Philosophies and Truth

The history of philosophical thought can be followed through the historical evolution of the perceptions of Truth.

In the Aegean literary culture (before 7th cent BC) the basis for describing truth was the reliability of the information. Aletheia (ἀλήθεια) was synonymous with "reality", the opposite of illusion. It meant 'not hidden'. 

    Homer (c. 800 - c. 701 BC) uses the word in The Iliad and Odyssey as the opposite of lie or deception. It is the guide to the reliability of the tale being told, what we understand today as 'truth'.     
    Hesiod (c. 750 > 650 BC) in his Theogany also speaks of heralding 'true things' using the same word aletheia. It underlines the authority of the act of reciting and has the same import as in court swearing to 'tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth'. The reference is to the reliability of what is said with nothing held back. As befits literary thought the basic truth criterion for this period came from authority, a belief in the narrator of the truth.

Pre-Socratic truth changed the reliance on the teller to self-reliance, from belief in others to reasoning things out for yourself. This was, of course, a belief  in yourself and in your own power of reasoning.

       Parmenides (late 5th, early 6th cent. BC) took an ontological approach to truth to base his inward looking approach on reason. He argues that "It’s impossible that anything should both exist and not exist." His proofs are couched in rational arguments underlining his advancement of philosophical thinking : we can work out principles by ourselves through reason. 

    The Sophists (5th century BC) argued that truth, written with a small 't', was subjective. It depended on individual perception and could only be arrived at through language and rhetoric. Gorgias' propounded the method of reaching truth through weighing up both sides of an argument. This idea was empowered by the sophist belief that knowledge was subjective so that each individual may know different truths. It is language which allows us to decide what is true and share our truths. This was a 'democratisation' of truth in which each person was their own authority.

The Socratics were divided on Truth. The idealists were deductive and based their knowledge on metaphysics, the realists preferred to seek knowledge through sensory experience and inductive empiricism. Reality for Plato remains metaphysical and Aristotle views it as physical.

    Plato (c.427 – c.348 BC) claimed in his Dialogues that Truth is found in the realm of Forms. In his theory of Forms he argues that there is a higher realm of truth which our senses cannot perceive. This sensory world is a reflection of the higher Truth. This is a direct contradiction of the Sophist idea that truth is subjective. Plato contends that two people who dispute beauty cannot hold the right truth. Rejecting Sophist relativism and using an deductive process Plato argued that the correct interpretation is held by the one who understands and recognises that a particular beauty is the expression of the Form of Beauty.

This concept of Reality as placed in a mystical Idealism, above and beyond human knowledge, inspired later philosophers such as Plotinus who is said to have founded the neoplatonic school. This is turn influenced early Christianity and Plato's metaphysics and helped explain the christian concept of the nature of God.

    Aristotle (384-322 BC) conceived the most famous definition of Truth in his Metaphysics. “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true”. Contrary to Plato he believed that we can apply mathematical proofs to make true statements about the natural world through observation, classification and logic. This analytic empiricism is the basis for a scientific exploration of reality through inductive thinking.

In the Greco-Roman world Truth took on several ideological bases. Both the Epicureans and the Stoics continued the Aristotelian tradition which held that Truth is to be found through the senses. The Sceptics were wary of our real understanding through the senses and proposed suspending judgement on everything thus introducing doubt as a philosophical standpoint.

    A basic Epicurean tenet is that our knowledge comes from the senses. The three criteria of epicurean Truth are : sensations, preconceptions and feelings. Sensations give us information about the external world and it is a Epicurean belief that sensations are mechanistic and therefore true to reality. Errors occur when we make judgements about reality based on sensory information. In order to make judgments about the world we must already have and rely on preconceptions, basic concepts which don't need more proof. Some of these are > ‘body,’ ‘person,’ ‘usefulness,’ and ‘truth’. These are the result of repeated sensory experiences. Feelings of pleasure and pain form the basic criteria for what is to be sought and avoided. More ideas come from analogy or mixing the basic concepts. This is an empirical thought process where all ideas are formed on the basis of sense-experience.

    Similarly to the Epicureans the Stoics believed that knowledge of the world could be arived at through sensorial experience. However sensory experience alone could not offer us knowledge since we need to judge the input from the senses. Correct judgement comes from comprehension based on a model of how reality functions. In modern language this is what we call a scientific model of the world.

