21 Philosophical Quotes on Truth (With References)

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This page contains a collection of philosophical quotes on truth, arranged in roughly chronological order. These quotes are all genuine and details about the author, book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable. Without further ado, here are 21 philosophical quotes on truth:

The investigation of the truth is in one way hard, in another easy. An indication of this is found in the fact that no one is able to attain the truth adequately, while, on the other hand, we do not collectively fail, but every one says something true about the nature of things, and while individually we contribute little or nothing to the truth, by the union of all a considerable amount is amassed. Therefore, since the truth seems to be like the proverbial door, which no one can fail to hit, in this respect it must be easy, but the fact that we can have a whole truth and not the particular part we aim at shows the difficulty of it. Perhaps, too, as difficulties are of two kinds, the cause of the present difficulty is not in the facts but in us. For as the eyes of bats are to the blaze of day, so is the reason in our soul to the things which are by nature most evident of all.

– Aristotle, Metaphysics, 993a30, trans. W. D. Ross

It would perhaps be thought to be better, indeed to be our duty, for the sake of maintaining the truth even to destroy what touches us closely, especially as we are philosophers or lovers of wisdom; for, while both are dear, piety requires us to honour truth above our friends.

– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1096a13, trans. W. D. Ross

To give a satisfactory decision as to the truth it is necessary to be rather an arbitrator than a party to the dispute.

– Aristotle, On the Heavens, 179b11, trans. J. L. Stocks

The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold.

– Aristotle, On the Heavens, 271b9, trans. J. L. Stocks

If falsehood had, like truth, but one face only, we should be upon better terms; for we should then take for certain the contrary to what the liar says: but the reverse of truth has a hundred thousand forms, and a field indefinite, without bound or limit.

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, I, 9, Of Liars, trans. Charles Cotton

If human grasp were capable and strong enough to seize on truth by our own means, these means being common to all men, this truth would be conveyed from hand to hand, from one to another; and at least there would be some one thing to be found in the world, amongst so many as there are, that would be believed by men with an universal consent; but this, that there is no one proposition that is not debated and controverted amongst us, or that may not be, makes it very manifest that our natural judgment does not very clearly discern what it embraces; for my judgment cannot make my companions approve of what it approves; which is a sign that I seized it by some other means than by a natural power that is in me and in all other men.

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, II, 12, Apology for Raymond Sebond, trans. Charles Cotton

It were far better never to think of investigating the truth at all, than to do so without a method. . . . Moreover by a method I mean certain and simple rules, such that, if a man observe them accurately, he shall never assume what is false as true, and will never spend his mental efforts to no purpose, but will always gradually increase his knowledge and so arrive at a true understanding of all that does not surpass his powers.

– René Descartes, Rules for the Direction of the Mind, IV, trans. E. S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross

It is an infirmity natural to man to believe that he possesses truth directly; and thence it comes that he is always disposed to deny every thing that is incomprehensible to him; whilst in fact he knows naturally nothing but falsehood, and whilst he ought to receive as true only those things the contrary of which appear to him as false. And hence, whenever a proposition is inconceivable, it is necessary to suspend the judgment on it and not to deny it from this indication, but to examine its opposite; and if this is found to be manifestly false, we can boldly affirm the former, however incomprehensible it may be. Let us apply this rule to our subject.

– Blaise Pascal, On the Geometrical Spirit, trans. O. W. Wright

Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, XIV, 864, trans. W. F. Trotter

Whatever the weight of antiquity, truth should always have the advantage, even when newly discovered, since it is always older than every opinion men have held about it, and only ignorance of its nature could imagine it began at the time it began to be known.

– Blaise Pascal, Preface to the Treatise on the Vacuum, trans. Richard Schofield

He that would seriously set upon the search of truth ought in the first place to prepare his mind with a love of it. For he that loves it not will not take much pains to get it; nor be much concerned when he misses it. There is nobody in the commonwealth of learning who does not profess himself a lover of truth: and there is not a rational creature that would not take it amiss to be thought otherwise of. And yet, for all this, one may truly say, that there are very few lovers of truth, for truth’s sake, even amongst those who persuade themselves that they are so. How a man may know whether he be so in earnest, is worth inquiry: and I think there is one unerring mark of it, viz. The not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant. Whoever goes beyond this measure of assent, it is plain, receives not the truth in the love of it; loves not truth for truth’s sake, but for some other bye-end.

– John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Bk. IV, XIX, 1

Truth scarce ever yet carried it by vote anywhere at its first appearance: new opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common. But truth, like gold, is not the less so for being newly brought out of the mine. It is trial and examination must give it price, and not any antique fashion; and though it be not yet current by the public stamp, yet it may, for all that, be as old as nature, and is certainly not the less genuine. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Dedication
He must surely be either very weak, or very little acquainted with the sciences, who shall reject a truth that is capable of demonstration, for no other reason but because it is newly known, and contrary to the prejudices of mankind.

– George Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, Preface

Truth is most beautiful undraped; and the impression it makes is deep in proportion as its expression has been simple. This is so, partly because it then takes unobstructed possession of the hearer’s whole soul, and leaves him no by-thought to distract him; partly, also, because he feels that here he is not being corrupted or cheated by the arts of rhetoric, but that all the effect of what is said comes from the thing itself.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, On Style, trans. T. Bailey Saunders

It is a piece of idle sentimentality that truth, merely as truth, has any inherent power denied to error, of prevailing against the dungeon and the stake. Men are not more zealous for truth than they often are for error, and a sufficient application of legal or even of social penalties will generally succeed in stopping the propagation of either. The real advantage which truth has, consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favourable circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it.

– J. S. Mill, On Liberty, II

Truth, in the great practical concerns of life, is so much a question of the reconciling and combining of opposites, that very few have minds sufficiently capacious and impartial to make the adjustment with an approach to correctness, and it has to be made by the rough process of a struggle between combatants fighting under hostile banners.

– J. S. Mill, On Liberty, II

The beliefs which we have most warrant for, have no safeguard to rest on, but a standing invitation to the whole world to prove them unfounded. If the challenge is not accepted, or is accepted and the attempt fails, we are far enough from certainty still; but we have done the best that the existing state of human reason admits of; we have neglected nothing that could give the truth a chance of reaching us: if the lists are kept open, we may hope that if there be a better truth, it will be found when the human mind is capable of receiving it; and in the meantime we may rely on having attained such approach to truth, as is possible in our own day. This is the amount of certainty attainable by a fallible being, and this the sole way of attaining it.

– J. S. Mill, On Liberty, II

History warns us . . . that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.

– T. H. Huxley, The Coming of Age of “The Origin of Species”

For truths, on the average, have a greater tendency to get believed than falsities have. Were it otherwise, considering that there are myriads of false hypotheses to account for any given phenomenon, against one sole true one (or if you will have it so, against every true one), the first step toward genuine knowledge must have been next door to a miracle.

– C. S. Peirce, What Pragmatism Is

Test every concept by the question ‘What sensible difference to anybody will its truth make?’ and you are in the best possible position for understanding what it means and for discussing its importance. If, questioning whether a certain concept be true or false, you can think of absolutely nothing that would practically differ in the two cases, you may assume that the alternative is meaningless and that your concept is no distinct idea. If two concepts lead you to infer the same particular consequence, then you may assume that they embody the same meaning under different names.

– William James, Some Problems of Philosophy, IV

But what after all are man’s truths? They are his irrefutable errors.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 265, trans. Thomas Common

The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!

– Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

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