Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

A Matter of Truth

Posted by Jerry on March 14, 2007

I started out writing the post below as a method of clarifying my thoughts on and understanding the matter of Objectivism’s position on truths versus facts. Specifically, I started out wondering whether the concepts “truth” and ”fact” can be used interchangeably. As I finished writing the post, I realized that the two concepts share an unbalanced relationship: all truths are facts (truths are a species of facts existing in somebody’s consciousness), but facts just are. More fundamentally, truth is a concept that hierarchically depends on the concept of fact. In other words, truth (in one’s mind) is ascertained by correspondence to a fact (in reality).

 

Thus, to answer my own question, the concepts “truth” and “fact” can be used interchangeably only when referring to an idea that is known to be true, and never in any other situation.

 

According to Objectivism, truth is the grasp of a fact by a conceptual consciousness; thus, that which is true is mind-dependent because it requires a knower, but that which is a fact is mind-independent because it remains a fact regardless of the existence of a conscious knower. Thus, all that is true is, by definition, also known, but not all facts are necessarily known. All truths are necessarily true and not false, but facts are neither true nor false.

 

Moreover, not all that is known is also necessarily true. Thus, things that are merely *known* (having knowledge of) can fall within varying degrees of certainty; however, known truths are always held with certainty because (and to the extent that) they correspond to metaphysical facts. Once new truths are grasped from the discovery of new facts, knowledge is modified, recitified, or radically overhauled; but old truths continue to remain true so long as they are grounded in reality.

 

Now, Objectivism also rejects the idea that “truth” is a matter of propositions. In other words, propositions in and of themselves cannot be assessed to be true or untrue unless it is verified by a rational consciousness in relation to facts (reality). Thus, Objectivists reject propositions like “There may or may not be an alien living somewhere in the universe” as true. Since the content of this proposition reveals no evidence of a verification of a metaphysical fact by a rational consciousness, the status of this proposition can–according to Objectivism–only properly be regarded as “arbitrary,” and not “true.”

 

This was also Ayn Rand’s approach to the question of the existence of God. In an interview (with Phil Donahue), she was asked why she did not believe in God. Rand responded, very simply, because she had not found any evidence to do so. Now, to a non-philosophical layperson, this response might appear rather flippant or superficial or lacking of any cognitive exercise at seriously tackling the matter. However, to an Objectivist, Rand’s response is perfectly consistent with her philosophic method and exemplifies her epistemological process (psycho-epistemology). To her, the proposition “God exists” does not meet the definition of “truth,” i.e., the grasp of a metaphysical fact by a conceptual consciousness. The proposition reveals the discovery of no metaphysical fact that has been verified by a rational mind, and therefore, is an arbitrary statement. Indeed, to even consider “God exists” as a possibility requires a certain amount of metaphysically verified truths corroborating the proposition, without such corroboration, it remains neither a possibility nor a probability–only, arbitrary, much like “Batman exists.”

 

Update: My comment below in response to Akhil’s is particularly noteworthy in explicating the above matter. Hence, I include it here as part of the post itself:

Rand stated that facts are neither true nor false; facts just *are*. She argued that truth is an epistemological concept, whereas facts belong to metaphysics, to the way things are, regardless of anyone being able to perceive it or not. In other words, there are no truths if there were no intelligent consciousness, but there are (will continue to be) facts.

Thus, I came to understand that the concepts fact and truth cannot properly be used interchangeably in all instances, and moreover, that the term “truth” does not apply to statements or propositions that are not borne out of a relationship between reality (facts) and consciousness.

In other words, statements like “There are 12 crows flying in the sky right now,” are neither true nor false, since to claim that it is either (true or false) would imply that an intelligent consciousness has indeed established a relationship between that statement and the fact (of crows flying) in reality. However, unless this is indeed done by someone, the statement is strictly arbitrary and cannot be properly said to be either true or false (and therefore, neither can it be said to be a fact).

7 Responses to “A Matter of Truth”

  1. Jason said

    Very well put…

    I’m not sure of your position on truth having to be “known” to be a truth is necessarily something I can agree with at this point–it almost seems to be purely semantics…

    But it’s definately worth thinking about…

  2. Suresh said

    Thought you might want to know this:

    From ‘The Letters of Ayn Rand’, Letter to a philospher, January 3, 1961

    “Truth” is a concept that refers to epistemology, not to metaphysics; to consciousness, not to existence or reality. “Facts” cannot be “true” or “false”; facts are (“existence exists”). “Facts” are the standard of truth or falsehood; it is by means of “facts” that we determine whether an idea of ours is true or false. “Truth” is the attribute of an idea in somebody’s consciousness (the relationship of that idea to the facts of reality) and it cannot exist apart from a consciousness.

  3. Ergo said

    Jason, the reason “truths have to be known” needs to be emphasized is in order to highlight the point that truths are an attribute of an idea that is held by a *consciousness* and not an attribute of a proposition by virtue of its grammatical structure. This is why I gave the example of “There may or may not be aliens in the Universe.” As it stands, this statement is strictly arbitrary, i.e., neither true nor false nor disclosing any hints of a possibility of it being either.

    Typically, philosophy has regarded such statements as true or atleast “possibly true.”

    Suresh, yes, I had read that particular passage from the letters, which is exactly the inspiration for my further thoughts, i.e., my thoughts on whether or not truth and fact can be used interchangeably.

  4. frayednerveendings said

    great post. I love it. There’s something that sort of struck me about the
    “existence of God” bit which i want to add …but im not typing it out here. Will discuss later in person. bhai.

  5. Charlotte said

    Just so you know in advance, IM NOT TALKING TO YOU 😡

  6. Akhil said

    Jerry,

    Only when an idea in your consciousness corresponds to a metaphysical reality or a fact, that idea is a truth and this is when truth and idea can be used interchangeably for that idea. Hence, all truths are facts.

    All facts in life might not be grasped by a man’s consciousness and thus facts that have not been grasped by his consciousness cannot be a truth to him. Hence, all facts are not truths.

    Is this what you mean when you say that all truths are facts, but not all facts are truths? i wonder if i have understood your post correctly.

  7. Ergo said

    Akhil, you’re partly correct.

    Rand stated that facts are neither true nor false; facts just *are*. She argued that truth is an epistemological concept, whereas facts belong to metaphysics, to the way things are, regardless of anyone being able to perceive it or not. In other words, there are no truths if there were no intelligent consciousness, but there are (will continue to be) facts.

    Thus, I came to understand that the concepts fact and truth cannot properly be used interchangeably in all instances, and moreover, that the term “truth” does not apply to statements or propositions that are not borne out of a relationship between reality (facts) and consciousness.

    In other words, statements like “There are 12 crows flying in the sky right now,” are neither true nor false, since to claim that it is either (true or false) would imply that an intelligent consciousness has indeed established a relationship between that statement and the fact (of crows flying) in reality. However, unless this is indeed done by someone, the statement is strictly arbitrary and cannot be properly said to be either true or false (and therefore, neither can it be said to be a fact).

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