Humanist Conversations, August 4th, 2000
Pragmatism: The philosophy of meaning and truth
What is truth?
Extracted from: Hospers, John. An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice
Hall, 1997. 4th ed. p. 44-46.
We speak of a one-to-one correspondence between two things, for example, between the books in a library and the cards in the card catalog. Is there such a one-to-one correspondence between a sentence and a fact? Surely not, for the sentence can be translated into other languages and still express the same fact. It's the meaning that counts, not the sentence per se. The correspondence theory applies easily to empirical statements. ... A statement by itself corresponds to a fact only if the speaker intends it for that purpose.
2. Coherence theory of truth: Not correspondence but coherence, it has been suggested, is what decides whether a statement is true. Coherence with what? With other statements. Its truth consists in its coherence with a body, or system, of other statements.
What is meant by "coherence"? One meaning is, "A proposition is coherent with a body of other propositions if it is logically consistent with them; that is, if it doesn't contradict any of them." ... One could make the coherence requirements stronger by saying that the proposition must entail (logically imply) one another. ... Coherence among propositions has to do with a body, or system, of propositions that are not only consistent with each other but that mutually support one another; they don't logically entail one another, but the provide evidence for each other.
Coherence is of great importance in the sciences, where there is a large body of propositions that are mutually dependent on one another. In scientific theory, the only means available for choosing among competing theories is their degree of coherence with other propositions already accepted. But what of the statements on which the theory is based? ... Could coherence be defined without already presupposing--assuming--the concept of truth?
3. Pragmatic theory of truth: "The truth is what works." The first question to be asked is "What does it mean?" We know well enough what it is for a mechanical object to "work." ... But what does it mean for a belief to "work?" Can propositions be tested by whether they "work?" ... What has its "working" in a specific case to do with its truth? If it "works" for you but not for me, is it then true for you but not for me? What exactly is the relation between its being true and its "working?" Surely they aren't the same thing? ...
The contemporary philosopher Karl Popper has written, in defense of truth as correspondence, that
From: "Pragmatism's Conception of Truth" (p. 122 of Pragmatism : A Reader)
Suggested readings for the Aug. 4 Humanist Conversation on Pragmatism:
*From the Dewey Database, which David Schafer owns.