The Problem Of Truth And The Criteria Of Truth

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The problem of truth and the criteria of truth

The critical problem of knowledge

The human being believes spontaneously in the reality of what he knows;This means that our knowledge responds to an objective reality that we represent and reproduce.

The immediate experience of our senses (view, touch, ear, etc.) It is usually an undoubted testimony of truth, as it is for us the coherence of our thoughts when they settle in unquestionable foundations. Our spontaneous conscience believes in the fundamental truth of knowledge, although it does not exclude the accidental possibility of falling into error.

In his work the criteria, Jaime Balmes accurately argues that "thinking well consists: or knowing the truth or directing the understanding by the path that leads to it". In its primary or logical sense, we can understand the truth as a property of certain judgments by which they conform to reality. This sense of truth is constituted as the basis of a broader and more transcendental sense that offers the ontological truth, that philosophers define as the being of things as soon as they can manifest to an intelligence, or as soon as they are for it cognizable. Balmes will also understand the truth as the reality of things, that is, “when we know things as they are, we reach the truth;In another luck, we fall into error ".

The truth in that first sense opposes the error, which we understand as the lack of adaptation of our mind with the thing;Like the ontological truth, it opposes nothing. The experience of knowledge in its alleged capture of reality produces certainty in us. This certainty corresponds to a state of the mind by which full adhesion occurs in us to a trial without fear of erring. As it is known and experienced for all, not all human knowledge is for partner to certainty, since it requires a state of the mind in the act of knowing, which we do not find in the case of doubt and neither in that of theopinion.

In doubt, we tend to hesitate among various judgments, without finding clear motifs that drive us to consider one as true, and another as false. In the same way, in the opinion we are inclined to some of those judgments, but with the fear of err. The fact that some of our knowledge are accompanied by certainty and others of doubt or opinion, poses the problem of whether our certainties will have a true foundation or if, on the contrary, they will be born of pure subjectivity. In the case of such foundation, it will be for us of great interest to be able to know its origin and structure.

This critical attitude on the foundation and limits of our certainty implies the possibility of truth (of that adaptation of our mind with the thing), or, at least, of consciousness on our part of such adequacy. This entails that the critical problem of knowledge must face two objections that perform a series of philosophical systems that oppose that spontaneous faith in the objectivity of knowledge. Clearly, we are talking here about the skeptical objection and idealistic objection.

The skeptical objection

The word skepticism comes from the Greek Sképtomai, which means analyzing or scrutinic. The skeptic subjects and critic. The skeptic does not deny the truth in the sense that there may be judgments that respond to reality;He denies the awareness of the truth and the security of possessing it, which is what constitutes the essence of certainty.

These objections are of different genres. Some rely on the individual varieties of the faculties of knowledge: what a person sees as red sees it as green, etc. Others, in the frequency of our sensitive errors (optics, perceptual, etc.). Others are based on the existence of dreams, whose reality of fading when we wake up. If the origin of all our knowledge lies in the senses and these are not worthy of credit, how can we base any certainty? Other skeptical objections argue with the radical difference between known matter and cognitive spirit. Finally there are others that say that the logical chain of our raciocinios is not equally appreciated by all people, since there are people with mental problems that reason differently.

Consequently, ancient skepticism advises the wise to abstention from any affirmation or adhesion to the truth of a judgment, for being vain any possibility of certainty, an attitude that – according to them – leads to a happy and serene indifference of the spirit.

Descartes (s. XVII) use these skeptical arguments in your method of method with the intention of finding an undoubted truth that can serve as the basis for a new philosophical system. According to him, only one truth (the famous cogito, ergo sum, "I think, then I exist") escapes all skeptical doubt and produces in us an indestructible certainty: that the (undoubted) existence of thinking reveals in us our own existence. However, this recognition of pure thought as Primum Cognitum will lead later authors (Berkeley, Hegel) to idealistic objection.

The idealistic objection

Modern philosophy is enclosed in the subjectivity of thought as the first and immediate reality to escape skeptical objection, and thus intends to justify the certainty of thought (Descartes). There have, however, other philosophers that deny the existence of any other reality beyond thought. According to them, belief in a world outside the Spirit is a free and unprovable assumption, because no one can get out of their own thought to verify that trans-subjective reality. Such is the idealistic theory, for which there is no other being than thought: esse is percipi (being is being perceived).

Berkeley, English empiricist. XVIII, it came to that conclusion in the form of a psychological, or individual idealism: it only admitted as verifiable realities his own thought and himself as a thinking substance. What we call exterior reality is, for him, creation of thought (such as dreams). Hegel (s.XIX) reached the same conclusion, but in the form of a logical or transcendental idealism. It is the absolute spirit, common to every rational thinking, the creator of a universal reality and history through its dialectical evolution.

Criticism of these objections

Saint Augustine (S. Iv) made a brilliant refutation of skepticism, a doctrine that he professed for some time in his youth. "Who supports that nothing can be affirmed with certainty" -He says- "makes with this an affirmation in which it is true of something: the impossibility of certainty".

