Theories of Truths and Social Facts

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Advice on Writing Philosophy Assignments 1) The essays you are to write in this course are only 1500 and 2500 words long. So no waffle! Make your introductions brief. In the conclusion, briefly sum up what you have achieved in your paper. 2) Answer the question; don’t take the question as an invitation to write on a topic – they are all very specific questions and you must focus on answering them. 3) In philosophy essays, we look for clarity of expression above all else. Your paper should be carefully written so that the meaning of each sentence is clear and the way it helps build up your argument is clear. 4) You are welcome to use secondary as well as primary sources. Use the lecture notes as your basis, but include further references. Two or three additional references are enough. Read deeply, not comprehensively. 5) Write drafts. It is a good idea to write a draft, leave it alone for a few days and then return to it with fresh eyes. This will help you see parts that are obscure and arguments that are not as strong as they might be. 6) If you do use a source in writing your paper, then you must cite it. If you read a secondary source, but don’t adopt any of the ideas in it for your paper, then you don’t need to cite it. You can add it to a list of “Works Consulted” at the end of your paper, but that is up to you. If you use any idea from another person’s writing, you must cite that writing. If you use the actual words of another person, always, we really mean always, put quotation marks around the passage and cite the source. Don’t paraphrase another person’s ideas and pass them off as your own: this is plagiarism, just as much as stealing other people’s words. 7) You may use any of the standard citation systems. Philosophers are not fussy about this. Make sure that full bibliographical details are included. (Author, publisher, place of publication, year of publication, page numbers). When citing internet sources include the URL and your date of access. 8) Remember that you can run your ideas for the essay through an email query. HUMR71-110 EPISTEMOLOGY AND THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE THEORIES OF TRUTH AFTER READING THROUGH THE FOLLOWING LECTURE NOTES, YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO: • Give an account of the Correspondence Theory of Truth, including some of the complications encountered by correspondence theorists. • Give an account of the Coherence Theory of Truth, including some of the complications encountered by coherence theorists. • Give an account of the Pragmatic Theory of Truth, including some of the radical implications of pragmatism. • Give an account of the Deflationary Theory of Truth, indicating how it differs fundamentally from the other three theories considered. ---------------- MAIN REFERENCES: Pojman, Louis P., What Can We Know? (Wadsworth/Thomson) See references in Index under “Truth (true)’ on p. 352. (This topic is scattered through the text.) http://www.iep.utm.edu/t/truth.htm http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-correspondence/ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-coherence/ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-deflationary/ 1 Four theories of Truth If truth isn’t everything that is important, it is still important. So what is it for a description to be true? We may say that a description consists of at least one proposition, and a common intuition is that when we say that a proposition (or description) is true we are saying that there is something else that makes it true. But what then makes a proposition (or description) true? There are three common competing answers: the world (= the correspondence theory of truth), other believed propositions (= the coherence theory of truth) and practical matters (= the pragmatist theory of truth). The Correspondence Theory of Truth Probably the most common answer is that truth is a relation of correspondence between a proposition and a fact (or aspect of factual reality). Consider this rather trite example: (1) The cat is on the mat If (1) is true, then it is a fact that a particular cat (the cat of the description) is in the relation of being on a particular thing (the mat of the description). The fact of the cat’s being on the mat makes it true that “the cat is on the mat”. (How exciting is that!) Here we have a description (“the cat is on the mat”) and it is true because a particular arrangement of the world is in place; because the world is a certain way. (It is in the cat’s being on the mat way.) (2) Australia is an island. If (2) is true, then it is a fact that Australia is an island. Is it a fact? That depends upon the disposition of land and sea. It doesn’t depend upon us or our inquiries or our language: it depends upon the world itself. The meaning of the sentence “Australia is an island” depends upon our language. But once it is settled what proposition is identified by this bit of language, the rest is down to the world itself. Is the world arranged such that a bit of it (we just happen to call “Australia”) is surrounded by expanses of water (which we happen to call “sea”)? The relevant fact consists of the arrangement of sea and land. (Of course, Australia isn’t an island, there is more than one of them. I’m just equating Australia with Mainland Australia, for convenience. Tasmania often gets overlooked in this way. Sorry Tasmanians.) Now, just to be a bit painful about it, consider the description: (3) The cat is not on the mat. With what fact does that correspond? The cat up the tree? The cat running across the road? It depends where the cat is and what it is up to. If it is up a tree, then the fact 2 that it is up a tree makes true the claim that it is not on the mat. If it is running across the road, the fact that it is doing this makes it true that it is not on the mat. That seemed relatively easy. What about this claim? (4) Cats cannot fly. What makes that true? What fact does it correspond to? A standard answer is that the whole world being what it is makes the claim true. As it turns out, the world is such that nowhere in it is there a flying cat. Our fact has to encompass the entire universe because if there were a single flying cat anywhere, even in the next galaxy along, our proposition would be blown out of the water. OK. But this is even trickier. Consider this sentence. (5) Australia is not a republic. What makes this description true? It isn’t a straightforward bit of the world (like the bit of the world with seas and lands or cats and mats). If the description is true, it is true because it corresponds to a complex social fact. The world is such that humans treat each other certain ways (establishing norms of behaviour and laws that govern behaviour) and one of these norms is about sovereignty (who gets to make laws by decree) and Australia turns out to have a norm in which the Queen of England’s representative gets to make laws by decree. That makes us a monarchy, not a republic. Social facts are extremely complex facts. If you are going to accept the correspondence theory of truth, you are committed to the existence of social facts, made up out of layer upon layer of human norms and behaviours. Things get really messy for the correspondence theory of truth, really fast. The Coherence Theory of Truth Let us turn now to the Coherence Theory of Truth. This is the second most popular theory. The Coherence Theory holds that what makes (1) true (i.e. the cat is on the mat) is the extent to which it coheres (sits well with) all the other things we accept as true. For example (1) does not sit well with the belief: (6) I can see the cat outside in the garden. The two claims: “the cat is on the mat” and “I can see the cat outside in the garden” do not cohere with each other. Something has to give. I have to make my beliefs cohere as a total package. So what else do I believe about cats, mats, gardens and such things? I believe that my eyesight is pretty good (when I am wearing glasses; and I believe I am wearing them now; I can feel them on my nose). I believe that a single cat cannot be in two places at the same time (time-travelling cats may be an exception; but I do not believe that my cat is one such). I believe that my memory of the cat being 3 on the mat is a few minutes old. And so on. With a set of beliefs like this it is obvious what is true and what is not. (6) “I can see the cat outside in the garden” is true (it fits with everything else I believe, including the beliefs I have derived from my senses) and (1) “the cat is on the mat” if false. It doesn’t cohere with everything else; it is a mistake; my memory of where the cat was a few minutes ago has misled me. It doesn’t fit, so it has to go. A coherence theory of truth must deal, not just with the beliefs I have, but the beliefs everybody has. There will be plenty of contradictions in the set of all beliefs, but the truth will consist of the best, most coherent subset of these beliefs: the subset of beliefs that form the most coherent package. I hope you can see how complicated this theory is going to become, once fully developed. Not all beliefs are equally significant. Beliefs drawn from the senses are more robust than mere guesses or memories. Scientifically tested claims are more solid than mere hypotheses. Mathematical and logical beliefs (e.g. 1 + 1 = 2) are seriously hard to revise. I would throw out a hell of a lot of beliefs before I was even tempted to dismiss beliefs like this. Perhaps the most coherent set of beliefs is one that gives special weight to really sturdy beliefs and less weight to peripheral or poorly formed beliefs. Truth is defined by that set of beliefs that ideally coheres – where it is harder to dismiss robust beliefs and easier to dismiss weakly supported beliefs. Another complication: does the set of truth-defining beliefs consist merely of beliefs we happen to have now? Or is it the ideal set of beliefs? For example, consider the belief “there is intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy”. Is this belief true or false (or neither)? What is the point of counting up all the people who believe in intelligent life and all the people who don’t and seeing who wins? Is truth a form of democracy? (Socrates asks this as a rhetorical question in Plato’s Cratylus – he thinks it obviously cannot be.) One answer is to say that a belief in extra-terrestrial intelligence is true if and only if a fully completed survey of the galaxy would include the belief like this one: “the Camhives of Udania are intelligent.” The Camhives (whatever they are) aren’t from Earth; they are from somewhere near the centre of the Milky Way and they are pretty smart. If this is what we would believe if we were able to complete our survey of the galaxy, and it fits - ideally with all the other beliefs we acquired as part of our survey, and all our other beliefs in general - then, and only then, would it be true that there is intelligent life outside the galaxy. This seems like the best answer, because otherwise what is true would vary depending upon what our beliefs happened to be. What was true in medieval times is different from what is true now. But if most people once thought that the Sun orbited the Earth, for example, and that thought fitted perfectly well with what else they believed (and why would it not?), then it would have been true. But heavenly bodies don’t change their interrelationships just because people change their beliefs. So the coherence theory of truth needs to define truth in terms of an ideal set of beliefs, including those based on future and possible observations, not just on current and actual observations. 