Why is ethical truth a philosophical problem

What is truth

Dr. Philipp Blum from the University of Geneva answers the following question:

What is truth (Article online)

The question of what the truth is has always preoccupied people - and thus also philosophers -. Most will probably agree with Aristotle that something that says of the world as such and such is true if the world is really such and such. But it is surprisingly difficult to say exactly in what and between what this correspondence consists.

Let's say I'm looking for my dangerous dog. I look for him everywhere, and when I turn the corner, I really see him in front of me, dangerously baring his teeth. I automatically think: "Oh, there is my dog." I utter the sentence to my companion. Is it my conviction, my sentence, my mental state, my utterance, which is primarily true? Or is something more abstract true, the content, the impersonal content of the sentence that someone else could also think (but not in the form of “There is my dog”)? Can I think the same thing if I can't point to the dog's location, remember the same thing tomorrow (maybe with “My dog ​​was in that place yesterday”)? Could I express the same thing with a picture or a blast of the trumpet?

Correspondence and quotation marks

Even if we leave aside the question of the bearers of truth, many questions remain open: What is the property of correspondence, what is it based on, how does it come about? Other theories have been suggested that truth is coherent or consensus: a statement is true if it has no internal contradictions or if reasonable and well-informed experts agree that it is true. But is the lack of contradiction or the opinion of the experts really the reason why my dog ​​is there and why the sentence is therefore true? At least Aristotle was of the opinion that this had more to do with the dog: My sentence is true because this is my dog ​​- may the experts say what they want. The dog is the reason and in a sense the explanation that the sentence is true.

This correspondence is problematic because it connects two very different things: the world on the one hand and a representation, a sentence or an image on the other. When it comes to sentences, the truth swallows the quotation marks: To say that "There is my dog" is true is the same as saying that there is my dog. I do not say more or less with the attribution of truth than with the sentence itself. Can we therefore do without truth? Not quite, because sometimes the correspondence is indirect: I can say of the Pope that everything he says is true without knowing what he is saying, has said or will say; I can say of a sentence that it is true even if I do not understand it.

The liar's paradox

In the letter of Titus, a paradox is ascribed to the Cretan Epimenides, which contributed decisively to the development of modern mathematics and the computer: a liar says he is lying. Is he lying? He describes the world correctly, so he does not lie, but is right - he is right to say he lies - so he lies. But if he lies, the world is as he describes it, so he is right and does not lie. If he's lying, he's not lying; if he doesn't lie, then he is lying - we have a contradiction and a problem. At least for mathematics, this problem was solved by the Polish logician Alfred Tarski by banning sentences like “This sentence is wrong” from the formal language. However, the sentence can be formed in our own language, and it is still not clear how we should deal with it. Because I can very easily claim and ask whether this is true: The last sentence of this section is wrong.

Truth is perhaps just a manifestation of a more general phenomenon, correctness. We say that a perception is truthful, a feeling is appropriate, or a remark is appropriate. If I am not subject to illusions, I see the dog as it is; if it is really dangerous, my fear is appropriate, and my remark is appropriate when someone asks about the owner. Can we therefore understand truth as correctness, as a value that our utterances are aimed at, as an inner norm that they must meet? Perhaps this is an interesting distinction between stupidity and folly ("bêtise", "folly"): the fool is not like the stupid of low intelligence, but someone who fouts the truth of his statements, who does not respect that statements always aim at truth. But even if the truth is the goal and the guideline of our questioning, we seldom reach it and are often wrong.

Many have therefore asked themselves whether truth is something relative: Can I really say more than a sentence is true for me? However, this relativism is based on a mix-up: Even those who claim the truth can be instructed, tolerate other opinions and not be sure of themselves. Truth and infallibility are two very different things, and I'm not infallible even when I'm right. In contrast, real tolerance presupposes the absoluteness of the truth: only when we both really contradict each other, that is, both claim the truth, although only one can be right, is the acceptance of the other opinion an admission that we have not leased the truth.


Recently, attempts have been made to understand the correspondence relation between the sentence and the dog as making true: the dog makes the sentence true that it exists. But the dog alone does not realize that it is dangerous. Does his dangerousness have to be part of the truth maker, or is it the qualities of his character and teeth that make him dangerous? In addition to the dog and its characteristics, do we also need facts as truth makers? But what makes it true that all dogs are animals or that there are no unicorns? Do we have to accept negative and general facts as truth makers, things that mysteriously exclude the existence of animal dogs or unicorns? But even the simplest case raises questions: In what way does the dog explain the truth of the sentence? There is still no general theory of making things true, only initial approaches. We still don't fully understand how the dog makes the sentence come true.