A Look at the Correspondence Theory of Truth

After recent comments on my blog lately I once again was reminded how so many people in this world are actually seeking a reality of their own making, not the real truths that are actually real. This post-modern time we live in lends itself more and more to an absolute void of real objective truth and more to the relative nature of truth, which means truth is really just what you make it out to be. So below is part of how we studied “truth” in seminary, with something called the Correspondence Theory of Truth, which is almost better illustrated by the graphic above. If this doesn’t interest you then please head over to The Fillmer Photo Daily blog where I post mostly pictures (and few words), there is always something new to see there as well.

The Correspondence Theory of Truth is actually a tiny little worldly example at the bottom of this post so we have something to compare to what really is the way we get to Biblical truth, but you get the idea.

How Do We Arrive at What is True

This isn’t something new to us, even though we love to think it is with all our modern computer equipment and knowledge. Ling before we appeared, Pilate asked Jesus the rhetorical question, “What is Truth?”

Truth appears to be a property, that is an aspect of certain statements. 2+2=4 is obviously true. 7×5=15 is obviously not. Giraffes have long necks is obviously true. Hippos have red spots is not. The question though for the Correspondence Theory of Truth is, what is truth a property? In this case, there are three candidates: Truth is a property of sentences. Truth is a property of statements. Truth is a property of propositions.

What’s the difference between these?
A sentence is a group of written words, that contain a subject and a verb.
A statement is the occasion of the use of a sentence by someone.
A proposition is what is asserted when a statement is made, the content of the statement.

One may assert the same proposition with two different statements:

  1. George is a fine fellow who can be trusted.
  2. Mr. Shannon is a man of integrity who can be relied upon.

Both statements are about George Shannon, and both are true because they assert the same proposition.

One may use the same sentence to assert two different propositions:

  1. This is really cool!
  2. This is really cool!

In this instance the same sentence refers once to a dish of ice cream and then to a new car.

We also speak of beliefs as being true or false. Beliefs are basically propositions. They may be stated in sentences. Again the same belief may be stated in different sentences stating the same proposition:

Christ died for our sins.

  • Jesus Saves.
  • We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Every truth may be represented as a proposition. Don’t be misled by those (postmodernists) who speak of “non-propositional truth.” If it is a truth it may be stated in a proposition—that is as a sentence which expresses the truth. Some thinkers see truth as a property of representations, linguistic representations or mental ones. They are mistaken. Others see truth as a property of propositions which are represented or expressed in thought or speech.

The best known theory of truth is the Correspondence theory of truth goes something like this:  Whether what is said about the world is true or not depends on how the world is. In other words, a proposition is true if it corresponds to the way things really are.

Let’s label a proposition with the letter P. P may stand for any proposition you want. Under the correspondence theory of truth, P is true if two conditions are met:

  1. It is a fact that P
  2. The proposition corresponds to that fact.

For each true proposition, there must be a fact.

The association of truth with fact entails the association of words with world. In other words, it is possible to use words in ways that accurately describe the way the world is, even if some this this is impossible. This is absolutely essential if the proposition “The Bible is the Word of God” is to have any meaning at all. Conservative, Bible-believing Christians assert that the Bible gives, in words, an accurate, inerrant, description of the way the world is, of what has happened, and of what will happen. The sentences in the Bible, understood in context, accurately portray reality. That is, the propositions expressed in the Bible correspond to the way the world really is.

The Correspondence theory of Truth

This is the “scientific” definition, which serves less of a purpose here but it does have an important place.

The coherence theory of truth states the following: A statement is true if it coheres with other statements. The test of truth is internal. The system of statements one makes must cohere, must be consistent. If one proposition in a group is not consistent with the others, we know that the whole system is not true.

Propositions are truth-bearers. Those who hold to the coherence theory say that truth cannot consist in the relationship between truth-bearers and that which is not a truth bearer (such as a fact). Here is a problem with the theory already. It divorces truth from facts. Truth, these theorists say, consists in the relationship which truth-bearers have to one another. This may be a relation of mutual support among a set of beliefs or non-contradiction between them, or they may together support an overall concept..

We should point out that this theory leads to a relativism, since contradictory systems may be internally consistent. Moral relativists say that there is no external morality, nothing for moral statements to correspond to. If a moral standard makes sense to you that is all that we need.

Religious pluralists—those who believe that all religions are equally valid, that all of them lead to God, depend on the coherence theory of truth. Since all the different religions make sense in terms of their own system, then all are equally true. (It may be argued, however, that not all religions are even coherent within their own system, but this is another matter.

The important thing for us to remember is that the coherence theory separates “truth” from “facts” and seeks only internal consistency. Postmodernists like this theory.

Is the coherence theory of truth useless then for Christians? Not at all. God is consistent and rational. He has created a consistent world for us to live in. Coherence is helpful to us as a negative test—no set of propositions can be true if there is a contradiction within them. The truth will always be internally consistent. By itself, however, that is not enough. True propositions must be consistent with other true propositions, and together, all true propositions must correspond to the way the world is.

Some who defend the Christian faith do so on the basis that the Bible offers a coherent view of reality, and that it corresponds to the world as we actually live in it. No other religion or philosophy offers the same kind of benefit. Even coherent philosophies break down when we try to actually live by them. They just don’t correspond to the way the world really is. Francis Schaefer (The God Who is There) defends the truth of Christianity on this basis.

In conclusion the graph at the top really says it all. There actually are truths in this world, but they are surrounded by false propositions and we only gain knowledge when our beliefs overlap the truth.

4 thoughts

  1. Aside from the religious content here, I see nothing really surprising. If anything, it’s a relief to encounter someone who understands right up front that consistency alone is a necessary but insufficient aspect of truth.

    So given this approach, would you say that slavery is moral or immoral? Something we should or should not accept?

    Why or why not?

    Like

  2. Thanks for the article. I like the diagram. I think the greatest characteristic a person can have is the ability to be willing to challenge there beliefs with the truth. But pride so often get in the way. Maybe that is why God hates it so much?

    Like

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