Total Truth (Introduction to the Series)
“Freedom that lacks moral truth becomes its own worst enemy.” George Weigel
Our Series So Far: Faith (Part I) and Experience (Part II)
This post explains the basic theories of truth. Whether a realist or relativist, one needs to understand these theories. Generally, they aren’t taught in school. They are simple, though academics complicate them quickly. Back in the good old days of ancient Greece, they called such persons sophists. The number of sophists today has mushroomed. (To view a world class analytical, realist philosopher explain truth in 0:53, see the first video in the playlist linked here).
What we at PC are certain of is we can’t defend ourselves, our families, our friends, or the institutions dearest to us unless we understand truth and reason in some detail. One needs a quick, effective response to “you have your truth I have mine,” as an example. Those who oppose truth in America have clearly stated their strategy is to undermine the pillars of Western civilization, and these pillars begin with truth.
No one can be against truth. Truth is an analytical concept that is just “there,” with all the force of mathematics. When you meet someone who doesn’t believe in truth, he or she is simply admitting there’s no reason to consider any claim they make.
We started the Western road with reason in a prior Series, The Road to Reason (linked here), and we have one more summary post on truth to come in the near future (Part IV of IV). Part IV will touch on language (and its base, logic), moving the Series back to our worldview mission in preparation for our next Worldview Pillar Series (we recognize eight pillars) on God, soon to come.
Our primary goal in this Truth Series is to keep it simple and avoid jargon. Quite frankly, everyone, and we mean everyone, understands truth intuitively at the highest conceptual level and acts on it every second of everyday. Let’s not be confused. That tells us quite a lot, right there. Today when one makes a conscious decision to adopt relativism, it’s not about stupidity but power.
We defined truth in Part I as “consensus reality.” (As you know there are many definitions; we picked among the most descriptive.)
To review Parts I and II before moving on today, the purpose of Truth Series Part I was simply to highlight that everyone bases their truth on faith or, better yet, a theory of knowledge that cannot be proven or disproven. We all have a base in one or more theories of epistemology, though few know that word.
Therefore, the scientist who engages in scientism is just as “religious” as the shaman who engages in VooDoo. In our opinion, there is a consensus here worldwide on this point among academics, and anyone who believes otherwise might be characterized as assuming his or her own worldview conclusion.
So, if we all base our worldviews on faith, then what is truth based on? This question brings us to Truth Series Part II: Every human being bases their truth on human experience – or just experience – most certainly their own experience, but as importantly the experience of others living and dead. This is where the idea of “consensus” in our definition, consensus reality, comes into play.
You have a “truth” and I have mine (that is correct, Oprah), assuming we are both being honest with ourselves and each other. We then compare our own notes, maybe together, with others, living and dead, and with nature’s interaction with us and nature’s record in the world. Again, all knowledge is based on faith in reception and comparison. Such knowledge only comes into human consciousness through collective human experience. Some call it human awareness. No human beings, no consciousness of the idea of truth or reality versus fantasy.
But that in no way negates, we would argue, almost certain existence of every kind of actual truth from scientific to moral. We walk along with George Weigel’s quote at top. Moral truth is just as solid as chemistry’s table of elements (though building that argument is too involved for this post).
A solid worldview finds truth in every worldview pillar and seamlessly integrates them. Truth and reality touch all aspects of human consciousness.
In other words, if you believe in truth, you believe that truth exists outside ones own experience and the experience of any single person. Here we have the distinguishing qualifier and dialectic of subjective and objective truth, consensus reality being the latter. My being, thoughts, and actions should be part of your reality, but if we’re both gone, most assume an objective reality remains, at least as long as human consciousness exists. All of humankind has observed and recorded this.
As far as we can tell, reality and its twin, truth, didn’t go away after Friedrich Nietzsche died (1844 – 1900). We don’t want to “disrespect” the great atheist, some would argue first postmodernist, and big fan of Christianity as our primary foundation of morality, via his famous quote, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” We know what he was trying to say.
