Truth vs. truthS

This post combines my two previous posts: (1) Types of TruthS & (2) Owning Truth.

My goal is to illustrate the usefulness of breaking down the abstraction of capital-T-Truth into various domains of “small-t-truthS”.  The small-t truthS approach is especially useful when another person refers to some mystical, overarching capital-T-Truth.

In my new diagram, I have arranged each of the  small-t-truthS on the spectrum of verifiability — subjective to objective.


You will notice that most of the things non-believers imagine making up a religion are very subjective: salvation, ontology, and ritual.  When believers are talking about their faith, they feel that their social, moral and aesthetic truths are verifiable — even if only by their subjective feelings.  So discussing these issues can be complex.  I think this diagram could help.

Additionally, below is another chart I’ve made to illustrate the types of people who like using the simple “cap-T Truth” models.  The right column is the simple cap-T models and the left column is an example of one of the small-T truths that the person may be referring to.  Again, drawing them away from their grandiose ideation about cap-T truth and getting real with the conversation about actual domains of truth can be very useful.  The examples below are not brilliantly thought out, and so I’d love your corrections or additions.  But hopefully it illustrates what I am trying to say.

Title & Examples Simple Truth Models


soteriological truth” examples:

– fundamentalists (Christians,  Muslims and others)
– many Evangelical Christians
– Note: This is one of the ugliest, insular and most divisive worldviews.

aesthetic truth” examples:

— snobs (smile)

descriptive truth” examples:

— followers of politically correct scientism
— fanatic faith healers

social truth” examples:

— jingoists


“soteriological truth” examples:

— few theists hold this view that we all can be saved. some progressive  Christians
— many Buddhists and Hindus hold this view.


soteriological truth” examples:

— Some Christians feel other beliefs can bring you closer to Jesus but in the next, life you can only be saved by Jesus.
— Some Buddhists have this view it seems to me.


moral truth” examples:

— Moral nihilists hold there is not moral truth and their close cousins, existential nihilists, hold their is no inherent meaning in life.

ontological truth” examples:

— most Buddhists hold that certain things like the common-day notion of “self” do not exist.


soteriological truth” examples:

— Very few Theists feel this way.
— Many Unitarian Universalists feel this way.
— Many Buddhists & Hindus feel this way.


— I am not sure who would hold this sort of opinion and for what domain of small-t truth, but it seems a logical option given the limitations of the diagrams. Any ideas?

Monists (?)

soteriological truth” examples:

— Mystics (many Buddhists, Hindus and some monotheists)
— this category I have thought out the least.  It may just be a variant of #2 drawn differently.

Similar to this post,  I have written other posts trying to illustrate how abstract words can be unpacked to help in dialogue.  See, for example:  “God” (also here), “Faith” , and “Beauty“.

Question to readers who have gotten this far:  Do you think these tools are useful?


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

13 responses to “Truth vs. truthS

  1. *drool.

    very nice. I envy your mad-table making skills. i don’t get however, the difference between #5 and #7. what is the distinction?

  2. I like these last few blogs on how we perceive the ‘truth’ or the ‘facts’ – doing some work on this myself actually.

    I would fall into Pluralist or something close to it. The key thing with truth is what it is we are trying to find the ‘truth’ about. Morals are good examples in the chart…what is the truth about ‘murder’ for example?

    I am finding a lot of life is more about trust, which might involve the search for truth in an area of study.

  3. @ Zero:
    #5 says we all own ALL of the truth
    #7 says we all own SOME of the truth
    #7 may be unnecessary, it may just be # 2 said a different way.

    @ Society
    Glad you enjoy. Again, you fall into Pluralist for “Soteriology” correct. My point is that we should not talk about Truth with a capital T.

  4. @ Ghost (a Christian pastor) and Society

    Since you both are progressive Christians (though of different stripes), I am curious how you would (or could) use my past three posts to think about “Truth” in the NT. In particular:

    The guy who wrote the gospel of John, 60 some years after Jesus died, was big into Alétheia (Truth). I have forgotten the theories of John’s biases and influences. But he seemed more into “truth” than the other gospel writers. What do you think he meant by truth using my models above?

    John 3:21
    But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

    John 8:40
    As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things.

    John 14:6
    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

  5. The tables and graphics are definitely useful, and well worth the efforts that must have gone into putting it all together.

    I think I’d like to offer a defense for keeping #2 and #5 and #7 separate (if these points have already been brought up, then sorry, I’m late to the conversation anyway).

    #5 might suggest that since the subject’s tradition does contain all of the diamond truth, there may be no real reason to learn the other traditions. A combination of Universalist and good-enough-thanks-isolationist. Not much incentive to expand one’s perspectives or knowledge.

    #2 might suggest each tradition is centered on something besides truth. Pluralists but with with ‘local’ goals rather than ‘global’ truth (or CTT maybe). There is less incentive to get educated about the other worldviews or learn from other people if they only have their portion of ‘global’ truth and have their own goals.

    #7 seems to offer the best incentive to get educated and understand all the worldviews. This one justifies the worldviews ‘as they are’ a little more, in the sense that the worldview can fall back to the assumed backdrop of ‘global’ truth. Monists driven by a Perspectivist frame maybe? (Religious Cubists maybe? I don’t know…)

    In terms of your divisions, #7 may just be a variant of #2 as you say, but I think the consequences of each of them are quite different and should be treated separately.

