University of North Texas The Concept of Truth Essay

our first Reaction Paper is aimed at evaluating what you have learned about the theories of truth, in light of the problems you came to understand in the Critical Thinking module. So, think about the problems that are inherent in trying to be critical in our thinking – for that problem leads to the discussion on theories of truth.  Imagine yourself as a bystander listening to Socrates and Euthyphro talk, or consider trying to decide whether a “news” story you come across on line is actually true.  Think about how would be able to know what is true and what is false.  With that in mind, answer the following prompt:

Briefly list the Pro’s and Cons for each of the three perspectives on Truth that we studied in Module B (Plato, Locke and Hume), and then argue for which one you think is the best.

The point of the paper is for me to see how you can understand and evaluate the assigned readings in this Module.  You must engage the assigned readings in this class, do not rely solely on the videos or on other sources other than those readings assigned in this text for this Module.  Keep the evaluation (pros and cons) of the two you did not choose rather brief, and concentrate on the one you chose as best and go into greater detail on that choice.  Even if you have another option, or find none of them “best” or what to say the best is a blend of several theories, I want to see how well you can evaluate the assigned material, so do choose one and argue for it – even if it isn’t your favorite.  Also, DO NOT USE ANY SOURCE OTHER THAN OUR TEXT AND ASSIGNED READINGS THEREIN.

Do not confuse the three assigned readings with the Introduction video in the module.  Here is the blurb that was on that page as a reminder:

“There are a few general theories of truth and these videos will briefly explain a few of them.   Theories of truth discuss how to know when things come together in a way that we can decide is true – considering that it is not always easy to know the difference between truth and falsity.  Here are a couple of videos that offer a few very general theories of truth, although in the module we will be reading three specific perspectives on what is true from three specific philosophers.  Please keep in mind that these are only intro videos aimed at giving you a sense of what you are getting into here – do not write your papers based on these videos.  Your paper is based on Plato, Locke and Hume and their specific perspectives on what is most true, not these general introductory theories of truth.”

Uploading:   The dropbox is set for file upload.  Please use a Word Doc, or PDF – Google Docs, Pages, and other formats are iffy.  Please don’t send something to me that I have to seek permission to open. Reaction Papers:You will be asked to write short summary papers of about 3 – 5 pages in length which will test your understanding of a given topic after you have read it, been quizzed on it, and discussed it.  You are therefore expected to be an “expert” on the material by the time you begin to write, and will be pulling things together on the assumption that you understand the pieces.  They are thus intended to encourage you to keep thinking about and coming to understand a topic over a longer period of development.  These papers will be graded on both style and content.  The former will include things like how well it reads, how clear it is, and whether it is organized and structured.  The latter is basically how well you engage the text.   By “engaging the text” I mean that you should let the text talk for you – that is, develop your opinions from the thinker’s ideas.  It is more important in this course to grapple with the ideas of the thinkers than express your own opinions.  The latter is, of course, easier – but the point of this course is for you to deal with new ideas.  It is great to make connections to your own perspectives, but first and foremost you want to demonstrate that you have read and understood the text.  That is the major thing I am looking for – the footprint of the text in your paper.  So, it is important to be able to understand the material and to express that understanding clearly.  If you are not good at writing short essays, you should seek additional help.  The point of my lectures is to explicate the text, and to help you to understand what you read, but do not quote them or refer to them – refer to the text in your paper.  Hence, for the best grade, the papers must include references to the text (a quote a two) and must not refer to what I have said in class.

Section Goals – Truth

The more experiences we have in being confronted with the dilemma of not being able to know what is true in a given situation, the more we realize how complicated it can be to be “certain” of anything. As an immediate example, take the answers in the multiple choice quizzes here – its often not easy to “know” which is the “true” answer. Also, when people talk about things like bias, fake news, inaccurate sources, it becomes really tough to know what is true. Any time we are trying to distinguish between things, we need a more universal principle to judge. So, when judging which is the “better” dog at a dog show, the judges need to have much experience with dogs, and “dogness” and knowledge of the fundamental criteria of good vs. not good dogs. The same is true of truth. We need a higher, more universal principle in mind if we are to judge between true and false. That is where “theories of truth” come in.