To this first criticism could answer a skeptic that, strictly. Saint Augustine, however, perfects his argument: "As much as thinking does not lead to certainty, and even if the thought is aberrant, it cannot be doubtful of the doubt itself, this is the existence of thought".

The Cartesian argument (cogito, ergo sum) derives from this Augustinian criticism to skepticism. But, just as Descartes remains in pure thought as the only source of certainty pretendingof an external lighting and superior to one’s own thinking.

On the other hand, idealistic objection results from an insufficient psychological analysis since the act of knowing the content of knowledge does not distinguish in the knowledge phenomenon. The act is one of the various dynamic and temporary achievements of the spirit, which is carried out according to the internal laws that govern it. In this sense, knowing is immanent to the spirit and is explained through it. The content, on the other hand, cannot be explained without the contest of another external factor to it. The spirit as a cognitive is passive and precise of a cognitive determinant from the outside world that allows him to get out of his indeterminacy and act. Knowledge, as an immanent act, supposes and demands a determining significance so that the cognitive content can exist.

The German philosopher Francisco Brentano (1838-1917) used a forgotten Aristotelian thesis to demonstrate the insufficiency and unreality of philosophical idealism. This is the intentionality theory of the knowledge phenomenon. The facts of knowledge are not limited to showing certain qualitative aspects (colors, sounds, etc.) or quantitative (size, spatial figure, etc.);On the contrary, a deep analysis of them leads us to discover in them their intentional character (of Intendere), referential, for whose virtue they refer to a transcendent reality to themselves. All thought or all volition are thoughts or volition of something. Interpret knowledge as a mere act of knowing, and seeing this as an immanent activity of the spirit, is to ignore something that the phenomenon of knowledge presents – its intentionality – as something more primary and radical than its different expressive aspects of content.

The truth criteria. Objective evidence

Criticism of skeptical and idealistic objections brings us closer to the solution of the critical knowledge problem. If knowledge implies in itself an inevitable reference to objectivity (intentionality), and if about the doubts of skepticism, the certainty of thinking itself always predominates, the bridge must be sought through which thought reaches that undoubted objectivity (transcendence).

This leads us to the notion of evidence, of habitual use in human language. We have already seen that the truth (in its primary sense) is a property of the judgments by which they are adapted with reality. We have also seen that certainty is a state of the spirit based on which we adhere to a trial without fear of err. We will say now that evidence is a kind of clarity with which certain objects are offered to the mind causing in it the state of certainty. Brentano distinguished between blind judgments and obvious judgments. Multitude of judgments of our childhood – unconnected and dark knowledge – are clearly distinguished from those whose object appears clearly for being based on evidence.

Descartes and modern rationalism define this evidence as clarity and distinction in one’s own thinking. Those ideas that appear perfectly delimited as they are not of them are clear;Those whose parts or elements are clearly differentiated. Descartes, obliged by the philosophical principles that left, when we get out of pure thought, which considers the only immediate and itself justifiable reality, does not recognize other evidence outside the subjective, which is the characteristic of certain thoughts in its ideal structure.

But evidence, as a truth criterion, demands a foundation;that is, support in the clarity of the intentional object to which thought refers. Precisely because of this, St. Augustine went beyond the indubitable experience of one’s own thinking (his objection to skepticism) through the discovery of objective and superior truths – the mathematical truths, the first principles … – that are imposed on the spirit as eternal truths, valid by themselves and of divine origin. Without the need to resort to this Augustinian theory of the divine lighting of the Spirit, we must recognize in the objective evidence (based) last criteria of certainty.

There are certainly certainty based on faith and also a reasonable probability, but the definitive criterion that justifies characteristically human certainty will lie in that objective evidence that, by itself, determines a founded and deserving judgment of firm adhesion.

Conclusion: Know and be

We can conclude that, given the receptive function of knowledge, the senses are molded on sensitive data, and intelligence on intelligible elements, so that the soul is (or can become) in some way all things, approaching approachingthus to God in whom everything preexists. Knowledge ends up becoming a more perfect and complex way to be: being another at the same time as he himself.

Every being has its own substantial form that determines in it its perfections and its blind and innate tendencies. Being cognitive is also capable of intentionally assimilating the forms of other beings that determine new perfections and higher forms of trend. And, finally, the ability to reflect in understanding the awareness of the truth of judgment (that rest in certainty) through objective evidence. Because, as Santo Tomás says, "he can (the spirit) rest in the certain possession of the truth when, reflecting on the judgment and comparing it to the perceived data, he realizes that what states corresponds to what is".


  • Gambra, r. (2014). Simple history of philosophy. Madrid: Rialp.
  • Balmes, j. L. (1986). The critery. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe.
  • Aquino Tomás de, González Ángel Luis, & Fernando Sellés Dauder Juan. (2003). Of Veriteate. Pamplona: Publications Service of the University of Navarra.

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