How Do You Know What You Believe Is True? Theories of Truth

By Keisuke Noda

How do you know what you believe is true? This is a difficult question.

If there were a definitive answer, we would probably not have myriad belief systems today. It is ironic that, while people hold mutually exclusive, logically incompatible claims and beliefs, each is often convinced of its exclusive superiority over others.

Suppose you asked a believer: “How do you know what you believe is true?” He or she may cite their experiences as evidence, or give several theoretical reasons, or refer to highly selective scientific findings. The problem is those who hold an opposite view can give plausible “evidence” and cite opposite scientific findings to validate their claims and beliefs.

What makes certain claims and beliefs truer than others?

Here, I explain four main theories of truth as conceptual tools for assessment: 1) correspondence theory of truth; 2) coherence theory of truth; 3) pragmatic theory of truth; and, 4) existential theory of truth.

Although Unificationism presents itself as “new truth” (in the Introduction of Exposition of the Divine Principle), there is no systematic explication of the concept of truth in religious as well as philosophical texts (such as Unification Thought). Since Unificationism claims its teachings to be the “unity of science and religion,” clarification of its concept of truth is necessary.

Correspondence Theory of Truth

The first view is to see truth as the correspondence, agreement or accordance between ideas/concepts/statements and reality/states of affairs. This position often presupposes an objective reality or independent existence of truth. In this model, because you posit reality as something that exists independent of or outside of your perception/judgment, you conceive your ideas/judgments as a sort of picture or mirror image of reality.

Religion and science are ways to reach reality. This is done through revelation and experiences in religion and observation and experimentation in science. The goal is to capture an accurate, neutral mirror image of reality free from interpretation.

The problem of this model is whether there is such a thing that can be called objective, and interpretation-free reality. Is human understanding/perception necessarily interpretive and limited by its perspective and framework of interpretation? Is language, which forms concepts/ideas/thoughts, necessarily conditioned by society, culture and history?

Science and interpretation

Modern science emerged as a method to present objective reality free from interpretation, bias, and prejudice. Francis Bacon (1561–1626) presented the experimental method as a way to free us from “idols” in his Novum Organum (New Organon). Descartes used reason to portray an accurate picture of the world and free us from biases and misconceptions. The Enlightenment thinkers held interpretation-free, objective, neutral knowledge to be the ideal of knowledge and found modern science as a way to realize such an ideal.

Physics was a leading science for the development of modern science. Physics appeared to be more rigorous, accurate, and “solid” than other “soft” sciences. It is, however, contemporary physics that called the traditional concept of physical materiality as reality into question. Elementary particles are not solid, unaffected forms of existence independent of observation. Rather, observation affects the “reality” of elementary particles. Furthermore, the complementarity of elementary particles as both wave and particle demands interpretation.

Philosophers of science also recognized the theory-loadedness of observation and data. There is no such thing as theory-free or interpretation-free “neutral” or “pure” data. The amount of voltage, amperes, for example, presupposes electromagnetic theory, without which such data are meaningless. “Objective reality” is not independent but dependent on a theory.

The strength of the correspondence theory of truth is its closeness to ordinary life experiences. For example, when you see a small animal jumping around in your garden, you may think it was a rabbit. If it turns out the animal is in fact a rabbit, your belief or perception is true.

Within this framework, we often see truth, facts, and reality as similar and interchangeable. A deeper problem emerges, however, when we try to universalize this concept of truth, which involves both ontological and epistemological issues. If we posit that objective reality is the basis against which to check the truthfulness of our ideas/perceptions, the issue then is how to reach reality.

If we rely on science as the way to reach reality, we face the same problem of how do we know whether reality as depicted by a particular scientific theory is the ultimate reality? Isn’t reality as depicted by a particular scientific theory just another image within a given theory? No matter how many theories we adopt, we always encounter the problem of reaching the final form of reality.  Reality in the correspondence theory of truth is like an ever-receding horizon.

If we assume an ultimate reality, is it possible to reach such a thing-in-itself? If our knowledge is limited by perspective, framework of thinking, categories of perception/thought, and language, the acts of assuming and positing such a thing-in-itself may be a mistaken approach. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) distinguished the thing-in-itself (“noumena”) and “phenomena” by arguing the former is “unknowable” and the latter is the limit of what we can know. Hence, for Kant, the existence of God and other things-in-themselves are not reachable by any cognitive attempt. He rejected traditional “proofs of the existence of God” and presented the whole argument for the existence of God within a moral sphere. Kant’s thesis is that the “thing-in-itself is unknowable.” If you accept his thesis, the correspondence theory of knowledge cannot be extended to the “thing-in-itself.”

The meaning of being is contextual. It is determined by its relation to its context. When we try to understand the “reality” of each being, we use fact-finding or reality-checking mechanisms to see if our beliefs/perceptions/ideas match the reality of any given social, cultural context. The correspondence theory of truth works well in ordinary life spheres.

