Jun 15 2008

Four Types of ‘Truth’

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If a truth is the perception that “it is so,” there are different types and perhaps levels of truth.

1. personal truth
A personal truth is what is true for an individual. For example, one person may believe that chocolate ice-cream is the best. Nothing said could alter his/her perception that “it is so.” He or she may consider your own favorite, strawberry to be inedible.

Personal truths reflect physiological attributes, psychological tendencies and the learning and experiences of an individual.

2. social truth
A social truth is what a distinct group perceives to “be so.” Social truths reflect group history, customs, and values. For example, to group “A” it may be true that the neighboring group, group “B,” is the enemy and thus a threat. But group “C” might not find this to be so. Or group “A” may believe that Saturday is the holy day, while group “B” claims it is Sunday.

3. human truth
A human truth reflects and pertains to the universal dispositions and abilities of our species, Homo sapiens. To one human being there is nothing more beautiful than another human being of the opposite sex (at least for heterosexuals). But to say we are the most beautiful of creatures would reflect species-centric thought.

Many things that we consider to be inherently true probably reflect distinctive features of human psychology. For instance, because human beings are primates that readily establish and acknowledge dominance hierarchies, the human individual may be predisposed to feeling that there is or could be some entity “greater than me,” whether or not that happens to be true.

4. universal truth
A universal truth is one that all sufficiently intelligent and educated observers, from this planet or any other (should they exist), would conclude to “be so.” For instance, the proportion of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is 3.141592 ( . . . ). This is a universal truth. Any capable, unbiased individual could verify that truth. Similarly, that energy is equivalent to rest mass times the speed of light squared, is also a universal truth.

A universal truth is the only type of truth that is not relative to the person or group making the claim. Science, by and large, provides us with universal truths. Or it at least aspires to.

Religion, no doubt, reflects social truths, and perhaps, in some regards, human truths as well. While one religion maintains that person X was the real messiah, another religion, reflecting its own values, customs, and history, says, “it is not so.” All groups, however, may feel that death cannot be the complete end to life. How can something so valued be lost? Humans may be naturally inclined to envision something more, irregardless of evidence.

What believers in a religion frequently fail to do is to place possible human truths and their own social truths into a wider perspective.

Andrew Bernardin/2005 (revised 2008)


32 Comments to “Four Types of ‘Truth’”

  1. david bowmanon 31 Jul 2008 at 1:34 am

    Wow, that’s great thinking. Very insightful. You can think of it as a diagram with four concentric circles, with personal truth at the center and universal truth on the outside. Interesting…

  2. Bradon 30 Sep 2008 at 7:46 am

    I would classify (1), (2), and (3) under the heading of “subjective.” Your (4) would fall under “objective.”

    But under objective truths I would further differentiate between analytic and synthetic truths. (Truths of pure reason versus truth of objective reality.)

  3. Andrewon 03 Oct 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Interesting thoughts.
    Couldn’t a human truth be “objective” in that any person or intelligent life-form measuring/observing some human phenomenon could come to the same conclusion (i.e., cultural universals no doubt reflect “human nature” or innate psychological properties/dispositions)?
    Analytic and synthetic truths . . . . I’ve got to look into that. You’ve got me thinking. (Thanks for that.)
    Of course the term “truth” itself can be problematic. At least for me it can.

  4. asdfon 10 Oct 2008 at 6:36 pm

    I think “universal truth” needs to be fine grained some more.

    You need to distinguish between mathematics, the laws of physics for our universe, and the laws of physics for other universes.

    And axioms in mathematics/logic aren’t universal to other possible axiomatizations of mathematics/logic either. Take the Banach-Tarski paradox for example. Some people philosophically consider non-constructive mathematics to be nonsense and others don’t see what the big deal is.

  5. Keyrlison 27 Nov 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Love this website. Great exercises in thought. I look at your hierarchy of truths, and have a couple of points, though in honesty, I can’t argue the validity of any of them because of #1. It allows you to hold onto your argument as a fact in spite of all evidence to the contrary. The idea of “personal truths” is more of a philosophical concept than a scientific one, and allows for opinions to have the same value as facts, which (from a purely scientific point of view) is absolute folly. “Chocolate is the best flavor” may be a truth to a certain person, or even a group of people. But the definition of a scientific fact is something that can be observed and confirmed by repetition, and so is held to be true, while no truth is final.
    All this points to these “truths”:
    1. Every truth is relative to the context of the situation in which it is stated.
    2. Every truth can be made false by altering the situation.
    3. Any statement can be made true in the proper situation.

