Does objective truth exist


Petra Kolmer

To person

is Professor of Philosophy at the Rheinische Friedrichs-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn. [email protected]

"Truth" (Greek aletheia, Latin veritas) has always been a central theme of European philosophy. Hardly any other has she devoted herself so consistently. Because what is ultimately meant by "truth" is of vital human interest and by no means only of academic interest. [1] This can currently be seen in the public debate about the post-truth era[2] or the general reaction to the invention of "alternative facts" around US President Donald Trump. It also indicates that the question with which we express our interest in "truth" seldom immediately starts with the formulation "What is truth?" give how it is based on this post. Because in this formulation the question already aims at the theoretical clarification of an existing use of language and an understanding of truth that manifests itself in it. Most of the time we ask, "What is true?" and mean: What is "real"? What is "solid"? What is "mandatory"? So we ask about everything that you can rely on, that you can build on. [3] "Truth" is a basic question for us humans that we need to sustain our lives.

Truth as Reliability

Let us therefore begin our treatise with a philosophical reflection on this familiar usage of "true" in the sense of "reliable", as it is, for example, when we speak of "true friendship" or "true love". These idioms indicate that we are obviously looking for reliability in relationships that carry us across all physical, cultural and personal differences, as it were, into the spatial and timeless dimension of order and validity - put more soberly: in relationships that cannot be used without the use of reason and which confront us with the demand that the use of reason itself should be determined by reason.

Let's not call "true friendship" in fulfillment of this requirement a "being connected and being one" between two people, to express it with Aristotle, [4] in which both sides always stay in the middle in saying and doing, so that it never comes to extremes and someone unilaterally relates everything only to himself? A largely balanced relationship in which the affiliates, instead of merging, are recognized for their independence? In any case, for the philosophical tradition, such a balanced and therefore stable connection was the answer to the question of the reliability meant by "truth". Following this tradition, the "true friend" would be an ideal by which we always measure the actual friend, so that he is always tacitly confronted with the question of whether he is not in the other extreme a "false friend" who pretends to be friendship while "in truth", for example, is self-interest.

The phrase "in truth", which is also familiar to us, takes our reflection one step further. Because through it comes into view that we also and especially when we assert to another person that a third party is a "true" or "false" friend, move in relation to the order and validity dimension of the Bringing reason into it: To say that a friend is a "true" or "false" one can in itself be true or false in relation to what is actually present - in contrast to what one thinks or believes.

Because the "human vital interest in the reliable" [5] must give priority to a clarifying statement of what is the case, philosophy thematizes the question of truth motivated by this as a question of the truth of human knowledge (Latin cognitio). This can be understood as the knowledge that results from an intellectual activity that is related to direct knowledge (notitia) and in the manner of a declaratory legal act is aimed at grasping a situation, and which is expressed in statements that form the methodologically justified context of science.

But what the knowledge refers to is by no means always something man-made, which can be seen through like a legal relationship, and at the same time cannot simply be traced back to a higher rational being, for example to a god. Historically, philosophy has therefore always faced the task of explaining how and later also whether the cognitive relation at all according to the nature of the declaratio (Proclamation, revelation) can be understood. Whatever the answer, given the given conditions: Philosophically, "truth" was and is above all the dimension of order and validity of the theory, the circle of which philosophy closes due to the reflective attitude that is characteristic of it in such a way that it becomes obvious that truth can be theoretically not escape. Friedrich Nietzsche documented this when he declared that truth was "the type of error without which a certain type of living being could not live", [6] but by no means suspended the claim to truth for himself. [7]

However, this also goes hand in hand with the fact that we do not have an exact definition of truth and therefore a final answer to the question of what truth is. However, the philosophical tradition of our effort to discursively set the boundaries necessary for a definition of truth has nevertheless gained something intuitively: that truth is about openness - under aspects of validity: revelation or unconcealment [8] - which we of course always first have to regain it again without us being certain that we will achieve it.

The following foray into the history of philosophy is limited to theoretical truth. He starts from the idea of ​​a communication situation in which someone seriously agrees with someone else about something in the objective world and the listener assumes two things to the speaker: firstthat the latter does not conceal anything from him, but "provides information about what he knows in such a way that nothing remains hidden [from him] about the reported matter (...)"; [9]Secondlythat it is knowledge in the sense of cognition and not just an opinion relativized to the subject or a belief in which he is allowed to participate. Truth would be redeemed in this sense in a "'reliable speech" with regard to the world "[10]. In our foray, however, we concentrate on the truth of knowledge in the sense of knowing, i.e. grasping a state of affairs that is presupposed to exist.


Philosophy has never systematically located truth only on the side of knowledge. She always saw the truth - and initially even primarily - on the side of reality, according to which knowledge must be oriented. Truth was first of all reality itself, namely "under the aspect of its knowability", [11] so that the terms "true", "being" and "knowable" were interchangeable. Here, until the 14th century, recognizability meant above all the being connected to beings that could be distinguished in terms of categories, their being organized into a supreme being.

However, Aristotle (384–322 BC) had already determined the truth in a more reflective way after decisive preparations by Plato (approx. 428–348 BC). Aristotle started with the use of language. His investigation of the use of the terms "is" and "is not" in propositional sentences showed that "is" means "being connected and being one" and, accordingly, "is not" a "being disconnected and majority" , [12] and not with the sentences, but with the facts to which the sentences refer. We should have "images" of these in our souls based on "initial psychological experiences". [13]

Statements should be true if they reflect what one thinks and one does not "think differently from the way things behave". Thus, according to Aristotle, the one who judges what is separated is said to be separate, from the compound that it is compound ", [14] while he who says the opposite is, as it were, wrong:" To say (...) that beings are is not and the non-being is wrong, on the other hand to say that the being is and the non-being is not is true. "[15] It is reality that makes these statements true.

In this sense, Aristotle's conception was a conception of truth and not of falsehood, which laid the foundation for the later correspondence or adequation theory of truth. Two things turned out to be important for their development: on the one hand, according to Aristotle, one should also consider the things themselves with regard to what is present in them "through composition and separation", of true and false - of "existing true or false" - could speak; [16] on the other hand, that for Aristotle the logical level of understanding (Greek dianoia) and the statement was the central, but not the only level on which truth should take place.

The coupling of statements with reality via "initial psychological experiences" was itself systematically conceived as a correspondence relation, albeit in the downgraded manner of an immediate bordering on or touching. Touching should be characteristic of those two levels of knowledge which, in Aristotle's system, formed the vertical extremes to the level of the understanding: On the one hand, the prelogical level of sensory perception (aisthesis), in whose system touching, and therefore feeling, formed the center. On the other hand, the hyperlogical level of reason (nous), whose touching for Aristotle was a simple "saying" about the eidetic structure of reality, the intelligible. In both cases, according to Aristotle, the true is "touching" and thus "knowing", while the false is "not touching" and thus "not knowing".