    Pyrrho of Ellis (360 - 272 BC) is thought to be the founder of scepticism. He stated that his philosophical approach was to withhold assent from doctrines like stoicism and epicureanism when they put forward truths about the nature of thing. He argued that we can only know appearances, not substance which is why the same realities appear differently to different people. Therefore we cannot know Truth. Suspension of judgement on all matters is the wisest position. He advocated 'ataraxia', inner peace or apathy as the goal for sceptics. This involves renouncing all desires and living happily free from all delusions. Unhappiness results from not getting what you desire so freedom from desires is the path to happiness.

    Neoplatonism is best represented by Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430) who reconciles Aristotle’s view with Medieval Christian theology. Along with other Neo-Platonists, Augustine will translate and transmit Plato's concept of Truth and its relationship to the natural world into Christian terms: this world is a shadow, fallen version of God's eternal Truths, and the pursuit of knowledge has damned humanity (see Genesis 3).  (Similarly, other Jewish and Muslim scholars will transmit Platonic Idealism into Judaism and Islam, both before and after Augustine). This neoplatonic idea of Truth falls squarely on the side of metaphysics and places the sensory as a shadowy reflection of real Truth.

In Medieval times the platonic, deductive, approach weighed heavily in western philosophy which was written by churchmen. Scholasticism relied on rationalist thought to deduce truths from revealed Truth in an exercise of apologetics.

    Anselm of Canterbury (1033 to 1109) wrote his theory of knowledge in the tract De Veritate which proceeds from thinking of truth in terms of knowledge, will and things to the affirmation of Truth as an absolute, God, in which all other truths participate. This concept was in the neoplatonic tradition of Augustine of Hippo and appears as a christian interpretation of the Plato's Forms. It continues the     metaphysical basis for Truth prevalent in platonic thought.

    Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) worked at reconciling Aristotelian thought and medieval christian theology. His premises were the belief in the traditional christian God who had created an orderly natural world and human ability to reason. He therefore viewed the Aristotelian method of rational philosophy as a compliment to theology, the study of human relationship with God. He argued that as God had created human intellect and free will using them to understand the natural world would promote an understanding of God[s will for his creation. Aquinas' Summa Teologica was an attempt to synthesise Aristotle's rational tradition with ecclesiastical metaphysical thought. However, Aquinas differed from Aristotle in their basic references to Truth. Aristotelian truths are arrived at through reason by induction, Thomist truths are based on faith which implies deduction.

The Renaissance (c. 1350 to 1600) saw a return to classical sources first in Italy then spreading to the rest of Europe after the dark ages following the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century. The previous philosophical assumption was that there existed a single God-given Truth which the ecclesiastical authors had synthesised as Aristotlian logic with Christian revelation. The renewed study of Platonism, Stoicism, Epicurism and Scepticism questioned the idea of one universal Truth though no revolutionary new start in philosophical thinking occurred. 

        Renaissance humanism was summarised by Cicero in the term studia humanitatis which is the study of how humans can participate in public life, a traditional topic since Socratic times. The founding fathers of the humanist movement were Dante, Boccacio and Petrach in 13th century Florence. Studies of ancient texts was advanced after the fall of Constantinople (1453) when many Greek scholars fled to Italy. For many humanist thinkers opposition to religion was not a priority but interest in moral autonomy did lead to individualism.

    The printing press was perfected in Europe around 1450 by Gutenberg and it helped spread humanist ideals northwards. Erasmus (1469 -1536) believed that the Church needed reform and that education was the answer. Thomas More (1478 - 1535) defended the Church against the Reformists. His Utopia (1516) presented a radical view of society where the common good and shared success were the goals. The Pole, Copernicus (1473-1543) a student of works of antiquity proposed the novel view that the solar system was heliocentric. This formed part of the humanists scientific creed that new answers to old questions could be found not through traditional beliefs but by human investigation. Science, the Arts, history, politics, philosophy and theology were all affected by Renaissance humanist thought which forged new ideas competing with traditional scholasticism.

