Q: Are there universal truths?

Physicist: That something exists, that it is more complex than trivially simple, and it includes me (cogito ergo sum, and all that).

It doesn’t seem like you can say much more.  At least, this brain-in-a-box can’t.


Philosopher: Depends on what you mean by ‘universal’.

One option:  not subject-relative.  I.e., not like “seaweed stir-fry is tasty” which seems true to me but not to my undergraduates.  Then we have a whole host of universal truths.  2+2=4, polar bears eat fish, there was an earthquake in Los Angeles in September of 2011, and (I think) torturing puppies for fun is immoral.

Another option:  necessarily true.  Then we just have the truths that couldn’t be otherwise.  Math still counts, but maybe Physics truths don’t.  Truths of Logic definitely count.  So do truths like: nothing can be red all over and green all over.

Finally, one might mean:  fundamental truths.  Presumably these would include mathematical, physical, and metaphysical laws.  (E.g., for a metaphysical law:  for any x, y, and z, if x is part of y, and y is part of z, then x is part of z.)

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5 Responses to Q: Are there universal truths?

  1. cerebellumBob says:

    I have actually been giving this allot of thought lately. I have come to the conclusion that each and every sentience resides in a unique subjective reality, every one of which is its own creation and its own residence. It is formed of notions, beliefs, emotions, preconceptions, and the various other building blocks of cognition.

    Each of these subjective realities is *probably* the result of a system (the brain) of particles existing in objective reality (which probably exists), wherein there exist a certain number of absolute truths, and each subjective reality attempts to the best of its ability to reflect these various true aspects of objective reality. But each is still essentially separate from this objective plane, and inaccurate in its representation .

    I believe Objective reality contains truths, and I believe subjective truths exist, but I do not believe subjective knowledge of objective reality can exist. Only probabilistic statements about it, which can always be shown to have non zero likelihood of falsehood.

    In other words, I do not believe that any particular subjective reality can conclusively prove its truths to represent objective truths with 100% fidelity. This is working on the idea of knowledge as being justified true belief. For the truth to be proven, the belief must be shown true by justifications. To be shown absolutely true, all justifications must be justified.

    This can work in subjective reality, where certain truths can rest upon axioms, but not objective reality, where for any belief to be shown absolutely true all justifications must form a self verifying network, without any reliance on intuitive givens.

    For example, 2 + 2 = 4 can be a subjective truth, but in order for it to apply in any meaningful way to objective reality it must be proven absolutely that objective reality contains differing quantities or values (generally an intuitive given). Does it? Probably, but would a photon think so? To a photon the universe is a singularity, talking about 1 + 1 = 2 would make no sense to the photon, to which only 1 exists. Who is right? If the answer is both, it is not a universal truth as both descriptions of the universe are mutually exclusive, and 2 + 2 = 4 is not necessarily true.

    Ignoring illusions, and the incredibility of witnesses, it still must be taken into account that any otherwise fully justified belief would still be a product of thought, created by means of some logical deduction within a cogitator, To show that the said line of reasoning was solid would require use of the very same cognition that constructed the argument in the first place. If the reasoning were flawed, the one who reasons may be unable to see the flaw in reasoning, and any attempt to show no flaw existed could be corrupted by the very same error that lead to incorrect conclusion in the first place.

    For this reason I believe no statement, even one which would otherwise be a fully justified belief (relating to objective reality), can be proven to be so, and applies even to the statement “I exist”.

    For me to claim the very existence of a doubt proves the existence of a doubter is an unjustified axiom, and any attempt to justify it requires logic which may be flawed. Were it flawed I may not realize how or in what way it was flawed (or even be incapable of doing so). Basically, I may not just be wrong, but not know I am wrong in such a way as to be doomed to never know. By what means could I prove that was not the case, without some intuitive, unjustified given?

    Within my own subjective reality however, there are various truths represented by knowledge within my mind. Such as 1 + 1 = 2. But does this mean anything to true existence, outside the realm of thoughts? who knows, probably. But I dont think its provable either way.

  2. john says:

    There are but maybe we don’t know or understand them fully yet. That does not preclude their existence.
    Using an example of one that we do know and accept, I think it would be hard to suggest that the principle of causality is not an absolute, even if our understanding is not complete. Experimental and observational evidence is normally the human test of truth and it is certainly ‘true’ by these standards. It is certainly a robust ‘truth’ by those standards and also by philosophical examination. It may even satisfy the phrase ‘universal’ in that it applies as a fundamental component of the fabric of our universe to the extent that it could be considered implicit in the word itself.

  3. Getahun Kitil Daksa says:

    I need Exposure for thesis write up.

  4. Freya says:

    Is it absolutely true that absolute truth does not exist?

  5. Joseph Lytle says:

    The answer depends on a careful definition of truth. I’ve often asked questions about what truth is. Now I have finally arrived at a paradigm that seems to be most useful. I have two separate concepts of truth.

    Let me set up my explanation of these concepts with a few axioms. First, that the universe exists and the universe always has a particular arrangement. Secondly, that the particular arrangement of the universe is always changing. Thirdly, that the infinite detail of the universe cannot be fully measured. If only, because the act of measuring tends to change what is being measured. This is especially apparent when measuring things that are very small, as described in the uncertainty principle.

    My first concept of truth has to do with the way things actually are. Literal truth. That is, the particular arrangement of the universe and the way that this arrangement is changing. This type of truth can only be approximated, and is limited by our ability to measure.

    Because the particular arrangement of the universe and the way that it changes is so complex we are limited to the observation of high level patterns in nature. These high-level patterns are the concepts that we learn. Spend some time gathering these concepts and learn how they relate to each other and we end up with a paradigm. Once we have a paradigm we can manipulate the concepts of that paradigm in a logical way to say, “if this, then that.” If the logical process of an argument is sound, then we say that the conclusion is true, given that we accept the particular concepts or axioms upon which the argument was built. This is my second type of truth and it is purely of a logical nature. All that is considered here is whether the logical process was valid. This second type of truth isn’t dependent on the first type of truth at all.

    For example, a paradigm like Einstein’s relativity has lead us to predict the presence of black holes and suggest a few things about them. These results are logical truths because they are the product of sound reasoning. Are they literal truths also? Like I said earlier, literal truths do exist absolutely, but can only be approximated by us. If amazingly we were to find out that there is no such thing as an event horizon, then was our previous argument still true? Logically, based on known concepts at the time, yes.

    Of course, the goal is to construct paradigms such that our logical truths become a good approximation of literal truths. When this is the case we are in good shape.

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