But most would agree it is fact, not interpretation, that reality continued after his death.
Our last major introductory point for today is that faith, experience, and givens (today’s theme) have very little to do with language. As mentioned last time in Truth Series II, most imagine that we could drop ourselves alone into the world in prehistory in a thought experiment and experience all the truth we can handle (lions and tigers and bears) without needing or using language at all. (We gave the example of leaving a new born in the woods.) It’s commonly said up to 80% of human communication is about body language and surrounding known circumstances, not words.
A postmodernist would laugh at that and rightfully so: “Words have little to do with language?” Ha!
No, what we mean is truth from faith in knowledge gained through given experience has little to do with what we say about it.
There is a huge difference. Postmodernism bases itself on “la diff,” and they are right about that.
Even though we can only agree by communicating, our statement just above in italics is not a self-referential contradiction (SRC).
Radical Left postmodernist strategy is to get us stuck in language, and that’s clearly nonsense. Helen Keller got truth or she would never have learned to speak and write.
We disciples of truth need to train ourselves to turn language aggressively but respectfully against those who deny knowledge. (Notice we did not call them liars; see Part IV soon to come.)
Again, it’s their goal and the goal of their Marxist political allies (who are as dedicated to truth as Christians) to destroy the foundations of Western social consensus. “Reimagining society” is code language for revolution. Fortunately, reality’s foundations in human experience and history lie completely outside bogus, circular, drone-like postmodernist language. Though they get lost in language, regular folks do not. Most can’t afford it.
In sum so far through Parts I and II: Truth is first about faith and then experience. Again, forget the theoretical jargon. We’ll summarize truth theories with a brief treatment here in the end.
Today’s Key Word: Given (Part III)
This post’s key word is “given” (or its synonym, self-evident). We will describe three self-evident areas of knowledge that serve humans universally as bases for truth claims. They are “givens” via human consciousness and experience, and that’s all anyone can say.
We can’t really prove why or how they’re given; this is where worldviews diverge – but all human beings agree our knowledge comes from experience or exposure to these three elements. Thinking about truth in this way offers the foundation needed. Again, there is broad consensus on these categories, though which and how associated sub-words under each varies by worldview and definition.
Human communication can influence reality tremendously given the use of human free will in the present, but it has changed nothing about reality since the beginning of time, after the present has entered the past.
Now, before you go any further, please take the time to watch the 5:00 video at top. Over the years, we’ve reviewed much excellent YouTube material on truth and read much about it. We like the video above because it’s short and explains a practical view of truth without using fancy words or theories. It’s almost comically simple. (We dub the narrator, Tom Matriq, the Dr. Evil of YouTube Truth, knowing very little about him. The video speaks for itself.)
While it recognizes the threshold, binary, “true/false” nature of truth accepted by realists and rejected by relativists (who all live by reality), it stresses truth’s commonly overlooked or, as frequently, purposely obscured process nature that determines how we build consensus reality together.
In the end at any point in time, we agree to know or not know, or we place an informal probability on claims and save them for further development on our own or together, based on developing facts. We are as aware of not knowing as knowing. Wise persons keep an open mind, recognizing that often “binary” decisions must be made to move on well.
Please note before watching that the fourth happy person in the video (after “You” is mentioned) might be God to us theists. Our omniscient God always knows the truth (being truth Itself), no matter where we are, being mostly confused, in the process.
The Basic Theories of Truth
The next step after watching Tom’s short video is please to watch Joshua Rasmussen’s video (5:50) below about five basic theories of truth (Correspondence, Coherentism, Pragmatism, Deflationism, and Nihilism). In our opinion, the first three work together to produce one comprehensive view of truth. (Dr. Rasmussen believes truth is a treasure, and we credit him for today’s theme. Great simile there, Joshua!)