During the sixteenth century there were many philosophers who felt that Aristotle’s system could no longer regulate honest inquiry into nature. Therefore, they stopped trying to adjust the Aristotelian system and turned their backs on it altogether. Some criticised the basis of aristotelian thought, others rejected it in favour of Plato's deductionism and others held to the skeptical view that each human should find their own way based on doubt.

    Bernadino Telesio (1509 > 1588) adopted an empirical approach maintaining that Nature could only be comprehended through the senses. In De rerum natura iuxta propia principia he proposed replacing Aristotelianism with a system more attuned to Nature and experience. He argued that heat and cold should replace Aristotle's matter and form. Telsesio objected to Aristotle's distinction between sensory perception and reasoning and denied the Aristotelian concept of nous the mental sphere and its corresponding intellect. Telesio was critical of metaphysics and proposed pure empiricism as the way to knowledge which establishes him as a forerunner of modern empiricism.

    Francesco Patrizi (1529 > 1597) in his Discusssione peripateticae (1571) compared the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato arguing that Plato was preferable. In his Nova de universis philosophia (1591) he outlines his new philosophy. He ascends, like Aristotle, to the First Cause, but not through motion rather employing light and illumination. Then he shows how all creation is derived from God in a deductive, platonic argument. For Patrizi the physical world derives its existence from the metaphysical realities and Plato connects the two thus bridging the gap between philosophy and science, the physical and the metaphysical. He replaces the quantitive aristotelian analysis for studying Nature with the alternative top down approach.

    Giordano Bruno (1548 > 1600) rejected Aristotle's philosophical axioms such as that the universe was finite. He envisaged an infinite universe populated by many solar systems and existing eternally. It was thus a manifestation of God who could be known through the study of this universe. He argued for the synthesis of spirit and matter by affirming that reality was made up of two substances universal soul and universal matter. He was judged a heretic for his rejection of the aristotelian worldview and burned at the stake.

    Michel de Montaigne (1533 > 1592) was a sceptic thinker and he presented these views in his essay Apologie de Raimond Sebond. In it he developed his ideas on doubting the reliability of human reason and sensory information. He extended this to criticising the unsatisfactory criterion for knowledge and the relativity of moral concepts. He argued that science served to justify already held beliefs through rationalising them and that it was in fact apologetics. Montaigne's writings are testimony to subjective thinking and a philosophy of doubt. Since it had failed to show a safe path to happiness each individual should find their own way. His conclusion was to propose that humans should suspend judgements on everything and follow customs and traditions.

The Age of Reason in the 17th. century inaugurated the search for a new basis for Truth. The methods proposed were rationalism which was prevalent in continental Europe and empiricism which inspired British philosophy.

    Francis Bacon (1561 > 1626) published his proposed philosophical method in Book II of Novum Organum. He favours inductive reasoning as a means to gain knowledge. He criticises previous belief systems about Nature because of their generalisation based on few cases or the belief that they were self-evident. Bacon proposed a technique of accumulating well-founded generalisations of increasing generality. In this way induction would work by elimination not simple enumeration.

Bacon led scientific reform by proposing investigation free from the ancient vision that everything had been discovered or had been revealed by Aristotle or the Bible. His goal was to reform research. The proposed method was the methodical observation of facts in the study and interpretation of natural phenomena. Bacon established the scientific method in an empirical and pragmatic philosophy.

    Descartes (1596 > 1650) set out to find a new foundation for knowledge. He believed that scholastic Aristotelianism was in error about how to obtain fundamental truths because it uses the senses as a basis. Descartes denied that the senses reveal the nature of substances but held that human intellect can perceive the nature of reality. He advocated withdrawal of the mind from the senses and searching the essences of the mind, matter and God. 'I think therefore I am' is his statement of how to separate the mind from the corporal sensory system and set up intellectual perception as a mark of truth, independent of the senses.

    Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679) was also interested in ascertaining a philosophical method for attaining knowledge. In contrast to medieval scholaticism which relied on authority he believed that Truth could be arrived at through an objective method. This consisted of first analysing the problem into constituent parts then resolving it into a whole. It appears as a synthesis of the traditional opposing inductive and deductive approaches.