4 Consider again proposition (4) Cats cannot fly. I think this is probably true. What makes it true? The correspondence theory says – somewhat messily – the whole world and the absence of flying cats in it makes the proposition true. The coherence theory says – again somewhat messily – were we to survey the entire universe looking for flying cats, we wouldn’t find any – and anybody who said they did find some were probably hallucinating. So our ideal set of beliefs about the universe will include the belief that there are no flying cats in it. One more example. Consider (5) Australia is not a republic. You might recall the mess we got into trying to work out what bit of the world makes this true. I said something vague about complicated sets of norm-driven behaviours. Things are easier for the coherence theorist. It is true that Australia is not a republic because beliefs formed by people inside Australia and outside of it cohere around the idea that the Queen of England is our monarch; and that rules out our being a republic. (That’s why we have the British flag stuck in the corner of our flag, like a postage stamp affixed to the wrong spot.) Pragmatic Theory of Truth The coherence theory of truth identifies truth with ideal belief-sets: those that form the best, most coherent, complete package of beliefs. The pragmatic theory of truth adds its own twist to this. Truth is best belief, but what counts as best is a practical matter. The pragmatic theory of truth was developed most famously by two American philosophers - William James and Charles Sanders Peirce (pronounced “purse”). The Pragmatic Theory is best summed up in the maxim ‘the true is the expedient in belief, just as the good is the expedient in action’. This makes truth goal-relative. For a proposition to be true is for its acceptance to be useful for achieving your purposes. To put it in summary form, the truth of a proposition consists in its being practically effective for you in achieving your goals. Obviously, pragmatists don’t mean this to apply in too simplistic a way. Consider the following thought. My goal is to be happy. Believing that I am immortal makes me happy. So it is true that I am immortal. This is no good; if only immortality were that easy. Pragmatists, rather, have in mind the idea that a system of beliefs (a conceptual scheme) generates truths if and only if it is deeply useful for us as a conceptual scheme. Scientific belief is true, when it is, only because the system of science – it’s principles, techniques and technologies – are useful for us when we try to achieve our goals (e.g. cure diseases, travel to the Moon and get back again, predict what will happen to the climate in 30 years, and so on). Similarly, religious systems of belief are true, when they are, only because they are useful to us as we try to achieve different sorts of gaols (e.g. cope with mortality and suffering; be at home in the world; experience a spiritual love of the world, and so on). 5 When belief systems appear to clash (such as when science appears to clash with religion) the pragmatists will say that the clash is only apparent. The two systems of belief are about different life challenges, and do not contradict each other. When a religious person says they believe in the transcendent wisdom of Vishnu, and worship him accordingly, they are not making a scientific claim at all. They are making a personal faith statement. The truth conditions for this statement are quite different from those of scientists. They are not making predictions or building technologies; they are finding a way of coping beautifully with the human condition. And the truth of their religious belief lies in just that. There are some quite radical implications in store for you if you choose to travel with the pragmatists. For one thing, truth will come in degrees. One system of belief will be truer than another if it better serves our needs. Thus, one religion might be truer than another, just because, as a system of belief, it helps us cope better with the human condition. Another radical implication of pragmatism is that truth is relative to human purposes. As purposes change, truth will change. For example, the truth of religious belief fades in a secular world. It’s not that God is puffed out of existence by secularists. (God is not a scientific hypothesis; God is not a thing.) It’s that religious belief that once served a profound human purpose becomes false and irrelevant as our goals in life subtly alter. Consider an extreme case. Say we discovered a genetic modification that turned us into immortals. In a world of immortals, there would be less need for religious consolation, so religious systems of belief that were once true may be no longer true (or may be less true than they once were). Consider a political example. Belief in liberal democratic politics is only as good as our political