    This is somewhat like the uncertainty principal in that there is no way to completely define and measure every possible situation in which a truth may find itself. Even on as grand a scale as the universe, if we could know every possible permutation of a cause/effect event, we can not know if there is a possibility that the same cause would not have a different effect in a Universe unlike our own, or in a different state of existence.

    But just to clarify my “personal truth”, I believe 1-3 are opinions based on normal human thought processes and interactions, while #4 is the only one that addresses truth on a scientific basis, but requires an addendum that “there are other worlds than these.”
    Thanks for the brain workout this morning. I’ll be back.

  6. Andrewon 29 Nov 2008 at 9:43 am

    Keyrlis -
    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Now my neuronal gears are spinning. I think I’ll print your response and put it on my bedside table. I seem to do my best thinking just prior to sleep. Perhaps because my daytime obligations are done, the light is low, and my brain is on the verge of wandering . . . .

  7. Williamon 04 May 2009 at 11:10 am

    What is relative truth and objective truth in great detail?

  8. Suzanaon 02 Nov 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Personal truth seems very much like an opinion.

  9. Andrewon 15 Jun 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Actually…this entire theory of “4 truths” could simply be placed under “personal” truth for Andrew Bernardin and may only apply to him and him alone. The 4 truths speculation does not cite any evidences or support that the 4 truths should/must be accepted as “universal”, which, they are not. Dr. Kenneth Hochstetter has written an article that will help gain an understanding of what “truth” is in its simplist form. Hochstetter is a philosopher, but he attempts to break it down into the smallest representation possible.
    I’ve posted this on my website but I’m not sure if links are permissable in these posts or not, here it is:


    It might be worth a read to gain a little “wider perspective” as Andrew put it in this article.


  10. Carl Bankeson 12 Oct 2010 at 12:14 am

    I read the suggested essay on truth you posted and I agree with it for the most part.

    The above presentation however in my view broadens the definition of truth to a point that makes it unnecessarily confusing.

    The example given for Personal Truth is not a truth but a preference or opinion.

    Also Social Truth as stated falls into the area of preference, opinion or tradition not truth in the accurate sense of the word.

    Human Truth cannot be a “type” of truth per-se. There are truths about humans but not as a contrast with other types of real truth.

    Universal Truth comes closer to what truth really is because of the basis (objectivity) upon which it is percieved.

    I would propose that there is only one concept that applies to all truths, that is that all ‘real’ truth is absolute or unchanging. If something cannot be shown to be absolutely true it is not true at all. This concept necessarily narrows the definition of truth but makes it more accurate and dependable.

    Consider temporal and spacial truths. Today for example is 10/11/2010 in our way of reckoning dates and it will always be so, historically in our context and in whatever way anyone relates to our history. Regarding spacial truths I like Dr. Hochstetter’s example of the truth about Utah being where it is. For this specific time and place it is where it is and nothing will change that even though it could be changed in the future.

    One could think of a truth as a fact that is unchangeable and for any set of equal circumstances the outcome will always be the same. Some individuals argue that there are no absolute or HARD truths but take for example a given set of circumstances and conditions in which a person drops a ball from a high location into the surrounding space, the ball will always fall to the earth below. That is not to say that there couldn’t be other settings in which that wouldn’t happen but that doesn’t negate the first example.

    The fact that we are living on this planet at the moment will always be true regardless of what happens in the future even if this planet were to disappear as a celestial entity. That nugget of truth will never change even for those who philosophize that theoretically there is no true reality.

    There are also ASSUMED or SOFT truths which encompases much of what is referred to as truth (especially by politicians). These ‘truths’ are based on an abundance of overwhelming evidence and are taken as dependably true until shown objectively to be false, therefore an assumed truth could be an absolute truth or it may be eventually shown by new information to be untrue.

    Could it be that we still have a lot to learn about the nature of truth?

  11. mikellitoon 18 Feb 2011 at 1:11 pm


  12. Andrew Bernardinon 23 Feb 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Care to elaborate, Mike?

  13. Ramkumaron 12 Sep 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Truth always is permanent and not transient. Whereas perceptions are limited by knowledge and time and hence are transient. I regard that perception is not truth rather reality is. Truth can only be understood but cannot be changed whereas perceptions easily get changed.

