^What is the truth?^ Pontius Pilate to Jesus just before he delivered him up to be crucified.

(John 18:38)

The Correspondence Theory of Truth

The correspondence theory of truth posits that truth consists in the relationship between the proposition (or sentence) and the facts or states of affairs that verify or confirm the propositions. A belief is true if it asserts a proposition that corresponds to facts in the world.

This is probably the oldest general theory of truth, going back at least as far as Plato, who wrote: ^SThe true [sentence] states facts as they are . . . and the false one states the things that are other than the facts. . . . In other words, it speaks of things that are not as if they were. Aristotle refined Plato^Rs definition:

To say what is, is not, or that what is not is, is false; but to say that what is, is, and what is not is not, is true; and therefore also he who says that a thing is or is not will say either what is true or what is false.

The correspondence theory captures our commonsense intuition that truth depends on something in the world to make it true. Beliefs are not made true by mere wishful thinking or imagination but have an objective basis in reality. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) said that ^Sa proposition is a picture of reality. A proposition is a model of reality as we imagined it.^T

Consider the following:

1. The book is on the table.

2. The colors in the U.S. flag are red, white and blue.

3. _____________ is the true religion. [Fill in the blanks any way you wish]

4. Love is the Truth.

According to this commonsense view, we judge sentence 1, The book is on the table, to be true if we perceived the book to be on the table and false if it is not on the table. The sentence and what it asserts can be tested for its truth value by observation. Similarly, we can look and see whether the U.S. flag has three colors claimed in sentence 2. Regarding sentence 3, ^____________ is the true religion,^T if all of the assertions of that religion turn out to be true, then the religion as a whole is true. Sentence 4, ^Love is the Truth,^ isn^t easy to analyze via the correspondence method. Perhaps it is a poetic sentence, meaning that love is a value at which we should aim, but realizing, like all poetry, it is subject to various interpretations.

We might ask what is a proposition? It is thought, the meaning of a sentence. For instance, the two sentences ^Happy Dancer is a good horse^ and ^Happy Dancer is a good steed^ express the same proposition because the word horse means steed. Similarly, the sentences ^Es ist heisst,^ ^Il fiat cahud,^ ^Det er warm,^ and ^It is warm^ all express the same proposition, even though they are sentences in four different languages (German, French, Danish, and English). We speak of propositions as bearers of truth, for a proposition is either true or false, one or the other but not both. They purport to assert the truth. In this way, propositions differ from questions and imperatives, which make no assertions (but question or command). Compare the following:

The book is on the table.

Is the book on the table?

Put that book back on the table!

The second term in our formula, facts (or states of affairs), points to reality itself: the book on the table, the flag with three colors, the number of planets in the solar system. We may not have knowledge of reality for the facts to exist. For example, we may not know the facts about the origins of the universe, but if the universe did have an origin (and is not simply eternal), then it originated the way it did whether anyone knows it or not.

The third term of the formula, correspondence, seems most problematic. Is the correspondence between the proposition and the fact one of the identity or close resemblance or simply rough correlation?