purposes. If these changed from cooperation and equal, mutual respect (the goals of liberal democratic politics) to post-apocalyptic survival, then truths about fairness and justice would change too. It’s not that a post-apocalyptic world would be unjust; it is that it has no room for justice as we understand it now. Beliefs we held dear about what is just and unjust no longer apply – are no longer true. (Scientific belief will survive in a post-apocalyptic world, because we still need to fix things, and we will still need to search for a cure to the zombie virus.) Deflationary Theory of Truth Correspondence, Coherence, and Pragmatism are all substantial theories of truth. They equate truth with something (respectively, facts, coherence, usefulness). The truth is out there: literally. The deflationary theory says that there is no property of truth. Truth is a logical operation; it is a way of making generalisations. Nothing more. How does this work? Consider the propositions: (1) Rome is the capital of Italy 6 and: (2) It is true that Rome is the capital of Italy. What additional information does (2) provide over (1)? Nothing. They both say exactly the same thing. This idea is behind the Deflationary Theory of Truth. Truth isn’t a special property of propositions: it is just a way of repeating the proposition. Consider now the proposition: (3) It is false that Berlin is in Italy. What does this say that is not said by: (4) Berlin is not in Italy. Again the answer is – nothing. So what does truth describe? Nothing. What does it mean to say that something is true? It is just to say whatever it is again. So what is the point of having the words “true” and “false” in our vocabulary? What function do the words play? According to deflationists, they help us to generalise. Consider the sentence: (5) Everything Aristotle ever said was true. I can say (5) (it isn’t true, by the way) without having to list everything Aristotle ever said. That’s handy, but it’s not earth-shattering news. This is why the theory is called “deflationary”. It deflates the pretensions of philosophers trying to theorise truth. Deflationary theory of truth is controversial, mostly because it overlooks the task of trying to explain or understand what separates our true beliefs from our false ones. Deflationists say that nothing separates them as such. One by one: “The cat sat on the mat” is true if and only if the cat sat on the mat; “Australia is an island” is true if and only if Australia is an island. “Vishnu is the sublime and transcendent principle of creation” is true if an only if Vishnu is the sublime and transcendent principle of creation. The big question is: is this a dodge? Is it just a clever way of avoiding asking the hard questions? The jury is still out on that one; as it is still out on all the theories discussed above. 7 HUMR71-110 EPISTEMOLOGY AND THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE Lecture Notes 3 – The Problem of Justification AFTER READING THE FOLLOWING LECTURE NOTES YOU WILL BE ABLE TO: • Expound the ‘traditional’ or ‘standard’ view of knowledge, as put forward by A. J. Ayer and Roderick Chisholm, and understand the differences between them. • Explain why the ‘Gettier problem’ threatens the standard or t ...
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Theories of Truths and Social Facts
Truth is one of the dominant and most significant topics in philosophy. On its own, any
philosophers have discussed it for thousands of years. Besides, most of the issues in philosophy
revolve around the truth. This can be either through relying on a thesis which concentrates on
truth or thesis talking about reality. The essay focuses on the theories of truth and which ones
account best for social facts.
Involving the concept of truth, philosophers are interested in a collection of issues. A
preliminary issue is to decide issues which can be classified as truths even though it can be
subsidiary at times (Walker 550). As such, philosophers posed questions on whether facts are
prepositions, which is non-linguistics or linguistics, which is properties of sentences. However,
the critical issue is that truth is the ability of a person to be clear with the claim they are making
about something or an event. As such, philosophers came up with different theories which can
explain about truths. They include correspondence, coherence, pragmatism and deflationary.
First, correspondence refers to the truth as the sanctions made by valid reasoning. This
was one of the most popular and essential neo-classical theories of truth. Aristotle and Plato
proposed this theory. They claimed that the world corresponds to what the world provided is,
provided there are facts which relate to what is being claimed. The theory allows for facts to be
mind-dependent objects (Walker 550). For instance, if a person states that snow is white, then
that is true. Since in the real sense, snow can only be white, the theory corresponds to that fact.

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In this case, the proposition to which a claim is being made in the snow. Since the
correspondence theory also relates to the world, snow is one of the objects which can be found
within the earth.
Secondly, the pragmatic theories offered a different perspective of truth. As such,
theories related to such were termed as pragmatism theories. These theories go with hand in with
some typical slogans (Walker 550). For instance, one of the theorists, pierce, referred...

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