Aug 202000

There are three main theories of truth: the correspondence theory, the coherence theory and the power theory. In this article, I will examine these theories and conclude that truth is power.


1. The Correspondence Theory of Truth

This is the simplest theory that regards truth as correspondence to reality: the truth of a proposition " This is a tree" is verified by the fact that there is a tree in the direction of my pointing. But what we consider bare facts has always and already been theory-laden. Someone might object to my statement and say," That is not a tree but our sacred totem, namely our ancestor." I would say, "What? Look carefully. This is just a tree. It cannot be your ancestor." But maybe I could not persuade him to discard his belief.

The correspondence theory faces more difficulties when it is applied to the verification of the theoretical proposition. You cannot verify the proposition "neutrino has mass" by putting neutrino on your hand. The correspondence theory is also useless in the case of a historical fact that has already disappeared and cannot be directly proved by referring to the perceptual objects. It is, however, these cases where interpretation is the question that need a theory of truth. That’s why we must transfer from the correspondence theory to the coherence theory.

2. The Coherence Theory of Truth

The coherence theory insists that the truth of a theory should be shown by its coherence, namely lack of contradiction. This truth theory is comprehensive and includes the correspondence theory as a part, for the correspondence to reality is equal to the coherence to perception. In addition to this coherence, it demands that every theoretical proposition should not be contradictory to each other.

What is insufficient concerning the coherence theory is that it does not clue us in on what part of knowledge to negate when our system confronts contradiction. Suppose a theory is composed of elementary propositions combined by conjunction:

A and B and C and…

If the theory turns out to result in contradiction, it follows logically negated elementary propositions combined by disjunction

non-A or non-B or non-C or…

Which should we select? My answer is that the most powerless is discarded. Here comes the power theory of truth.

3. The Power Theory of Truth

The power theory of truth insists that truth should contribute to the survival of systems. The longer a system can survive, the nearer the belief according to which the system selects proves to approach the truth and the converse is also true.

Why should not the system of knowledge contradict itself? If it allows contradiction, any assertion can be true, which means giving up every selection. As a system is nothing but selection, giving up every selection means the maximum increase of entropy, namely death. Just as living things endeavor to maintain them as negentropy against the increasing entropy, scientists endeavor to avoid contradiction pointed out by the rival and keep their theory consistent.

Our system of knowledge has center/periphery structure. The central belief is solid and stable, while the peripheral belief is fluctuating and unstable. Like a lizard that cuts its tail and manages to survive, a system cuts down the least important peripheral belief when it contradicts itself. The more peripheral and the less a part is corrected, the costless it is for the system. So, a long believed theory is scarcely overthrown by one experimental counterexample. Doubt is thrown on the reliability of the source of information, precision of measurement and so on. If framing up peripheral knowledge is no longer enough, a new central belief will take the place of the old.

The same phenomenon is found in social systems. Scientists form a social system, where the majority engaged in normal science occupies central status by monopolizing the power of personnel management and research funds. Even if heretical scientists on the periphery point out contradiction of normal science, they can avoid it by puzzle solving within a paradigm. When puzzle solving can no longer cope with difficulties, it’s time for scientific revolution.

Both in personal and social systems the drastic revolution that abandons central knowledge breaks out, when otherwise the system could no longer survive. So, scientific revolution rather affirms than deny the power theory of truth.

What is true is determined by market mechanism. Normal science can monopolize the knowledge market, but the science system must compete with other systems to be distributed the budget to. Scientific revolution is necessary when the result of science falls short of taxpayers’ expectations; that is to say, science seems not to contribute to the survival of whole social systems.

There is no significant difference between science and politics. The academic ability to construct a coherent structure of many elementary propositions is the same as the political ability to arrange various interests conformably.

The power theory of truth is often thought just to follow status qua. But its assertion that the nearer the belief of a system approaches the truth, the longer the system can survive is idealistic. The corrupt power might survive in the short run, but dooms to collapse in the long run.

You may say, " Some cancer patients die of shock to know the truth. The truth sometimes does not contribute to survival." Such patients are not ready for death. It is because they do not realize the truth of limited life that they die early. The ignorant happiness does not contribute to survival. A dictator is apt to control information and brainwash his nations to believe that they live in the best country. History shows that the life of systems blind to their own faults is statistically shorter than that of systems that disclose information.

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  4 Responses to “What is Truth?”

  1. I just have some questions. You state that the least important peripheral beliefs will be rejected by a system under contradiction. How does a system judge the importance of peripheral beliefs according to the power system? Being trained in science, I have learned to think along the lines of an objective reality, and that we are getting closer to it with successive scientific discoveries. Does this notion concur with the power theory of truth?
    It would seem to me not to, because what is true for one culture may not be true for another, which brings me to my next question. If two societies emerge in different parts of the world at the same time (i.e. Chinese and European empires), they probably believe different ideas to be true. If both of these beliefs are core beliefs (perhaps belief in reincarnation vs. eternal afterlife, or belief in conformity vs. nonconformity) and both of these beliefs contribute to the longevity of the empires. Are both beliefs true according to the power theory? Is there no objective, absolute truth?

  2. A system discards the most powerless, namely the least unnecessary part for it to survive. Our opinions are not so different. You said in your article, “Because of the constantly changing environment, few statements can be regarded as true. Descriptive statements are proven false or incomplete by new evidence that arises over time. Along with absolute statements, these are merely opinion and highly subjective in nature.” Yes. Truth is relative and subjective.

  3. Perhaps the most resilient of systems during the modern era includes democracy. The assumption is that since freedom exists, no one system can monopolize. But in so doing, as Alexis de Tocquville pointed out, majorities will inevitably impose their beliefs on the minority. And so, it happens continually in our American culture, perhaps now more than ever in a nation of 250 million. Then there is the system in China. One billion people live the philosophy of acceptance of the majority. This system has survived millennia. Although we have personal freedoms here in the US, the majority is continually attempting to get the nonconformist to follow the mainstream through various means, including keeping them in financial check by forcing millions to live at the poverty level through so-called federal welfare programs.
    My questions, then, are:
    1) Which system is really better?
    2) How have the Chinese existed for so long under a system of forced acceptance?
    3) How does each system continue to justify its own existence?

  4. I will answer your three questions.
    1) Currently market-based democracy seems to be the best system. But what system is the best is an open question argument.
    2) No Chinese Dynasty has ever survived more than 400 years. Anyway, China had been the greatest and most advanced civilization in the world before modern.
    3) There are many ways. Market-based democracy justifies inequality by the ideal of equal opportunity.

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