I have run into an online discussion about philosophies and world views (theism, atheism, humanism, nihilism, and all the other "isms") where phrases like "*ism is true" and "*ism is false" are used. What do they mean?

For example, let's say "blueism" is the philosophy that everything in life can and should be expressed in blues songs. I can understand the meaning of assertions like "blueism is silly", "blueists are annoying", etc.

But what do assertions like "blueism is true" and "blueism is false" mean? I (a non-philosopher) would have thought blueism to be "true" for those who accept it and "false" for those who don't.

I'm thinking that a phrase like "blueism is true" is perhaps some kind of philosophy lingo. Is it shorthand for "the philosophy of blueism is based on assumptions that have been proven true"? Or what?

  • If something is true, it is true regardless of whether one accepts it or not. For example, if 1 + 1 = 2, then regardless of whether I accept it or not, 1 + 1 still equals 2.
    – Pacerier
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 19:43

2 Answers 2


Well, if someone makes the assertion that "blueism is true," what they're generally claiming is that the those statements asserted by the blueist body of theory are, individually, true. Most people tacitly accept the notion of an individual, objective truth, and most ideologues believe that their view of reality is in accord with that objective truth.

You must understand, philosophers today still argue about what "is true" means in the context of simple assertions like "the sky is blue," or even simpler ones like "2 and 2 is four." There is no universal agreement among academic philosophers as to what is meant in these context. There is no universal agreement among philosophers as to the nature of the existence of objective truth. Hell, there's no universal agreement among philosophers as to whether or not contradictions can be true. And while, admittedly, many of these arguments are only perpetuated by fringe thinkers, they are nevertheless real parts of the contemporary discourse.

The point is, "blueism is true" is mostly evaluated to mean that the speaker believes that blueism's views are objectively true. The statement does not allow for any sort of pluralism or relativism, and frankly makes a huge host of ontological and epistemic assumptions that are not a part of the universal philosophical accord.

  • 1
    Thanks, that is pretty much what I was assuming. My inner English major winces, however, at the ambiguity of a phrase like "blueism is true". Imagine this usage with something like "optimism", or "racism". One can say "Mary is an optimist" or "Mike is a racist", but surely one can't say things like "optimism is true" or "racism is true".
    – Eva
    Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 4:13
  • @Eva If you're satisfied with this answer, you should vote it up and maybe even accept it (:
    – iphigenie
    Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 9:55
  • @Eva: we might not say "optimism is true" as a matter of common practise, but then optimism in this case isn't really a definite set of beliefs. Even so, you may have some sort of notion of whether or not an optimist will, thinking optimistically, be more or less likely in certain situations to predict the outcome correctly. In this respect, you can form a notion of whether or not optimism is "true", even if it is not common practise to present it in such terms. Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 15:11
  • @Niel: I would have thought that optimism, like blueism, is a quite well-defined set of beliefs. E.g., we could say it's the belief that everything will work out for the best, plus the belief that even bad things are merely interim events on a trajectory toward good things. Why would the claims of optimism be less testable than the claims of blueism, nihilism, theism, etc.?
    – Eva
    Commented Dec 15, 2012 at 4:52
  • @Eva:"Optimism" in the original sense does explicitly mean the belief that this is the best of all possible worlds (i.e., the worldview Candide was written against). However, I think that when we normally talk about an optimist we're talking about a generally more subtle worldview wherein one "sees things in the best light," which is less of a set of propositions and more of a general outlook.
    – wmjbyatt
    Commented Dec 15, 2012 at 5:45

The main point in saying that a position is true or false is that there's some kind of (compelling) evidence for or against the claims entailed by that position.

In your case the position of blueism entails at least two claims:

  1. everything in life can be expressed in blues songs
  2. everything in life should be expressed in blues songs

So, blueism is true iff (1) and (2) are true, i.e iff there's evidence for (1) and (2). It is, however, a matter of debate if claim (2) is at all truth-apt. A good way to understand this point is to introduce the difference between

  • epistemic reasons (aka theoretical or evidential reasons), which justify a claim by making it more likely for that claim to be true; and

  • pragmatic reasons (aka prudential reasons), which justify some action or some attitude (or at least, justify the wanting or trying to bring those actions or attitudes about).

The point of the distinction is, usually, to draw the attention to the fact that, while epistemic reasons do make the claim they justify more likely to be true, pragmatic reasons do not.

(1) seems to be justifiable on the basis of evidential reasons. However, ask yourself if (2) is a claim for which evidential reasons can be given: Is there any evidence which would make (2) more likely to be true? Or is it a claim justified by pragmatic reasons?

So, saying that "a philosophical position is true" is to argue that there are some compelling evidential reasons for the set of claims entailed by that position.

Does that make sense to you?

  • For the non-philosophers: "iff" means "if and only if"; X iff Y means that X and Y are always both true or false together.
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 16:57
  • [@Rex: thank you for the gloss.] So, for example, "Blues is the most soulful and expressive form of singing" would be a "pragmatic" reason?
    – Eva
    Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 18:26

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