    Love your thought experiment, and so went with it…

  6. Just thinking back. IF it is true that there is always at least two possible explinations for everthing that happens then there would not be one Truth but multiple contridictory truths.
    Just carrying this out further many humans say that all events are the result of prior events. But if we can never be sure how prior events interacted to bring about the present it would reinforce the (your) claim that although there might be Truth with a capital T we humans could never NEVER know for sure what it is.
    So is there an experiment that could be conducted, outside of mathamatics, that could show that there are events with only one possible explination?
    Just carrying this out further. Ok an atomic explosion is caused by the splitting of atoms but is it neccessary to know which atoms will get split in order to say that there was not two possible reasons that the bomb exploded? Or is the rule that there are two possible explinations kept alive by the idea that the reason that the atoms were split (or the rules of physics exsist) is because there was some kind of collective decision made at a subconsceince level by multitudes of concsiencenessous that make up our plantet or universe or they split becasue a God decdied what the rules of physics would be, or they split because of a random movement in the universe during the first half on a nanosecond of the big bang which set in motion the physical laws of our universe?
    Now just carrying this out further. If there is always, or even often, two possible explinations for something it would seem that humans could never be completely unified. There will always be disunity and chaos. Comming to that conclusion might create a nihlistic outlook. Yet monotheists would believe that a some point God will bring harmony to the chaos. Yet those who are not monothieists will point in such a case as there actualy being A god, This Jehovah or Allah, is just a Giant Saddam or Bush or Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot or Idi Amin.
    In anycase I think that you need a new diagram with multiple diamonds in it. Which would create a new diagram with multiple diagrams in it.

  7. The thing that you call the Muelhauser “illusion” and what I call the Muelhauser shift is also relevent to this truth discussion. It is my contention that the picture you posted is in “fact” green.
    Scientists do not even understand the nature of light so how can they be so bold to proclaim that the picture presents an “illision” that occurs only inside our brains?
    Light has been shown in experiments to have the properities of both a wave and a particle. Therefore it is my contention that by adding the black dot to the picuture the wavelenghts or the light particles in the nearby area of the piture are altered.
    I even have a little bit on confidence (faith?) that in less than 2111 years my view will be the predominate scientific view.

  8. @ Andrew
    Thanx for understanding a good observations. I must again emphasize that I think ALL the simple views which look at TRUTH as one thing are certainly defective for conversation, if not defective in general. Thus, this post is meant to move people AWAY from the unproductive, largely delusional talking about TRUTH in a general sense.

  9. oh, sorry, i should have specified. can UU’s be mystical? i see some overlap between the two, although i do agree on the categories. for while i’m a universalist, i’ve been labeled a mystic too, and i think i bounce between these two but land in #7.

    as for your question on how John uses the truth, take into account when John was written. the author had just been chucked out of the Jewish community and he’s bitter about this… it’s 90 a.d., he’s been labeled an enemy of the Roman empire and an outcast and a heretic from his own jewish community. in a society which values communal connection, he’s homeless and angry about it. so he claims that they can’t see the truth and thus bad things will happen to them. operating out of #1… yet gives nods to #2, 3 and 5 despite himself.

    John 3:21
    But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
    -#2, this throws a bone to the Jewish communities, sorry gentiles.

    John 8:40
    As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things.
    -Jesus is defending himself here stating that they should recognize him as coming from God. the people deny this. they are having a social truth debate; namely what someone who is Jewish should do, look, act, and say. so i don’t see it as falling into a particular category there.

    John 14:6
    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
    -originally more than likely a #1 or at least has been used so much as a #1 that i can’t distinguish it from the text. as a Trinitarian i read this as “I AM (the name of God) the way… no one comes to God except through God.” which is a #7 reading

  10. @ Ghost
    A fun exegesis. Non-literal, complex and very human. Thanx

  11. “I am curious how you would (or could) use my past three posts to think about “Truth” in the NT” (Sabio)

    I look at the teachings as containing elements of ‘truth’ (ie: sermon on the mount) in the sense the truth is looking for the best avenue for a reaction or action to some idea.

    For example, what is the truth about marriage? Is there a true-est state of marraiage? I think the bible gives teachings on the subject (mainly the 2 become 1 scenario) and suggests a high standard way to view the idea of marriage. However, the teachings themselves are open to elaboration – and this is the role of being a ‘disciple’ (ie: student); we need to elaborate on what this means – then and now – the breatdth and depth of the idea – etc.

    For me truth in the bible is concerned with the idea of ‘best practice’ (ie: standards for living) and maybe something about moral absolutes (and even this allows for question what that ‘absolute’ would be on each moral dilemma). Is there a best way to do something? I think there are patterns towards that best way (as we also see in psychological counselling) but for each person it will look a little different.

  12. Hilarion Bruneau

    It is wonderful to be able to communicate so easily with so many inquisitive minds. It is heaven on earth. Maybe the only heaven some human beings will ever enjoy. A mind is the most important thing a human being can loose. A narrow view of our world and universe, spiritual and material, is a sure way to waste a mind. Blessed be those who engage in the heavenly use of the human mind in questioning and sharing the butterfly in each of us.

  13. @ Hilarion,
    I really suggest you try communicate more clearly and more forthright.
    Are you saying that people who dismiss a heavenly, spiritual realm have lost their minds? Sure sounds like it. In which case, that is total nonsense — or let me be forthright — total bullshit.

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