Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-17, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 2 January, 2017 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2017.


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core definition

Truth is that which is in the state of being true, i.e., that which accords with fact or reality or reason or logic.

explanatory context

When applied to the real objective world, truth implies absolutist observations of the world can be made which are not in error. Sceptics argue that this is an act of faith and that given the theory laden nature of observation then there can be no truth in the objective sense. Thus truth is a function of belief.

When applied to rational argument (either discoursive or mathematical) the ascription of truth depends upon accepted rules of reasoning or logic and truth values can be applied that determine the logical outcome of the structure of the argument. However, this says nothing about the truth of the content of the argument; elements or premises in the argument are allocated a truth value irrespective of any accordance with the object world.

analytical review

Encyclopedia of Marxism (1999–2008) states:

Truth is usually taken to mean correspondence of an idea to the world outside thought. However, following Hegel, Marxists take truth to be something that may be said of a social formation or social practice itself. The truth of a social practice is always relative, since, as Goethe said: “All that exists deserves to perish” – sooner or later, everything turns out to be false....

Some philosophical currents believe that the truth of an idea can be established by logical deduction from “clear ideas.” In general, each current has its characteristic criterion of truth: for Rationalism it is Reason; for Empiricism it is Observation and Experiment; Pragmatism makes practice the criterion of truth, but like Empiricism, pragmatism knows only immediate, individual action and misses the cultural and historical content of social practice. If the claim that “practice is the criterion of truth” is to have any content more profound than “the truth of the pudding is in the eating,” then it depends on the notion of truth (as objectively inhering in the object itself) and practice (as social-historical practice, within the totality of a given culture.) If insisted upon too stridently, the claim that “practice is the criterion of truth” simply diminishes the value of philosophical reflection. If “practice is the criterion of truth” pure and simply, then the socialist revolutionary must wait for socialism to discover the truth of his practice, since socialism is the objective of his or her practice.

Ilyenkov shows that Hegel in fact, by insisting on the real, sensuously objective activity of man, solely as a criterion of truth, solely as the verifying authority for thought, betrayed his idealism. Indeed, for Marx, practice is far more than a criterion of truth, it is substance.

Lenin explained that while practice should be first and fundamental in the theory of knowledge, “the criterion of practice can never, in the nature of things, either confirm or refute any human idea completely.”

associated issues


related areas

See also



theory laden nature of observation


Encyclopedia of Marxism, 1999–2008, 'Truth', Glossary of Terms, available at, accessed 12 April 2013, still available 29 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2017

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