Foundations of a Christian Theory of Truth

Posted: August 9, 2014 in Philosophy in the Van Tillian Tradition
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In my quest to present a Van Tillian theory of truth, I’m reading Kirkham’s infamous book which outlines and critiques the major theories.

He begins by noting a very important distinction (that most philosophers of truth fail to realize), that the phrase “if and only if” (usually shortened to “iff”) is ambiguous and has, at least, four different uses. In this case, “X is true, if and only if ___.” This could mean at least four different things:

‘X is true’ is “intensionally equivalent” with _______.

also stated: x = syn Y

Something is “intensionally equivalent” with something else, if it has the same connotation, or speaking in non-philosophical jargon – the same “meaning”.  In other words, if you can replace one word or phrase, with another word or phrase in a sentence, without changing the meaning of a sentence, then it’s likely the two are intensionally equivalent.

For example, “bachelor” is intensionally equivalent with “unmarried man”.  These two words are “synonymous” (hence the “syn” after the = sign).  To say “bachelor” is to say ‘unmarried man”.  And the reverse is also true:  to say “unmarried man” is to say “bachelor”.

This is “intensional equivalence”.

‘X is true’ is “essentially equivalent” with ________.

also stated: x <==> y

Two objects are essentially equivalent, if they are the same in all logically possible worlds.   To use the same example again, “bachelor” is essentially equivalent with “unmarried male” in all logically possible worlds.  There is no scenario or state or locale where a bachelor will be anything other than an unmarried man.

Unlike intensional equvalence however, essentially equivalent items need not be intensionally (connotatively) synonymous.  So, for instance, saying “a circle has length” is essentially equivalent with “a circle has width”.

If someone says a circle has length, then necessarily (in all possible worlds) it will also have a width.

‘X is true’ is “naturally equivalent” with _______.

or: x <–> y

Sometimes, for different reasons, philosophers may wish to play around with other logically possible worlds, but in a way that restricts their hypothetical scenarios to only those logically possible worlds which contain the same natural laws as the actual world we’re living in.

So, for example,

to say “an object has mass” is to say that “it is affected by gravity”.  (These two phrases are “naturally equivalent”.)

This will be true in all logically possible worlds which also contain all the same natural laws of gravity as our world.   (For the persnickety readers, I understand there might be scientifically possible scenarios which, given our understanding of natural laws at the moment, would allow for gravity not to affect objects with mass – but you get the point of the illustration despite the weakness of my example I hope…which is all I intended).

‘X is true’ is “materially equivalent” with ________.

or X = Y (the correct symbol is an “=” sign with three lines instead of two, but I can’t make that on my keyboard).

This is the smallest category of equivalence, and only means to note equivalence between objects in our actual world, the here and now, and implies some sort of physical, material link.

So, for instance, “an animal has a heart” is materially equivalent with “an animal has a liver”.   All animals with hearts, will also be animals with livers.  (Again, for you persnickety folk, I realize there might be a man with a heart, but while raiding a machine gun nest, gets his liver blown out and lives for a few minutes with one organ and not the other; if this bothers you, fill in the word “normal” before “animals with hearts” and the problem’s solved).


Which of the above four blanks you attempt to fill in, will define what sort of theory of truth you’re trying to formulate.

As Christians, we’re interested in a metaphysical view, in other words, we’re concerned with the property of “being true” and what that entails. We’re not as concerned with what people mean when they use the word “true” or what someone might mean if he calls something “true”, and we’re not interested in arbitrarily defining what counts as “true” (like some of the pragmatists do).

The possibilities that Kirkham’s distinctions offer to a Christian are exciting, and I look forward to working them into my thinking.

IntentionWikipedia: Intention is a mental state that represents a commitment to carrying out an action or actions in the future. Intention involves mental activities such as planning and forethought.


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