Recent posts on “truth”

by Neil Rickert

Today I want to give an overview of what I have been pointing to in recent posts. That is to say, I want to put them in perspective.

Truth is important. If you think I have been arguing against the idea of truth, then you have misunderstood my intentions. When I read various arguments, I see many misconceptions about truth. I have been attempting to clear up those misconceptions.

Why and how?

I have been studying human cognition. And one of the things that we humans do, is make assessments of truth. In order to understand cognition, we need to understand how we make those decisions.

My approach has been to attempt understand human behavior in how we use “true”.

Truth is a human artifact

Perhaps the most common misconception is the idea that truth is human independent. We see this, for example, when people talk of “the way the world is” rather than “the way that we see the world” or “the way that the world is to us”. When they talk of “the way the world is,” they typically are talking of true statements that can be made about the world and they are taking it that this is human independent.

That cannot be. Think of an ant crawling on a chair. To us, the chair is a separate object. We see it as separate, because we can lift it up and move it. But the ant cannot do that. To the ant, there’s no reason to take think of the chair as anything but part of the ground that is protruding upwards. I don’t know whether ants could be said to think or said to reason. But, trying to look at it from an ant’s perspective, we can see that the chair must look like a protruding part of the ground.

The way that we see the world depends on the way that we divide in into parts. And how we divide it into parts depends on our biology and on our culture. Thus the true statements that we would make about the world also depend on our biology and our culture. And that’s what makes truth a human artifact, and actually a cultural artifact.

Is truth a matter of consensus?

Usually people deny that truth is a matter of consensus. And they are right about that. To say that truth is consensus would suggest that we put statements up to a vote on whether we should consider them true. But that is not how we normally reach our decisions about truth. The way that truth comes from us, is more indirect.


If you ask people how they made a decision on truth, they will often try to give their reasoning. And that reasoning will typically explain how they applied some standards to make that judgement of truth. Those standards come from us. Sometimes they are formal standards proposed by the scientific community, as in our standards of measurement. Sometimes they may be legislated standards coming from our government bodies. And sometimes they may be standards that have emerged from cultural traditions and practices.

In a way, there is a consensus involved. The standards used are generally accepted by consensus. But truth decisions depend only indirectly on those standards. That’s what leaves truth as a human artifact, but not a matter of deciding truth by consensus.

Disagreements about truth often (but not always) amount to disagreements about standards. For example, YECs (Young Earth Creationists) want the standards for dating the past to be based on biblical genealogies, while most other people prefer the standards from science using radiometric dating, tree ring counts and other similar natural phenomena.

Does truth come from God?

Many theists hold the view that Truth is from God. I’m not a theist, and of course I disagree with that. However, this “God’s eye view” way of looking at truth more-or-less works because the Gods that theists refer to are seen as part of our culture. Non-theists tend to see Gods as cultural constructs, while theists tend to think that God created the culture. But, either way, the “God’s eye view” version of truth fits reasonably, if imperfectly, with the idea that truth is a cultural artifact. The main problem with a “God’s eye view” version, is that it tends to see truth as human independent.

4 Comments to “Recent posts on “truth””

  1. In deed, there is consensus involved. It is not by vote by say through peer review when a claim is tested by different people in different places and the same result is achieved, that becomes promoted to a provisional truth until it is either improved or discarded when testing improves.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You keep circling back to a theory of truth, but you are so close to minimalism. We will yet bring you to the dark side!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really need to re-read Quine’s “Ontological Relativity” about now….

    Liked by 1 person

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