Correspondence Theory of Truth Explained


The correspondence theory of truth states that both the truth and the falsity of any given statement is based on how it relates to the world. It is also influenced by how accurately the statement happens to correspond with that world.

It is a theorem that dates back to the classical Greek philosophers. Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates all proposed ideas that are similar to the correspondence theory of truth. Each suggested that truth or a lie is based on the representation of a statement to an individual or overall reality.

Or, to use the words of Aristotle:

“To say that which is, is not, and that which is not, is, is a falsehood. Therefore, to say that which is, is, and that which is not, is not, is true.”

Modern Variations of the Correspondence Theory of Truth

Over the years, there have been several variations that have been proposed to the correspondence theory of truth. Each offers specific changes that are based on individual perspectives.

Bertrand Russell: Russel offered the theory that a true statement must have some sort of structure that must be equal in shape and form to the current state of world affairs in order for it to be true. Take this statement as an example: “There is a dog on a log.”

This statement can only be true if there is a dog in the world and a log in the world and the dog is related to log because it is on it. If any of these pieces are missing for some reason, then the statement is by default a falsity.

J.L. Austin: Austin offered the theory that there didn’t need to be any structure parallelism between the state of world affairs and what makes a statement become truth. The semantics of the language and how the statement is expressed correlate to its truth or falsity. In his variation of the correspondence theory of truth, a statement becomes false only when a state of affairs related to the statement does not exist.

Emanuel Swedenborg: Swedenborg offered the theory that truth and falsity are based on individual perceptions of spiritual realities. Any spiritual practice or religion can be used as an example of this refinement of the correspondence theory of truth. To some individuals, the concepts of Christianity are truth, but others see it as a lie. Some see the concepts of Islam as truth, but others see it as a lie.

As long as the statement contains a subject matter that is “worthy to behold” to an individual, then it is the individual’s perception which will turn it into truth or a falsity.

How Does the Correspondence Theory of Truth Become Real?

For the correspondence theory of truth to work, an assumption about how the world is perceived must be made. Humans must see the world as an external place in relation to their own minds. This is contrary to the idea that everything that exists is actually just an idea that is in the mind of someone, somewhere.

A complete adherence to realism isn’t necessary for the theory to apply if Swedenborg’s variation is taken into account. People could perceive that what currently exists is an idea offered by a supernatural or supreme being, race, or simulation and the correspondence theory of truth would still be able to apply.

What Are the Criticisms of the Correspondence Theory of Truth?

There are several critiques offered for the correspondence theory of truth. Some would say that we really have no actual knowledge, which would make this theory false by default. Others would say that truth or falsity is only based on how reachable reality happens to be for each individual, so truth and falsity are just relative concepts based on individual perceptions.

Idealists may say that there are no real objects, so the theory involves hypothetical situations and this makes it a pointless venture or a philosophical debate. If awareness is indirect instead of direct, then the only debate between truth and falsity is between the ideas of the mind and the ideas of the world.

At some level, an individual must be able to view the world and draw conclusions from their observations of it for the correspondence theory of truth to be valid. When the world is perceived as an outside entity, then there are general and individual statements which will have a truth or a falsity to them.

Even when this is the case, however, the perceptions from that individual based on how they translate the observations made into consumable knowledge will dictate how each statement is ultimately defined.