The Difference Between Real and True in Philosophy

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  • 0:01 Subjectivity
  • 0:47 Guidelines for Truth
  • 1:54 Real
  • 4:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain what philosophy sees as the difference between real and true. In doing this, it will highlight the subjectivity of the material as well as the correspondence theory and the principle of non-contradiction.


Trying to explain the difference between real and true is pretty much an exercise in subjectivity. One person has one opinion, while another has the exact opposite. For this reason, today's lesson on true and real in philosophy will be easy to take issue with. Despite this, we're going to give it a whirl and give some of the more accepted and traditional theories and ideas.

With that rather odd admittance of our lesson's shortcomings, we'll start by trying our best to define truth. Many philosophers define truth as what is empirical and logical. It can be studied, and it can be what scientist would deem proven. When speaking of this concept of truth, there are a few things philosophers give as guidelines for truth.

Guidelines for Truth

First, truth must adhere to the correspondence theory. Stated as simply as I can think to, the correspondence theory asserts that truth must be congruent with accepted fact. Second, truth must uphold the principle of non-contradiction. Again trying to keep things simple, this asserts that what is true cannot contradict what is already known. To try to bring all this abstract stuff down a bit, let's use an example.

Without overthinking it, let's all agree that if I go out in the rain unprotected, I will get wet. This is something we'd say is true. We can prove it. If I go outside in a rainstorm, I'll come in drenched. Since I've done this before, it passes the correspondence theory test. In other words, it jives with what we already know.

It also adheres to the principle of non-contradiction. Never once have I gone out unprotected in the rain and stayed dry. Therefore, our statement is true. It can be studied and it can be empirically proven. It does not contradict our experience or our senses.


Differing from the concept of true, many philosophers would assert that something is real if it has actual existence and substance. Unlike truth, something that is real does not have to be proven. It just is because it is. For instance, as I work on this lesson, I am sitting on a real chair at a real table. I can see them both and I can touch them both. They are real.

Something that is real is not context-dependent. In other words, I could take my chair and ship it off to my friend in China, and it would still be a chair. I could take my table and send it up with an astronaut, and it would still be a table. Both of these objects exist independent of their surroundings.

According to many philosophers, the same cannot be said of truth. Because truth is based on empirical evidence - it's derived from reality instead of being reality, if that makes sense - it can cease to be truth. This is rather heady stuff, which has kept lots of philosophers spinning, so we'll just touch on it lightly.

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