The Aristotelian Society

The Aristotelian Society

est. 1880

TRUTH

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In celebration of the 125th year of the Proceedings, we are proud to present the first Virtual Issue of the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. The Virtual Issue is based upon an Online Conference on the theme of Truth that took place 12th–18th April 2013. This weeklong event featured papers from our back catalogue, commentaries on these papers delivered by contemporary philosophers, and an online-based discussion forum that was open to all. The Virtual Issue comprises the classic papers and commentaries from the conference.

Questions about truth have figured centrally in Philosophy throughout its history. What is it for the things we say or believe to be true? Does truth depend on a relation between what we say or believe and the world? What are the natures of the things we say or believe, the bearers of truth? To what are the truth-bearers related when they are true: are they related to facts, ordinary objects, or something else? What is the required relation? We’ll want an account of the nature of truth that addresses those questions also to fit with an account of truth’s importance: why should it matter to us that what we say or believe is true rather than false? Our views about truth are liable to impact widely on our views about other things. Are moral claims or views apt to be true or false, or are they to be evaluated along different dimensions? Does truth figure in an account of the nature of belief or the nature of assertion? Is the acquisition of beliefs that are true amongst the fundamental aims of inquiry?

Video introduction by the guest editor, Guy Longworth (Warwick)

The papers selected for the Online Conference and Virtual Issue were chosen for the distinctive answers that they advance to some or all of these questions. In some cases, papers were chosen because they have had a decisive impact on later discussions. In some cases, papers were chosen because they present views and arguments that deserve more careful consideration than they have thus far received. In all cases, there is much to be gained from becoming acquainted, or reacquainted, with these important texts. The main aim of the commentaries is to stimulate discussion by highlighting major themes in its associated paper and pointing to ways in which those themes are of continuing importance to current debates. Some of them also point to specific challenges that might be brought against claims or arguments in the associated paper and indicate connections with themes discussed in the other papers.

The remainder of this introduction to the conference theme presents a slightly more detailed overview of some of the central philosophical questions about truth that are discussed within the target papers and commentaries. It also provides some links to useful entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

In its most general form, the central philosophical question about truth can be stated simply. We say, and judge, that various things are true or false. For example, suppose that you think that snow is white. I might judge that what you thereby think is true. What would it take for my judgment to be correct, for what you think to be true? What is the most fundamental account of what it is for the sorts of things that can be true to be true?

More specifically, we can consider the following two questions:
1. What do we say to be true or false? Is it things people think? If it is, what are the things people think? Is it things people say? Is it sentences that people use to say things? Is it episodes in which people say things or think things?

2. What is required for the things we say to be true to be true? On one view, for something to be true it must correspond with the world, or with the way things are. This is the general form taken by correspondence theories of truth. If a theory of that general form is right, further questions arise. First, what must something correspond with if it is to be true? Must it correspond with the facts? For example, is the claim that snow is white true because it corresponds with the facts? Or is it true because it corresponds more specifically with the fact that snow is white? If it is the facts, what are they? And if it is the fact that snow is white, what is the nature of that fact? A second range of questions that arise concern the nature of correspondence. Does correspondence amount to some sort of similarity between the things that are true and the things that make them true—the truth-makers? Or is the relation more intimate than that? Are truths identical with facts? Almost all of the pieces discuss correspondence theories of truth. Hornsby’s piece defends an identity theory of truth, on which truths are identified with facts.

Many philosophers have held that truth depends upon one or another form of correspondence between things that are true and other things. However, many other philosophers think that such a view is mistaken. The most radical amongst the latter group reject correspondence theories of truth because they hold that there is really nothing very much to be said about truth. Such philosophers endorse versions of deflationary theories of truth. More specifically, defenders of deflationary theories of truth focus on what many people take to be a platitude about truth, that claims of the following forms are bound to be correct:

(S) The sentence ‘S’ is true if and only if S.

For example, the sentence ‘Snow is white’ is true if and only if snow is white.

(P) The claim, thought, assertion, or statement that P is true if and only if P.

For example, the statement that snow is white is true if and only if snow is white.

