When Pilate asked Jesus Christ “What is truth?” (John 18:38), he seems to have meant it rhetorically and Jesus gave him no reply. Philosophers have given several, however. Rather than views such as coherence or pragmatism, the one I think works best (pun intended) is the Correspondence View: that “truth” is the correspondence of a statement to reality. Because reality is singular and shared by all, truth is absolute and objective – but these are traits, not definitions.
Although philosophically sophisticated treatments of this view exist, even young children intuitively understand it. If I tell my 4 year old son that we are having pancakes for dinner and I serve him broccoli, he knows I did not speak the truth!
There are basically three ways to attack this definition:
- Attack “correspondence” by arguing that truth is not actually correspondence but something else.
- Attack “statement” with those whose truth value does not seem to be universal.
- Attack “reality” by arguing that we do not know reality.
Below I will briefly treat each one.