Nevertheless, the reality of being begins to appear differently when we try to see and understand it within various disciplines. Since our search for the reality of beings is an ongoing quest and context is always expanding, there is no final reality. Since our quest for knowledge is a never-ending search, seeking the true reality can certainly be a part of the concept of truth.

In other words, the concept of truth can include an element of an unreachable goal like an ever-receding horizon we seek for eternity. If we interpret the correspondence theory of truth as a guide for the pursuit of truth (“regulative” use in Kantian theory), then it works well. Or if we apply this theory to obvious matters in daily life, it works. If we apply it to complex matters such as an ultimate reality or physical reality or anything that requires interpretation, it starts showing problems.

In daily life, we share a common basic assumption. So we do not have to look into our framework of interpretation. When we deal with complex matters, however, the issue of our interpretive framework surfaces. I argue there is no such thing as uninterpreted human understanding. The correspondence theory of truth is an articulation of a truth-validation mechanism for daily matters where we do not have to look into the framework of interpretation we share in common.

Coherence Theory of Truth

The second concept of truth is the coherence theory of truth. When we examine a truth-claim, we see its overall coherence, the logical consistency of a cluster of ideas, assumptions, experiences, observations, and other components/conditions that constitute the claim. Be it science or religion, we often determine the plausibility of truth-claims by how constitutive elements such as assumptions, theories, observations, and data fit together. Among a cluster of established theories, we also check the consistency and coherence of a new theory with other established theories.

The advantage of this theory is its wide range of applicability to any interpretative theory without ontological commitment, without positing any true reality. If a theory can explain the issues well, you do not have to make an assumption if there is a true reality or one true objective principle.

The problem of this theory is the lack of a mechanism to assess theories that are equally consistent and coherent. Furthermore, we can have a logically consistent and coherent fictitious theory created out of imagination or fantasy. Even in the field of religion, this theory cannot assess diverse belief systems if it is used as a singular standard of assessment.

Consider two religious belief systems that may be mutually exclusive and logically incompatible. For example, Judeo-Christian belief systems hold the thesis of the existence of Creator God, whereas Zen Buddhism rejects this. On the question of the existence of God, one says “yes” and the other says “no.” Nevertheless, each has some consistent and coherent explanations on existential questions, such as the problem of suffering, evil, and others.

On the question of the creation of Adam and Eve, original sin, and redemption, Christian belief systems affirm them as all real and true. These concepts have no meaning within the Zen belief system; salvation (Enlightenment) is possible without a savior or without referencing sin or other concepts. Nevertheless, each belief system has a certain coherence and consistency. There are a myriad of belief systems in the world that have a certain degree of coherence and consistency. As Karl Popper (1902-94) pointed out, religious or quasi-religious systems can never be refuted because they can add ad hoc hypotheses in order to retain theoretical coherence/consistency whenever they encounter an anomaly or counter-evidence.

The Divine Principle (DP) stresses the coherence and consistency of its interpretation of biblical narratives in order to establish its truthfulness over other interpretations in Christian theologies. The DP, however, strives for the unity of science and religion, extending the criteria of coherence and consistency beyond theological systems to scientific knowledge. The DP has to seriously examine itself if it is seeking to establish a coherent and consistent belief system that encompasses social, human, and natural sciences.

Pragmatic Theory of Truth

Under the pragmatic theory of truth, truth is defined in terms of practical effects of a claim. Consider a person who claims to have received the revelation that he or she is the Messiah of humankind. How do we assess the claim? How do we know if the person in fact had a revelation or not? It can be wishful thinking, a hallucination, a dream, or even a lie or made-up story. No one has access to another person’s mind. The pragmatic theory of truth looks to the personal and social effects of the claim. The claim of Messiahship can be assessed by the positive effects it had on the person, others, and human history. This theory takes a contextual approach and examines the claim by looking to its effects on personal, social, historical, and other contexts.

The strength of this theory is its wide range of application. It is applicable to a variety of theories in science and religion and claims of individuals and groups. The theory’s weakness is its dependence on other assessment mechanisms and criteria, such as social values, where there can be conflicting value judgments. For example, how does one assess the claims of Martin Luther? From a Catholic point of view, he was a troublemaker. From the Protestant point of view, he was sent by God to begin a new religious movement.

In order to supplement the weakness of this theory, we need to identify a basic value perspective across belief systems and scientific endeavors. If we could identify a set of values as the basis of assessment, we can use it as the criteria to assess belief systems. Believers tend to derive values from belief systems. Believing something to be true, however, does not make the belief true at all. It can just be wishful thinking or a group fantasy. From a pragmatic perspective, religious belief systems can be assessed in terms of positive personal transformation and social change. To make the pragmatic theory work, we need to broaden our value perspective and identify common values across humanity.

