File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9810, message 28

Date: Tue, 6 Oct 1998 18:49:13 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: BHA: truth again

Hiya Colin,

You wrote:
>Then you will have to provide good arguments as to why alethia is not a
>good term for the nature of things.

The simplest reason is that, so far as I can tell, the term is redundant at

I mean, look: either 
(a) structures in nature have a "truth," which is something other than their
particular, determinate character; or

(b) structures in nature have a "truth" and it is identical to their
particular, determinate character; or 

(c) structures in nature have a particular, determinate character, which we
may or may not claim to know.  

It seems to me that you are plumping for (b), here, while I (I'll let Heikki
and Caroline speak for themselves) am holding out for (c).

Here's why I'm as yet unconvinced that the shift from (c) to (b) represents
an epistemic gain.  First begin by noting that, in so far as the "truth"
posited in (b) has the same referent as "...their particular determinate
character," it's redundant.  (And one could, I suppose, just leave it at

Indeed, from the perspective of (b), the choice between (c) and (b) is
really a question of whether or not it is a good idea to change our name for
"the way x is."  That is, instead of calling it "x's character," say, or
"x's nature," is it a better idea to call it "x's truth?"  This decision
about re-naming is all that can be at stake, because from the perspective of
(b) the terms all have the same referent.  

Here again I would say no, on balance it is *not* a good idea to change
names, or even to use both interchangeably ("character, nature or structure"
and "truth"), as the mood strikes.  This for three reasons, one ontological,
one political and one epistemological.  The ontological reason to insist
that the term "structure" cannot be properly re-named "truth" is that, in my
view, structures in nature would exist in the absence of human beings,
whereas, in my view, anything that can meaningfully be called "truth" would
not.  The political reason is that it is easy to sound dogmatically
absolutist, even when you're not, when you use this language.  The
epistemological reason not to regard truth as, even in part, given by
(because identical to) real structures in nature, is that to do so makes it
seem as though the difficult questions about theory choice, or methodology,
and about rationality more generally, have been thereby settled, when they
haven't been.

You wrote,
>If, that is, you want to insist on thinking of truth as
>purely a relational concept then alethia will indeed be problematic to you.

I don't actually know what you mean here.

>What makes you presume that a commitment to alethia, puts our concepts into
>the things? 

It's because, as I said above, I think that the concept of "truth" is not
properly a predicate of natural phenomenon.  It flunks my "Would it still be
here if there weren't any people?" test.

>On your reading the truth about the nature of things can only be a function
of >our concepts.  So idealism is threatening. 

Nope.  My view is that (a) there are natural structures; (b) there is a
regulative concept, "truth," which concept expresses something like the idea
that a statement <p> is true iff p; (b) there are particular
knowledge-claims, organized into theories; (c) in any given case, there are
reasons for accepting one theory over another; (d) the best if not only
reason why any given criterion for adjudicating between competing theories
ought to be exercised is because it is thought that to do so, on balance,
tends to produce theories that can be said to be true; (e) there are
theories that, so far as we can tell, are true.  

So.  On my reading the nature of things has nothing to do with us, and "the
truth about the nature of things" is an unfortunate formulation that blurs
(a), (b), (c) and (e).

>Well of course there couldn't be a concept of truth, if there were no
>people. But that doesn't mean there would be no such thing (however
>defined) anymore than the lack of a concept of reality means that there
>would be none.

Well, this is the argument.  There was a similar one about the concept of
pi, too, remember?  (Though for the record I don't think that pi and truth
are the same kinds of concept...)

>It seems to me that you and Heikki are somehow inferring from the
>commitment to alethia of things that I am claiming to possess it. 

No, not me.  Perhaps that's Heikki's worry more than mine.  

Yay!  Now I finally get to eat supper!

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