THEORIES OF TRUTH

 

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This chart is a graphic representation of the major Theories of Truth.

It is evident that there are Three families of Theories of Truth:

1- Positive, Substantive Theories (Inflationary Optimists)

2- Positive, Deflationary Theories (Deflationary Optimists)

3- Negative Theories

Each theory has many subtle variations which are not displayed. Other theories, such as those proposed by Tarski or Kripke, do not make substantial contributions to the Nature of Truth problem.

 

(The above graphic is a modified adaptation of a chart in Veritas by Gerald Vision,
who is not associated with the 1TP theory.)

 

 

THE NEW THEORY COMPARED

The One True Proposition theory gives a satisfactory answer to all three families of Theories of Truth.

1- The Inflationary Optimists are correct that Truth may be defined.

2- The Deflationary Optimists are also correct that the concept of Truth is unnecessary in most of our communication, since most human propositions are neither-True-nor-False.

3- The Nihilists are also correct that if an acceptable definition of the word Truth is unattainable, we cannot presume to know any truth at all.

In addition we now have the bonus of being able to define False.

Other than the One True Proposition theory, none of the other theories of truth has been able to offer a valid definition of Truth. The 1TP theory has now provided a definition, and at least ONE True Proposition has been proffered.

 

A brief description of the major theories of truth  and their refutation by able adversaries of each view is given below.

1- Positive, Substantive Theories

1A- Correspondence

1B- Coherence

1C- Pragmatism

2- Positive, Deflationary Theories

2A- Redundancy

2B- Prosententialism

2C- Disquotationism

3- Negative Theories

3A- Nihilism

 

 

1- Positive, Substantive Theories

Theorists in this group believe that truth is knowable
and that a theory of truth is possible to devise,
even if difficult to define.

 

The most famous version of this theory was given by Aristotle in 335 BC in his Metaphysics, Book IV, Chapter 7 [26]

To say of what is, that it is not– or of what is not, that it is– is false. While to say of what is, that it is– and of what is not, that it is not– is true.

Randall, J. & Buchler, J.; Philosophy: An Introduction; 1957; p133

According to [correspondence], truth consists in the agreement of our thought with reality. This view ... seems to conform rather closely to our ordinary common sense usage when we speak of truth. The flaws in the definition arise when we ask what is meant by “agreement” or “correspondence” of ideas and objects, beliefs and facts, thought and reality. In order to test the truth of an idea or belief we must presumably compare it with the reality in some sense.
1- In order to make the comparison, we must know what it is that we are comparing, namely, the belief on the one hand and the reality on the other.
But if we already know the reality, why do we need to make a comparison? And if we don’t know the reality, how can we make a comparison?
2- The making of the comparison is itself a fact about which we have a belief. We have to believe that the belief about the comparison is true. How do we know that our belief in this agreement is “true”? This leads to an infinite regress, leaving us with no assurance of true belief.

Brightman, E. S.; Philosophy of Religion; 1940; ch4

Correspondence fails because it can never be applied to a situation. A present proposition is impossible to compare with a past, future or an eternal object; such a comparison would require the past, the future or eternity to be now present for comparison, which is a plain impossibility.
Even propositions about the present are incapable of being tested by correspondence; for the process of comparison would take time and before it had occurred, the present object would have become past.
Correspondence fails because it is not a criterion of truth.
Correspondence fails because it is not a source of truth.

Rescher, N.; The Coherence Theory of Truth; 1973; p8

(Correspondence is) … not workable for genuinely universal propositions: how can one possibly check … the ‘correspondence with the facts’ of a universal proposition with potential infinity of instances? e.g. All lions are carnivorous.

Beck, L. W. & Holmes, R. L.;  Philosophic Inquiry; 1968; p130

Although it seems … obvious to say, “Truth is correspondence of thought (belief, proposition) to what is actually the case,” such an assertion nevertheless involves a metaphysical assumption - that there is a fact, object, or state of affairs, independent of our knowledge to which our knowledge corresponds.
“How, on your principles, could you know you have a true proposition?” … or … “How can you use your definition of truth, it being the correspondence between a judgment and its object, as a criterion of truth? How can you know when such correspondence actually holds?” I cannot step outside my mind to compare a thought in it with something outside it.

Hospers, J.; An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis; 1967; p116

Does a true proposition correspond to a fact in the way that the color sample on the color chart corresponds to the color of the paint on the wall? No, there is certainly no resemblance between a proposition and a state-of-affairs.

Priest, Graham; Truth & Contradiction; Philos. Qtly; 2000; v50; n200; p317

… it is not clear that we meet any facts in experience. We meet people, stars, chairs, and other objects, but not facts or states of affairs. And if this is so, and the objection is cogent, it tells against all correspondence theories of truth.

