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Two Types of Truth


Explanations > Beliefs > Two Types of Truth

Empirical Truth | Convenient Truth | Discussion | So what?


We can define two types of truth: empirical truth and convenient truth.

Empirical truth is based on evidence, research and reason. It is the truth that scientists seek. It is the truth that people seek when they want to achieve predictable results.

Empirical Truth

Empirical truth is hard to establish and can be inconvenient when it does not serve an immediate need. Politicians and other persuaders love it when it buttresses their policies, but they hate it when such truths point the other way. In relation to time, empirical truth is more about past proof and future value than any present purpose.

Empirical truth is the truth of science, which is driven by the principle of empiricism. It is determined through a combination of previously established empirical truths and rigorous experimentation that may be challenged by other scientists before it is accepted as truth.

Convenient truth

Convenient truth is based on need, desire and emotion. It is the truth that deceivers seek. It is the truth that people seek when they want to be right when they suspect they are wrong. In relation to time, convenient truth is about now and worries little about the past or future.

Convenient truth is the truth of populist politicians and journalists, who seek to persuade without worrying too much about empirical truth. Convenient truth is established through confident repetition, assertion and sheer power.


Most of us resort to convenient truth when we assert something as true when we are not really sure. We generalize from limited data or just make up 'facts' to support our arguments.

More often, we dally somewhere between empiricism and convenience. We cannot prove every assertion, so we seek trusted sources, from textbooks to TV channels. And we trust our friends, accepting their convenient truths as empirical truths.

When listening for truth, perhaps the best we can do is be cautious, not wholly trusting yet accepting what is convenient for now, as long as it helps and does not harm. In persuasion, we should build trust with as much empirical truth as we can, and be honest when we are guessing.

When persuading, we may be tempted by convenient truth as this may be more effective in the short term. However we should also consider longer-term effects, such as when people feel betrayed when our assertions turn out to be false.

So what?

If personal integrity and provable truth are important to you, then you will prefer empirical truth. Yet when you have to convince people where convenient truth is more persuasive, what do you do? In the end, you have to choose, and the first step is knowing the difference. When you speak 'truth', know what kind of truth you are speaking. Also know the effect that it will have both in the short and long term. While a convenient truth may win the day, it may not win the war. Indeed, convenient truths can become inconvenient when later you are accused of lying.

See also

Types of belief, Values


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