Critics of these theories will say:
- Correspondence assumes certainty in perceptive continuity between human subject and objects (“in themselves”) and might involve tautological or circular language (an apple is an apple).
- Coherentism might make sense (that’s a joke), but how do we know the facts or story cohered to are accurate (coherence can be circular, too)?
- Pragmatism works (another joke), but what works is often neither true, good, just, virtuous, or beautiful.
- Finally, our own wrap on Deflationism and Nihilism is that they’re for extreme skeptics only, who disregard experience, the obvious givens.
St. Paul and Our American Founders
If you’ve watched the two five minute videos above, you’re in a closing position to finish this post. Should you choose to accept it (Mission Impossible), your last mission today is to read from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, immediately below.
That letter might be the most impactful in history. It will place you squarely at the beginning of the greatest worldview Big Bang, which accelerates as we speak. Yes, things are constantly changing, yet nothing has really changed since the good old days. Afterward, we will quickly summarize the three self-evident “givens” that most human beings worldwide see as truth, and then conclude.
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 1: 18-25, NIV, Estimated 57 A.D.)
To all of you godless and wicked people out there – and that would be all of us, especially we Praxis Circle pirates – you have got to love St. Paul. Even if you are a Stage Three feminist, LGBTQ activist, radical woke CRT theorist, revolutionary Marxist, or positivist scientist. We all face binary choices at certain key turning points in life.
A purpose of Paul’s mission to Rome was to speak truth to power, and in a truthful, “binary” way he paid for it with his life. Our Founders were the original band of motley American, revolutionary brothers (and sisters) for truth.
When Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers said in The Declaration of Independence that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (1776), they were implicitly agreeing with Christ and St. Paul. There was cultural agreement on Divine Providence. It worked for them.
In other words, they were dropping themselves squarely into Paul’s Letter to the Romans gentle harangue and taking a position. Most of the Founders were Enlightenment Christians of different varieties and familiar with the Bible, the document Americans then learned to read from.
In The Declaration, Christ’s work through Paul took full effect in the founding of an extremely powerful nation. Over time, Americans came to see themselves as the New Israel, and eventually with growing power like Rome. The New Rome would be the New Israel – the shining City on a Hill.
Our Three Given Truths: Causal, Behavioral, and Analytical
The descriptions below are short because they’re easily understandable. Each given or self-evident truth involves a type of knowledge. The list is not all inclusive, but it covers most of the territory. We are only trying to describe experienced truth as we might receive it in this world. We are not trying to categorize all the truth available, most of it likely not available to humans.
Truth is knowledge of reality. Naturalists believe this world as we experience it is ultimate reality; others believe God is ultimate reality and is here, too, in various ways, but also elsewhere in other ways. Elsewhere is a supernatural catch-all dimension.
You be the judge.
But to call anything “truth” in a world where truth is disputed, you are going to have to get others to agree with you. Such truth is objective. To theists, truth becomes 100% certain only when God reveals it. Otherwise, we’re relying on God’s trustworthy wiring job in creating us (which is what most monotheists rely on) that connects us to truth.
Truth is something we should treasure that brings us together and that we have no choice but to seek and live with to survive and thrive,; to find peace, happiness, and even salvation. As both videos above show, objective truth often changes as our consensus reality changes.
Truth is what literally every university in the West (which is where universities originated) over 150 years old (just picking a number, but it’s representative) was founded to seek. That’s why we categorize university curriculum under each category.
1. Causal Reality (or Consequential; a posteriori)
This given truth is the world of cause and effect and constant change that all humans whose being is thrown into the world at birth experience every second. We notice this reality continuously in time and space. Today we call it the scientific world of physics, chemistry, and biology. It’s the world of matter and energy broken down into protons, neutrons, and electrons (and many other fundamental particles of matter and energy, new ones in recent years continuously discovered) and other fundamental forces scientists have identified.
