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Date: Mon, 12 Oct 1998 17:25:55 +0100

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Date: Mon, 12 Oct 1998 17:30:27 +0100
From: "Caroline New" <>
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Subject: The Truth as I see it! 

Dear all,
Well, I had a busy week and saved all the list exchanges to read on the
train to Birmingham (to a day conference on realism in sociology).  It
was nearly two hours heavy reading - what a good thing I got on the slow
train by mistake.  Maybe reading all the ‘alethia’ posts in one big
session made it easier to see what was happening.  In many ways it was a
useful exchange.  By the time Ruth and Colin had sorted out some points,
it seemed to me there was no big disagreement between them.  Both agreed
that at any moment the world is a certain way, whether or not we humans
know it.  Colin wants to call the way the world is, the details of its
differentiation, stratification etc,  its alethic truth - and cites RB
and an honourable etymology for this usage.  Ruth wants to ensure
epistemology is kept separate from ontology, by restricting the word
‘truth’ to justified claims to knowledge of the world.  Both agree that
the way the world is - the fact that it is a certain way - is what makes
judgemental rationalism possible, and some truth claims better than
others.  The disagreement only occurred when either party misunderstood
the other and extended their point, eg when Ruth thought maybe Colin was
taking truth in general to be ‘a predicate of reality’, or when Colin
thought maybe if Ruth thought truth was relational she might think
judgemental rationality is impossible.
Then Howard came in with his remarks about dogmatism.  For him, alethia
is key to CR’s distinction between things and our thinking about them,
and therefore protects us from dogmatism and its violence by requiring
us to be fallibilist.  But Heikki feared that either ‘alethia’ is a
redundant restatement of ontological realism, or will extend until any
truth claim is thought to ‘designate a predicate of things themselves’
and therefore to be INfallible.   Yet again Colin replied, in
frustration, ‘But you are alluding to alethia here as you deny it’.
Ontological realism just says reality exists independent of our
conception of it - the concept of alethic truth is about its mode of
being, its form.  Colin does not believe that the usage of ‘alethic
truth’ he defends muddies the distinction between the transitive and the
As reader, I was now thinking - yes, Colin is right that Ruth and Heikki
are talking about alethia. in the sense that they certainly believe the
world to have determinate form.  Of course all three are critical
realists (Heikki was just talking about a point a conventionalist might
make, not being one!) and don’t have the thin, formless sort of ‘there’s
something out there but it has no form other than what we give it
through our concepts’ sort of ontological realism (I’m not even sure
that is a coherent position though I’ve certainly heard it defended).
All three believe some truth claims are better than others, BECAUSE they
have a better handle on the way things are.  All three believe, and have
unequivocally stated, that to judge between truth claims we have to look
at the evidence, and that it’s because the world is a certain way that
it is possible to offer and to examine evidence.  How interesting it is,
and how odd, that this discussion is becoming so fraught, so that
gradually Colin seems to lose sight of the agreement between himself,
Ruth and Heikki as if he had become a lone alethic realist.  But I have
often noticed how fraught with anxiety philosophical positions can be
(they certainly can be for me.  Post-structuralism terrifies me!).  I
would guess that for Colin, the idea of a vague, formless reality (which
neither Heikki nor Ruth are invoking)  is alarming, and the ‘truth of
things’ is vital since without it there is no justice.  For Heikki, on
the other hand, a statement that ‘THIS IS HOW THINGS ARE!’ (which is
not, in fact, what Colin is saying) awakens fears of dogmatism and
Into all this (and it rumbles on, with clarifications from Tobin, left
feet and all sorts) comes Howie, with his view that while there is a
world out there, there is no way that the world is.  Maybe here, if
anyone has been able to stay with me so long, I could actually join in.
There IS a way the world is, in the sense on which Colin’s been
insisting.  I disagree with Howie when he says there isn’t.  Yet, how
deep is this disagreement?  (for Howie too believes there is a
‘subject-independent world).  Howie’s main point seems to be, that no
description could ever come to the end of how any one bit of the world
is (e.g. his study).  This is a variant, isn’t it, of the epistemic
fallacy?  The fact that the world is indescribable (and unknowable) by
humans, all of whom are (as feminists say) socially and physically
situated, and whose knowing is limited by our human capacities and
liabilities, as well as by our purposes - all this is neither here nor
there in relation to the claim that there is a way the world is.  Yes,
there is, and it’s very, very complex.  Luckily those complexities are
themselves stratified, differentiated, synchronic etc so that we have a
chance of grasping, knowing, describing some mere tiny fraction of
them.  No God’s eye view, no single theoretical perspective is possible
within which to encompass it all - so what?  There is still a way, an
enormous only patchily knowable only partially describable way, that the
world is.
Now it seems to me that the difference between myself and Howie, and I
would have said between Colin and Howie, is not really as great as it
might appear, but to Colin and Howie it apparently seems very great.  Is
Colin advocating ‘the possibility of a single truth’, as Howie asserts
(and this seems to awaken his particular philosophical anxieties)?
Colin only advocates a single truth in the alethic sense of truth, not
the propositional one.  This is the case whether or not we think the
alethic sense of truth is redundant or useful to CR.  Yes, let’s
reassert our intellectual comradeship - it’s pretty deep and wide, in my
view - and get on with reading DCR.  And let’s dissuade Colin from
becoming a lurker. Get all those lurkers into the open!

All the best, Caroline

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