Before discussing what I define as “truth”, lets go back and fill in a missing piece in the last discussion of knowledge. I was struggling with what to call unverified impressions one has about an item, or the invalid content of a framework of ideas where the proper validation has not been done. (In reality, these are both the same, though stated “nicely” and then “harshly”). In conversation with our “discussion group” (in this case, one person) last week, I was immediately given an answer – these are opinions. After some consideration, I think I can agree with using that term to mean these un-validated ideas. As an aside, I often find myself unable to find the right word for a thought – even when the right word is obvious in retrospect.

Alright, on to truth. This whole train of thought about knowledge and truth revolves around the problem of intrinsicism vs. subjectivism – usually asked in the form – “where is Truth, in the external world around us, or in our understanding of that external world?”. This seems to be an ageless battle throughout the history of philosophy, and was only answered satisfactorily by Ayn Rand (and perhaps stated most clearly by Leonard Peikoff). Without trying to present the full importance of Rand’s solution to the problem here, Objectivism answers that the content of a concept of a particular item is neither in the thing itself (intrinsicism) or in one’s own mind (subjectivism), but is in the relationship between the thing and one’s mind. This is not easily understood, and it is not my intention to try to describe this central tenet of Rand’s epistemology here. What I want to focus on for the moment is the common use of the word truth, and how I prefer to use that term.

Truth seems to be commonly used to indicate an absolute statement about of the nature of a thing in itself, completely separated from our understanding of that thing. As such, I think the very use of this term implies an intrinsicist viewpoint. The Truth in this sense can never be completely known, so the argument would go, and hence we can never be certain of what we know. In the full implication of this viewpoint, the Truth exists in a separate Reality from the world that we can know – this is the Platonic world of Ideals, and leads to the Kantian (and ultimately Existential) view that we cannot know anything about Reality. As you can see, I reject all of these implications, and hence refuse to use the term Truth in this sense.

Now, it is the case that things exist in an absolute state of being – a thing is what it is, regardless of what any consciousness may know about it. (This is axiomatic – “Existence Exists”). However, it is also axiomatic that our knowledge of a thing (using my definition of knowledge) is certain. If we have completely integrated our understanding of a thing with the rest of our knowledge, then what we know of a thing is absolutely correct, though it is also incomplete. New observations of a thing may bring evidence that we need to expand our concepts regarding this thing, but it will not contradict our existing knowledge, it will only require an expansion of our concepts.

So, we have the nature of a thing as it exists – what I’ll call its absolute state of being – and we have our valid conceptual understanding of that thing. I use the word “truth” to indicate a measure of the completeness of our understanding against the absolute state of being of a thing.  In principle, this is a quantitative measurement; in practice, it can only be evaluated in contrived examples.  A conceptual framework can be completely untrue if it is malformed (if the entire framework is actually an opinion), and if none of it matches the absolute state of being.  Assuming knowledge instead of opinion, then all parts of the framework are true, yet the measure of truth will generally not be perfection (say 100%), because there will be additional aspects of the absolute state of being which have not been perceived, or have been perceived but not yet integrated into the conceptual framework.

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2 thoughts on “Truth

  1. bILL

    A concept necessarily depends on experience (sensory stimuli and our integration of those stimuli). So far, so good. The depository of that experience is our memory, to which the mind makes reference in performing integration of pertinent facts to create concepts. I think it is true that the recording of memories is partial and subject to mental editing and parsing, and that memories fade and become subject to motivations for fabrication such as suggestion. How does the Objectivist epistemology deal with these problems in asserting that knowledge can be certain? I have the image of an epistemological operator similar to the self-editing function that keeps our genetic code intact.

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  2. Bill

    OK, I’ll try an answer to my own question. The aforementioned epistemological operator is reason, using logic as its moderator. This makes sense to me, but I need to keep looking through the objectivist lit to see what AR had to say on the topic.

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