Linguistic Approach, the Existential Concept of Truth, and Others

Linguistic Approach

The concept of truth is an inherent part of each philosophy. Philosophers in the analytic tradition, dominant in Anglo-American institutions, defined philosophy as a discourse within the limit of language. When you examine the concept of truth within the boundaries of linguistic analyses, the issue of truth is the question of the meaning of statements/claims. All types of theories of truth  — that is, the correspondence of statements/claims with reality, the logical consistency of claims, and their pragmatic effects — can be examined within the boundaries of language.

Analytic philosophers see the misuse of language as the root cause of philosophical problems. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) took this approach and inspired a whole tradition of analytic philosophy. From his perspective, metaphysical issues in philosophy are “pseudo problems” due to the confused uses of language. For example, when we invent some terms and give names, we tend to think they are real; naming leads us to believe the reality of that which is named. Wittgenstein’s approach is to get away from this metaphysical orientation, and direct one’s approach to logical analysis of how we use language. Within this approach, “truth” does not have any metaphysical/ontological connotation.

Existential Approach, and Others

Does language define the limits of the world, at least, the limits of what you can see, understand, think, and experience? Since our experiences are interpreted by our conceptual mechanism, the linguistic approach has some plausibility. The question is if there are extra-linguistic experiences or states of affairs?

In religious traditions, experiential approaches are quite common. They often point to existential, transformative experiences; some understand phenomena of truth not as discrete human activity, such as cognition, but as a matter of existential transformation which involves the whole way of how one exists. For example, consider Enlightenment in Zen. The realization of Buddhist truth, Enlightenment, is possible only as a transformative experience.

Mystics in diverse religious traditions also point to the transformative experience with the divine, the experience of the total oneness of the self and the cosmos, or the experience of the interconnectedness of all beings in the universe. They argue such experiential knowledge is inexpressible by any conceptual means; it can be symbolically or metaphorically illustrated by poetic expressions or by analogy. Language has a poetic function as well as a logical function. Conceptual understanding is primarily carried out by the latter. Poetry, however, often depicts a truth beyond what a conceptual or logical understanding can explain.

The existential notion of truth is also expressed as the embodiment of truth. Under this view, a human being is not simply a cognitive subject who grasps truth as an object. A human being rather becomes the embodiment of truth. Jesus’ words in John 14:6, “I am the…truth,” is an example of such a notion of truth. Here, truth is not seen as some kind of property or object one can have or lose. Truth is an existential matter that describes the way of life or the way of being. This approach views truth not as a “static” object of knowledge but as a working principle in practice.

The weakness of this view is that you can have some transformative or existential experiences in almost any religious practices. Once an individual has some transformative/existential experience, s/he is easily convinced of its truthfulness. This is why there are myriad religious beliefs and ardent believers are convinced of the exclusive superiority of their belief systems. In some sense,  an individual is easily “trapped” by a particular religion or sect one happens to encounter, and transformative experiences give conviction to whatever belief system a group provides.

Integral Approach to Truth in Unificationism

Each view of truth has its advantages and disadvantages. What is the best approach and why should we take such an approach? Truth manifests in various phases. When you posit reality as an object, you capture truth as the correspondence of ideas/statements/claims with an object/state of affairs. When you try to comprehend something, some coherence or consistency appears and makes the issue at hand meaningful and comprehensible. You may also have transformative experience through some teachings. When we face practical effects, we are compelled to recognize the pragmatic value of a given event.

Thus, phenomena of truth appear in multiple spheres: the objective sphere (correspondence theory of truth), sphere of human understanding (coherence theory of truth), sphere of transformative experience (transformative experience or embodiment of truth), and social, cultural spheres (pragmatic theory of truth). Each theory of truth seems to be a conceptualization of the phenomena of truth.

Because such division is built into the way our language is structured, we can approach the whole analysis from the perspective of language. From a philosophical perspective, the basic categories of thinking (being, knowing, valuing, acting, and others) design our thought in such a way as to guide our comprehension. According to the type of inquiry and one’s approach, a certain type of truth is highlighted.

What, then, is the Unificationist perspective? I argue for a multi-dimensional approach. In order to capture the phenomena of truth in its full scope, we can examine it in terms of the multiple criteria presented in those theories of truth. The judgment of truth is a synthetic act that balances the plausibility of claims in multiple spheres. No single theory of truth is perfect. There may be contradictions, inconsistencies, lack of evidence, and other flaws among claims. By complementing each other, we strive for the best possible framework of interpretation.

Interpretation is an ongoing quest rather than a finished work. Through the synergy of multiple approaches, Unificationism itself will have to be reinterpreted again and again. Such dynamism can open up a new horizon of interpretation. Is it possible to derive a comprehensive integral approach to truth from Unificationism? This is an open question yet to be explored.♦

This article is adapted from the author’s forthcoming book tentatively-titled Multi-dimensional Hermeneutics and Unification Thought.