Absolute vs Relative Truth – the dilemma:

Assigned Sources:

Plato – truth as form, The Republic: BK I&II (p.128-155), VI, VII (p.175-178)

Hume – truth as impressions, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (p.842-847)

Locke – truth as representation, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, BK I,II (p.672-705)

Things to Notice:

All of the philosophers here give us a perspective of what constitutes “truth.” This may seem odd, and we are conditioned to believe that “everyone has their own truth,” but as you consider that your senses may give you wrong data, or you think that a mere opinion is certain truth, or that people’s “truths’ are contradictory, then you begin to see the relevance of the question, “How do I know what is true?” Since the very word “true” means that there cannot be more than one truth – how can we know, in times when potential truths conflict, which is the REAL truth? In other words, how do human beings have access to certain truth? This makes all the difference to us in our daily lives because we have to decide which news version of a story is true, which religion, which history text, which friend’s advice…all these determine the choices we make towards leading a good and happy life. Hence, thinking deliberately about how to separate truth from falsity for ourselves, is of great importance!

What is Truth?

It is no easy task deciding what is true or false in many cases, nor the deeper question, what is truth and falsity. We are presented with many possibilities of truth, but it is up to us to judge which ones to accept as true. That means we need a theory of truth so that we are consistent in our lives and avoid sloppy, inconsistent thinking – or worse yet – to be at the mercy of someone else to determine what is true for us.

Here is a general intro video to “Knowledge” or, as it is known in Philosophy, “Epistemology.” These terms are the same as saying “Truth.” It gives you an overall sense of how important it is to be specific sure about what we claim to KNOW as opposed to what we THINK we know, or merely BELIEVE.

The Meaning of Knowledge: Crash Course Philosophy #7 (Links to an external site.)

There are a few general theories of truth and these videos will briefly explain a few of them. Theories of truth discuss how to know when things come together in a way that we can decide is true – considering that it is not always easy to know the difference between truth and falsity. Here are a couple of videos that offer a few very general theories of truth, although in the module we will be reading three specific perspectives on what is true from three specific philosophers. Please keep in mind that these are only intro videos aimed at giving you a sense of what you are getting into here – do not write your papers based on these videos. Your paper is based on Plato, Locke and Hume and their specific perspectives on what is most true, not these general introductory theories of truth.

Truth – Why the Debate

While this might be confusing at first, one must CHOOSE what they believe is true. On a very wordly level, we can see this with the advent of “fake news” and “infotainment” that abounds in our society and deceives people by short circuiting their critical thinking skills. In order to see what is true on a surface level, we must go deeper in our thinking to discover what is our most fundamental nature – for truth will lie there. This short video explains the reason for debate as to what truth is, and why deciding among theories of truth can be difficult.

Truth as Ideas or “Form” – Plato

Reading Reminder: The Republic: BK I&II (p.128-155), VI, VII (p.175-178)

In this section, we will be understanding the concept of Idealism as it is expressed in Plato’s Republic. We will be reading BK I, II, VI, and VII. I will be referring in the video lectures to the 8th edition of the Cahn text, so please have it present while viewing and discussing. Also, remember, you should read the stuff BEFORE viewing the videos. Remember to scroll all the way to the bottom so you see all the videos. You need to understand the concept of “Form” or the “In-itself” which appears in BK 6 and 7 in order to do well on the paper at the end of this Module.

In the first two Books, Plato is discussing – through a conversation between Cephalus, Socrates, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus and Glaucon – what Justice is. Each of the speakers gives a potential definition, but Socrates refutes them just like he did in the Euthyphro. We do discover a couple of important features of justice by the end of Book two, with Socrates’ working definition appearing at the end. Books VI (containing the Divided Line example) and VII (the Allegory of the Cave) then explain the need for an appreciation of the “Idea” of justice “in itself” – which is above any one person’s opinion – if we are ever to have accurate and fair knowledge of what justice REALLY and truly is. It turns out that people are quite disposed to changing the definition of justice to suit themselves and to “just-IFY” their lifestyles. Hence, only by understanding justice in light of the unchanging and purely rational level can we ever see through the selfish “definitions” of justice and see IT (Justice) for ITself. Hence, the “in-itself” or the “Form” is the “TRUTH” whereas the shadowy images in the cave wall are untruths, or lesser truths.

But, before delving into BK I of the Republic, it is helpful to understand the concept of the soul as it was understood by Plato. Give the following video a watch:

Tripartite Soul.mp4

downloadPlay media comment.

View the above analysis of Socrates’ idea of the “Tripartite Soul” as it appears in Plato’s Republic. It is a good model to start with because it serves to ground some of the rather abstract and complex ideas that will be coming in this section.

The Republic is a long, though very valuable, book in which Socrates attempts to understand justice. In this discussion however are sown the seeds for many other philosophical pathways. We are going to limit ourselves to a look at BKs I, II, VI, VII, and do so primarily with the mission of understanding Idealism. The first two books begin the discussion of justice and they demonstrate the difficulty of defining the term – especially to those who are more concerned with their own desires rather than the truth of things. Books VI and VII argue that “what is” cannot not be physical, and hence the several opinions of justice given by the speakers are merely images of what justice is “in itself.”