    John Locke (1632 - 1704) investigated the limits of human understanding in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) which is a decided defense of empiricism. He claims that we are born with no previous knowledge and that the mind at birth is a blank slate. Knowledge is made up of ideas and they come from experience which is divided into sensations and reflection. Sensation informs us of the extenral world and reflection allows us to know the internal mental processes we engage in. Ideas themselves are either simple or complex. The simple ones come from experience and these are combined to form complex ideas.

In the last part of his Essay Locke analyses the relationshp between reason and faith. Reason is used to obtain knowledge and connect ideas. Faith accepts revealed Truths which reason cannot discover. However reason should be used to decide which revelations are from God and which are human constructons. Faith, then, without reason, is counterproductive and may lead to fancies based on impulse or conceit.

    Baruch Spinoza (1632 - 1677) believed that knowledge came from ideas which he divided into two sources in humans > sensory perception and reason. He argues that sensory sources are random and can be delusional while reason can apprehend the essence of reality and even the essence of God whom he intimately associates with Nature. Reason is able to perform this insight because it can perceive the necessity in Nature showing not only that is exists but what it is and how and why it is.

    Gottfried Leibniz (1646 - 1716) distinguishes between truths of reasoning and those of fact. Reason gives us necessary truths while fact offers contingent truths. By reason we can discover truths through analysis of concepts, resolving them into simpler truths until the fundamental ones are reached. However, truths of fact cannot be analysed into notions since fact either is or is not and the reason for this is outside contingency.

The Enlightenment's 18th century reaction to the search for certainties came as a skeptical response to the very idea of certainty through empirical or rational methods. Berkeley's immaterialism questioned the existence of any reality outside the mind. Hume's analysis of causality concluded that neither metaphysics nor science could discern the causal connection of all things and so could never be sure of their conclusions. He went further attacking the empirical inductive method which is built on the assumtion that the past is a solid basis for predicting the future. Kant's trancendental idealism extended the prevalent idea that the mind constructed reality when he argued that we do not see the world as it is but rather as we are and we cannot know reality in itself. Hegel's absolute idealism proposed a dialetical synthesis between rationalism and empiricism by conflating mind and reality in a platonic Spirit in evolution.

    George Berkeley (1685 - 1753) advanced a theory called "immaterialism" in his treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710). In it he argues that material substance is non-existent and only appears in reality when perceived by the mind. We perceive ideas, not objects in themselves since they are outside experience. Existence depends on perception (esse est percipi). His theory confronted cartesian beliefs in knowledge through reason and also rejected Locke's distinction between perception and reality. It was later known as 'subjective idealism' and can be traced to the vertical platonic tradition of forms and that of Montaigne's subjectivist skepticism.

    David Hume (1711 - 1776) is famous for his philosophical thinking on causality. He added to the arguments of his time about a basis for philosophical certainty that until we know the necessary causal connection of all things then all human knowledge will be uncertain. He argued critically that out truths will remain a habitual way of thinking based on repeated observation and induction which assume that the future will be like the past. This is an attack both on the possibilty of metaphysiscs and the certainty of science and is a form of extreme skepticism.

    Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804) entered the debate between the emiricists and rationalists by analysing the language of the discussion and realising that we do not perceive the world as it is but rather we fit experiences into the way we think. This is based on the kantian assumption that there exists a “noumenal world” that exists in reality and the “phenomenal world” which is our perception of that reality. Humans think of reality in terms of space, time cause, effect, possiblity, necessity, substance, unity and plurality. We insert our experiences into these categories in order to comprehend them. So the rationalists are correct in asserting that we can know things with certainty and the empricists are right to hold that such knowledge cannot be limited to truths either by definition or experience. We know the world according to the structure of our minds. Knowledge is then not something outside our minds but we organize experience following an innate pattern we call the mind. Reason provides the structure or form of what we know, the senses provide the content.  This constitues a synthesis between rationalism and empirism, between deduction and induction, between top down and bottom up thinking.

    Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 - 1831) in his Phenomenology of Spirit discusses the concept of certainty.  Like Kant, Hegel argues that knowledge is not obtained only empirically from the senses nor is it purely rational in our minds but that it is rather a cooperative act between mind and matter, one mediating the other. Howevr he disagrees with Kant that the noumenal world is unknowable. Hegel's absolu claims in tune with platonic thinking that we can know things as they are through their essence which is Spirit/Mind. This is the Absolute, the total reality.

