This page contains a list of the four best books on truth. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on truth” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works on truth. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on truth. This list was created by compiling recommendations from across the internet and is not a list of personal recommendations. More information about this process is at the end of the post. Here are the best books on truth in no particular order:
Truth: A Guide – Simon Blackburn
Publisher description: The author of the highly popular book Think, which Time magazine hailed as “the one book every smart person should read to understand, and even enjoy, the key questions of philosophy,” Simon Blackburn is that rara avis–an eminent thinker who is able to explain philosophy to the general reader. Now Blackburn offers a tour de force exploration of what he calls “the most exciting and engaging issue in the whole of philosophy”–the age-old war over truth.
The front lines of this war are well defined. On one side are those who believe in plain, unvarnished facts, rock-solid truths that can be found through reason and objectivity–that science leads to truth, for instance. Their opponents mock this idea. They see the dark forces of language, culture, power, gender, class, ideology and desire–all subverting our perceptions of the world, and clouding our judgement with false notions of absolute truth. Beginning with an early skirmish in the war–when Socrates confronted the sophists in ancient Athens–Blackburn offers a penetrating look at the longstanding battle these two groups have waged, examining the philosophical battles fought by Plato, Protagoras, William James, David Hume, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Richard Rorty, and many others, with a particularly fascinating look at Nietzsche. Among the questions Blackburn considers are: is science mere opinion, can historians understand another historical period, and indeed can one culture ever truly understand another.
Blackburn concludes that both sides have merit, and that neither has exclusive ownership of truth. What is important is that, whichever side we embrace, we should know where we stand and what is to be said for our opponents.
A Short History of Truth: Consolations for a Post-Truth World – Julian Baggini
Publisher description: How did we find ourselves in a “post-truth” world of “alternative facts”? And can we get out of it? A Short History of Truth sets out to answer these questions by looking at the complex history of truth and falsehood. It identifies ten types of supposed truth and explains how easily each can become the midwife of falsehood. There is no species of truth that we can rely on unquestioningly, but that does not mean the truth can never be established. Attaining truth is an achievement we need to work for, and each chapter will end up with a truth we can have some confidence in.
This history builds into a comprehensive and clear explanation of why truth is now so disputed by exploring 10 kinds of truth:
1. Eternal truths.
2. Authoritative truths.
3. Esoteric truths.
4. Reasoned truths.
5. Evidence-based truths.
6. Creative truths.
7. Relative truths.
8. Powerful truths
9. Moral truths.
10. Holistic truths.
Baggini provides us with all we need to restore faith in the value and possibility of truth as a social enterprise. Truth-seekers need to be sceptical not cynical, autonomous not atomistic, provisional not dogmatic, open not empty, demanding not unreasonable.
The Oxford Handbook of Truth – Michael Glanzberg
Publisher description: Truth is one of the central concepts in philosophy, and has been a perennial subject of study. Michael Glanzberg has brought together 36 leading experts from around the world to produce the definitive guide to philosophical issues to do with truth. They consider how the concept of truth has been understood from antiquity to the present day, surveying major debates about truth during the emergence of analytic philosophy. They offer critical assessments of the standard theories of truth, including the coherence, correspondence, identity, and pragmatist theories. They explore the role of truth in metaphysics, with lively discussion of truthmakers, proposition, determinacy, objectivity, deflationism, fictionalism, relativism, and pluralism. Finally the handbook explores broader applications of truth in philosophy, including ethics, science, and mathematics, and reviews formal work on truth and its application to semantic paradox. This Oxford Handbook will be an invaluable resource across all areas of philosophy.
Truth: A Contemporary Reader – Douglas Edwards
Publisher description:For the first time Truth: A Contemporary Reader brings together the essays that have shaped two aspects of a fundamental philosophical topic: the nature of truth and the value of truth.
Featuring 24 essays from 1878 to 2016, this up-to-date reader includes seminal work by leading figures in contemporary analytic philosophy. It charts the development of the central ‘grand proposals’ about the nature of truth, and subsequently how their influence gradually diminished in face of new theories developed in the 20th and 21st-centuries. The reader also demonstrates how truth is often taken to be valuable in various ways, in particular as the norm of correctness for belief and assertion, and the relationship between truth and other epistemic values.
With introductory overviews to each group of related papers complemented by guides to further reading and a glossary, this reader introduces the central debates, familiarizes students with the most important work in the field and covers pivotal theories of truth including:
- correspondence theories
- coherentism, pragmatism, verificationism
- deflationary, primitivist, and pluralist theories
The connection between the nature and value of truth is intimate. By showing how thoughts about truth and value bear heavily on one another, Truth: A Contemporary Reader provides new opportunities for understanding and advancing the link between these central topics. This is an essential collection for anyone studying or working in metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of language today.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Truth
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Truth
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