Dr. Keisuke Noda is Academic Dean and Professor of Philosophy at UTS. His books include Even Then I Keep Living (Tokyo, Japan, 2010), and Narrative History of Philosophy (two volumes; Niigata, Japan, 2004).

15 thoughts on “How Do You Know What You Believe Is True? Theories of Truth

  1. Dr. Noda,

    In reading your essay I was reminded of the times when Rev. Moon would ask us, “Do you believe that Divine Principle is true, or do you know (!) that it’s true?” Those of us who actively engaged in the process of trying to manifest DP in our lives came to the realization that through the practice of our belief in DP (foundation of substance) we could see actual fruits of our devotion and that’s why we’re still “believers.” Surely, the “transformative” experiences we had by practicing DP is one that many Unificationists share.

    Thomas Aquinas asserted: “Unbelievers are in ignorance of things that are of faith, for neither do they see or know them in themselves, nor do they know them to be credible. The faithful, on the other hand, know them, not as by demonstration, but by the light of faith, which makes them see that they ought to believe them.” By this account it would seem that there are several ways to arrive at “the truth,” and the four ways of assessment that you mention can all be factors in validating various truth claims.

    It’s been said that an effective way to ‘know’ something is true is in the context of other disciplines. Albert Einstein (who played the violin and piano) stated that, “My discovery was a result of musical perception.” His son Hans, elaborated on what Einstein meant recounting, “Whenever he felt that he had come to the end of the road or into a difficult situation in his work, he would take refuge in music, and that would usually resolve all his difficulties.” Coming to an epiphany about a matter of physics via the transformative power of experiencing beauty (in nature or art), would certainly give credence to the idea of needing more than one “conceptual tool” to assist us in our pursuit of truth.

  2. Thank you Dr Noda, for this important topic. You write on fundamental issues and have managed to address them by using simple and lively language, for which I am grateful.

    Two remarks came to my mind:

    1. The context of the discussion

    I was wondering in which particular context you are bringing this topic about the truth. I shall be quite direct in my question: do you feel that the Unification movement is at a critical point in relation to the truth? that we may have to think more deeply about our certainty that the Principle is the “new expression of the truth”? I wish you could have elaborated more on the possible challenges of the real world to our teachings. It is true that, in the early stages, our movement was very confident that its teaching had the answer to all existiing problems or “real problems” to talk like Dr. Sang Hun Lee. Are you then calling us for some form of epistemological revolution? Do you feel that the time has come for us to analyze how we can better understand the problems of our time by probing more deeply into our teaching? What prompted you to write this essay?

    2. Which “truth” are we talking about?

    It seems to me that the definition of the truth as correspondence (or Adaequatio rei et intellectus) is mostly an epistemological question. Here, truth is the property of a being when perceived intellectually. The poet and the scientist both talk about the moon in different languages, and the scientist tries to understand what the moon is made of, its history, etc. Here, the main antonym of truth is error. At stake in the intellectual perception of the truth is the correspondence of language and reality and the logical coherence as you said.

    If we look at the whole Bible, its main concern is not really epistemological. The Bible is not trying to give us a scientific explanation. It does not try to nurture our intellect but to educate our faith in the action of God. The opposite of truth here, is not so much error but disbelief, illusion, deceit, lie.

    Satan is called the father of all lies in John 8.44. The pharisees understood Jesus language, logically, but could not grasp his heart and being.

    John turns the whole mission of Jesus into some form of metaphysical drama between Jesus manifesting the truth and a society living unconsciously in lies and illusions. It should be noted, by the way, that the word “truth” appears again and again in John, whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke do not really portray Jesus as a teacher. They rather show him as a sage, a righteous person, and a preacher.

    John tends to see Jesus as person trying to wash or clean a blurred consciousness. The other Evangelists show Jesus as a person trying to straighten up a distorted conscience.

    Of course, both are connected, but I want to stress that John tends to be very intellecutal and influenced by Hellenism, whereas the three others definitely belong to a more Hebraic culture.

    When we study the mission of the truth in the Principle, I think it is mostly mystical and existential. Of course, we read,

    “The new truth should be able to unify knowledge by reconciling the internal truth pursued by religion and the external truth pursued by science. Consequently, it will enable all people to overcome the two types of ignorance, internal and external, and fully comprehend the two types of knowledge.” (Introduction, Exposition of the Divine Principle, 1996)

    but this remains quite broad and should not be taken literally.

