Monthly Archives: May 2021

The Vast Diversity of Truth Claims

Truth claims are made in many ways besides declarative sentences expressible as: Such-and-such is the case. Expanding, and probably distorting, Paul Grices’ notion of “conversational implicature*,” many human activities, verbal and non-verbal, are explicitly or implicitly, taken as representing reality.

It must be emphasized that these human activities are interpreted as representing reality as it is; not only as it ought to be. There is little doubt that activities such as story telling are taken as giving moral and practical advice.

I am thinking primarily of literature: short stories, novels, sagas, poetry and sacred texts. Of course, good literature meets aesthetic standards by virtue of which it is entertaining and beautiful. Because of what it shows about the human condition literature implies all sorts of advice – both wise and foolish. It also is frequently taken as informing us of the human condition. Such information is crucial because few of us could ever have the experiences of the ways of being human which we learn from literature. And if literature can tell us the truth, it can also lie. For instance, stories of “hardboiled detectives” falsely represent how men are.

What I have written astounds me. After living most of my life in a university setting, I have finally realized that literature departments are in the service of truth. They are not merely charting the history and techniques of verbal entertainments. (I may have been inflicted with a implicit bias of philosophy departments.)

I now hold : Literature expresses significant truths which can be expressed only by literature.

This means, for instance, that there cannot be a short summary of a few sentences which expresses the truth presented by “The Brothers Karamazov.” There cannot be a paragraph, or indeed a book, presenting the truth of the Bible. You have to read the whole text, or much of it, to realize the truth proclaimed. Much, indeed most, of the text does not present these truths. Much else needs to be presented to make the text literature. Hence, the truth claims cannot be explicitly separated from the context of all that is written.

I am sure that some truths can be expressed only in a story but are not expressed if the story is boring. Sentimentality may prevent a poem from bringing us to realize a truth. Some factual errors might provide the proper setting for presenting a Biblical truth.

Now that I have given up the notion that there is some ideal language for representing what exists, I am also setting aside the notion that language is necessary for representing what exists. Humans can represent, and misrepresent, what exists in ways that cannot be re-expressed in any words. Music, painting sculpture, architecture, may, in part, be representations of what is. Truth claims go beyond the limits of language.

* An implicature is something the speaker suggests or implies with an utterance, even though it is not literally expressed. Implicatures can aid in communicating more efficiently than by explicitly saying everything we want to communicate.

Diversity of Truth Claims Instead of Heterogeneity of Truth Conditions

My previous use of the phrase “heterogeneity of truth conditions” expressed a philosophical error. Since I already accepted what I called “opacity of truth conditions.” To say that truth conditions are opaque is to claim that we cannot specify what they are like apart from our ways of representing. If truth conditions are opaque, I cannot even specify them as one or many apart from our ways of representing them. Consequently, I cannot specify them as many, by claiming they are heterogeneous. My concerns in the previous post about whether I was expressing pluralism over monism was not only wasted labor. It also expressed a philosophical error by proposing inconsistent theses.

What I now propose, using a popular term of 2021, is “diversity of truth claims.” This really is a corollary of the philosophical thesis that any logically consistent truth claim can be true. Although I, as earlier in ,Almost all religious truth claims can be true, emphasized most are false. Truth claim diversity is also a corollary of the dismissal of an ideal language. We cannot set limits on what people say to express the truth. We cannot, for instance, rule out truth claims that cannot be tested by the methods of science, viz., we cannot be logical positivists. Generalizing the standard critique of logical positivism as inconsistent with its own standards for being a truth claim, we realize that we cannot consistently rule out as possibly true -cognitively meaningful- truth claims which cannot be verified by any specified method.

Dismissal of an ideal language, i.e., accepting diversity of truth claims sets aside a belief, implicitly held by me, that some reduction to one way of speaking was crucial for accurate expression of the truth. It is a mistake to think that we can only accurately express the truth if we speak only of physical objects and processes; let alone speak only of individual objects as nominalists require. Of course, for particular purposes we may choose to consider only truth claims of restricted types. For instance, in physics it is proper to set aside all truth claims about so-called secondary qualities

I think that dismissal of an ideal language implies that we cannot select a subset of truth claims as those which are factually true while others are true only as inferences from them. I will call this thesis “epistemic equality of truth claims.” There is no fundamental distinction between theoretical truth and factual truth. We are in no position to hold that there are some basic facts to make some basic factual claims true and other truth claims are inferences to explain the basic facts. To paraphrase Kronecker about mathematics, the thesis I am rejecting holds: The basic facts are made by God while all the other claims are human work. If a fact is whatever makes a truth claim true, there is no reason for denying that a claim such as one expressing the law of gravity or species evolution is a statement of fact.

I have written nothing about the epistemology of truth. I have only been reminding myself that the problem of discovering truth is not primarily a verbal problem which can be solved by somehow having the right language.

Heterogeneity of truth conditions is Not an Ontological Thesis of Pluralism

Have I simply accepted a physical/spiritual dualism in a convoluted way by writing in my previous post that I now accept a thesis with the complex name “heterogeneity of truth conditions?” Am I only accepting what Descartes more clearly stated about 400 years ago when he posited two kinds of substances: the physical and the mental?

No! The thesis of heterogeneity of truth conditions is not about what is. It is not an ontological thesis. It is a thesis about our ways of representing what is.

A proof that I am not merely positing Cartesian dualism is that heterogeneity of truth conditions admits that there can be truth conditions for claims about the interaction of mind and body. It is logically consistent to say “I walked across the room because I wanted to get a book off the shelf.” So there can be truth conditions for this claim presupposing that there is mind/body interaction.

