In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Truth

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • The Semantic Conception
  • Contemporary Substantive Theories
  • Deflationism and Minimalism
  • Truth and Proof
  • Identity
  • Paradoxes
  • Facts, Ontology, and Truth making

Philosophy Truth
Pascal Engel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0120


The problem of the nature of truth is Janus-faced. On the one hand, it seems to be so metaphysically profound that it is forever hidden to us and not worth caring about, as Pontius Pilate’s jesting question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), implied. On the other hand, truth seems to be, as René Descartes said, “so transcendentally clear that it is impossible to ignore” and thus not really necessary to investigate philosophically. What can be simpler, as Aristotle said, than “to say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true”? At the same time what can be more complex than spelling out why there is this mysterious relation of truth between words and things? The very attempt to say what this property of truth is seems to take us to the highest reaches of metaphysical thought and to raise almost all of the issues of philosophy: those of the nature of knowledge, of the mind’s dependence on or independence of reality, and of language and its relation to the world. Indeed, philosophers have elaborated a number of complex theories of truth, from the classical correspondence theory to the coherence and pragmatist theories. But even a “simple” or, in modern terms, “deflationary” or “minimalist,” theory of truth is not so simple to spell out.

General Overviews

A beginner to the subject can still benefit from the remarkably clear remarks on truth in Russell 1912. A comprehensive overview of the late 20th-century theories is in Kirkham 1992. Wright 1999 is an excellent map that sketches also the author’s own “minimalist” conception. The best overall treatment is Künne 2003.

  • Kirkham, Richard. Theories of Truth. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992.

    Although it does not deal with debates later than 1990, this introduction will still be beneficial to the general reader, in particular for its clear and compressed treatment of Alfred Tarski’s semantic theory and of its implications.

  • Künne, Wolfgang. Conceptions of Truth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1093/0199241317.001.0001

    This is the most systematic work on the philosophy of truth. It combines remarkable and unfailing historical scholarship, from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz to early analytic philosophy, with great care in discussion of the contemporary arguments. The author defends a “modest” conception that has many affinities with deflationism but flies away from the pluralistic tendencies present in it.

  • Russell, Bertrand. Problems of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1912.

    The extraordinary thing about Russell’s treatment of truth is that a century later it is still, despite its simplifications and time-bound features, the best introduction to the subject. Russell defends a correspondence theory of truth combined with an account of judgment that has influenced Ludwig Wittgenstein and analytic philosophy ever since.

  • Wright, Crispin. “Truth: A Traditional Debate Reviewed.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 24 (1999): 31–74.

    A remarkable survey article that gives a useful map of the commitments of theories of truth and sketches the authors’ own “minimalist” views, developed further in Wright 1992 (see Deflationism and Minimalism). Reprinted in Simon Blackburn and Keith Simmons, eds., Truth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 233–238.

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