Correspondence theory of truth

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In epistemology, the correspondence theory of truth states that the truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to the world and whether it accurately describes (i.e., corresponds with) that world. [1]

Epistemology A branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.

Truth philosophical concept

Truth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or standard. Truth is also sometimes defined in modern contexts as an idea of "truth to self", or authenticity.

Falsity or vonkwo gist is a perversion of truth originating in the deceitfulness of one party, and culminating in the damage of another party. Falsity is also a measure of the quality or extent of the falseness of something, while a falsehood may also mean simply an incorrect (false) statement, independent of any intention to deceive.


Correspondence theories claim that true beliefs and true statements correspond to the actual state of affairs. This type of theory attempts to posit a relationship between thoughts or statements on one hand, and things or facts on the other.


Correspondence theory is a traditional model which goes back at least to some of the ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. [2] [3] This class of theories holds that the truth or the falsity of a representation is determined solely by how it relates to a reality; that is, by whether it accurately describes that reality. As Aristotle claims in his Metaphysics : "To say that 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". [4]

Ancient Greek philosophy

Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BC and continued throughout the Hellenistic period and the period in which Ancient Greece was part of the Roman Empire. Philosophy was used to make sense out of the world in a non-religious way. It dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including astronomy, mathematics, political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric and aesthetics.

Plato Classical Greek philosopher

Plato was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece and the founder of the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. He is widely considered the pivotal figure in the history of Ancient Greek and Western philosophy, along with his teacher, Socrates, and his most famous student, Aristotle. Alfred North Whitehead once noted: "the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato."

Aristotle philosopher in ancient Greece

Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist born in the city of Stagira, Chalkidiki, Greece. Along with Plato, he is considered the "Father of Western Philosophy". Aristotle provided a complex and harmonious synthesis of the various existing philosophies prior to him, including those of Socrates and Plato, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its fundamental intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be central to the contemporary philosophical discussion.

A classic example of correspondence theory is the statement by the medieval philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas: "Veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus" ("Truth is the adequation of things and intellect"), which Aquinas attributed to the ninth-century Neoplatonist Isaac Israeli. [5] [6] [7]

Thomas Aquinas Dominican scholastic philosopher of the Roman Catholic Church

Saint Thomas Aquinas was an Italian Dominican friar, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Church. He was an immensely influential philosopher, theologian, and jurist in the tradition of scholasticism, within which he is also known as the Doctor Angelicus and the Doctor Communis. The name Aquinas identifies his ancestral origins in the county of Aquino in present-day Lazio, Italy.

Intellect ability of the mind to come to correct conclusions about what is true or real, and about how to solve problems

Intellect is a term used in studies of the human mind, and refers to the ability of the mind to come to correct conclusions about what is true or real, and about how to solve problems. Historically the term comes from the Greek philosophical term nous, which was translated into Latin as intellectus and into French and then English as intelligence. Intellect is in fact considered as a branch of intelligence.

Isaac Israeli ben Solomon Medieval Egyptian physician

Isaac Israeli ben Solomon, also known as Isaac Israeli the Elder and Isaac Judaeus, was one of the foremost Arab Jewish physicians and philosophers of his time. He is regarded as the father of medieval Jewish Neoplatonism. His works, all written in Arabic and subsequently translated into Hebrew, Latin and Spanish, entered the medical curriculum of the early thirteenth-century universities in Medieval Europe and remained popular throughout the Middle Ages.

Correspondence theory was either explicitly or implicitly embraced by most of the early modern thinkers, including René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, John Locke, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. [2] (However, Spinoza and Kant have also been interpreted as defenders of the coherence theory of truth.) [8] Correspondence theory has also been attributed to Thomas Reid. [9]

Early modern philosophy

Early modern philosophy is a period in the history of philosophy at the beginning or overlapping with the period known as modern philosophy.

René Descartes 17th-century French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist

René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. A native of the Kingdom of France, he spent about 20 years (1629–1649) of his life in the Dutch Republic after serving for a while in the Dutch States Army of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange and the Stadtholder of the United Provinces. He is generally considered one of the most notable intellectual figures of the Dutch Golden Age.