But what does the heterogeneity thesis tell us? I admit that its title suggests an ontological thesis. (I am not really satisfied with the title I have given it.) It suggests an ontological thesis of pluralism. It is primarily negative. I suppose that I could just leave it as rejection of homogeneity of truth conditions.

It must be understood in conjunction with the thesis I titled “inscrutability of truth conditions.”

To assert heterogeneity of truth conditions is to concede that there is an unspecifiable variety of ways what exists can form truth conditions. It dismisses all reductionist theses of the form: There is nothing but_______. The blank can be filled in with “physical,” “mental and physical,” etc.,. However, the heterogeneity thesis is not opposed to taking stances such as: There is nothing but _____ for the sake of investigations of _______. Here the second blank can be filled in with a term like “physical” where the physical would have to be defined as perhaps that which can be characterized using only notions of mass, space and time.

It is appropriate to close this short post by noting that heterogeneity of truth conditions is primarily a thesis dismissing all reductionism as misleading unless it is admitted that reductions are only “as if” hypotheses.

The Truth of Spiritual Truth Claims

My realization that there could be truth conditions for religious claims continues to astonish me. The only narratives which could not be true are logically inconsistent narratives.

With respect to what a philosopher can say apriori about what exists is

The only impossibility is logical impossibility!
The only necessity is logical necessity!

In particular, I now hold that there could exist conditions which make one of my favorite bible passages an accurate description of the conception of Jesus which happened roughly two thousand years ago in a town of Galilee called Nazareth when a Cyrinus was governor of Syria. This is the Annunciation according to Luke. (Lk. 1:26-36) .

I cannot clearly articulate what I previously thought about the truth of religious claims. I thought that most of them were fictions. I did not explicitly hold that core claims of my Catholicism, such as the Annunciation, were fictions. I admit, though, that I had a dread that they could not be more than fictions.

Why did I think that they could not be true? I thought that if any religious claims were true, an account of their truth conditions would be given by showing how what formed their truth conditions was built up from what formed truth conditions for claims about physical nature. I cannot think of how it is possible to construct what would form a truth condition about the supernatural from the stuff of truth conditions for the natural. I did not clearly think of myself as trying to construct the supernatural from the physical nature. But that is what I was doing.

I want to make a terminological shift. I am now shifting from talking of the natural vs. the supernatural to talking of the physical vs. the spiritual.

Here I want to examine assumptions behind my futile previous attempts to understand how there could be religious truth. I will note ssumptions I reject and those I still accept.

The physical is primary in the sense that what constitutes truth conditions for claims about physical nature constitute truth claims about anything else. I now reject this physicalism.

That which makes up truth conditions for claims is of one kind for all claims. I call this assumption “the homogeneity of truth conditions.” I now reject the homogeneity of truth conditions.

I now propose the “heterogeneity of truth conditions.” Whatever it is that constitutes truth conditions for our claims may be different for different kinds of claims. For instance, the lawfully behaving stuff that permits truths claims of physical science does not act in lawful ways with the stuff that makes religious claims true.

I conjecture that dismissal of the homogeneity of truth conditions allows use of the Aristotelian causal concepts for talking about any kind of truth conditions. They do not attribute any structure or composition. Indeed the Aristotelian causal concepts might be helpful in distinguishing the physical from the spiritual.

I held inconsistent assumptions about what we can know about truth conditions as they are apart from our ways of thinking. On one hand, I held “inscrutability of truth conditions.” (I use “inscrutability” to move away from the Kantian phrase “things in themselves” when I talk of not being able to say what truth conditions are like in-and-by-themselves.) On the other hand, I held “the ideal language assumption.”

An account of truth conditions is simply another truth claim. So other than to concede their heterogeneity and speculate that we could use Aristotelian causal concepts to talk of any kind of truth condition, I hold that truth conditions in-and-by-themselves are inscrutable.

Now according to the ideal language assumption, there is a correct written language which shows the structure of truth conditions for all claims. The ideal language assumption strikes me as preposterous. An ideal language is not any language but a pretended picture of what any truth conditions must have as a structure and composition. Nonetheless, I have more or less accepted it ever since I read Wittgenstein’s Tractatus as a beginning philosophy student. Even writing a dissertation on Wittgenstein’s remarks on mathematics in which he rejects an ideal language did not remove it as an assumption whenever I turned to core philosophy. Probably, I always assumed what I have called the Parmenidean assumption: The order and connection of being is the order and connection of thought. See Truth and the Parmenidean Postulate

More exactly, what is the ideal language assumption? A formal language in which all of the truth claims of mathematics and natural science can be expressed shows us the composition and structure of truth conditions. The referents of the basic descriptive terms of such a language are the basic constituents of truth conditions. Whatever else that is said to exist is definable in terms of these basic constituents.

Since the ideal language assumptions is preposterous, I do not want to spend more space elaborating on it. Here it is more important to note the assumption with which I replace the ideal language hypothesis.

It is the assumption that there is no right way of speaking, to speak the truth. For instance, the right way to tell the truth about the human condition may be the biblical narrative of the Hebrew tribe. I now hold that the best way to describe the Annunciation is the way Luke described it. There is no more precise way to speak about it.

I still assume the univocity of truth.

To tell the truth is to say of what is that it is and to say of what is not that it is not. However, there may many different kinds of subjects about which to tell the truth and many different ways of expressing these truths.

I close by emphasizing that I have been talking only about the possibility of spiritual and physical truths. I have not given any guidance on how we determine truth about the physical; let alone the spiritual.