Now many philosophers, including many defenders of correspondence theories of truth, agree that such claims are bound to be true. However, those that defend correspondence theories think that agreeing to that much is consistent with saying more about the nature of truth. By contrast, defenders of deflationary theories of truth hold (roughly) that there is no more to be said about truth than that claims of the form (S) or (P) are bound to be true. The nature of truth, insofar as it has a nature, is fully captured by its role in guaranteeing the truth of claims like (S) or (P). Ramsey’s piece provided inspiration for deflationary theories of truth. Such theories are explicitly discussed in, or figure in the background of, all of the pieces.

One reason that addressing such questions about truth is important to us is that truth itself seems important to us. It seems important to us that our claims and beliefs are correct, and that seems to depend in turn on whether what we claim and believe is true. In that sense, we seem to value truth. That fact about our attitude towards truth raises further questions. First, if truth really is valuable, why is it valuable? What is it about truths, as opposed to falsehoods, that makes them distinctively valuable to us? One option for answering this question would be to deny that truth is distinctively valuable. Second, what does the claim that truth is valuable amount to? Does it amount to the claim that we ought always to seek out truths and avoid falsehoods? If it does, could that demand on us be trumped by other demands? Should one never believe anything false even if believing it can help us to get things done? For example, should one have no general beliefs about the physical world rather than believing the false claims made in Newtonian Mechanics? And should one always seek out truths, even where those truths are useless or uninteresting? For example, should one aim to count one’s books merely so that one can acquire a true belief concerning their number? Such questions about the value of truth play central roles in the pieces by Dummett, Geach, and Heal. They also figure in the background of all of the pieces, because any account of the nature of truth will need to connect with an account of truth’s value.

Here are some links to useful articles in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Michael Glanzberg’s general entry on truth

Daniel Stoljar and Nic Damnjanovic’s entry on deflationary theories of truth
(especially relevant to Ramsey, Austin, Strawson, Dummett, Geach, Heal, Hornsby)

Marian David’s entry on correspondence theories of truth

(especially relevant to Ramsey, Austin, Dummett, Geach, Hornsby)

Fraser McBride’s entry on truth-makers
(especially relevant to Ramsey, Strawson, Austin, Dummett, Geach, Hornsby)

Stewart Candlish and Nic Damnjanovic’s entry on the identity theory of truth
(especially relevant to Hornsby)

Guy Longworth’s entry on J. L. Austin
(especially relevant to Austin, Strawson)

Paul Snowdon’s entry on P. F. Strawson
(especially relevant to Austin, Strawson)

Alexander Miller’s entry on realism
(especially relevant to Dummett)

Issue No. 1

The Contributors

12 April 2013

Paper


f.p. ramsey (cambridge)

"Facts and Propositions"

(1927)

Biography

Commentary


peter sullivan (stirling)

"An Introduction to 'Facts and Propositions'

(2013)

Biography


13 April 2013

Paper


J.L. Austin (Oxford)

"Truth"

(1950)

Biography

Commentary


Charles Travis (KCL)

"As a Matter of Fact"

(2013)

Biography


14 April 2013

Paper


P.F. Strawson (Oxford)

"Truth"

(1950)

Biography

Commentary


Paul Snowdon (UCL)

"Strawson's 'Truth'"

(2013)

Biography


15 April 2013

Paper


Michael Dummett (Oxford)

"Truth"

(1959)

Biography

Commentary


Ian Rumfitt (Birkbeck)

"Michael Dummett's'Truth'"

(2013)

Biography


16 April 2013

Paper


Peter Geach (Leeds)

"Truth and God"

(1982)

Biography

Commentary


Graham Oppy (Monash)

"Truth and God"

(2013)

Biography


17 April 2013

Paper


Jane Heal (Cambridge)

"The Disinterested Search for Truth"

(1988)

Biography

Commentary


Julian Dodd (Manchester)

"Jane Heal's 'The Disinterested Search for Truth'"

(2013)

Biography


18 April 2013

Paper


Jennifer Hornsby (Birkbeck)

"Truth: The Identity Theory"

(1997)

Biography

Commentary


Gila sher (California - San Diego)

"Introduction to and Commentary on Jennifer Hornsby’s ‘Truth: The Identity Theory’"

(2013)

Biography

Overview