In philosophy and epistemology, epistemic theories of truth are attempts to analyze the notion of truth in terms of epistemic notions such as knowledge, belief, acceptance, verification, justification, and perspective.
Verificationism is based on verifying propositions. The distinctive claim of verificationism is that the result of such verifications is, by definition, truth. That is, truth is reducible to this process of verification.
According to perspectivism and relativism, a proposition is only true relative to a particular perspective. Roughly, a proposition is true relative to a perspective if and only if it is accepted, endorsed, or legitimated by that perspective.
Many authors writing on the topic of the notion of truth advocate or endorse combinations of the above positions. Each of these epistemic conceptions of truth can be subjected to various criticisms. Some criticisms apply across the board, while others are more specific.
A-priorism, often used in the domains of logic and mathematics, holds a proposition true if and only if a priori reasoning can verify it. In the related certainty theory, associated with Descartes and Spinoza, a proposition is true if and only if it is known with certainty.
Logical positivism attempts to combine positivism with a version of a-priorism.
Another theory of truth which is related to a-priorism is the concept-containment theory of truth. The concept-containment theory of truth is the view that a proposition is true if and only if the concept of the predicate of the proposition is "contained in" the concept of the subject. For example, the proposition that bachelors are unmarried men is true, on this view, because the concept of the predicate (unmarried men) is contained in the concept of the subject (bachelor). A contemporary reading of the concept-containment theory of truth is to say that every true proposition is an analytically true proposition.
According to perspectivism and relativism, a proposition is only true relative to a particular perspective. The Sophists' relativist and Nietzsche's philosophy are some of the most famous examples of such perspectivism. There are three main versions of perspectivism, and some interesting subdivisions:
According to individualist perspectivism (also individual perspectivism) perspectives are the points of view of particular individual persons. So, a proposition is true for a person if and only if it is accepted or believed by that person (i.e., "true for me").
There are, roughly, three versions of collectivism:
A perspective is, roughly, the broad opinions, and perhaps norms and practices, of a community of people, perhaps all having some special feature in common. So, a proposition is true (for a community C) if, and only if, there is a consensus amongst the members of C for believing it.
In the power-oriented view, a perspective is a community enforced by power, authority, military might, privilege, etc. So, a proposition is true if it "makes us powerful" or is "produced by power", thus the slogan "truth is power".
This view of truth as a political stake may be loosely associated with Martin Heidegger or with Michel Foucault's specific analysis of historical and political discourse, as well as with some social constructivists.
Truth-generating perspectives are collective and opposed to, or engaged in struggle against, power and authority. For example, the collective perspective of the "proletariat". So, proposition is true if it is the "product of political struggle" for the "emancipation of the workers" (Theodor Adorno). This view is again associated with some social constructivists (e.g., feminist epistemologists).
On this conception, a truth-conferring perspective is something transcendental, and outside immediate human reach. The idea is that there is a transcendental or ideal epistemic perspective and truth is, roughly, what is accepted or recognized-as-true from that ideal perspective. There are two subvarieties of transcendental perspectivism:
The ideal epistemic perspective is the set of "maximally coherent and consistent propositions". A proposition is true if and only if it is a member of this maximally coherent and consistent set of propositions (associated with several German and British 19th century idealists).
Although the pragmatic theory of truth is not strictly classifiable as an epistemic theory of truth, it does bear a relationship to theories of truth that are based on concepts of inquiry and knowledge.
The ideal epistemic perspective is that of "completed science", which will appear in the (temporal) "limit of scientific inquiry". A proposition is true if and only if, in the long run it will come to be accepted by a group of inquirers using scientific rational inquiry. This can also be modalized: a proposition is true if, and only if, in the long run it would come to be accepted by a group of inquirers, if they were to use scientific rational inquiry. This view is thus a modification of the consensus view. The consensus need to satisfy certain constraints in order for the accepted propositions to be true. For example, the methods used must be those of scientific inquiry (criticism, observation, reproducibility, etc.). This "modification" of the consensus view is an appeal to the correspondence theory of truth, which is opposed to the consensus theory of truth.
- Chase Wrenn, Truth, Polity, 2014, subchapter 4.7.
- Colin MacCabe, Holly Yanacek (eds.), Keywords for Today: A 21st Century Vocabulary, Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 301.
- Barry Sandywell, Dictionary of Visual Discourse: A Dialectical Lexicon of Terms, Routledge, 2012, p. 460 ("Perspectivism, Individualist").
- Barry Sandywell, Dictionary of Visual Discourse: A Dialectical Lexicon of Terms, Routledge, 2012, p. 460 ("Perspectivism, Collectivist").
- R.T. te Velde, The Doctrine of God in Reformed Orthodoxy, Karl Barth, and the Utrecht School: A Study in Method and Content, BRILL, 2013, p. 629.