“True Words” by Nicholas Wolterstorff – what is truth?

This post discusses the meaning of truth as defined by Nicholas Wolterstorff in his article “True Words.”

How does Wolterstorff define truth? interact with his biblical support.

    • Wolterstorff suggests that the “root notion of truth is that of something measuring up – that is, measuring up in being or excellence.
    • In the John 5:31 verse where Jesus says, “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true.” This is a response by Christ that the standard was the law which required two or three witnesses. So His testimony alone doesn’t meet or measure up to the standard of the law. This is also why He goes on to say, in this context, that another testifies about Him which makes it true in the very next verse.  “There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true.”

How do you evaluate his definition of truth?

    • While each case will be different and the standard will be dependent on the context, Wolterstorff lays out a simple yet sophisticated way to determine what truth is. He also does a good job of distinguishing between commands and assertions. His definition provides an excellent litmus test to determining if these assertions are “true” by meeting a certain criteria that pertains to the context. Wolterstorff does well in providing an explanation to what a “standard sense” is by saying that the “true assertion” must fit or “correspond to the facts.”

What are the most significant strengths?

    • The most significant strength of his definition is that it simply uses a certain criteria, or standard, to measure truth against. It says that if this assertion, with all of the facts, meets this standard, then it is accurate, correct and thus truth. If it doesn’t, then it is not true. Or if the proposition states that something is not true, then it is not true.

Are there any significant weaknesses?

    • While he provides one of the best definitions of truth, it does have some weaknesses. First, there will be different standards for different assertions. Each case will be different and dependent upon the context. It will be limited to those propositions. Secondly, Wolterstorff states that the listener assumes the way of measuring up to the standard is the way the speaker has in mind of measuring it. This leads to the human factor. This means that because we view truth through our limited perspective of humanity. That if we “assume” incorrectly, we may not have an accurate view of truth.

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