Truth: An Alternative perspective

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Relevance: Ethics and Human Interface: Essence, determinants, and consequences of Ethics in human actions; dimensions of ethics; ethics in private and public relationships. Human Values – lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers, and administrators; the role of family, society, and educational institutions in inculcating values.



We often use the word ‘Truth’ in our daily life. The aim of many philosophers and the objective of many disciplines will be to find the truth. But what does it mean and on what grounds certain propositions can be considered true? Is it a metaphysical construct or is it a reality, Factuality, Or Authenticity? And whether truth is subjective or objective, relative or absolute?

There is no single answer to the above questions and the answers change with time and space.

Different perspectives of Truth
  • Truth as a metaphysical construct: It means truth or reality is outside of human sense perception. And it cannot be reached through objective studies of material reality.
  • Truth in a relativist perspectiveRelativism believes that there's no absolute truth. Truths are the ones that a particular individual or culture happens to believe.
  • Truth as openness: In Ancient Greece, the original meaning and essence of truth is the revealing or bringing of what was previously hidden into the open, as indicated by the original Greek term for truth, Aletheia.
  • Truth as correctness: Here truth is considered as being error-free and conformity to recognized standards.
  • Truth in social construct perspective: Truth has a more pragmatic dimension as a process of accurately recording perceptions, and ensuring they become part of an agreed social record
  • Views of Plato: Truth is objective; it is that which our reason, used rightly, apprehends
  • Views of Post-modernists: Postmodernist philosophers, in general, argue that truth is always contingent on historical and social context rather than being absolute and universal and that truth is always partial and “at issue” rather than being complete and certain.
  • Views of Mahatma Gandhi: Truth has no finality, hence everyone's life should be a continuous pursuit for truth.
Different sources of truth
  • For Socrates, Dialectics is the source of truth i.e. dialogue as a means of reaching the truth.
  • For Mahatma Gandhi, Satyagraha and Ahimsa are the means to truth.
  • Mimamsa, an ancient philosophical school, argue that the Vedas contain the eternal truth.
  • It is also widely believed that Wisdom Finds Truth.
The three theories of truth

The correspondence theory of truth:

  • The theory says that a proposition is true provided there exists a fact corresponding to it.
  • A fact is something indisputable, based on empirical research and quantifiable measures. 
  • Problems with pragmatic theory:
    • Every proposition cannot be verified for its factuality.
    • Some philosophers believe that many truths are beyond scientific research.
    • It is widely believed that truth may include fact, but it can also include belief.

The pragmatic theory of truth: 

  • According to pragmatic theory, truth is defined in terms of utility.
  • True statements might be those that are useful to believe.
  • Beliefs that lead to the best “payoff”, that are the best justification of our actions, that promote success, are truths, according to the pragmatists.
  • Problems with pragmatic theory:
    • It may be useful for someone to believe a proposition but also useful for someone else to disbelieve it.
    • For example, it is said that many people, to avoid despair, need to believe there is a God who keeps a watchful eye on everyone.
    • According to one version of the Pragmatic Theory, that proposition is true.
    • However, it may not be useful for other persons to believe that same proposition.
    • They would be crushed if they believed that there is a God who keeps a watchful eye on everyone.

The coherence theory of truth:

  • It defines truth in terms of coherence with our knowledge.
  • Coherence theory accounts for the truth of a proposition as arising out of a relationship between that proposition and other propositions.
  • Problems with coherence theory:
    • Knowledge of an individual varies with knowledge of other people, then there cannot be one single truth.
    • Even the knowledge of one individual is not constant, it evolves with time, then truth cannot be constant.
    • Hence, as knowledge varies, truth also varies.
How 'truth' changes?

As we have seen above, as per pragmatic and coherence theories, there is huge scope for the truth to change and evolve with time and space. In contemporary times, what we perceive as ‘true’ changed dramatically bringing unprecedented revolutions to most areas of human life. Let us understand the same thing with some examples.