Baruch Spinoza Dutch philosopher

Baruch Spinoza was a Jewish-Dutch philosopher of Portuguese Sephardi origin. By laying the groundwork for the Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, including modern conceptions of the self and the universe, he came to be considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy. Along with René Descartes, Spinoza was a leading philosophical figure of the Dutch Golden Age. Spinoza's given name, which means "Blessed", varies among different languages. In Hebrew, it is written ברוך שפינוזה. His Portuguese name is Benedito "Bento" de Espinosa or d'Espinosa. In his Latin works, he used Latin: Benedictus de Spinoza.

In late modern philosophy, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling espoused the correspondence theory. [10] Karl Marx also subscribed to a version of the correspondence theory. [11]

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling German philosopher (idealism)

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, later von Schelling, was a German philosopher. Standard histories of philosophy make him the midpoint in the development of German idealism, situating him between Johann Gottlieb Fichte, his mentor in his early years, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, his former university roommate, early friend, and later rival. Interpreting Schelling's philosophy is regarded as difficult because of its evolving nature.

Karl Marx Revolutionary socialist

Karl Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary.

In contemporary Continental philosophy, Edmund Husserl defended the correspondence theory. [12] In contemporary analytic philosophy, Bertrand Russell, [13] Ludwig Wittgenstein, [14] J. L. Austin, [15] and Karl Popper [16] [17] defended the correspondence theory.

Contemporary philosophy

Contemporary philosophy is the present period in the history of Western philosophy beginning at the early 20th century with the increasing professionalization of the discipline and the rise of analytic and continental philosophy.

Continental philosophy Set of 19th- and 20th-century philosophical traditions from mainland Europe

Continental philosophy is a set of 19th- and 20th-century philosophical traditions from mainland Europe. This sense of the term originated among English-speaking philosophers in the second half of the 20th century, who used it to refer to a range of thinkers and traditions outside the analytic movement. Continental philosophy includes German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, French feminism, psychoanalytic theory, and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School and related branches of Western Marxism.

Edmund Husserl German philosopher, known as the father of phenomenology

Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl was a German philosopher who established the school of phenomenology. In his early work, he elaborated critiques of historicism and of psychologism in logic based on analyses of intentionality. In his mature work, he sought to develop a systematic foundational science based on the so-called phenomenological reduction. Arguing that transcendental consciousness sets the limits of all possible knowledge, Husserl redefined phenomenology as a transcendental-idealist philosophy. Husserl's thought profoundly influenced the landscape of 20th-century philosophy, and he remains a notable figure in contemporary philosophy and beyond.


Correspondence as congruence

Bertrand Russell [13] [2] and Ludwig Wittgenstein [14] [2] have in different ways suggested that a statement, to be true, must have some kind of structural isomorphism with the state of affairs in the world that makes it true. For example, "A cat is on a mat" is true if, and only if, there is in the world a cat and a mat and the cat is related to the mat by virtue of being on it. If any of the three pieces (the cat, the mat, and the relation between them which correspond respectively to the subject, object, and verb of the statement) is missing, the statement is false. [18] Some sentences pose difficulties for this model, however. As just one example, adjectives such as "counterfeit", "alleged", or "false" do not have the usual simple meaning of restricting the meaning of the noun they modify: a "tall lawyer" is a kind of lawyer, but an "alleged lawyer" may not be.

In 2018, Claudio Costa has developed a full-blooded version of the correspondence theory of truth. This version of the theory incorporates coherence and extends the idea of correspondence to formal sciences. [19] .

Correspondence as correlation

J. L. Austin [15] [2] theorized that there need not be any structural parallelism between a true statement and the state of affairs that makes it true. It is only necessary that the semantics of the language in which the statement is expressed are such as to correlate whole-for-whole the statement with the state of affairs. A false statement, for Austin, is one that is correlated by the language to a state of affairs that does not exist. [20]

Relation to ontology

Historically, most advocates of correspondence theories have been metaphysical realists; that is, they believe that there is a world external to the minds of all humans. This is in contrast to metaphysical idealists who hold that everything that exists exists as a substantial metaphysical entity independently of the individual thing of which it is predicated, and also to conceptualists who hold that everything that exists is, in the end, just an idea in some mind. However, it is not strictly necessary that a correspondence theory be married to metaphysical realism. It is possible to hold, for example, that the facts of the world determine which statements are true and to also hold that the world (and its facts) is but a collection of ideas in the mind of some supreme being. [21]


One attack on the theory claims that the correspondence theory succeeds in its appeal to the real world only in so far as the real world is reachable by us.