Ewing, A. C.; The Fundamental Questions of Philosophy; 1964; pp54-55

The word ‘correspondence’ suggests that, when we make a true judgment, we have a sort of picture of the real in our minds and that our judgment is true because this picture is like the reality it represents. But our judgments are not like the physical things to which they refer. The images we use in judging may indeed in certain respects copy or resemble physical things, but we can make a judgment without using any imagery except words, and words are not in the least similar to the things which they represent. We must not understand ‘correspondence’ as meaning copying or even resemblance.
p57- … the correspondence theory … does not give us much information unless we can succeed in defining correspondence, and unfortunately nobody has been able yet to give a satisfactory definition.

Brennan, J. G.; The Meaning of Philosophy; 1953; p78

A less ambiguous formulation of the correspondence theory is: “A sentence is true if there are such facts as it designates.” There cannot be an exact correspondence between a sentence and a situation in the empirical world, for there are no sentences in Nature.  … The correspondence theory tries to explain what is the case when a sentence is true. It says nothing about how we discover or how we prove that a sentence corresponds to the facts.

Gerald Vision; Veritas; 2004; px

… the correspondence theory doesn’t tell us directly what, if anything, is true: that is, it doesn’t carry immediate implications for the extension of the property of truth. It doesn’t even, as some of its competitors do, give us something to go by, a criterion, for detecting particular truths.

______________________________________________________________

Thomas Aquinas; (1225-1274) Truth; Vol. II; Qs. 10; Article 4.

All cognition takes place through assimilation. But there is no assimilation possible between the mind and material things, because likeness depends on sameness of quality. However, the qualities of material things are bodily accidents which cannot exist in the mind. Therefore, the mind cannot know material things.

______________________________________________________________

 

Nicolas Malebranche; (1638-1715); The Search After Truth

God made minds to know and love Him
rather than for informing bodies.

 

Morton, A. & Stich, S.; eds.; Benacerraf and his Critics; 1996; p61

… what is missing [with correspondence] is precisely… an account of the link between our cognitive faculties and the objects known.

Frege, G.; The Thought: A Logical Inquiry; in Strawson, P. F.; ed.; Philosophical Logic; 1967; p19

Truth cannot tolerate a more or less. Can it not be laid down that truth exists when there is a correspondence in a certain respect? But in which? For what would we then have to do to decide whether something were true? We should have to inquire whether it were true that an idea and a reality, perhaps, corresponded in the laid-down respect. And then we should be confronted by a question of the same kind and the game could begin again. So the attempt to explain truth as correspondence collapses Consequently, it is probable that the content of the word ‘true’ is unique and indefinable.

 

… truth excludes ‘more’ or ‘less,’ so that nothing but truth itself can be the exact measure of truth.

Nicolas of Cusa (1401-1464); Of Learned Ignorance

Kaufmann, F.; Basic Issues in Logical Positivism; in Farber, Martin; Philosophic Thought in France & the US.; 1950; p568

… we cannot compare propositions with reality, but only with other propositions. This amounts to the rejection of correspondence theories of truth

 

 

Randall, J. & Buchler, J.; Philosophy: An Introduction; 1957; p135

Partly as a result of difficulties in the correspondence conception … another view arose… A belief is true not because it agrees with fact but because it agrees– that is to say, harmonizes– with the body of knowledge that we possess. The conception of agreement with fact is replaced by that of consistency …

Even if the element of agreement with fact were entirely eliminated and attention to the relationship among ideas alone could be achieved, this would hardly be a sufficient guarantee of factual truth. For it is possible that a system of beliefs should be perfectly consistent and yet that each of these beliefs should be false. …  Thus coherence or consistency can never by itself suffice for the establishment of truth of fact.

 

Beck, L. W. & Holmes, R. L.; Philosophic Inquiry; 1968; p131

In an ideally coherent system, each judgment is consistent with the others and gives the others positive support. Since we can never have “all experience,” we cannot then be sure that any belief is absolutely true.

 

Brightman, E. S.; Philosophy of Religion; 1940; ch4

Coherence is more than consistency… it is necessary but not sufficient. Coherence can never be fully applied until ALL thinking about ALL possible experience has been finished. No truth can be completely tested or proved until ALL truth is known.

