What is truth? - Cambridge Resources for the IB Diploma

Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma
Chapter 14: Conclusion – Truth and wisdom (p. 439)
What is truth?
Discussion: Summary table of theories, p. 447
Correspondence theory
Coherence theory
Pragmatic theory
Can we know the truth? (p. 447)
Our picture of the world is always an interpretation.
We can never be sure that our interpretation is true.
Limitations of our knowledge tools (p. 448)
Perception: if our senses had evolved differently, our perception of the world would be
Language: there will always be aspects of reality that words cannot describe adequately.
Emotion: just because you believe something passionately does not guarantee it is true.
Reason: there may be things that we are not intelligent enough to understand.
Discussion: Activity 14.7, p. 448
Are we getting closer to the truth? (p. 448)
Perhaps – you might insist that knowledge progresses over time and that we are at least
getting closer to the truth.
But the success of the quest for knowledge in the past is no guarantee that it will continue to
be successful in the future.
How can we be sure that the laws of nature will continue to work in the future?
Perhaps the ‘great truths’ we have discovered will turn out to be nothing more than
Beyond dogmatism and relativism (p. 449)
Dogmatism = stating your opinions in a strong way and not accepting the views of others.
Maybe the world could be a better place if people held their views with a little humility.
Discussion: Activity 14.8, p. 449
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Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma
The lure of relativism (p. 450)
Relativism = there is no absolute truth. There is just individual truth (my truth and your truth).
Just because you are not certain of the truth does not mean it does not exist.
If you accept everyone’s truth, there are no grounds for evaluating whether something is true
or not and everything is reduced to personal preferences.
The statement ‘There is no truth,’ refutes itself as soon as you ask if it is true.
Degrees of truth (p. 451)
Truth may be seen as an unattainable ideal which we can be nearer to or further away from.
Discussion: Activity 14.9, p. 451
The cubist theory of truth (p. 452)
The more perspectives you have on something, the nearer you are to the truth about it.
Just because truth varies with perspective does not mean there is no truth at all.
Different views can enrich our understanding of the truth.
This avoids:
the error of dogmatism → mistaking a half-truth for the truth
the error of relativism → thinking that since truth varies with perspective there is no truth at
What price truth? (p. 452)
Is truth a good thing?
We have so far assumed that truth is a good thing (for example, Socrates linked knowledge to
happiness and virtue). However, does the cost of seeking knowledge sometimes outweigh the
Discussion: Activity 14.10, p. 452
Do we naturally seek the truth? (p. 453)
Children are naturally curious, but they are also naturally willing to believe what they are
People seem to have defence mechanisms to protect them from unwelcome truth, such as:
selective attention: seeing what they want to see
rationalisation: finding bad reasons to justify prejudices
communal reinforcement: only mixing with people who share the same views.
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Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma
There is no reason to believe that the truth will make us happy. However, the longer
we avoid the truth, the bigger the nasty surprises may be later.
Discussion: Activity 14.11, p. 454
Ought we to seek the truth? (pp. 454–5)
Time and money spent searching for truth could be better spent, e.g. when people are dying of
thirst and starvation.
New technologies may have huge potential benefits, but also present huge dangers if used
Discussion: Activity 14.12, p. 456
Wisdom (p. 456)
Five key features of wisdom (recognised by Richard van de Lagemaat):
Good judgement (p. 457)
This comes with experience plus reflection on experience.
Breadth of vision (p. 457)
Narrow specialisation of knowledge may not result in a sense of the whole. TOK puts
emphasis on comparing and contrasting claims in different areas of knowledge.
Self-knowledge (p. 458)
This makes us question beliefs and avoid prejudice.
Responsibility (p. 459)
Almost any statement we accept requires that we are willing to trust others. When we pass on
knowledge we should therefore exercise responsibility to:
base knowledge claims on evidence
be consistent
be open to criticism.
Intellectual humility (p. 459)
Absolute knowledge is beyond the intellectual and perceptual ability of humans. Socrates and
Newton recognised their own relative ignorance (learned ignorance – achieved after a
lifetime of thought).
Discussion: ‘Trying to make sense of the world is not to reach a destination but to travel with a
different point of view.’
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See also:
Linking questions: p. 462
Reading resources:
(Teachers may wish to set their own assignments on these.)
p. 463
p. 465
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