It is not an easy read, and not easy to follow out the arguments. I have provided an outline of important passages to help you make sense of it, as well as a few key video lectures. Here is a little pep talk on soldiering through the readings on your own. It is CRUCIAL that you read it, and read it carefully. Since, in this online environment it is impossible for me to supervise you like I can in a classroom so this is where your own sense of honor and your own desire to truly learn something are essential. The online course requires a high degree of self motivation and self discipline, and here is where you need it. There are no short cuts or magic bullets to understanding this often complicated stuff – but the whole point of this course is for you to DO THE UNDERSTANDING. As such, my videos and guides will be lost on you unless you use them in service to the reading that you are doing – they cannot constitute your entire familiarity with the work. I know the frustration of wanting to get his done and get through the course…but that’s not how this discipline works. You must THINK in philosophy – and that means to read until you understand. The process of laboring through the works is the point of our course, and doing so will train your brain and make it more resilient and efficient at learning other difficult things. The point is NOT to accept doctrines or conclusions to arguments, but rather to do the mental exercises to reach them on our own. On this page are two sources of help: Highlights, and Videos – they are below.

In order to help you organize the readings, consider the following guide as a kind of topical outline. After you plough through the whole thing, go back and pay attention to these areas, for they are crucial to the logic of the argument that is unfolding.

Highlights of Republic Books I, II

BK I – Many definitions of justice

331c – Cephalus’ definition of justice

332 – Polemarchus’ definition of justice

332c – the nature of craft

332e-334 – the usefulness of the just man

334c-e – the idea of just to the many

335b – Polemarchus’ definition amended

335d – nature of virtue

336 – Thraksymachus enters

338c-339 – Thraksymachus’ definition of justice

339e – Thraksymachus’ refutation begun

341c-342d – discussion of nature of craft

342e – Thraksymachus refuted

343b-345 – Thraksymachus’ idea that injustice pays

347 – The reason for ruling

348c-350d – injustice as profitable, refuted

351 c- 352b – Socrates’ idea of justice as unity

353-354 – Discussion of the functions, and function of the soul

BK II – Justice in the City and Socrates’ definition of it

358 and 358e – Common opinions of justice

359d-362d – The Ring of Gyges story

303 – justice as praised – not emulated

365d – injustice leads to political parties

368e – soul of city compared to soul of man

369e – the minimum city

371b – the appearance of the merchant in the city

372-374e – the city of luxury

374e – the need for guardians

375e – 376c – guardians as pedigree dog

BK VII – The allegory of the cave – where he discusses “Truth” or the “in-itself”

514-517 – the narration of the cave metaphor

516 – explanation of the “things themselves” as the truth

517 b – interpretation of the image, and reference back to the Divide Line in BK VI

518c-d – description of education

519 – 519 e – role of the enlightened and their responsibility in society

NB : If you pay attention to readings and focus on these areas, you will notice a flow in the assigned readings. That is, BK I demonstrates how relative the “definition” of justice is to people – they think that their opinion is the TRUTH. Socrates shows that they do not have the truth of justice at all. BK II explains that the notion of justice changes over time by constructing the City of Luxury to show how it changes as the priorities of the individuals change. Hence, it seems very difficult to ever have a TRUE and overarching definition of Justice for everyone. In BK VII, the Cave metaphor, he shows that this relativity is resolved by recognizing the “Form” of Justice, or Justice “In-Itself.” Since justice itself is more abstract and universal than any one person’s opinion…it encompasses and goes beyond them all. Hence, the FORM of justice is the TRUTH. So, BK VII resolves the problem brought up in BK I, II.

Republic – Overall Summary and the Big Point

The Republic is perhaps one of, if not THE, most important works in Western Philosophy, and did much to inform conversations for centuries. We studied 4 Books of it – BK 1, 2, 6 and 7 (although we didn’t really read BK VI). The main reason we looked at this work, was in order to see the four levels of reality that Plato describes, and what he means by “in-itself” as the highest form of reality (or “idea). We also saw how something like Justice can exist on these various levels. The overall picture that one can get from this is that the “form” or “in-self” is the MOST REAL that there is, and therefore the TRUTH, even though it cannot be seen or touched (or experienced). Most people however cannot understand this level because it is hard and takes rational effort. Here is an overall summary of the passages we read in order to kind of reinforce this idea:

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