What is knowledge?

Fri, 07 Apr 2017 10:10:16 +0000

Scientific Theory of  Truth-Objectivity of Truth

Science understands truth as that knowledge of an object which correctly reflects this object, i.e., corresponds to it. For example, the scientific propositions that “bodies consist of atoms”, that “the Earth existed prior to man”, etc., are true.

On what does truth depend? Does it depend on man, in whose mind this truth arises, or on the object it reflects?

Idealists hold that truth is subjective, that it depends on man who himself determines the truth of his knowledge without regard for the real state of affairs.

In contrast to idealism, science, relying on scientific discoveries and man’s age-long practical experience, maintains that truth is objective.

Since truth reflects the objectively existing world, its content does not depend on man’s consciousness. Objective truth is the content of our knowledge which depends neither on man nor on mankind.  The content of truth is fully determined by the objective processes it reflects.

Let us consider, for example, the statement:  “the Earth is shaped like a sphere”.  This assertion is true in as much as it corresponds to reality.

But does the shape of the Earth depend on man’s consciousness?  Not in the least; the Earth existed long before man, and its spherical form was shaped by natural forces.  Examining any other truth, we arrive at a similar conclusion.


From Relative to

Absolute Truth

Recognising the objectivity of truth, science also solves another important problem of knowledge:  How man cognises objective truth-at once, as a whole, unconditionally, relatively.  This question concerns the relationship of absolute to relative truth.

The distinctions between absolute and relative are determined by the varying degree of correspondence of man’s knowledge to reality.

Some knowledge fully corresponds to reality, with absolute exactness, other knowledge only partially.  Absolute truth is objective truth in its entirety, an absolutely exact reflection of reality.


Relative Truth

Is it possible to cognise absolute truth in its entirety?  In principle, yes, since, on the one hand, nothing is unknowable while, on the other hand, there are no bounds to the cognitive abilities of the human mind.

An individual, or a particular generation of people, however, is limited in knowledge by the corresponding historical conditions, the level of development of production, science and experimental techniques.

That is why man’s knowledge at each stage of history is relative; it inevitably assumes the character of relative truth.  Relative truth is the incomplete correspondence of knowledge to reality.

This truth is the relatively true reflection of an object which is independent of man.  Corresponding to reality in essence, this knowledge needs to be further specified, deepened and tested in practice.

That being the case, perhaps absolute truth is not knowable at all?  No, that is not so.

True, it is impossible to cognise absolute truth at once, in its entirety, for it can only be reached in the endless process of knowledge.

With each new achievement of science man draws closer to the cognition of absolute truth, to knowing its new elements, links and sides.

Knowledge progresses because man, by cognising relative truths, cognises absolute truth as well.


Absolute Truth

Let us take as an example the modern theory of the atom.  In the main, it corresponds to reality, but as a whole it is, nevertheless, relative truth.

We cannot say that man knows absolutely everything about the atom.  So many secrets are still hidden in the atom that it will take more than one generation of scientists to uncover them.

Science has to solve the very intricate problem of the internal structure of elementary particles which make up the atom, the causes of their changes, transmutations and many other problems.

At the same time the atomic theory contains grains of absolute truth, of complete, absolutely exact knowledge; what science has learned about the existence of the atom, of its nucleus with tremendous latent reserves of energy and numerous mobile and variable particles, etc., is absolute, non-transient knowledge.

This means that relative truth must also contain grains of absolute truth.  Man’s knowledge is both absolute and relative: relative because it is not exhaustive and can be endlessly developed and deepened, revealing new sides of reality; absolute, because it contains elements of eternal, absolutely exact knowledge.

Man has gained many ideas about individual sides of reality which are of a non-transient, absolute character. Such, for example, are the propositions of scientific philosophy: “matter is primary, consciousness is secondary”, “consciousness is a property of the brain”, the law of conservation and transformation of energy and other laws and conclusions of the natural and social sciences.

Human thought by its nature is capable of giving and does give, absolute truth, which is compounded of a sum-total of relative truths.

Each step in the development of science adds new grains to the sum of absolute truth, but the limits of the truth of each scientific proposition are relative, now expanding, now shrinking with the growth of knowledge.

Human mind which discovered so many wonders in nature, would discover much more and thus increase its power over it.

Man has penetrated the innermost depths of the atom and has placed its might, truly inexhaustible forces at his service.

The harnessed atom generates electricity, turns the propeller shafts of atomic ships, helps in the treatment of diseases and performs many other useful services.

Man is gradually extending his power over the boundless expanse of the universe.  Through his reason he penetrates matter deeply and extensively, discovering new secrets of outer space.

Not so long ago it was thought that the outer space is a void illuminated only by the faint light of distant stars and penetrated by rare meteorites.  Now, as a result of space research, we know that the Earth is girded by belts of charged particles.

Information has been received about the upper layers of the atmosphere, their composition and density, cosmic rays and micro-meteorites, the tiny particles of interplanetary substance.

Mankind’s age-old dream, the exploration of the Cosmos, is now being realised.  Mars, Venus, Saturn and other planets of the solar system and their satellites, including the moon, the satellite of the Earth, are being studied.

Space exploration is already adding new invaluable grains of knowledge to the infinite sum comprising the absolute truth.


Concreteness of Truth

According to science, truth gained in the process of knowledge is always related to a definite, concrete sphere of reality which likewise develops in definite conditions.  There is no abstract truth, truth is always concrete.

Is classical mechanics, for example, true?  Yes, it is true, but only in definite, concrete spheres of reality, not in all of them.

It correctly reflects the movement of macroscopic bodies, but loses its true character in the micro-world.

The new, quantum mechanics is true here.  And this is the case with any other truth:  while correctly reflecting certain concrete phenomena, it is unable to reflect others correctly.

Even for one and the same process, however, truth cannot be eternal or fixed once and for all.

This process itself develops, the conditions in which it takes place change and naturally the truth reflecting it also undergoes change.  What was true in certain conditions may become untrue in other changed conditions.

The principle that truth is concrete is particularly important in the present-day situation for the successful struggle of the people for peace, democracy, national liberation and social progress.  This principle demands, above all, a correct understanding of the contemporary epoch.


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