How Do We Recognize Truth?

When we encounter the truth, it has a distinct and peculiar feel. It is not as though we assign that qualia to some of our notions, and not to others. We rather discover that the truth feels the way that it feels, in just the way that we find that oranges are orange and fire is hot. We don’t decide that an idea is true, we understand its truth. Its truth does not originate in us, but is rather borne in upon us forcefully. Nor once we have intuited the truth of a notion is it at all possible for us to delete or controvert that intuition (except insofar as we subsequently refine our understanding of the idea in question). Truth is not in the eye of its beholder; the eye of the intellect beholds it, not as an invention of its own, but as an objective reality.


The intuition of truth is given in our nature, rather as our intuitions of color and heat are given to us. Our nature is such as to conform our minds to the character of reality: to color, to heat, to truth. This, not only on account of the biological requirement of adaptive fitness, but because our nature is itself an instance of reality. Our first discovery of the character of reality then is given with our discovery of our own being.

Iamblichus writes:

An innate knowledge of the gods is coexistent with us, and this knowledge is superior to all judgement and deliberate choice, and subsists prior to reason and demonstration.

On the Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans & Assyrians

It is in virtue of that prior knowledge, given as implicate in the basic structure of our own nature, that the truths discovered by ratiocination are recognized as such. We see for example that the Law of Noncontradiction must be true in the light of that knowledge of our very own selves. If the Law of Noncontradiction were false, we simply could not be. So its truth is implicit in our actuality. We can see its truth when we contemplate our actuality. So likewise for all the necessary truths, such as those of logic.

Only knowing those truths as true could we then proceed to evaluate the validity of any argument.

So the primordial knowledge of First Things that Iamblichus notices is the forecondition of ratiocination.

7 thoughts on “How Do We Recognize Truth?

  1. Pingback: How Do We Recognize Truth? | @the_arv

  2. Pingback: How Do We Recognize Truth? | Reaction Times

  3. What logic calls the axioms, theology calls revelation. In either case, what the subject perceives or intuits is a truth not derived from any previous truth, but rather a type of absolute truth on the exclusive basis of which all other truths derive. Just as a physical defect of the brain, either in structure or chemistry, can retard or impede the subject’s ability to cogitate, so too, apparently, a psychic defect can retard or impede the subject’s ability to perceive or intuit the axioms and revelation. Just such a noetic malady is currently pandemic. Consciousness is everywhere restricted and deformed. We live in the Autistic Age.

    • Modernity insists that there is no such thing as First Things, even as it argues by implicitly presupposing them (as all thought must). It rejects metaphysics. This doesn’t stop reasoning altogether (because human life can’t be carried forth without reasoning at least a little (if only in planning behavior and building grammatical sentences), and the *process* of reasoning simply can’t do without metaphysics, with the result that it never does). But it does make reasoning incoherent; a weak reed. So our adversaries quickly resort to emotional invective.

      If you reject the transcendent, all you have left is subscendence: literally “climbing down,” a race to the bottom, and then beyond the bottom, into the fathomless abyss.

  4. “We know truth” says Pascal, “not only by the reason, but also by the heart, and it is in this last way that we know first principles; and reason, which has no part in it, tries in vain to impugn them. The sceptics, who have only this for their object, labour to no purpose. We know that we do not dream, and, however impossible it is for us to prove it by reason, this inability demonstrates only the weakness of our reason, but not, as they affirm, the uncertainty of all our knowledge. For the knowledge of first principles, as space, time, motion, number, is as sure as any of those which we get from reasoning. And reason must trust this knowledge of the heart and of instinct, and must base every argument on them. The heart senses [Le cœur sent ] that there are three dimensions in space and that the numbers are infinite, and reason then shows that there are no two square numbers one of which is double of the other. Principles are intuited, propositions are inferred, all with certainty, though in different ways.”

    • We know that we do not dream, and, however impossible it is for us to prove it by reason, this inability demonstrates only the weakness of our reason, but not, as they affirm, the uncertainty of all our knowledge.

      Pascal anticipates Gödel.

      • Wittgenstein makes the same point:

        If a blind man were to ask me “Have you got two hands?” I should not make sure by looking. If I were to have any doubt of it, then I don’t know why I should trust my eyes. For why shouldn’t I test my eyes by looking to find out whether I see my two hands? What is to be tested by what? (Who decides what stands fast?)

        And what does it mean to say that such and such stands fast?


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