Four Types of ‘Truth’

If a truth is the perception that “it is so,” there are different types and perhaps levels of truth.

1. personal truth

A personal truth is what is true for an individual. For example, one person may believe that chocolate ice-cream is the best. Nothing said could alter his/her perception that “it is so.” He or she may consider your own favorite, strawberry, to be inedible.

Personal truths reflect physiological attributes, psychological tendencies and the learning and experiences of an individual.

2. social truth

A social truth is what a distinct group perceives to “be so.” Social truths reflect group history, customs, and values. For example, to group “A” it may be true that the neighboring group, group “B,” is the enemy and thus a threat. But group “C” might not find this to be so. Or group “A” may believe that Saturday is the holy day, while group “B” claims it is Sunday.

3. human truth

A human truth reflects and pertains to the universal dispositions and abilities of our species, Homo sapiens. To one human being there is nothing more beautiful than another human being of the opposite sex (at least for heterosexuals). But to say we are the most beautiful of creatures would reflect species-centric thought.

Many things that we consider to be inherently true probably reflect distinctive features of human psychology. For instance, because human beings are primates that readily establish and acknowledge dominance hierarchies, the human individual may be predisposed to feeling that there is or could be some entity “greater than me,” whether or not that happens to be true.

4. universal truth

A universal truth is one that all sufficiently intelligent and educated observers, from this planet or any other (should they exist), would conclude to “be so.” For instance, the proportion of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is 3.141592 ( . . . ). This is a universal truth. Any capable, unbiased individual could verify that truth. Similarly, that energy is equivalent to rest mass times the speed of light squared, is also a universal truth.

A universal truth is the only type of truth that is not relative to the person or group making the claim.  Science, by and large, provides us with universal truths. Or it at least aspires to.

Religion, no doubt, reflects social truths, and perhaps, in some regards, human truths as well. While one religion maintains that person X was the real messiah, another religion, reflecting its own values, customs, and history, says, “it is not so.” All groups, however, may feel that death cannot be the complete end to life. How can something so valued be lost? Humans may be naturally inclined to envision something more, irregardless of evidence.

What believers in a religion frequently fail to do is to place possible human truths and their own social truths into a wider perspective.

[first posted on my blog, “the evolving mind,”  June, 2008.]

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