    More important is

    “The new truth should lead fallen people to block the ways of the evil mind and to pursue the goals of the original mind, enabling them to attain goodness. It should guide people to remove the double-mindedness that sometimes seeks good and sometimes evil.” (Introduction, Exposition of the Divine Principle, 1996)

    Here, the mission of the truth is our eternal salvation.

    and

    “The new expression of truth should be able to reveal the Heart of God” (Introduction, Exposition of the Divine Principle, 1996)

    This is very mystical, but in the early days, everyone in the Unification church exerienced God’s heart personally. To my knowledge, it seems that we have become another movement, sometimes. I miss the time when tears were our daily bread.

    I would like to conclude with this excerpt of the Principle of Creation, 6.3.2:

    “Truth illuminates the innermost desires of the spirit mind. A person must first comprehend his spirit mind’s deepest desire through the truth and then put this knowledge into action to fulfill his responsibility. Only then do the living spirit elements and vitality elements reciprocate within him, enabling him to progress toward goodness.”

    I think that this is the central issue for all Unificationists worlwide. We are all invited to reconsider our relationship with the truth which once illuminated us and gave us such a deep joy. After many decades, we need to refresh our hearts and souls so that again, this wonderful truth can give us hope to perfect our character, build true families and save the world.

    Thank you again, Dr. Noda, for addressing these difficult questions.

  3. A concise and coherent overview; thanks. Food for thought and I’m thinking.

    But it seems to me that the essential problem underlying everything you said — and everything in theology and philosophy to be sure — is the lack of data. Science resolves its incomprehension of reality by figuring out how to encounter (observe) additional, clarifying (valid) data. Theology typically avoids doing that and philosophy largely guides itself off theology so it winds up in the same data-starved boat. These latter two simply chase their tails arguing over limited, stale and unvalidated personal experience…which is what scientists do, too, until compelled by data to amend their conclusions.

    Unifying science and religion is really all about understanding how to encounter spiritually-derived data (i.e., revelation) and validate it in the context of our physical existence so as to also establish and comprehend our spiritual existence. Accomplishing this renders unified science/religion a holistic data-driven tool for comprehending both reality-in-itself and reality-in-myself. If we continue thinking of revelation as a personal sacred experience instead of as encountered (observed) data, though, we’ll never achieve such a unification…much less advance spiritual awareness.

  4. Thank you, Dr. Noda.

    This is a clear and concise overview of the theories of truth, and I am grateful that you promote an integral theory. The order in which you presented the theories tends to be the order in which they emerged in the history of philosophy, and also the order in which individuals on a philosophical path develop their understanding.

    Each theory of truth applies within the limits of its ability to assist us in attaining a sharper understanding of truth, but none of them provide a means to know the truth itself. We can know and describe aspects of things, but not things-in-themselves. I think integrating all of these theories becomes a form of “prayer,” which is why one has to take in all the data possible, try to see from every angle, and try to understand what “God’s point of view” might be.

    Divine Principle, as you suggest is largely a coherence theory of truth. It dissolves cognitive dissonance between the traditional Christian and biblical view of the world and modern scientific worldviews, being a clearer expression of truth than either of the warring sides of science and religion that held more partial views. Communism: A Critique and Counterproposal was also largely a coherence theory of truth as well.

    Theories of truth must be coherent, but a lot of things can be coherent and still not be true because the assumptions they are based on are partial or false. This is where Popper’s idea of falsification becomes important in ruling out what a thing is not.

    We can engage in a process with our own inherited truths by transforming them into “higher” truths by taking new knowledge and additional data and testing it against the limits of correspondence, coherent, pragmatic, and existential theories to get a better understanding of what is true and what is not. It is a big mistake of people to claim a final truth resides in an ancient scripture, but it can also be an equally bad mistake to reject a scripture because it fails a single test. For example, the Ten Commandments may not be “true” because the Bible says so. However, they may be pragmatically true in that their application leads to a better and more peaceful society. This is why non-integral approaches to truth end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

  5. Dr. Noda, thank you for this interesting article; it is an important topic. You give some important points, particularly that there are some issues we just cannot address adequately through reason or experiment. Consequently at some level all our knowledge is inherently unreliable and we fall back to belief and revelation. However, given that, I do have some basic concerns about what you write that are related to Laurent bringing up Divine Principle’s position on inner and outer truth.

    It seems to me that you do not make sufficient distinction between scientific and philosophical thought. Scientific knowledge is qualitatively different to philosophical knowledge just as hyungsang is qualitatively different to sungsang. So, for example, the suggestion that [conscious] observation affects the reality of elementary particles is a philosophical proposition. It is not a scientific one. Similarly you suggest science can be used to support contradictory beliefs, but fail to address that such usage is itself entirely philosophical not scientific. Without acknowledging this difference between philosophy and science it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to address Divine Principle’s claim to unify science and religion as the “New Truth.”

