What is Truth? Part 2: Truth Defined

This is precisely the problem with the Correspondence theory of truth: it neglects existence and counts it a virtue to do so. I digress. To try to transcend yourself in pursuit of objective truth is precisely untruth. You are abstracting yourself away, and yet, in reality, you are still there. We do not have the Monarchical Vision; we have our existing, conscious point of view. You are replacing your living, subjective, experiential, meaningful world for the static world of objects. This abstract, objective truth is only the partial truth. It is partially because it is you, a limited existing individual who is doing the reasoning, and only partially true because it has abandoned the whole subjective realm. Søren Kierkegaard saw all this centuries ago:

Modern philosophy has tried anything and everything in the effort to help the individual transcend himself objectively, which is a wholly impossible feat; existence exercises its restraining influence, and if philosophers nowadays not become mere scribblers in the service of a fantastic thinking and its preoccupations, they would long ago have perceived suicide was the most tolerable practical interpretation of its striving.

Kierkegaard was defiantly on to something. The world constructed by “pure science” or “pure rationality,” is not a world we recognize, it is not a world we live in. Each of us lives in our unique subjective world, a world shaped by our experiences, worldviews, education, geographical location and on and on. We literally see the world in different ways. That’s why consciousness is so hard to reconcile with a materialist worldview. On materialism, all of reality can be reduced to matter. The problem is, consciousness is not a WHAT, it’s a HOW. Consciousness is not another object in a world of objects, it’s HOW we see the world. The illusion of “pure reason” or “pure science,” is that it completely disregards this subjectivity, the conscious HOW, and focuses instead on the material WHAT. It’s a world constructed by expunging the subjective and democratically determining reality. Now, I am of course not saying that there is no such a thing as objective reality, as a theist, I do think there is a literal, God’s-eye-view of the world. I am affirming, that along with the objective reality, there is also a subjective reality, an individual’s way of seeing the world. Within this subjective realm, the truths which scientism wants to deny are found. Here, the world is meaningful, to a conscious individual who has not been abstracted out of existence, things have a purpose. The world is beautiful, the conscious individual is aware of beauty calling fourth. The world is ethical; there are right and wrong ways for the individual to exist in the world. Kierkegaard makes a similar point with his distinction between objective and subjective truth:

When the question of truth is raised in an objective manner, reflection is directed objectively to the truth as an object to which the knower is related. Reflection is not focused upon the relationship, however, but upon the question of whether it is the truth to which the knower is related. If only the object to which he is related is the truth, the subject is accounted to be in the truth. When the question of the truth is raised subjectively, reflection is directed subjectively to the nature of the individual’s relationship; if only this relationship is in the truth, the individual is in the truth even if he should happen to be thus related to what is not true.

Kierkegaard clarifies the nature of this subjective relationship to the truth:

For a subjective reflection, the truth becomes a matter of appropriation, of inwardness, of subjectivity…

Truth cannot be a matter of indifference because we are conscious beings. If there were no conscious beings, just a world of facts, truth would be a matter of indifference; it could rightly be perused dispassionately. However, that is an absurdity; the introduction of a pursuer into the world of facts adds a conscious being. This conscious being is not just a new “fact,” it’s a perspective, and action. We, as conscious beings see the world and act in it. Truth then, is not just limited to representing the world correctly, in a sort of objective, object oriented manner, truth also has an existential dimension. We imagine, we feel, we relate, we find meaning, we pronounce things right and wrong. Because we are conscious beings, who are more than our rational capacity, truth must also be more than the reductive objectivity. Here is an example, think of a baseball. The objective way of viewing the baseball would be to say the proposition “there is a baseball” corresponds to the reality of the baseball. The subjective realm adds new dimensions of truth to the baseball. There is a dimension of purpose: the ball is for throwing. There is a relational dimension: the ball belongs to your friend Ted. There is a story dimension: the ball invokes memories of baseball games you’ve played. There are aesthetic dimensions, the ball looks ugly from much wear and tear. The ball has moral dimensions: you know the ball shouldn’t be thrown at your friend Ted’s head. The ball has emotional dimensions: you might feel happy to see the ball because you love baseball. The ball has imaginative dimensions: You imagine yourself hitting a homerun. And on and on.

So, what is this existential, subjective truth? How is it to be defined? My working definition of subjective truth is a proper relationship to reality. As an existing agent, there is a proper way for you to be, to act, to react to reality. You should act according to your beliefs. Your moral intuitions should be properly attuned to what is right and wrong. Your emotions should react properly to what is beautiful or repugnant. CS Lewis pointed this out in The Abolition of Man:

Until quite recent times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it- believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt.

So, we see a dichotomy developing between “objective” and “subjective truth. The chart below illustrates some of the differences:

Subjective Objective
Action Perception
Time Space
Relationship to reality Correspondence to reality
How? What?

We, as human beings, use both subjective and objective truth in our everyday life. When contemplating a difficult problem, we try to abstract ourselves away to see the problem impartially from an objective standpoint. When we call someone hypocrite for not living up to his/her principles, we are calling out the individual for not telling the truth subjectively, with his/her life. Can there be a theory of truth that reconciles subjective and objective truth? If we are to construct one, there are several things we need to account for:

  1. The basic, “objective,” physical facts about reality as described by the correspondence theory of truth. For example, it is true that “I am writing a blog post”
  2. The deeper truths which emerge when we put consciousness into the equation. Meaning, beauty, goodness, purpose, and so forth. These truths are in one sense “subjective” because they emerge only through consciousness; they can’t be pointed to like objects. However, I want to affirm that they are in a different sense “objective,” in that there is an objectively correct way of relating to the world. There is beauty in the world and there is a correct way of responding to it. There is a right and wrong, good and evil, way of acting in the world. And so forth.
  3. Subjective truth, as in the proper relationship to reality. The individual who is ordering his entire being, his passions, his reason, his imagination, ect, properly. Its interesting that we see a connection here with the first two points above, “objective” truth, can only emerge for the individual if he has subjective truth.

We could construe points 1 and 2 as the what of truth and point 3 as the how of truth. Pointing out the truth and being in the truth. As I have argued above, both are essential for a comprehensive theory of truth. Accordingly, I propose the following definition: truth is the proper relationship with what is. This definition satisfies all four of the aforementioned points. If the proposition “I am writing a blog post” is in proper relationship with what is, it is true. It is true that the mountain is beautiful if the statement “this mountain is beautiful” is in proper relationship with what is. A person is living in the truth if his life is in proper relationship with what is.

This is part two of three part series. Part one can be found here, part three is here.


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