to support his own position (that there is no absolute truth).

  11. gram says:

    It might also help everyone to know that truth whether arrived at by rational or empirical means always agrees if done properly, There is no superiority in factual truth to reasoned truth, It’s only preferable- except when determining the nature of reality, where facts should be subservient to a rangier discipline in logic.

  12. Barb says:

    I realize that this is an old post, but I am hoping for a more definitive answer. Very interesting! It seems to me that many here are argueing the definition of truth vs. the simple fact that whatever your definition, truth must still be interpreted. This lands the atheist in the same place he started: perception and subjective feelings. Also, it only follows that truth then becomes relative. This, again, lands the atheist in the starting position: truth is perception and subjective feelings. So, who is to say which truth is really truth? Is there REALLY such a thing as absolute truth? I’m still confused?

    • slidingpenguin says:

      Of course there is absolute truth. Circles are round, iron rusts when exposed to oxygen, and there are so many more. But these are easier to understand because they’re SCIENTIFIC. And as a Christian, I still have to say that making RELIGIOUS facts absolutes are harder, because everyone has their own beliefs and this blinds them from accepting the truth. There was a video about this subject, and some people said that everyone’s truths are different from one another’s, and this is called relativism. One of Nat’s comments said, “how would you define the word ‘truth?'” I believe that truth is Jesus. In the book of John chapter 14 verse 6 of the Christian Bible, Jesus says,”I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” In 2 Timothy 3:16, it says,”All Scripture is God-breathed.” I don’t mean to offend anyone, but if you say that the Bible is wrong and inaccurate, I feel pity for you.

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