  14. lazyzombieon 16 Sep 2011 at 2:28 am

    Interesting summaries, and if I may, here are a couple questions:

    1. I notice there is an apparent lack of quotations and references, can I assume that all these are your own original interpretations? Or are they merely summations of commonly accepted theories, and you omitted quotations for simplicity’s sake?

    2. Assuming that those definitions are only summations, I tried to equate them with major theories, here is what i came up:

    social truth = a combination of constructionist theory and consensus theory;

    human truth = Correspondence theory

    I can’t quite pinpoint the bases for personal and universal truth, but I think it is obvious that they really don’t need one.

    Again, thanks for the concise summaries, I think they would really be a help when trying to explain philosophies in simple terms.

  15. lazyzombieon 16 Sep 2011 at 8:42 am

    Actually, the second paragraph above was meant to be a question, I think I forgot to type a sentence there. I meant to ask if my assumptions about the theories were correct or not.

    Sorry for the confusion.

  16. Andrew Bernardinon 16 Sep 2011 at 10:38 am

    Lazy – The content consists of my own arm-chair philosophizing…influenced by countless others, I’m sure, but not directly so. And thus the lack of citations.
    Thanks for the info about the different theories involved. At some point in the future I will be checking them out. For the topic is important and I intend to revisit it.

  17. Graham pon 22 Jan 2012 at 2:32 am

    A very interesting discussion.

    I would like to pose a question around Universal truth in relation to the existence or not of God. From what you have written Andrew I think that the belief in God could fit into any of the first three truths.

    Any individual can have a personal belief in God.

    Any society can have a collective belief in God eg Christian Vs Muslim

    At least 4 Billion people believe in a God of some sort and the other 3 Billion have a belief that there is no God. I think that a belief in a God of some sort is a human belief or need.

    But you argue that a Universal truth must be replicable. If you accept that one of the following statements:

    1 God exists
    2 God doesn’t exist
    must be true by virtue that both cannot be true and that there is no other alternate premise to srgue, either God does exist or God doesn’t exist then one of these statements must be true, and, it must be true universally.

    So one of these statements must be a unversal truth even though it doesn’t fit your difinition of a universal truth. I have more to add, including a possible solution to this quandry but, I would like yours or someone elses feedbsck on this first.

  18. Andrew Bernardinon 23 Jan 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Graham – I’m not sure belief in a god, however defined (or not), fits into the “personal” truth category. Most notions of gods are cultural phenomena, although individuals tend to claim them as their own.
    Second, I believe a universal truth must be replicable. Not via logic. That game is too easy to abuse. For example, if “God” is an idea that human minds hold, then both 1 and 2 can be true for some random sample of people. Etc.

  19. Graham pon 23 Jan 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Andrew -your statement “I believe a universal truth must be replicable. Not via logic.” seems very limiting; it seems to be more a definition of Science in the ‘Creationism is a Science’ argument.

    In your blog you use E= MC2 as an example of a 100 year old Universal truth but recently that truth is being challenged in the laboratory see ‘www.inquisitr.com/…/scientists-say-emc2-might-be-wrong-say-neutri…,’ (there are a number of entries in Google.) I would suggest that history has shown that eventually all scientific truths are eventually proved to be wrong.

    Science is the attempt to find the truth. Scientists never claim that they have found the truth, just that ‘it is the truth until it is disproved’. If universal truth is a reflection of scientific knowledge then it also must only be Universally true until proved otherwise.

  20. Andrew Bernardinon 24 Jan 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Graham – “All scientific truths are eventually proved to be wrong.” Ah, first, “proves” is the wrong word. What science does is use data to confirm and disconfirm hypotheses and theories. Proof belongs in the domain of mathematics. Second, I wonder when the truth of water being composed of hydrogen and oxygen will be proved wrong. Or the truth that hemoglobin transports oxygen in blood. Or that … (insert millions of examples here from the fields of chemistry, physics, biology, astronomy, geology, etc). Sure theories can be overturned and will be. But what happens a large percentage of time is that at the advancing fringe of science (not the core of it), we have revisions to theories and additions to theories as we encounter anomalies. So we find that while the Earth does orbit the sun, it doesn’t do so in a perfect circle, as first thought. As for the E=MC2 bit, ah, I would hold your horses on that one for awhile. Even if it does turn out to be correct, what it will do is not “prove” that Einstein’s equation is wrong, but that it has its limits as to where it can be applied.