    Hegel avoids the distinction between knower and known, subject and object, claiming it is a misleading metaphor. He suggests a holistic view of consciousness in which the world and the knower are not separated. The 'object' is all that exists and can be known about it. This is similar to Berkeley's approach which affirms that there is no reality outside consciousness of it. This is accomplished by considering that self is not a feature of the individual but Spirit and shared by all. This is the platonic equivalent of saying that we all participate in the Spirit. Kant was a 'transcendental idealist', Hegel is an 'absolute idealist'. 

    Fichte was historically bewteen both of these philosophers and argued for the traditional formula that there were two ways of envisaging the world > the dogmatic objective scientific way and the practical moral idealist way. Hegel goes further and lists many forms of consciousness and not divided into the traditional bases of theoretical and practical but determined by the historical moment, language and society. This variety of consciousness emerging through improvement or opposition are progessing towards 'absolute knowing' in the dialectical movement Thesis > Antithesis > Synthesis. Hegel's insight was not the traditional static description but evolutionary > Truth is not being but becoming. 

The Contemporary Age (19th. and 20th. centuries) continued the traditional opposition between the empirical and logical approaches to knowledge. A novel social aspect to truth was added as was criticism of the very notion of Truth.  
    The platonic and cartesian approach to truth through logic now appeared as individualism. Husserl in the tradition of Descartes was searching for a sure foundation for philosophical thought as a rational exploration. He proposed the investigation of the subliminal flow of experience and the recognition of individual truth, perspectivism, in his philosophy of phenomenology. Following Husserl, Heidegger continued the quest for a reliable basis for truth which he found in behaviour as the revelation of being.
    Empiricists based their philosophy on sensory experience and investigation. Indirect knowledge is sensory and is the basis for descriptive knowledge according to William James. The empiricist Dewey also claimed that 'true' is that which can be verified in the resolution of a human problem. 
    In the new social interpretation Truth is seen as evolving social progress by Comte and as an ominous warning of alienation by Marx. Sartre followed this thinking by connecting truth to ethics which change according to different evolving social contexts. Foucault affirmed that truth is a social construct built by the economic and politically powerful.
    Truth was criticised by Wittgenstein as a generalisation which in science is reductionist and in philosophy is descriptive. Levi-Strauss expanded the notion of truth saying knowledge is attained by incorporating all human aspects not just scientific measurements. 

    Auguste Comte (1798 - 1857) explains in his Course of Positive Philosophy (1830 - 1842) that the theory of social progress goes through three stages > theological, metaphysical and positive. The third stage is characterised by relativism since science comes closer and closer to the truth but does not reach Absolute Truth. This concept of progress is regarded sceptically by the 20th century due to its destructive wars.

    John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873) was a radical empiricist and rejected a propri and deductive knowledge out of hand He held that truth could only be attained through empirical observation of sensory data and induction through inference by reason. This process involves generalisation from experiences. His principle of utility whereby we are naturally inclined to pleasure fits with this epistemology since he asserted that we are naturally disposed to accept inductive generalisations which then appear to us as reasonable.

    Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813 - 1855) was a critic of Hegel's systematic idealism saying that experience could not be explained through a philosophy system which sought objectivity. Hegel envisaged universals while Kierkegaard preferred decision and commitment in the belief that truth is understood through individual experience, subjectively.  Living is a painful experience and to support it you need faith, a commitment to God when faced by uncertainty. He was the founder of christian existentialism.

    Karl Heinrich Marx (1818 - 1883) as a philosopher based his views on the concept of alienation, an idea which came from Feuerbach. This defines a social malaise involving a separation between the subject and an object which belong together leading to a dysfunctionality. Religion is a response to alienation in material life provoked by humans projecting their own powers on to God and thus not valuing their own powers. Industrial work also alienates since it separates labourers from their produce and turns it into something uncreative. Capitalism alienates people from others in their social relations.

    Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844 - 1900) argues that there is a difference between knowledge gained through experience and Truth, something invented by philosophers in the platonist tradition  who believed that metaphysical knowledge was better than experiential knowledge. For Nietzsche Truth was of value only to philosophers. He strove to emphasise the value of practical knowledge against theoretical Truth. Perspective is what he puts in place of Truth, interpreted as one point of view among many possible perspectives. There is no single truth but many.

    Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl (1859 - 1938) changed his conceptions of truth during his life. In Logical Investigations he argues that truth is achieved by reducing evidence to truth. In his later turn towards idealism in Ideas he affirms that truth must be reduced to evidence.
Husserl begins by distinguishing between psychological processes and logic. The psychological is empirical and appears in individual instances which have limitations. Logic is ideal and has no boundaries. 
An object you are conscious of is physical when you can perceive several perspectives of it while it retains its unity. In contrast essence appears all at once. There are no limitations to its unity which resides in its centre.
Husserl is the founder of phenomenology whose focus was a new version of Cartesianism investigating consciousness as a subjective flow of experience. The external world is held in parenthesis while the philosopher examines the stream of consciousness. Husserl was searching for a sure foundation for philosophical thought as the rational exploration of the interconnections between phenomena. He developed 'transcendental phenomenology' as that basic foundation.

    William James (1842 - 1910) separated two manners of knowing : intuition and experience. Truth for intuition was direct consciousness in the flow of experience; conceptual knowledge which knows that a belief if true comes through a context provided by the world. Truth is verifiable to the extent that thoughts and statements correspond to real things which are sensory experiences. True ideas are important as a practical and useful guide through reality. 
His approach to truth was empirical and pragmatic like Peirce and Dewey. In this thinking belief, knowledge and truth are conclusions from investigation. The value of truth is confirmed by its effectiveness in real life. This is a synthesis of the aristotelian correspondence theory of truth and the coherence theory. 

    Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872 - 1970) in his The Problems of Philosophy (1912) between two kinds of knowledge of truths : intuitive, direct, certain, truths (knowledge by acquaintance) and indirect, derivative and uncertain truths (knowledge by description). To be verifiable indirect knowledge has to be derived from direct, intuitive knowledge which is sensory or logical. Acquaintance is the knowledge of things not truths and the same with knowledge by description. Thus Russell's epistemology is based on objects. 

    Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889 - 1951) in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) is highly critical of traditional philosophy. He argues that no answer has been found to the question: What is Truth? He believes that Truth does not have the empirical properties of concepts such as 'red' or 'magnetic' and so cannot be reduced to anything more basic. For him 'truth' is a useful generalisation tool but it is reductionism as in science which reduces something to something else. Philosophy is descriptive, not reductionist.

    Martin Heidegger (1889 - 1976) followed in the lead of Husserl, the phenomenologist. He returns to the original Greek concept of aletheia (ἀλήθεια), meaning 'not hidden'. He differs in this from realism which makes truth something external to those who perceive it and idealism which does not views truth as something that happens but as the construction of a mind making tidy sense of reality. Heidegger thinks of the difference between Being and beings as the truth of the unconcealment of beings through our practices.

    John Dewey (1859 - 1952) disagreed with the traditional correspondence theory of truth and its insistence that the true idea is that which corresponds to reality. With William James Dewey adopted the pragmatic argument that an idea is true only if it is employed in resolving a problematic human situation. Contrary to realists like Russell, Dewey thought that those things understood as isolated from human relationships could not be objects of knowledge. In his later writings Dewey avoids references to truth since he thought that the idea had been fossilised by traditional philosophy and its practical role was difficult to grasp. He thus focuses pragmatically on the functions of this term. He claimed that 'true' could only be applied to conclusions that are verified and that it is this process that makes them true. 

    Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 - 1980) in his text Verité et Existence (1948) revisits Heidegger's idea of truth and offers his own theory that connects truth to ethics. Truth for Sartre is part of human historical change and thus changes with context. Hero and coward, man and woman and even geometry on a flat surface or in a sphere are changeable truths. They depend on how we frame our projects in our material conditions.

    Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908 - 2009) thought that to attain knowledge anthropologists relied on verifiable facts, not on cartesian logical coherence. He argued that truth could only be reached by incorporating practices such as rituals and myths as well as recognised scientific research. He affirmed that anthropology used different forms of knowledge to produce particular truths, another type of science.

    Paul-Michel Foucault (1926 - 1984) believes that all societies create a 'regime of truth' following their beliefs and values. Western society creates truth based on scientific discourse, economic and political forces, difusion by social means, control by political and economic forces. Truth is a construct of economic and political powers in society. Universal truth does not exist but it is generated socially.

Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity (20th. and 21st. centuries). Both these theoretical physics hypotheses introduced the philosophical polemic of determinism vs probability as an explanation for the ultimate truth of the universe. Einstein could not accept Bohr's probabilistic theory which was supported by Schrodinger and Heisenberg. Bell and Aspect found mathematical and experimental methods of showing that Bohr's view was nearer reality.

The idea of knowledge of one Truth was contested by contemporary philosophers. Quine and Bohm thought that truth was an insight and depended on how we saw the world. Derrida deconstructed metaphysical absolutism and superiority. Popper replaced the concept of truth with verisimilitude, something approaching true and supported by experimentation. Rovelli returned to the traditional method of acquiring knowledge through synthesis of previous polemical views.

    Max Planck (1858 - 1947) made a remarkable discovery in 1900 > Planck's universal constant. This states how much the energy of a photon increases when the frequency of its electromagnetic wave increases by one and led to the discovery that light was emitted and received in discrete amounts, not in waves. This set science the new task of finding a new conceptual basis for physics. However Planck was convinced that Truth was a generational, not a universal, concept. "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

    Niels Bohr (1885 - 1962) followed Schrodinger's (1887-1961) representation of the atom using probability, not the traditional predictability of classical physics. He was also influenced by Heisenberg's (1901-1976) uncertainty principle which argued that it was impossible to know exactly where an electron was located though its likely place could be predicted. Bohr thus came to the view that the universe was not deterministic but probabilistic. This flatly contradicted Einstein's (1879-1955) thinking which dictated that the universe is ordered and has a logical nature. More importantly he believed that the scientist was the observed and the system the observed.
Quantum physics replaced certainty with chance. This meant that a system could not ultimately be known and that the observers change it through their observation. Bohr realised that the observer determined what he observed by choosing the system and once chosen it could not be changed until measurements were complete. Science was demonstrating that the fundamental nature of the universe was random not ordered.
Einstein could not accept this probabilistic philosophy while Schrödinger and Bohr found some meaning in the Hindu tradition that believes in the created as part of the creator, something similar to quantum physics. Japanese physicists had no problem either in the idea of a random universe.

    John Bell (1928 -1990) published a mathematical paper in 1965 that suggested a method for determining experimentally between Bohr and Einstein's interpretation of reality. In the early 80s experiments carried out by Alain Aspect and colleagues confirmed that Bohr's interpretation was the more adjusted to reality. Bohr's suggestion that there is either no underlying reality behind quantum physics, as proposed by Einstein, or there are non-local effects that contradict Einstein's theory. There are several competing theories to reinterpret quantum physics such as the many universes, the many minds and the non-local variables but they have not been tested experimentally.

Willard Van Orman Quine (1908 - 2000) starts from the concept that our knowledge of the world derives from the impacts of forms on our sensory nerves. He addresses the question of how we get from these stimuli to science. He treats knowledge as part of language and so he investigates how we could acquire cognitive language. His answer is that it depends on our assent. Truth is immanent, not transcendent, in accordance with his empirical approach to knowledge. We make judgements of truth from within our theory of the world. 

    Jacques Derrida (1930 - 2004) in his philosophy of deconstruction challenged some of the suppositions he found in traditional philosophy. He argued that philosophers think their subject to be free of literary aspects like metaphor and adhered to literal language to express their thinking. Deconstruction shows how much philosophical thinking relies on metaphorical expression. 
Derrida also criticises western metaphysics for its structural metaphor which privileges the role of image in thought. Thus western philosophy assumes that thought is representational and that Truth is a literal and formally correct representation of things through illuminating concepts. Derrida argues that the metaphor of darkness and light is the basis for western metaphysical expression. 
He is also critical of the western concept privileges speech over writing. The spoken word is assumed to be the basis for truth.
Derrida questions metaphysical absolutism and affirms that deconstruction has no universal method that can be applied to text or argument.

    David Bohm (1917 - 1992) believed that theories did not give true knowledge showing reality as it is but rather that all theories are insights and are neither true nor false. He argued that absolute truth would not be attained but unending developments of new forms of insight which will incorporate key features of older forms. Physics theories are, for him, world views not absolute knowledge of how things are.

