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McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

truth

that which corresponds to the facts, e.g. in PHILOSOPHY, the correspondence theory of truth. Strictly interpreted, in which true propositions or ideas ‘picture’ or ‘represent’ the world, this is an ‘empiricist’ notion (see EMPIRICISM). However, this conception of truth has been challenged recently, e.g. by ‘post-empiricist’ conceptions of science (see KUHN, FEYERABEND, POST-EMPIRICISM, POSTSTRUCTURALISM, THEORY-RELATIVITY). Since both hypotheses and the ‘facts’ which ‘test’ these are ‘theory-relative’, ‘truth’ cannot be established simply by recourse to empiricist procedures such as VERIFICATION or FALSIFICATION.

Alternative bases of truth-claims include the consensus theory of truth, in which ‘truth’ is a matter of social (including scientific) agreements on reality, reached in a context of ‘open’discourse (see HABERMAS). Questions of correspondence with reality remain central, but cannot be settled in the way which empiricists suggest. See also DECONSTRUCTION, DERRIDA.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Truth

 

an accurate reflection of objective reality in the consciousness of man; the reproduction of reality as it exists in itself, outside of and independent of man and his consciousness. The conception of truth as a correspondence between knowledge and things dates back to the thinkers of antiquity. Thus, Aristotle wrote, “He who thinks the separated [in reality; ed.] to be separated and the combined to be combined has the truth” (Metaphysics, IX, 10, 1051b. 9; Russian translation, Moscow-Leningrad, 1934). This tradition in the interpretation of truth was continued in the philosophy of modern times, represented by F. Bacon, B. Spinoza, C. Helvétius, D. Diderot, P. Holbach, M. V. Lomonosov, A. I. Herzen, N. G. Chernyshevskii, and L. Feuerbach.

In idealist systems truth is viewed either as an eternally immutable and absolute property of ideal objects (Plato, St. Augustine) or as the agreement of thinking with itself, with its a priori forms (I. Kant). Beginning with J. Fichte, German classical idealism introduced a dialectical approach into the interpretation of truth. According to G. Hegel, truth is the process of the development of knowledge.

The exponents of existentialism, following the Danish thinker S. Kierkegaard, interpret truth in a subjective-idealist fashion as a form of the psychological state of the individual.

Adherents of subjective-idealist empiricism view truth as the correspondence; between thought and the subject’s sensations (D. Hume, B. Russell), as the correspondence between ideas and the individual’s attempts to attain success (pragmatism), or as the simplest, most “economical” mutual adjustment of sensations (E. Mach, R. Avenarius). Neopositivists consider truth to be the agreement between scientific propositions and sense experience. Conventionalism (J. H. Poincaré, R. Carnap) proceeds from the premise that the definition and content of truth are of a conventional nature.

According to dialectical materialism, those representations, concepts, ideas, and theories are true which adequately and accurately reflect what exists in objective reality. V. I. Lenin identifies as objective truth that content of human ideas “that does not depend on a subject, that does not depend either on a human being or on humanity” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18, p. 123).

Science is not a storehouse of ready-made and exhaustive truths but the process of their attainment, the movement from limited and approximate knowledge to ever more universal, profound, and exact knowledge. This process is infinite.

Truth is relative insofar as it reflects the object not fully but within certain limits, conditions, and relationships, which are constantly changing and developing. Each step of cognition is limited by the historical conditions of society and by the level of practice. And in this sense truth is the “child of the age.” In comparison with the preceding theory each successive scientific theory represents more complete and profound knowledge. The previous theory is interpreted within the new theory as a relative truth and therefore as a special case of a more comprehensive and more precise theory, for example, the classical mechanics of I. Newton and the theory of relativity of A. Einstein. Such a correlation between theories in their historical development has been referred to in science as the principle of correspondence. Dialectical materialism “recognizes the relativity of all of our knowledge, not in the sense of denying objective truth but in the sense that the limits of approximation of our knowledge to this truth are historically conditional” (ibid., 5th ed., vol. 18, p. 139). The absolutizing of relative truth and the eternalizing of truth give rise to error and dogmatic thinking.

Every relative truth, insofar as it is objective, contains a “particle” of absolute knowledge. Absolute truth is knowledge that fully exhausts its subject matter and cannot be refuted during the further development of cognition. Mankind is moving along a path of mastering absolute truth, which in this sense is made up of the sum of relative truths. “Human thought,” wrote Lenin, “by its nature is capable of giving, and does give, absolute truth, which is compounded of a sum total of relative truths. Each step in the development of science adds new grains to the sum of absolute truth, but the limits of the truth of each scientific proposition are relative, now expanding, now shrinking with the growth of knowledge” (ibid., 5th ed., vol. 18, p. 137).

One of the fundamental principles of the dialectical approach to cognition is the recognition of the concrete nature of truth. This presupposes, first of all, precise consideration of all the conditions in which the object of cognition is found and identification of the primary and essential properties, links, and tendencies of its development. The principle of the concrete nature of truth necessitates approaching the facts not with general formulas and schemata but taking into account real conditions and the concrete situation. Lenin noted that “any truth, if ‘overdone’ …, if exaggerated, or if carried beyond the limits of its actual applicability, can be reduced to an absurdity, and is even bound to become an absurdity under these conditions” (ibid., 5th ed., vol. 41, p. 46). The criterion of truth is found not in thought in itself and not in the reality outside the subject. K. Marx wrote that “the question whether objective thought can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth, that is, the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking. The dispute over the reality or nonreality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3, pp. 1–2). In our consciousness, that which has been directly or indirectly confirmed in practice or that which can be implemented in practice is correct and objective. If man compares his concept of things with other concepts that have already been verified in practice, he thereby mediatedly compares his concept with the object itself. The correspondence between a concept and an object is fully proved only when man succeeds in finding, reproducing, or creating an object that corresponds to the concept which he has formed.

Problems connected with the theoretical and social conditions for attaining truth are worked out in the theory of knowledge and the sociology of knowledge.

A. G. SPIRKIN

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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