    Which brings me to my second point that relates to the interpretation of Divine Principle itself. In my study of Unification Thought I have seen that it begins by assuming the Western philosophical tradition. Rather than start from Divine Principle and derive explanation from Divine Principle, Unification Thought starts from the ontology of Western philosophy and then reinterprets Divine Principle through that lens. The problem with this is that the ontology assumed by Unification Thought is falsified by science, and consequently I believe to also be incompatible with Divine Principle. The traditional Western philosophical understanding of what in Unificationism we call hyungsang, and so by extension also sungsang, is no longer a viable explanation.

    Though you don’t give an interpretation of Divine Principle, my initial sense is that you are doing the same as Unification Thought and are starting from philosophy that might not be compatible with Divine Principle or science.

  6. Dr. Noda,

    Many thanks for your provocative article. It has many contents. Allow me to just comment on thoughts of my first reading and a wider view at the end.

    You write: “Although Unificationism presents itself as ‘new truth.'”

    Is there confusion relating to definition? DP and in a philosophical context UT are presenting itself as truth. What do you mean by Unificationism? I would argue the context you use has to include more epistemology than “truth” if it claims to be a scientific article.

    While this is perhaps just a dispute relating to the term, truth is seen from the DP primarily from a theological viewpoint, widening its scope by including a new view on history, Jesus and conforms to modern science (not scientific theories).

    You write: “The DP, however, strives for the unity of science and religion, extending the criteria of coherence and consistency beyond theological systems to scientific knowledge. The DP has to seriously examine itself if it is seeking to establish a coherent and consistent belief system that encompasses social, human, and natural sciences.”

    DP is not interfering with science on its terms, but makes religious belief fit to harmonize with science. In other words, it brings theology to a higher ground, e.g., the emergence of the cosmos, the reasons the body is formed the way it is (give and take action, etc.)

    You write: “To make the pragmatic theory work, we need to broaden our value perspective and identify common values across humanity.”

    In my view, one of the most astonishing views of DP referring to value is the first sentence: “Everybody strives to become happy…” In other words, DP by its application promises to make people happy. The most important value for humans is found here and that is why we can find people from different cultural backgrounds marrying each other and eventually sharing the same values, as if they would have been born in the same village.

    You write: “This is why there are myriad religious beliefs and ardent believers are convinced of the exclusive superiority of their belief systems. In some sense, an individual is easily ‘trapped’ by a particular religion or sect one happens to encounter, and transformative experiences give conviction to whatever belief system a group provides.”

    Agreed! People from different faiths or even religions tell us of the work of the Holy Spirit. Recognizing this fact, UPF strives to eradicate the exclusiveness and superiority of one religion over the other according to the founder’s understanding. Working together in spite of theological differences is one of the greatest achievements and strength of the founder’s thought. In Pyong Wha Gyeong on page 243 in the 4th paragraph you find the following statement:

    “There were three main points I wanted to teach through these conferences. First, although each faith has its own special and unique character, religions actually have many more points in common than differences. Second, the conflict and disharmony that exist between religions is due to narrow-mindedness of believers, and it is definitely not the intention of the Absolute Being. Third, God desires the realization of true love rather than any emphasis on doctrine or ceremony.” (First sentence of DP).

    An important issue when it comes to your title is the ability of a believer to move on to a higher ground in order to confirm faith. The aim of the first Blessing is perfection, including the ability to develop heart, communicate spiritually and recover our intuition. This is something difficult to share with those who do not have the same experience. Imagine an alien has landed and starts telling you about another planet. While this person looks the same as other human beings she may end up in a mental hospital if she insists on her view. In our case, such people tend to be ignored or are deemed exotic (in the West), while they can communicate with Heaven in a different dimension than others. A good example of this is what is happening in Japan these days or has happened in Senegal. For some people, the CP providence is real and concrete; for others it is a book with seven seals undiscovered. Sharing experiences is sometimes like explaining about the solar system in the Middle Ages.

    • Rohan,

      Your final sentence is especially interesting in the context of Dr. Noda’s assertions. You wrote:

      “Sharing experiences is sometimes like explaining about the solar system in the Middle Ages.”

      The cosmology of the ancient cultures expressed through myths, rites and rituals paradoxically insured their survival. Through their unsophisticated notions they preserved their sense of awe and mystery in the face of a cosmos that was scientifically inexplicable to them. In a very “real” way, their cosmology, as primitive as it was, provided the ancients with some measure of security and comfort.

      With the advent of Nietzschean thought (and his French acolytes, Derrida and Foucault) modern culture has lost that sense of the magic and mystery of existence. We have lost our sense cosmology — postmodernism, physics and astronomy are poor substitutes. Because we’ve diminished our cosmology we are faced with the problem of whether humankind can survive its own thoughtlessness, arrogance and nihilism. Postmodernism, with its rejection of religion or absolutes, has given us radical relativism, and now, even biological universals vis-à-vis gender orientation, e.g., are considered out-of-step with postmodern orthodoxy.

