Correspondence theory of truth: Wikis


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Truth, holding a mirror and a serpent (1896). Olin Levi Warner, Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.

The correspondence theory of truth states that the truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to the world, and whether it accurately describes (i.e., corresponds with) that world. The theory is opposed to the coherence theory of truth which holds that the truth or falsity of a statement is determined by its relations to other statements rather than its relation to the world.

Correspondence theories claim that true beliefs and true statements correspond to the actual state of affairs. This type of theory attempts to posit a relationship between thoughts or statements on the one hand, and things or facts on the other. It is a traditional model which goes back at least to some of the classical Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.[1] This class of theories holds that the truth or the falsity of a representation is determined solely by how it relates to a reality; that is, by whether it accurately describes that reality. As Aristotle claims in his Metaphysics: "To say that [either] that which is is not or that which is not is, is a falsehood; and to say that that which is is and that which is not is not, is true" [2].


Varieties of correspondence theories

Correspondence as congruence

Bertrand Russell theorized that a statement, to be true, must have a structural isomorphism with the state of affairs in the world that makes it true. For example, "The cat is on the mat" is true if, and only if, there is in the world a cat and a mat and the cat is related to the mat by virtue of being on it. If any of the three pieces (the cat, the mat, and the relation between them which correspond respectively to the subject, object, and verb of the statement) is missing, the statement is false[3].

Some sentences pose difficulties for this model, however. As just one example, adjectives such as "counterfeit", "alleged", or "false" do not have the usual simple meaning of restricting the meaning of the noun they modify: a "tall lawyer" is a kind of lawyer, but an "alleged lawyer" may not be.

Correspondence as correlation

J. L. Austin theorized that there does not need to be any structural parallelism between a true statement and the state of affairs that makes it true. It is only necessary that the semantics of the language in which the statement is expressed are such as to correlate whole-for-whole the statement with the state of affairs. A false statement, for Austin, is one that is correlated by the language to a state of affairs that does not exist[4].

Relation to ontology

Historically, most advocates of correspondence theories have been ontological realists; that is, they believe that there is a world external to the minds of all humans. This is in contrast to metaphysical idealists who hold that everything that exists is, in the end, just an idea in some mind. However, it is not strictly necessary that a correspondence theory be married to ontological realism. It is possible to hold, for example, that the facts of the world determine which statements are true and to also hold that the world (and its facts) is but a collection of ideas in the mind of some supreme being. For more information about correspondence theories that are not linked to ontological realism[5].

Other (non-correspondence) theories of truth

Main article: Truth

Some alternatives theories include:


  1. ^ Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol.2, "Correspondence Theory of Truth", auth: Arthur N. Prior, p223-224 Macmillan, 1969)
  2. ^ Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1011b26
  3. ^ Kirkham, 1992, section 4.2
  4. ^ See Kirkham, 1992, section 4.3
  5. ^ see Kirkham, 1992, section 4.6
  • J. L. Austin (1970), Philosophical Papers, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Kirkham, Richard L. (1992), Theories of Truth: A Critical Introduction, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
  • Bertrand Russell (1912), The Problems of Philosophy, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

See also

External links

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