    Karl Popper (1902-1994) thought that all knowledge was provisional and hypothetical so that universal theories of science cannot be established conclusively. For him every theory s open-ended and so must be potentially false. He argued that the truth is in fact verisimilitude and that a good scientific theory has a higher level of verisimilitude than others. Scientific progress is thus progress towards the truth and experiments are indicators of verisimilitude along this path.

    Carlo Rovelli (1956) and other theoretical physicists are at present trying to synthesise the notions of time and space from Einstein's general relativity and the Quantum field theory. Rovelli introduced the theory of Loop Quantum Gravity in this effort. The theory is untested by in Seven Brief Lessons on Physics (2014) Rovelli justifies his effort through the traditional view of how human knowledge progresses - through syntheses of apparent contradictions.


In ancient Greece Truth was a revelation of reality but you needed to believe the truth teller. However, the pre-Socatics later argued that you could rely on your own senses and reason to know the truth thus making truth more democratic. The Socratics were divided on the source of  knowledge since reality was either metaphysical (Plato) or physical (Aristotles). This meant that the methods of reaching truth were also opposed: top down through deduction(metaphysics) or bottom up through induction(physics). The Greco-Romans were divided further on the idea of truth: the Epicureans and Stoics continued the Aristotelian tradition of truth through the senses. The Sceptics put human understanding of Truth into question by introducing a novel concept : doubt about knowledge through the senses. 
So the ancient world left us a triple tradition: metaphysical truths reached through rational deduction; physical truths attained through experiementation and induction; scepticism about Truth itself.

In Medieval times the Church continued on the basis of the platonic vision of Truth from above. The scholastics revealed knowledge through the top down deduction method of 'apologetics' (reasoned arguments to justify a religious doctrine) .
The Renaissance renewed the study of Platonism, Stoicism, Epicurism and Scepticism which all questioned the medieval idea of one universal Truth. 
In the XVI cent. aristotelian induction was rejected. There was a return to deductionism and individual scepticism about truth.

The Age of Reason (XVII century) began a search for a new basis for Truth. Rationalism in the platonic tradition used logical thought to ascertain truth which was preferred on continental Europe; empiricism adopted by British philosophers used bottom up methods from the aristotelian tradition to know truth.

The Enlightenment (XVIII century) chose a sceptical response to truth over rationalism and empiricism. Berkeley, Hume and Kant argued that the mind constructed external reality and so Truth was unattainable. Hegel conflated mind and Spirit in a synthesis of the rational and the empirical. He suggested a holistic view of consciousness in which the world and the knower are not separated. Truth, then is an individual construct.

The 19th. and 20th. centuries also expanded the search for Truth beyond rationalism and empiricism as methodologies by adding psychological and social aspects to the search for knowledge. Platonic internal idealism became psychology and aristotelian external realism turned towards society.
The theory of truth as an individual construct explored the psychological 'flow of experience' and perspectivism in Husserl's phenomenology. Heidegger added behaviour and Being as a reliable basis for individual truth. Empiricists like James and Dewey based their individualist approaches on sensory experience and pragmatic resolution of human problems. Truth now appeared as individual truths based on psychology and behaviour.
Comte, Marx, Sartre and Foucault argued that truth was a social rather than individual construct. 
Wittgenstein criticised the concept of Truth as a generalisation which in science is reductionist and in philosophy is descriptive. Levi-Strauss expanded the notion of truth saying knowledge is attained by incorporating all human aspects not just scientific measurements.

Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity theory (20th. and 21st. centuries) introduced the philosophical polemic of determinism vs probability as explanations for the ultimate truth of the universe, opposing Einstein against Bohr, Schrodinger and Heisenberg. 
The idea of knowledge of one Truth was contested by contemporary philosophers. Quine and Bohm followed the 18th century thinking that truth was an insight and depended on how we saw the world. Derrida deconstructed metaphysical absolutism and superiority. Popper replaced the concept of truth with verisimilitude, something approaching true and supported by experimentation. Rovelli returned to the traditional method of acquiring knowledge through the synthesis of previously opposed views.


Knowledge of Truth in Western philosophy uses a binary method opposing metaphysical and physical truths and occasionally scepticism about both.


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