      As you mentioned in your response, “intuition” is an important factor in our quest for truth, thus recovering our intuitiveness remains an important aspect of our spiritual paths. Einstein believed that “imagination was more important than knowledge” and attributed intuitiveness to the process of his discoveries. And Father said, “Intuitiveness is the highest spiritual gift.”

  7. Congratulations, Dr. Noda, for elevating the Unification discourse.

    I have always leaned on the integrative method to test and expand my understanding of life through DP and UT. The implications of that approach is that our understanding of Truth is iterative rather than static. The dynamic union of opposites described in the four position foundation makes a framework for future development of Unification thinking. This also implies that Unification truth-seeking is dynamic rather than based on any one book or person.

    I look forward to your book.

  8. Thank you, Dr. Noda, for some very interesting ideas.

    You ask the question, “How do you know what you believe is true?” But for Unificationists and others, perhaps a more poignant question is, “Are your beliefs enabling you to become a true person?”

    Of course, such a question can also be problematic. For a start, it requires some agreement as to what constitutes a ‘true person’. The Divine Principle attempts to addresses this. It talks of value coming from the fulfillment of one’s purpose. It talks of a person who attains the purpose of creation becoming the temple of God’s constant abode. It talks of perfection.

    There may arise some difference of opinion about what perfection means in practical terms, but even then there is a simple yardstick according to the Divine Principle — love. Providing we have experienced love in relation to parents, siblings, friends, or a spouse, we can at least conceptualize a state where we have that same love for everyone we meet –- permanently.

    Given that we fall far short of the goal, we finding ourselves frequently asking whether the problem lies in our beliefs, their implementation (or lack thereof), or both.

      • That’s possibly so, Gordon, if you think that certain (non-scientific) “truths” believed by each of us as individuals can be universally objectified. I’m not sure that I do.

        But the Principle does talk of people being “individual truth bodies”. I would therefore argue that the question we should be more concerned about is the utility rather than the truth of our beliefs — how effective are they in helping us achieve our goals?

        • A pragmatic truth might be something like “children of two parent families have a better chance of success” or “children who learn the piano before age 5 have a better chance of success.” There are many exceptions and counter-examples. So, these statements are neither logically true nor necessarily true, but they are statistically true, which, I would argue, is a form of pragmatic truth.

  9. I had a few additional thoughts about ‘Knowing Truth’. Unification Thought posits that we are made of intellect, emotion and will — as coequal parts of our spirit. Coherence seems to satisfy the intellect, pragmatism is required for the will, and I think correspondence feeds our feelings by resonating our total experience with our original mind, i.e., you know in your heart if this is true.

    My experience is that people who rely on any one approach for all truth are often destroyed by events on the ground. The intellectuals are tripped up by inconsistencies in the message, the correspondence people are crushed by the grinding will and seeming hypocrisy of the restoration providence, and the pragmatic people are discouraged by our seeming inability to create and execute any reasonable strategic or tactical plan.

    A second burden is that Unificationism requires that we approach life comprehensively. It is not enough to just believe or follow. Our ethic requires that we embody the Truth that we know. This requires an integrative approach since we must be truthful on all levels. Luckily for us, time is required to accomplish that integration, so we can justify our temporary ‘untruthfulness’ by the faithful execution of our growth plan.

    • John,

      I believe you’re correct here with regard to comprehensiveness. DP speaks to the idea that intellect, emotion and will are connected and ideally in harmony with each other. The ebb and flow between emotion and reason is innately human.

      Our judgments are based on rationality and do not simply accompany our emotions inconsequentially. Reason is fundamentally connected to our emotions and cannot be analytically separated from them as if they were only contingently related. The utility of reason is necessary to ascertain either the truth or falseness of the judgments that lie at the heart of our emotions and thereby determine an emotion to be appropriate, inappropriate, misguided, imprudent, and so on. When a person commits a crime of passion we often say that the person was “out of his mind,” or they were “not of sound mind,” or “she lost her mind.” These are metaphors but they allude to the very real problem of disassociation between emotion, reason and behavior. To act purely out of emotion is, in a very real sense, immature.

  10. In this comment, I first report universalistic claims and suggestions of claims made in my comment on Dr. Noda’s previous post “Interpreting the Principle” and ask, in the spirit of his present post, “How can I know if they are true?” I then move on to evaluating such claims according to the theories in the present post. By the way, Dr. Noda’s earlier post was in July 2017, and my comment this summer, a year later. I would appreciate replies to that comment, as it contains significant content not mentioned in my present comment.