The direct realist believes that we directly know objects as they are. Such a person can wholeheartedly adopt a correspondence theory of truth.

The rigorous idealist believes that there are no real objects. The correspondence theory appeals to imaginary undefined entities, so it is incoherent.

Other positions hold that we have some type of awareness, perception, etc. of real-world objects which in some way falls short of direct knowledge of them. But such an indirect awareness or perception is itself an idea in one's mind, so that the correspondence theory of truth reduces to a correspondence between ideas about truth and ideas of the world, whereupon it becomes a coherence theory of truth. [22]

Vagueness or circularity

Either the defender of the correspondence theory of truth offers some accompanying theory of the world, or he or she does not.

If no theory of the world is offered, the argument is so vague as to be useless or even unintelligible: truth would then be supposed to be correspondence to some undefined, unknown or ineffable world. It is difficult to see how a candid truth could be more certain than the world we are to judge its degree of correspondence against.

On the other hand, as soon as the defender of the correspondence theory of truth offers a theory of the world, he or she is operating in some specific ontological or scientific theory, which stands in need of justification. But the only way to support the truth of this theory of the world that is allowed by the correspondence theory of truth is correspondence to the real world. Hence the argument is circular. [22]

See also


  1. Hanna and Harrison (2004), ch. 1, p. 21, quotation: "The assessment of truth and falsity is made possible by the existence of semantically mediated correlations between the members of some class of linguistic entities possessing assertoric force (in some versions of the Correspondence Theory propositions, in others sentences, or bodies of sentences), and the members of some class of extralinguistic entities: “states of affairs,” or “facts,” or bodies of truth-conditions, or of assertion-warranting circumstances."
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 The Correspondence Theory of Truth (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  3. Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 2, "Correspondence Theory of Truth", auth.: Arthur N. Prior, Macmillan, 1969, pp. 223–4.
  4. Aristotle, Metaphysics , 1011b26
  5. Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 2, "Correspondence Theory of Truth", auth.: Arthur N. Prior, Macmillan, 1969, p. 224.
  6. "Correspondence Theory of Truth", in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  7. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae , I. Q.16, A.2 arg. 2.
  8. The Coherence Theory of Truth (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  9. M. T. Dalgarno, E. H. Matthews (eds.), The Philosophy of Thomas Reid, Springer, 2012, p. 195.
  10. Joel Harter, Coleridge's Philosophy of Faith: Symbol, Allegory, and Hermeneutics, Mohr Siebeck, 2011, p. 91.
  11. Bhikhu Parekh, Marx's Theory of Ideology, Routledge, 2015, p. 203.
  12. J. N. Mohanty (ed.), Readings on Edmund Husserl’s Logical Investigations, Springer, 1977, p. 191.
  13. 1 2 Bertrand Russell, Philosophy of Logical Atomism, Open Court, 1998 [1918].
  14. 1 2 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Routledge 2001 [1921].
  15. 1 2 Austin, J. L., 1950, "Truth", reprinted in Philosophical Papers, 3rd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press 1979, 117–33.
  16. Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, 1963.
  17. Thornton, Stephen (2015-01-01). Zalta, Edward N., ed. Karl Popper (Winter 2015 ed.). ("Popper professes to be anti-conventionalist, and his commitment to the correspondence theory of truth places him firmly within the realist's camp.")
  18. Kirkham, 1992, section 4.2
  19. Claudio Costa, Philosophical Semantics: Reintegrating Theoretical Philosophy, CSP, 2018, ch. 6.
  20. See Kirkham, 1992, section 4.3
  21. See Kirkham, 1992, section 4.6
  22. 1 2 See Michael Williams, 1977

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