  21. Graham pon 31 Jan 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Andrew, I think that the only ‘truth’ that we know for certainty to be true is that which we experience – which fits into your ‘Belief 1’ definition. All other truths, I surmise, must be considered hearsay. You may for example believe, as I do, that H2O represents a molecule of water, and you may believe that that is a universal truth. But at the end of the day we believe it is truth because we believe in science. Even though we might have a reason for believing it is true – for example, “science has never lied to me yet” it is none the less just a belief.

    It may be that you accept the ‘truth of science’ and that you conclude that “all sufficiently intelligent and educated observers …. would conclude (it) to be so” But I disagree with you on that.

    I suggest that all ‘truth’ is true only within the boundaries of people’s reality. Would you agree that Ptolemy fits your definition of an intelligent educated man? Would you agree that Aristotle was an intelligent man? If you had been writing this article then, you would have been quoting their truths as examples of universal truths.

  22. Andrewon 06 Feb 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Graham -
    Sorry it took so long to respond. I think this discussion has gotten a bit side-tracked by the conflating of “universal truth” with “absolute truth.” In my original piece I said nothing about a universal truth being valid for all time. (I referred to a truth as the perception or conclusion “it is so.”) So, in the case of Ptolemy, I think his truth could still be considered universal if we take into consideration his methods and variables. Meaning any other person so equipped with the methods and variables would come to the same conclusion. As for social and psychological truths, the same would not be true. Given the same methods of evaluation and the same facts, people will disagree on, say, whether or not Israel has a right to “its homeland.” Does that make sense? Also, as you have said, a scientific understanding is provisional. But this doesn’t mean it is completely relative and/or incapable of making real progress. I would point out that science is a fairly recent invention and is just getting going. But not without hiccups.

  23. Graham pon 11 Feb 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Andrew, you have made a distinction between universal truth and absolute truth.

    Because you didn’t refer to any distinction in your discourse I did assume that you held universal truth and absolute truth to be one and the same. I presumed that if a truth, was a universal truth, there couldn’t be anywhere in the universe where it was false.

    Does this differentiation indicate that absolute truth is a 5th form of truth or, that you don’t accept the existence of absolute truth? For example, could Pi be considered an absolute truth as well a universal truth?

    In your original definitions you stated that “A universal truth is the only type of truth that is not relative to the person or group making the claim.”

    Now it seems, in your latest response where you state:

    (“I think his truth could still be considered universal if we take into consideration his methods and variables. Meaning any other person so equipped with the methods and variables would come to the same conclusion.”)

    you are qualifying that definition. You now seem to be making a universal truth ‘true’ whilst linking it to human ‘methods and variables’ something I felt you discounted in the above definition.

  24. Andrewon 13 Feb 2012 at 7:40 am

    Graham – I applaud your astute reading and intelligent commenting to my “four truths” post. Admittedly, I hadn’t thought about it for awhile, though roughly a year ago I reposted it on my new “360 Degree Skeptic” blog, asking for comments before I revised it. (Crickets over there). Still waiting to get back to it.
    I am not afraid to admit that my ideas are a work in progress. There are a few things about the “four truths” hypothesis that need clarification, if not revision/amendment. For one, the word “truth” is troublesome. It seems much too . . . absolute. In my opinion, facts are the most solid and trustworthy element of thought. Meaning data: individual and collected observations and measurements. Given the same tools, facts should be fully verifiable.
    But then there are propositions of the sorts of hypotheses and theories. These elements of idea are one step removed from the more solid data they are based upon, when they are. Anyway.
    Returning to your point, I do have reservations about making a “truth” universal in the absolute fashion, particularly if that truth is a proposition rather than a fully verifiable “fact.” The gist of the article, however, is that with different types of truths (for lack of a better word), we have a wider circle of individuals that can or could potentially perceive them as “it is so.”
    My brief ditty makes that point fairly well, I believe. But it certainly needs further development.

  25. Sandy Rothmanon 10 May 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Even though “facts” may not be incontrovertible, the concept of a fact seems to me more fundamentally objective than “truth,” which is more easily filtered through our individual thought processes and beliefs. Again: not that facts, too, cannot be changed, but that they have more solidity than personal preferences (“personal truths”). It could be said that factuality (such as it may be) is closer to an “objective reality,” but at the same time it’s possible to mean the same thing by the term “universal truth” as some have used it here.

