What Is Truth

How To Tell A Partial Truth From The Whole Truth?

What Is Truth? Graphic

What Is Truth?

How the truth and nothing but the truth is often not the whole truth.

Aunty Flo

My great aunty Flo broke her arm and died.

It is true that she broke her arm in 1923. It is also true that she died in 1949. But there is no cause and effect relationship between these 2 events. The only connection between these events is that they appear in the same sentence.

That is a simple illustration of how the acccurate and honest reporting of two truths is not the whole truth.

Britain's involvement in the slave trade

African slave ship. Graphic

Now let's look at a more complex and current example.

[1] Great Britain was heavily involved in the slave trade in the 17th and 18th Centuries and British traders were responsible for the exporting of 3.2 million African slaves between 1660 and 1807.

[2] The industrial expansion of that period benefited from the profits from that trade and thus modern Britain is the direct beneficiary of this trade.

[3] The endemic and systemic anti-black racism in contemporary British society is the result of the "white supremacism" used to justify the enslavement of blacks in that period.

[4] White British people need to understand their racial colonisalist history, apologise for it, make reparation through a process of cultural decolonisation and in some situations via financial reparation.

This is a very brief summary of the truths and position of "Black Lives Matter", "Rhodes Must Fall" and many others who embrace and espouse the current historical revisionism we are experiencing in the UK at time of writing.

Before we go any further let me place on record that in my view slavery of any people anywhere, at any time from the past to the present is abhorrent and a crime against humanity. Similarly, racism in all its shapes and forms, and however prevalent in UK society or any other country or culture, is totally unacceptable.

The statements in points one and two above are facts and therefore true.

The extrapolations, and beliefs based on those extrapolations, expressed in points three and four above are opinions and do not reflect the whole truth.

It's beyond the scope of this article to provide detailed analysis of the history of British involvement in the slave trade, but suffice it to say that:

    To understand the whole truth we have to look at all the known and established facts and see the whole picture, which is often not as binary as it is often presented.

    Anything less than this is a partial truth.

What Is Truth And What Is A Partial Truth?

A partial truth is a fact that is true but is a fragment of the whole truth.

A partial truth is a fact that is true but is a fragment of the whole truth. Graphic

3 reasons why the whole truth is often not told

  1. Laziness. We love to jump to conclusions and are hardwired to apply heuristics, make assumptions and misunderstand or ignore the difference between corelation and causation.
  2. Access. We don't always have access to all the facts and thus we build a narrative that fits the known facts.
  3. Belief. We construct a theory or a belief which over time becomes subject to confirmation bias and we neither see nor include information that does not support our position.

    The damaging effects of presenting a partial truth as the whole truth

    When a partial truth is overstated and presented as the whole truth it becomes a lie, a deception, and a misdirection.

    When a partial truth forms the foundation of a belief it becomes potentially dangerous because:

    - No Belief Has A Monopoly On Truth

    • Contrary to what is often claimed, no belief has a monopoly on truth.
    • The whole truth can only represent the best understanding of all the known facts at a point in time and until it is disproved by further data which supercedes it.
    • A partial truth falls far short of that standard.

    - Confirmation Bias Reinforces The Misdirection

    • Empirical evidence which is presented as verification of a belief is subject to confirmation bias.
    • Unless empirical evidence is tested against all known facts and wherever possible tested against future predictions and thus proven to be true, it will reinforce the misdirection.

    - The Tyranny Of Minority Rule

    • An unchallenged vociferous and intransigent minority with a belief based on partial truth will cause the flexible majority to become assimilated into the inflexible minority belief.
    • This happens in flexible liberal societies where the majority have no strong values-based leadership, and there is an asymmetry in choices.
    • In practical terms this means that the flexible, tolerant majority accept the intolerant minority position but the intolerant minority do not reciprocate.
    • The outcome of this is that rather than the minority being assimilated into the flexible majority, the flexible majority become assimilated into the inflexible minority!
    • The current "cancel culture" prevalent in western societies is a powerful example of this.

Why does all this matter?

One of the key themes of this site is about learning how to think effectively, and this matters because, over the long term, the outcomes that you experience throughout your life are determined by two critical factors:

  1. How you respond to the events in your life.
  2. How you respond to the influences that you are exposed to thoughout your life.

These influences include: your upbringing, the political environment you live in, popular culture, mainstream media, social media and the prevailing ideologies.

Many of the things that happen in your life are random and beyond your control.

  • But, you can control how you choose to respond to these events -  it is a choice.

Many of the influences to which you are exposed fall into the category of partial truths masquerading as the whole truth. Obviously you can't control these influences.

  • But, you can also control how you choose to respond to these influences - it is a choice.
  • In order to be able to do this you need to have the mental tools and resources to be able to exercise good judgement.
  • I have set out below a checklist to help you determine the true nature of the influences to which you are exposed.

The long term cumulative and compounding impact of your choices can have a major effect on your health, wealth and happiness.

What Is Truth - How To Tell A Partial Truth From The Whole Truth?


How do we establish what is truth? How do we know whether an idea, a theory or a belief [or in fact anything] that is presented as the truth really is the whole truth rather than a partial truth masquerading as the whole truth?

I have set out below a checklist which you can apply to see whether you are dealing with the whole known truth or a partial truth masquerading as the whole truth.

But first I want to set out the context and background to that checklist.

Please note: When I use the phrase "the whole truth" I am referring to "the whole known truth" at any particular point in time, which may superceded with future discoveries.

Karl Popper: The Line Between Science and Pseudoscience

The scientific philosopher Sir Karl Popper (1902-1994), was interested in the same problem and offered a solution. He was considering this in relation to science and what he referred to as "pseudo-science",  but the principles he outlined apply to our challenge and we can equate science as the whole truth and pseudo-science as partial truth.

In the early 20th century a number of new and exciting theories were all the rage and this was at the same time that Albert Einstein was setting out his theory of relativity.

He became concerned that Marxism and Freud and Adler's psychological theories did not meet the same standard of proof as Einstein's theory of relativity. In Popper's own words:

    "It was during the summer of 1919 that I began to feel more and more dissatisfied with these three theories–the Marxist theory of history, psychoanalysis, and individual psychology; and I began to feel dubious about their claims to scientific status.

    My problem perhaps first took the simple form, ‘What is wrong with Marxism, psycho-analysis, and individual psychology? Why are they so different from physical theories, from Newton’s theory, and especially from the theory of relativity?’

    I found that those of my friends who were admirers of Marx, Freud, and Adler, were impressed by a number of points common to these theories, and especially by their apparent explanatory power.

    These theories appeared to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred.

    The study of any of them seemed to have the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, opening your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated.

    Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirming instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory.

    Whatever happened always confirmed it.

    Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refused to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still ‘un-analysed’ and crying aloud for treatment."

Popper's Line Of Demarcation


The justification for the theories of Marx, Freud and Adler were based on logical empiricism which can be summarised by saying that if we find enough supporting evidence for a theory that verifies it.

Popper compared and contrasted these theories against Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which made specific, verifiable predictions, giving the conditions under which the predictions could be shown false.

In other words, Einstein subjected his theory to scientific method, and as we now know:

Einstein’s predictions were proved to be true when tested.

One of Einstein’s crucial predictions was that light’s path would be bent by strong gravitational fields, and during an eclipse one would be able to measure the precise degree of curvature for light coming from stars located behind the solar disk.

Astronomers Arthur Eddington and Frank Dyson conducted a study of the solar eclipse of May 29, 1919, which provided the key insight. The measured curvature more closely aligned with Einstein’s theory than the predictions of classic Newtonian gravity thus verifying the theory through attempts to falsify it.

What is truth? Popper's conclusions

  • Popper concluded that the non-scientific theories [partial truth] were not testable in any legitimate way. 
  • There was no possible objection that could be raised which would show the theory to be wrong.
  • Popper also concluded that the line of demarcation between genuine science [the whole truth] and pseudo-science [partial truth] is testability.
  • Testability means that you can make a future testable prediction which if it does not happen refutes or falsifies the theory and if it does happen it proves the theory to be the whole known truth.

Please note: I am well aware of the various criticisms of Popper's demarcation criteria in the field of science. But for purposes of establishing a working model for differentiating partial truth from the whole truth it stands until superceded by a better one!

    Checklist: Is it a partial truth or the whole truth?

    A partial truth:

    • Will be backwards looking and using past data to explain the present.
    • Will appear to be able to explain practically everything that happens within the field to which it refers.
    • Will cite all encompassing confirmatory evidence to prove it right.
    • Can't be tested, refuted and no objections can be raised which will prove it wrong.

    The whole known truth:

    • Is forward looking and predicts future results and outcomes, and if these do not occur it can be refuted.
    • Can be tested against all available research and known data and if found wanting it can be refuted.
    • Is tested to prove it wrong.
    • Is always contingent on the data that supports it.

Download this checklist

    Rather than looking for confirmatory evidence for verification of a truth - test it to see if there is contradictory evidence that refutes it - test its claims to prove it wrong.

Further Reading:

Karl Popper: The Line Between Science and Pseudoscience

Confirmation Bias - Seeing What You Want To See

The Failure Of Cancel Culture - It's Suppression Not Engagement

Reframing History - Deconstruction And Discussion Not Destruction

Return from "What Is Truth" to: Mental Models - Help You Think Effectively

Or to: Walking The Talk

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