    The first universalistic claim that I make in my earlier comment is that “the four-position foundation… is descriptive of the way everyone thinks”. I give an example of this. Other principles/theories claimed or implied to be so descriptive include the process of the subject-object relationship, the three objects purpose, the process of yielding to temptation, and that internal freedom is willing according to one’s fundamental desire, which is to give love aiming at the greatest imaginable effect. Principles suggested to be possibly so descriptive include: the principle of dual-purpose – my attempt to give examples needs more work, yet I have been floating the idea that it is the creation principle itself; the three stages of the growing period – which I suggest are applicable in Euclidean geometry – with the general principle of indirect dominion and direct dominion (all based on Mark 4:27); the relationship among the original mind, conscience, and the fallen mind; the four-step process of the fallen original nature, and its converse (presumably as a guide for participation in a project); and that evil forces intervene during the process of forming the will. An unstated implication of all this is that True Father is revealing to us the way he thinks and suggesting that everyone think in that way.

    At first glance, the universalistic claims’ truthfulness relies upon the correspondence theory of truth. Some of the weakness of this theory, pointed out by Dr. Noda, can be resolved by an insertion (in bold letters) in the following fragment from his post, “you conceive your ideas/judgments as a sort of picture or mirror image of what you believe to be reality”. Then what is the basis for my belief? From rather early days of my membership in HSA-UWC, I have held in mind Gary Scharff’s undergraduate thesis in Princeton University, “Ontology Precedes Epistemology.” The physical structure of the brain limits possibilities for cognition, etc. The ‘reality” of the hypothesis that the brain requires thinking in the way my claims suggest seems testable by hard science and/or by psychological games. Dr. Noda does find pragmatic value in the theory: “it works…” For some of the claims, I show their usefulness in my life. Would it be more satisfactory if I showed a pragmatic basis for each claim? My speculation that True Father is teaching us to know and imitate the way he thinks could be supported only by numerous quotes from his words.

    Next, can Correspondence Theory help determine the validity of my universalistic claims? The coherence of the elements in each could be readily established. However, assembling all the claims and finding out if there are any contradictions among them is a task that I’m not prepared to undertake now. Nevertheless, if DP as a whole can be coherent, then my interpretation of points in it as describing what everyone thinks can be considered in its context. Here is a testimony as to the coherence of DP. I took a married couple to a weekend workshop. He is a genius and helps people. She, also brilliant, but extremely selfish, said, after the final lecture, “Either it’s all true or it’s all false, and I prefer the latter.” For her, the workshop was a call to live a sacrificial life; for me, a call to honor and attend the True Parents. It has been argued that once True Father understood what it was that Jesus did not do and now had to be done, he worked backward from it to the points now in Divine Principle texts to support his mission. After all, it is possible to receive the Blessing without knowing DP or even the Family Pledge, which True Parents suggested as an alternative. If the Blessing (and its consequences) is the core of True Parents’ teachings, then, a point with a universalistic claim would be coherent within those teachings if shown to be leading toward the core.

    Will the Pragmatic Theory help? Are not all theories ultimately evaluated according to their possible usefulness? My second son has begun teaching me his postmodern thinking, criticizing my tendency to pile generalizations upon generalizations. It seems to me that, insofar as he shuns generalization, his decisions in daily life must be simply pragmatic. As Dr. Noda noted, however, usefulness depends upon one’s values. He calls for identifying common values across humanity. True parents understood this and created ICUS specifically for the search for Absolute Value.

    Let’s examine the inherent limitations of using language, as in the Existential Theory. We experience reality as a whole; however, a word, by its very nature divides reality. Karl Barth recognized this and suggested that we speak or write alternating between the sides divided by the use of language. I also noticed True Father talking first from God’s perspective and then from humans’. (Regrettably, I cannot remember any specific instances.) A crucial point made by the most prominent existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre is that if one verbalizes an experience, one is no longer experiencing it. If, when holding the hand of my Korean wife (who is astonishingly sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others), I would think, “I love her so much”, she would immediately press my hand to remind me that I had left her. Perhaps I had left my existence. Sartre had to resist the temptation of thinking, when reclining on a rock, that it was composed of molecules and a great deal of empty space or, when viewing a river, that it consisted of moving molecules. From this perspective, it seems to me, every experience is existential. Can there be an experience that is false? If not, none can be “truth”. My universalistic claims are not experienced (only my thinking of them), and even though I report (using language) transformative effects upon encountering some points in Principle texts, the Existential Theory cannot help determine the truthfulness of my claims.

    To conclude, I note that Dr. Noda alternates between truth, as in “new truth”, (presumably a thought system – the Korean term is sasang, translated in Unificationist texts as “thought” or “ism”) and truthfulness, i.e., of a statement. My present comment considers only the determination of the truthfulness of specific statements, which I thought I was making under the correspondence theory of truthfulness. It is not clear to me if the limitations of that theory noted by Dr. Noda are germane to the present task. As they may be, I have tried to apply also the correspondence, pragmatic, and existentialist theories of truthfulness and found the first two useful. If I switch among perspectives, my approach may be considered integral. Certainly, I am ever seeking deeper meaning in DP and clarification of its presentation.

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