  1. Indian history and archaeology:
    • As Indians lacked record keeping, what colonial historians told about India was considered to be true history until the last century.
    • But after Independence, with the emergence of Indic historians, a new perspective of Indian history came out.
  2. British rule in India:
    • Britishers claimed that they came to India for civilizing Indians and establish a proper rule.
    • This was initially considered to be true by some Indian people and modernist leaders.
    • However, later it was understood that they are plundering the wealth of India.
  3. German Nazi followers:
    • Many of them followed Hitler because they thought what Hitler is saying is the truth.
    • They genuinely believed that Germany was fighting for its freedom, even for its very existence.
    • But they got to know the real truth after the war ended.
    • World War II was not about former German territory assigned to Poland or about the national self-determination of Germans living outside Germany.
    • The war was about creating a new racial order in which there were German superiors and Slav inferiors and in which Jews had no place.
    • It was about creating an exploitative empire in which might determines right. 
  4. Changing thoughts about wars:
    • In earlier times, the war was accepted as a means to defeat evil forces and establish peace and as a fixture for thousands of years.
    • Now, it is considered that war is no longer an inevitable fact of life and that major efforts should be made to abandon it.
    • This is reflected in the enthusiasm during the first two world wars and the effort in present times to avoid another world war.
  5. The USA and the Vietnam war:
    • About the American involvement in the Vietnam war, the American people considered what their government portrayed to be true.
    • But the government had grossly misrepresented the facts of the Vietnam war to the American people and willingly deceived the American people about the nation's involvement in Vietnam. 
    • The Pentagon Papers revealed that the U.S. had secretly enlarged the scope of its actions in the Vietnam War with the bombings of nearby Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids on North Vietnam, and Marine Corps attacks—none of which were reported in the mainstream media.
    • Here, we can also see how the government and media combined manipulated the truth.
  6. Changing perceptions about women:
    • Certain jobs were seen as unfit for women because of the stereotypes that exist in society.
    • For example, it was believed that science requires a technical mind, and girls and women are not capable of dealing with technical things.
    • However, recent examples like mission mangalyaan prove the above statement to be false.
  7. A changed view of the caste system:
    • Certain sections of society were considered to be inferior by birth and fit only for some inferior roles in society.
    • Today, although that perception is not completely changed, the majority of the people do not find it to be true.
  8. Concept of true education:
    • Earning a degree from a reputed institute was once considered true education.
    • However, after seeing the imbalances in the individual's life and the number of evils in society, it is found to be false.
    • Now the true education includes inculcating moral values, positive thinking, helping nature, selflessness, and ethical values.
  9. Economic growth vs development:
    • In the 20th century, economic growth was considered a panacea for all problems the country is facing.
    • But focusing on economic growth alone, gave rise to huge inequalities, deepening of poverty, and other externalities.
    • Hence, in present times development i.e. an improvement in the quality of life and living standards is considered as a true path.
  10. Environment vs industrialization:
    • Earlier, industrialization was given priority even though it adversely affects the environment.
    • Now after realizing the importance of the environment, excessive industrialization is considered a bad idea, and the focus is on conserving the environment.
  11. Consumerism vs minimalism:
    • With globalization, consumerism became rampant.
    • It is believed that buying more things will give happiness.
    • However, it proved to be wrong and also harms the environment.
    • Thus minimalism is now considered a good idea, which is good for the planet and also gives satisfaction and happiness to the individual.
  12. The mystery of the smallest thing in the universe:
    • People once thought grains of sand were the building blocks of what we see around us.
    • Then the atom was discovered, and it was thought indivisible until it was split to reveal protons, neutrons, and electrons inside.
    • These too, seemed like fundamental particles, before scientists discovered that protons and neutrons are made of three quarks each.
    • Thus, the truth about the smallest particle kept on changing.
  13. Changing ideas about the solar system:
    • People used to believe that all the planets and the sun orbited around the Earth, but now we know that is incorrect.
    • Scientists used to think that Pluto was a classical planet, but now it is classified as a dwarf planet.
    • This reflects the process of scientific inquiry because scientists used discoveries and inventions to change the proposition, which was once considered to be true.
  14. Change in the understanding of the universe:
    • 100 years ago, it wasn't definite that there were other galaxies, or whether we were close to the center of our own galaxy.
    • In the 1920s and 1930s, Edwin Hubble discovered that many distant objects, previously assumed to be clouds of dust (nebula) were in reality, other galaxies.
    • And there are hundreds of billions of other galaxies in the universe.
    • So this completely changed our view.
    • Similarly, once the universe was believed to be static, whereas now it is considered to be expanding.
  15. The shape of the earth:
    • We often hear that most people throughout history believed the world was flat.
    • Today, that belief is not considered to be true, as new scientific instruments and methodologies showed the true shape of the earth.
  16. The ocean floor:
    • Before scientists invented sonar, many people believed the ocean floor was a completely flat surface.
    • Now we know that the seafloor is far from flat.
    • In fact, the tallest mountains and deepest canyons are found on the ocean floor; far taller and deeper than any landforms found on the continents.
  17. In science, the relaxation of the rigid materialistic framework allowed for new and radical ways of thinking including Einstein’s relativity theory and Heisenberg’s paradoxical uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics. These developments changed the way physicists think of the world allowing them to ponder the existence of multiple universes and the role of consciousness in creating reality, etc.
  18. Role of experience:
    • Our ideas about “truth” are filtered through the lens of our social groups, our education, and our experiences.
    • For example, A child in the 1900s has grown up hearing that black people are inferior to whites. He includes that information as part of the truths about life.
    • After becoming an adult and now being exposed to other societies, experiences, and people, he realizes that what he grew up believing was ” truth” was actually his parents' twisted worldview.
    • His idea of “what is true” has completely changed as he matured and experienced life.
  19. Impact of social media:
    • Social media creates an illusionary truth effect.
    • The illusory truth effect is also known as the validity effect, truth effect, or reiteration effect.
    • The illusory truth effect refers to a phenomenon where people rate repeated statements as more truthful than non-repeated ones.
    • The more someone ingests a piece of information, the more likely they are to believe it to be true. Whether this is based on a legitimate fact is irrelevant.
    • Thus, 'truth' according to social media always changes.
  20. Fake news and rumors:
    • With its widespread reach and appealing nature, fake news has the potential to reach millions of people, faster than the truth.
    • They take place of true news.
    • People believe it to be true until they are made aware of true news, but the damage will be already done.
    • Thus in modern times, getting true news became more difficult.

From the above examples, it is clear that Truth is conceptual and multi-dimensional in nature. And our perception of truth continuously changes with expanding knowledge, discoveries, extensive research, and with experience acquired. What we consider to be true today may be proved a lie tomorrow.

In recent times, new threats like alternative truth and post-truth are emerging. Hence, it is important to keep vigil and consider truth from a wider perspective.

Related quotes
  • “Even falsehood has the nature of truth if it confers a benefit that is free from fault”-Thiruvalluvar.
  • “Truth is what stands the test of experience.”-Albert Einstein.
  • “There Is No God Higher Than Truth” – Mahatma Gandhi.
  • “The truth should be independent of whoever says it.”-Tawfik Hamid.
  • “You can have your own truth but you can't have your own facts.” – J Russ.
  • “When opinions are free, the truth will finally and powerfully prevail.” -Thomas Paine.
  • “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth” – Marcus Aurelius.
  • “If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.” ― Mark Twain.

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