Chapter 31. ""What Is Truth?" by Bertrand Russell

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from "Truth and Falsehood"
The Reading Selection from "Truth and Falsehood"
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Bertrand Russell, India Post

About the author…

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) excelled in almost every field of learning: mathematics, science, history, religion, politics, education, and, of course, philosophy. During his life, he argued for pacificism, nuclear disarmament, and social justice. In fact he lost his teaching appointment at Trinity College, Cambridge because of his pacificism.

An early three-volume technical work written with A. N. Whitehead sought to prove that the fields of mathematics could be derived from logic. The anecdote is told by G. H. Hardy[1] where Russell reported he dreamed that Principia Mathematica, his three-volume massive study, was being weeded out by a student assistant from library shelves two centuries hence.

About the work…

In the chapter "Truth and Falsehood" in his Problems of Philosophy,[2] Russell advances the "correspondence" theory of truth. On this theory, truth is understood in terms of the way reality is described by our beliefs. A belief is false when it does not reflect states-of-affairs, events, or things accurately. In order for our beliefs to be true, our beliefs must agree with what is real. Note that the correspondence theory is not concerned with the discovery of truth or a means for obtaining true belief because the theory, itself, cannot establish the nature of reality.

Ideas of Interest from "Truth and Falsehood"

  1. What are Russell's three specifications for the nature of truth?

  2. Explain the coherence theory of truth. Explain two objections to the coherence theory of truth.

  3. What is the law of contradiction? Can you think of any possible exceptions to it?

  4. Why cannot the correspondence theory of truth be explained as involving the relation of one idea with one fact?

  5. Explain what Russell means by a complex unity being formed when a belief is known to be true.

  6. Describe the correspondence theory of truth and contrast it with the coherence theory.



An American pure mathematician known for his toast, "Here's to pure mathematics, may it never find an application." (Most of Hardy's theoretical studies, as things turned out, found applications.)


Bertrand Russell. The Problems of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1912.