Correspondence theory or copy theory?

The “correspondence theory” of truth seems like the copy theory of truth: if there is a duck in the pond, truth means drawing a head with a picture of a duck in it. But since it doesn’t matter whether one draws the head of a man or a wolf, anything that can process information has the true. But then why do the “correspondence theorists” deny this?

The true means the equality of the intellect and thing. A thing, however, is not equal to itself since equality is of diverse things, and so truth is found primarily in an intellect which starts to have something of its own that the thing outside the soul does not have, but which nevertheless both corresponds to it and can be equal to it. Now while an intellect merely conscious of what things are has only the similitude of what things are outside the soul (in the same way that a sense power has a sensible species) when the intellect starts to make judgments about what it apprehends, that judgment is something of its own, which is not found outside of it in reality.*

Veri enim ratio consistit in adaequatione rei et intellectus; idem autem non adaequatur sibi ipsi, sed aequalitas diversorum est; unde ibi primo invenitur ratio veritatis in intellectu ubi primo intellectus incipit aliquid proprium habere quod res extra animam non habet, sed aliquid ei correspondens, inter quae adaequatio attendi potest. Intellectus autem formans quiditatem rerum, non habet nisi similitudinem rei existentis extra animam, sicut et sensus in quantum accipit speciem sensibilis; sed quando incipit iudicare de re apprehensa, tunc ipsum iudicium intellectus est quoddam proprium ei, quod non invenitur extra in re.

QDV 1.3 co

This is literally a “correspondence theory”, but it is not a copy theory, as if truth were reduplication. Truth belongs only to those things for whom knowledge itself is an object of knowledge, as opposed to things that have knowledge of colors, shapes, scents, motion, or even the natures of things.

Truth on correspondence theory is essentially a copy within the self aware as such. The theory makes self-reflection integral to truth. If we have good reasons to take immateriality as necessary for self reflection, then immateriality enters our account of knowledge so far as truth is self-reflective, as opposed to the way in which truth is a copy.

While it’s easy to imagine coming up with algorithms generating all sorts of things: the perfect novel, the perfect diagnosis, perhaps even the perfect philosophical argument, there is a straightforward contradiction in having an algorithm generate itself – not copy itself, mind you, or an algorithm of a similar kind, but itself. But that’s what would be required of a truth algorithm. Likewise, organic cognitive powers need to be transparent to their objects, and so it’s hard to see what it would mean for an organic cognitive power to be aware of itself.


*Behold, St. Thomas in “living translation.” Original included for the amusement of the latinate.


  1. semioticanimal said,

    October 26, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    If the true is equality between the intellect and the thing and a thing is not equal to itself, then in what sense do we know the truth about the intellect?

    • October 26, 2015 at 2:25 pm

      What I was arguing here is that “Equality between intellect and thing” means “the equality of that which is self-reflective with a thing”. IOW, the intellect’s own knowledge of itself is a necessary condition for any of its objects to be true. If your question is what it means to call the self-reflection of the intellect true, then even that too would have to be based on a logically-prior meaning of self-reflection.

      If we take “true” as just meaning “what is the case”, this is a derivative sense of truth.

  2. semioticanimal said,

    October 26, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    My question was mainly focused on the passage from Aquinas. It seems that what we know about the intellect is true. However, the true is the equality between the intellect and the thing and a thing is not equal to itself. Therefore, either the intellect is not a thing and equality can exist between it and itself or equality does not exist between the intellect and itself and the intellect does not know itself. Since the intellect is self-reflective, it seems the second part of the disjunction is false and therefore the intellect is not a thing in the relevant sense or I have a false dichotomy.

    • October 27, 2015 at 9:57 am

      Since self-knowledge is a principle of truth, this is part of the larger problem of how we speak of some principles in relation to the things that arise from them. Is God existent or the source of existence? Are matter and form natural or principles of nature? Is the will a good or the source of goodness? Is the soul alive or source of life? WE can give different answers and make different qualifications to each.

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