In the everyday world of human experience, nature seems to follow clear laws that we know break down into probability in the quantum world. Today we call this mostly the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Medicine) branches of “college knowledge.” It is written: “Knowledge is good.”
2. Behavioral Reality (or Pragmatic; a posteriori)
This given truth is the world of human and animal behavior that involves intent or direction, whether conscious or not. Of course, with consciousness we’re referring primarily to human behavior and free will (creating a great debate today). Humans everywhere hold each other responsible for their actions, thus proving no ordinary folks doubt free will.
While certain worldviews project mind into all being, free will or unpredictability tends to distinguish Causal reality from Behavioral reality. Whatever your view on free will, we can probably agree that human behavior is far less predicable than other living and non-living being. As Paul recognizes, humans tend to honor laws of every kind more in the breach.
And while animals also think, they do not have have our level of consciousness or self-awareness concerning the possibilities open to them, the future, or death. Animals are not in the human league of creativity. This is what the Creator and human creatures do.
Animals cannot command and control their world as we Homo sapiens do. We are the “knowing” beings (“sapiens”) concerned with truth.
In the academic context, we move with Behavior reality from the pure or causal sciences to the so-called Social Sciences, including anthropology, sociology, history, politics, economics, religion, and ethics. Religion by definition usually includes the supernatural as part of reality. Of course, in Judeo-Christian thinking, again, God is truth Itself.
In most universities, the College of Arts and Sciences (being misnamed “sciences” by arrogant social “scientists”) rests here, in contrast to STEM. In our opinion, business schools should be categorized here, as well as the arts and music (some will disagree here), which provides the perfect “divine” transition to . . .
3. Analytical Reality (Prior to or Beyond Causal, Behavioral, together being Natural Reality; a priori)
For some reason, Analytical reality is the category most often mentioned as given or self-evident – but how, why, what, and from whom? Westerners don’t seem to have much attribution mystery with the other two realities, but we’re probably fooling ourselves. Humans have a tendency to take commonly experienced miracles (from child birth to cell phones) and make them mundane very quickly.
Analytical reality is clearly a given (we aren’t 100% sure of its source or cause). It involves all the things we believe exist to the point we have words assigned, yet little idea of their true nature: God, ultimate reality, consciousness, the mind, logic, perception, feelings or emotions, reason (all seven forms), logos, the soul, love, virtues, numbers, concepts (categories and words), language, mathematics, laws.
The video linked above at the end of each of the three Given category headings on a posteriori and a priori knowledge lists only analytical logic, deductive reasoning, tautologies, and mathematics as a priori knowledge, but that’s likely because the video’s authors lean toward positivism. If all forms of knowledge, including a priori knowledge, require human consciousness, then all forms are in that sense a posteriori.
Somehow physics equations seem real, but unicorns do not. (Perhaps unicorns preexisted, are undiscovered, or are in an unknown world. Ask Plato.)
Take the key words listed in the categorical discussion above and categorize them yourself. We have no pride of authorship. Then consider how these three given realities and the three main theories of truth (Correspondence, Coherence, and Pragmatic) would fit into Dr. Evil’s (Tom Matriq’s) video animation story about the balls at top. It’s a fun puzzle. Various forms of Eastern thinkers and Christians will place God and logic even in the Causal category. Other words placed in the Analytical category would probably go in the Behavioral category, too. The more we learn about the cellular, elemental, and quantum levels, the more they seem to have minds of their own.
Again, all of these given truths inform our worldviews and lead us to other truths of an organizational and moral nature. There is nothing to prevent truth to proceed from these three epistemological foundations to ethical or aesthetic truths that are also universal and hierarchical. It is not any more illogical to say “there is one true God” than to say there’s only one Babe Ruth (who pointed – legend has it – at the fence in the 1932 World Series, then knocked a homer over it).