  26. Gregon 29 Mar 2013 at 2:18 pm

    This exercise brings to light the limitations of the scientific method as the sole means of establishing universal truth. Courts of law would be folly without eyewitness accounts. An eyewitness account is not scientifically verifiable, yet eyewitness accounts are also not to be put in the 1,2,3 (subjective, opinion). If enough eyewitnesses step forward and state an event as true, how do you reject it? Granted, you can’t scientifically prove the resurrection of Jesus Christ ever occurred. Now you are left to consider eyewitness accounts as true, or reject them. Chose carefully, as it is only a small matter of where you might spend eternity.

  27. Graham pon 04 Apr 2013 at 10:02 pm


    Historically, if a Medicine Man pointed a bone at an Australian aborigine he would subsequently die. That was a ‘fact’. If a Preist or Preistess cast a spell (Voodoo) on a Haitian he would subsequently suffer the consequences of that spell. That too was a ‘fact’.

    These are not ‘facts’ that would have any impact on me as I don’t subscribe to them being ‘facts’ but they are real enough to the people that do subscribe to them. Therefore you could educe that a ‘fact’ is true if your culture, goup, religion or science decides it is so, or false if it ia ascribed to another culture etc.

    So which group, culture, sect or science (accepting that some historical ‘facts’ have over time ceased to still be ‘facts’) do we accept as belonging to an objective reality. Surely the decision to determine the efficacy of a fact is subjective and depends on your culture, group etc.

  28. Andrew Bernardinon 09 Apr 2013 at 11:06 am

    Please excuse the delay in responding. A few thoughts:
    1. About eye-witnesses – I think having a number of eyewitnesses drastically increases the probability that something is true. If there isn’t a better means of establishing guilt/non-guilt, the courts generally go with that. They do prefer more scientific forms of evidence, however: Photographic/videographic evidence, DNA samples, fingerprints, etc.
    2. We have no eyewitness accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. We have ancient, recorded stories that contain accounts.
    3. There are many eyewitnesses to the existence of aliens and bigfoot, and Uri Geller’s ability to bend spoons. Do we likewise give them credence?
    4. There are not just two choices about the validity of eyewitness accounts: to accept or to reject. You can tentatively accept, you can await further information, you can mildly reject, etc.
    5. That a person can spend an eternity somewhere is an interesting notion, but very questionable. For more on this matter I suggest my post, The Campus Crusade for Christian Assumptions.

  29. johnmcleanon 03 Jul 2013 at 2:22 pm

    All this reasoning and still no conclusion as to what truth is x and no wonder reasoning and science by their own admission still can’t prove we re not all just brains in jars x nature seems to have played a trick on man -she has given him a tool for survival -but one that can’t answer anything meaningful -its called the human brain x reasoning and intellectualising -good for survival and its only other use- as a handy but meaningless way to pass a boring Sunday afternoon x its a waste of millions of years of evolution x the human brain handy for survival and it doubles as a two dollar radio x

  30. The Truth about Truth | usedideason 20 Aug 2013 at 2:38 pm

    […] of criticism. References a)      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth/ b)      http://evolvingmind.info/blog/four-types-of-truth/, by Andrew Bernardin c)       […]

  31. Johnon 15 Oct 2013 at 2:52 pm

    This is a great break down of the types of truth however when it comes to Religion i disagree, there also has to be an absolute truth. A true Religion.
    For example:
    Jesus is either:
    -who he claimed to be, God
    -he was a crazy, evil person who deceived people.

    (He could never be just a “good teacher” which is what most people chose to say. He cant just be a “good teacher”. No “good teacher” claims to be God and isn’t, that is evil and not characteristics of a good teacher. Which leaves us to two possible answers^^^)

    We either continue to live after death OR we don’t.

    To say that for one person God is reality and for another person a world with out God is reality is RELATIVISM. It is their opinion. They both think they are correct but one of them is WRONG that is the TRUTH.

    Why are we becoming RELATIVISTS?

    Because the idea is that if everyone is right then we will have world peace because we will no longer argue. It doesn’t work that way. What will happen is that the person with the most power, or the majority will be the ones who are deemed RIGHT.

    We NEED to teach our future generations that there is an ABSOLUTE truth to the meaning of life. We should never stop trying to figure it out…and that humanity will always disagree but NEVER say that we are all correct. RELATIVISM is UNIVERSALLY FALSE and will lead us to complete confusion!!

  32. ceesaron 18 Oct 2013 at 6:25 pm

    please hear listen to this guy about truth but listen to all of it.


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