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Can someone help me reconcile the difference between 진리 and 진실?

I'm looking for a good translation of the truth. Not truth, but the truth (i.e. the absolute concept).

Consider the following statements:

  1. The world is round.
  2. I once stole a piece of candy from the shelf of a grocery store.

I'm under the impression that for (1) Koreans would use 진리, but for (2) they would use 진실. One of my Korean friends told me 진실 is used in the human domain, while 진리 is used in the natural or supernatural domain. Is this correct?

I want to know if Lee Harvey Oswald killed John F. Kennedy. I want to know the truth. Am I looking for 진리 or 진실?

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I want to know if Lee Harvey Oswald killed John F. Kennedy. I want to know the truth. Am I looking for 진리 or 진실?

You're looking for 진실.

진리 is a more or less philosophical/religious/logistical term. You don't normally refer to everyday facts as 진리. A fact is only considered 진리 when it can be proved true by mathematics, science, logical inference, or in a religious setting, religious faith. A 진리 should not change, and in the rare case it does, it's usually paradigm-shifting.

진실 is closer to an "everyday word", it refers to whether something someone has experienced/said is true or not. You must have heard/read from someone or something that Lee Harvey Oswald has killed JFK. You can never be sure about that fact on your own, as you can never re-experience it. You must believe or not believe that person who told you the fact, as there is no other way to know for sure if it is true.

Conversely, 진리 is what you can/should figure out by yourself, given enough time, without hearing it from someone. It's the inherent part of the universe, or the human mind. You may know that the the sum of the measures of the interior angles of a triangle is 180°. You may have heard it from somebody. But that doesn't stop you from proving it yourself. If your steps are correct, you'll always get the correct answer, regardless of what others speak of.

But that doesn't mean that all humans inherently "know" all 진리 there are, or they have all got the same 진리. Everyone has to figure it out by themselves, or by getting inspiration from our mentors, instructors, etc.

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  • Interesting! How would you translate "a fact"? Would that be 진리, 진실, or something else. Is there any universal term that unites 진리 and 진실 like English does even if the word is not commonly used? – Verax Mar 24 '17 at 22:21
  • @Verax A fact is 사실. And no, there isn't such word. – MujjinGun Mar 25 '17 at 4:16
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You can see this answer as supplementing MujjinGun's.

진리 is typically a generality, and 진실 a particularity.

Thus, truths in a learned body of discourse (physics, philosophy etc.) are 진리. But suppose you found out that noodles turn out better if you let the water boil first before you put the noodles in. You might say:

그것이 스파게티의 진리였다. (That was the truth about spaghetti.)

by which you put it forward as a general truth. (The Korean sentence sounds about as comical as the English one.)

진실 on the other hand concerns a particular thing such as (your example) Oswald's having killed or not killed Kennedy. But again it does not have to be a grand fact like the assassination of a president. It could be whether you took the dime from your mother's purse.

그렇게 사라진 동전에 대한 진실이 밝혀졌다. (So came out the truth about the missing coin.)

You will note that this distinction of generality vs. particularity tracks MujjinGun's finding out for yourself vs. having to be told.

In 진실 there can be a suggestion that someone might want to hide it. Thus,

진실을 알고 싶어요. (I want to know the truth.)

might be a way to urge someone to be truthful, in the sense of honest.

When there is no issue of honesty, you may use the word 사실, which corresponds to 'fact.' Thus, you may say

사실만 말씀하세요. (Say only the facts.)

if someone begins to speculate or give what is an opinion.

As for a higher level concept to subsume all three, perhaps 맞다 (to be true, right, correct or the case). So we get, e.g.:

물이 끓고 나서 면을 넣는 것이 맞다. (It is right to put the noodles in after the water has boiled.)

For a noun, we may consider as opposed to 거짓. These are fairly abstract words meaning true and false, but 참 cannot replace any of the three words (진리, 진실 and 사실) in sentences like the above.

참말 is more or less the same sense as 진실. Thus:

참말이야? (Are you telling the truth?)


In 진리, there can also be a suggestion that the general truth was not easy to see. So 진리 is typically an object of 깨닫다 (realize) or 터득하다 (realize and acquire).

If there is no issue of difficulty (anymore), you may speak of 원칙 (principle) or 법칙 (law). For example:

만유인력의 법칙 (the law of universal gravitation).

This suggestion of difficulty or concealment is rather analogous to what you might find in 'true principles' and 'true facts,' which suggest that some false ones had to be got through first.

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Your friend's explanation is right.

Scientific truth is 과학적 진리. 진실 is the opposite of false or lie.

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