Differences in perspective around the world can argue against universals, but we know that truth arises quite locally (through specific people living in a specific time and place), but is universal by definition and nature. As Western philosophy posits, much of what we call truth is more descriptive than explanatory. While common sense would tell us our understanding of reality is minuscule in relation to ultimate reality, human heads tend to swell as we learn more descriptive information.
As our human pride increases, we begin awarding credit due the Creator to ourselves.
So here we are . . . left in the end with faith, experience, and the givens. What happens with increasing knowledge is man creates idols and eventually crowns himself God. Across the ages, the wise see this as the foundation of human corruption. The Greeks called it hubris. We return yet again to St. Paul’s genius and his foundational quote above.
If you want to think more about that and get prepared for next time, as well as our next Series on God, please enjoy Robert Lawrence Kuhn and his esteemed guests in this episode of PBC’s Closer to Truth. He has the perfect job, sampling God’s worldview treasure chest.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6: 19-21, NIV)
Where do you store up your treasure?
Extra Video Feature for Truth Theory Enthusiasts
Since we’ve done the work of sifting through dozens of videos from our own library and on YouTube (primarily), we thought we should give you the benefit of the work. Below are seven selected videos on truth listed in order of length (shortest-to-longest) with an eye toward each message. We also offer a brief comment on each to help you decide whether you might have an interest. We can assure you, however, that after a full review of this post, you will have a decent introductory review of the truth subject. And we welcome any future video suggestions.
Number One: (6:98) Jordan Peterson answering a long question (What is truth?) from a professor in the audience the takes up almost half the time. Normally, we are put off by such long statements masquerading as questions, but this person has standing and does it well. Dr. Peterson explains his approach to knowledge and truth rather quickly, and reveals that he sees truth as much a a process as a status of being, whether conceptual or material.
Number Two: (8:18) Jordan Peterson again in an interview where he explains the concept of the benefits of aligning one’s soul with the structure of being, an ancient concept as applicable today as ever. Of course, Dr. Peterson has made himself famous offering meaning and purpose to life for those lacking it by explaining the ancient wisdom emanating from classic myths, legends, and histories, reinforced by modern social science and clinical psychiatry, his own specialty. He informs his expertise in psychology with extensive knowledge of theology and philosophy. You know, what’s almost totally lacking in postmodernist Western culture today.
Number Three: (9:15) Our Contributor Os Guinness’ playlist on truth produced in preparation for a Veritas Forum. He offered some of the same comments in our two PC interviews. This playlist does a good job consolidating his thoughts on the truth subject. Os is one of the leading thinkers in America about what makes America special to the world, the nature and importance of freedom, and the ways Christianity has produced freedom, as manifested in America’s social, political, and economic systems. He explains like few others why America has so much importance to and influence on the rest of the world.
Number Four :(16:43) The next two videos cover much the same content, so you might choose one or the other. We placed this one first because it’s shorter. It explains the three predominant theories of truth outlined in “The Nature of Truth” video above (see the body of today’s post near the end) in more detail and takes an approach that simplifies truth into experience and logic (to our liking). What everyone uses and benefits from – to the extent he, she, or we get reality right.
Number Five: (18:52) Another philosophy professor explaining the three theories of truth. If you like the style of this professor, it’s slightly additive relative to the other videos. If you watched the prior video, you could skip this one.
Number Six: (26:46) We include Robert Kuhn again from his PBS program Closer to Truth (for the other see the “How is God the Creator?” video above at the post’s end). The video addresses the question “What is truth?”, a particularly important one, obviously, for a TV show that’s entitled Closer to Truth. In our opinion the video makes a decent stab at the question taking the comments from an august group of interviewees, but in the end it comes up short. It could be that Mr. Kuhn’s own worldview (he is a career investment banker) got in the way a bit. Why? He is a terrific interviewer for the series because he’s quite intelligent and skeptical, yet he admits he’s never had “a religious experience.” While it depends how ones defines religious experience, that would likely place him in the minority among the broader population, even in an overly secularized Western sample (“overly secularized” being a value judgement, obviously).