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This lesson will explain what philosophy sees as the difference between real and true. In doing this, it will highlight the subjectivity of the material as well as the correspondence theory and the principle of non-contradiction.

Subjectivity

Trying to explain the difference between real and true is pretty much an exercise in subjectivity.

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One person has one opinion, while another has the exact opposite. For this reason, today’s lesson on true and real in philosophy will be easy to take issue with. Despite this, we’re going to give it a whirl and give some of the more accepted and traditional theories and ideas.With that rather odd admittance of our lesson’s shortcomings, we’ll start by trying our best to define truth. Many philosophers define truth as what is empirical and logical. It can be studied, and it can be what scientist would deem proven. When speaking of this concept of truth, there are a few things philosophers give as guidelines for truth.

Guidelines for Truth

First, truth must adhere to the correspondence theory. Stated as simply as I can think to, the correspondence theory asserts that truth must be congruent with accepted fact. Second, truth must uphold the principle of non-contradiction. Again trying to keep things simple, this asserts that what is true cannot contradict what is already known. To try to bring all this abstract stuff down a bit, let’s use an example.

Without overthinking it, let’s all agree that if I go out in the rain unprotected, I will get wet. This is something we’d say is true. We can prove it. If I go outside in a rainstorm, I’ll come in drenched. Since I’ve done this before, it passes the correspondence theory test. In other words, it jives with what we already know.It also adheres to the principle of non-contradiction.

Never once have I gone out unprotected in the rain and stayed dry. Therefore, our statement is true. It can be studied and it can be empirically proven.

It does not contradict our experience or our senses.

Real

Differing from the concept of true, many philosophers would assert that something is real if it has actual existence and substance. Unlike truth, something that is real does not have to be proven.

It just is because it is. For instance, as I work on this lesson, I am sitting on a real chair at a real table. I can see them both and I can touch them both. They are real.Something that is real is not context-dependent. In other words, I could take my chair and ship it off to my friend in China, and it would still be a chair. I could take my table and send it up with an astronaut, and it would still be a table.

Both of these objects exist independent of their surroundings.According to many philosophers, the same cannot be said of truth. Because truth is based on empirical evidence – it’s derived from reality instead of being reality, if that makes sense – it can cease to be truth. This is rather heady stuff, which has kept lots of philosophers spinning, so we’ll just touch on it lightly.For instance, if I lived back a thousand years, I would believe the earth was flat and that the sun rotated around the earth.

In fact, people thought the latter was so true they were willing to kill people over it. Somehow and some way, the context of their lives made it true to them the earth was at the center of all.However, in our modern lives of satellites, space missions, and amazing telescopes, this idea has been completely rebuffed.

In other words, it definitely doesn’t fit the context of today’s science. Yes, they thought a flat world was real, but it wasn’t!With this mention of real, we come to a bit of an impasse. Here’s the problem.

What if people think something is real just because it corresponds to some truth? Using our ancient relatives, they thought the earth was a real flat object because they believed the idea that the earth was flat!Bringing it closer to home, what about global warming? Many, many people think it is real. Based on this belief, in its reality, they argue it’s true that we humans have helped to cause it. However, there are other scientists who believe it’s not real. Therefore, the claim that we humans have part in it would be untrue. Like I said, this lesson is subjectivity at its best!

Lesson Summary

The concept of true versus real is a subjective one. Truth is often defined as what is empirical and logical. Truth must adhere to the correspondence theory.

This asserts that truth must be congruent with accepted fact. It also must uphold the principle of non-contradiction. This argues that what is true cannot contradict what is already known.The term reality or real denotes actual existence and substance. Something that is real does not have to be proven.

It also does not depend on circumstance. Real is just real. Adding to this distinction, if something is real, it is not tied to context.

Learning Outcomes

Following this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Describe the concept of truth
  • Recall the components of the correspondence theory
  • Explain what philosophers consider real and its relationship to context

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