 

Ewing, A. C.; The Fundamental Questions of Philosophy; 1964; p62

Advocates of the coherence theory are well aware that complete coherence must be regarded as an unattainable ideal

 

Hospers, J.; An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis; 1967; p116,117

What kind of a relation among propositions is coherence? Are a group of propositions coherent with one another when they are consistent with one another? No, for this relation is too weak; the propositions “2+2=4”, “Caesar crossed the Rubicon” & “Minks are fur-bearing animals” are all consistent with one another … not one of them contradicts any of the other. But a group of propositions is not coherent unless each of them supports the other ones …

Somewhere in this chain of mutually supporting propositions, we have to leave coherence and come to correspondence that is, to a relation between the proposition and a state-of-affairs in the world outside this … body of propositions. … A body of propositions may be coherent and yet not true.

 

Brennan, J. G.; The Meaning of Philosophy; 1953; p82-83

Coherence… relies for its definition of truth on the concept of correspondence. by virtue of what is this aggregate of judgments true? … the answer is usually given that the system of judgments approximates to or is in the process of approximating to “reality.” But this means that the coherence theory is itself based on the assumption of  … correspondence.

 

Joachim, Harold H.; The Nature of Truth; 1906; p175

the coherence notion of truth on its own admission can never rise above the level of knowledge which at the best attains to the ‘truth’ of correspondence.

 

Popper, Karl; Conjectures and Refutations; 1962; p28

… coherence cannot establish truth

 

 

Randall, J. & Buchler, J.; Philosophy: An Introduction; 1957; p137-142

Pragmatic theories of truth were formulated with the conscious intention of avoiding objections to which Correspondence and Coherence are susceptible.

… when we judge a belief to be true we are evaluating it. Such as good and bad, pleasant or unpleasant… According to Schiller the “true” means useful and the “false” means useless. When an individual declares a belief to be “true” … the belief… fits in with the sum total of his interests. In time, the belief can be retracted if the judgment proves useless. … ideas become “true” if they help us get into satisfactory relations with other parts of our experience. What is true for us is what it is better for us to believe.

The term “useful” is a vague term. For Schiller, those beliefs which ultimately make for human happiness are true, while those which do not are false. But the history of human … misery shows that what men desire to be true … is thwarted by facts…

Does the fact that the bulk of society prefers a given belief mean that it is true? It  is very possible for a single person to entertain a belief that is true while the rest of society regards it as false. To hold that social acceptance is the criterion of truth is to base the criterion of truth on historical accidents.

 

Beck, L. W. & Holmes, R. L.; Philosophic Inquiry; 1968; p333

A lie is not true, however much it helps a man to get out of a scrape

 

Brennan, J. G.; The Meaning of Philosophy; 1953; p86-87

By literal interpretations of such Jamesian remarks as “We have to live today by what truth we can get today, and be ready tomorrow to call it falsehood” critics of pragmatism support their charges of relativism. A more specific criticism of the Pragmatic theory of truth asserts that it confuses the question of what truth is with how we find it out.

 

Lactantius; (260-330 AD); The Divine Institutes; ANF7; p174

… because they measure all things not by truth itself, but by present utility.

 

 

2- Positive, Deflationary Theories:

Theorists in this group believe that truth cannot,
and need not, be defined, even though it might exist.

 

To call a proposition ‘true’ is to do no more than assert the proposition; e.g. “It is true that the sun is shining” is the same as making the simple assertion “The sun is shining,” and therefore
‘It is true that …’ is redundant.

 

According to this theory, sentences formed with the predicate ‘is true’ are prosentences, where a prosentence is a device to reference a word or words uttered previously in a conversation, just as pronouns are devices to reference names uttered previously in a conversation. According to the prosentential theory, for example, just as in

(1) Johnie wanted to buy a car, but he could only afford a motorbike.

we interpret ‘he’ as a pronoun which refers back to the previously mentioned ‘Johnie’, so too in

(2) Snow is white. That is true, but it rarely looks white in Cambridge.

we interpret ‘That is true’ as a prosentence referring back to the previous sentence, ‘Snow is white.’

[from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

 

 

“Snow is white” is true if and only if snow is white. To ascribe truth to the sentence is to ascribe whiteness to snow… Ascription of truth just cancels the quotation marks. Truth is disquotation… You could just utter the sentence, the truth predicate is superfluous.

 

3- Negative Theories:

Theorists in this group believe that
truth cannot be defined or known.

 

No theory of truth is possible. Truth is too fundamental to our thought to be understood in any other terms.

[It should be mentioned that no serious philosopher ever denies the existence of Truth, fully aware that such a denial would be self-defeating.]

 

 

Leslie Armour; (1931-); The Concept of Truth; 1969; p11

… not only has no theory [of truth] actually satisfied any substantial body of philosophers for any prolonged period of time, but also that every theory so far proposed has seemed to give rise to such a host of subsidiary problems that no one would claim to have investigated all the ramifications of even one theory.

 

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