Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What is Truth.

I've been tangling with the concept of truth, recently, for a book I'm working on (a philosopher? Writing a book? Shocker!). Correspondence theory is the theory that most academics accept or at least lean towards. Even there, leaning is hardly an endorsement. Basically, correspondence theory states that propositions can be true or false (grass is green) depending on if they correspond to reality.

But what is reality? If reality is determined wholly by our senses, then I see very little difference between the correspondence theory and pragmatic truth. It's in there where my mind is spending its time. Pragmatic theory is so much more powerful than I once gave it credit for.

Pragmatic theory says that a proposition is true if it's useful. Sounds almost silly, but the theory's strength lies in the definition of useful. For example, believing that God exists might make someone feel better, but that is not useful. A proposition must be usable to achieve other propositions that are themselves useful.

For example, I believe "there is a pen on my table." If correspondence theory is true, simply seeing the pen confirms that. But imagine that it's a hologram. I reach out and get nothing but air. Then, suddenly, I have two contradictory perceptions. Which one corresponds to reality? I don't think that it's answerable! The pen might be an illusion, or I might be missing when I reach. My hand might be an illusion. I can't tell.

But pragmatic theory is much better. "There is a pen on my table" is true if, acting upon that belief, I am able to achieve other things. If I need to write something, and I act upon the belief and reach out for the pen, and, indeed, successfully write something, my belief was true. If I try to act on that belief and fail to write something, the belief was not true.

That's powerful! It works with the scientific method very well, because confirmation is central to science, obviates correspondence theory (if we assume that reality is sense perception), and achieves what truth theory should achieve: giving us something to work with.

No comments: