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What is truth?


"George W. Bush is president of the United States of America."

This is a statement of truth, but is it not a relative truth? That is, we can believe that in 10 years, for instance, he will not be the President of the United States of America. So now, on this day that I am writing these words this statement is expressing a truth. Or is it?

I wonder if there are other men named George W. Bush. If so, is the above statement true? Would it not make more sense, and would it express ‘real’ truth, if the statement above were worded as such:

"There is a man named George W. Bush who is as of Saturday, August 23, 2003 A.D., the President of the United States of America."

By qualifying that there is a man whose name is George W. Bush, we are stating a truth, but of course we aren’t necessarily stating which George W. Bush. Also by giving the current date in history, A. D., we are establishing another truth. Not only about the man who is president, but also the fact that he is president of what this large area of land in which I and he both inhabit is called the United States of America, which provides no information, however, about how many states there are, but that there are at least two.

The date, however, only expresses truth about this fact (proposition) that a man is the president of some place called the United States of America. What if far in the future the calendar changes and our calendar becomes indecipherable. At least in as much as how it relates in time to the calendar of the far future. Then what can be said is that their was a ‘person,’ perhaps, named George W. Bush who ‘was’ the President (whatever that means) of something called the United States of America. Is then the statement true? What if in the far future the United States of America was, to those ‘people’, nothing more than a myth like Atlantis. To many, then, who don’t believe in the United States of America, any statement or proposition concerning it would be false, with the exception of stating that it is false to make any proposition about the United States of America.

Yet in fact it will have existed in the future’s past, as it now exists. Yet to name a body of land doesn’t necessarily make it so. Before North America was discovered by the Europeans, the land probably only had names as it had been given by the natives who lived in it. My ancestors came along, settled here, named things, created states, united them even through a civil war, etc.

Of course you might say that the roads, which were creations, and which were given names, are fundamental truths about the road. Except that counties, cities, etc., can choose to rename roads and renumber the houses that reside in front of the roads. What truths can we speak about regarding roads and dwellings? We can speak about their material and their function. But, if truths are eternal, then nothing really can be true, for everything will eventually decay as matter does, perhaps a hundred billion years hence, and then what was true can no longer be true.

Still, the a priori truths about which philosophers speak, for example 1 + 1 = 2 or given three trees in a row of differing heights you know by looking and not even having to give language to, that one tree is shorter than another tree which is shorter than the third (e.g. 1 < 2 < 3).

I am wondering if one day along time from now there are no longer sentient beings in the universe, e.g. those that care that 1 + 1 = 2, will 1 + 1 = 2 still hold true? Could it be said, and probably not, that the only time any proposition can ever be true is if there is someone, some sentient being, who believes that it is true? And is belief the only way we can assert truth or can it be known absolutely, meaning to believe or not believe in the truth of some proposition is senseless since it is true.


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