File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9810, message 73

Date: Thu, 15 Oct 1998 17:43:20 +0100
Subject: BHA: Bhaskar's theory of truth 3

Hi Tobin

I was afraid this might happen. You repeatedly ask someone to spell out
an argument that truth can be non-propositional. No-one seems willing or
able to oblige. I eventually, with some misgiving (believe me!) try to
oblige. You explode and abuse me for my pains. I feel a bit as though I
had been set up, though doubtless you didn't intend that. But since
you're distributing thanks, I think you should thank me for taking the
time to at least try to answer your question. 

I'm sorry you don't have much time to read, and I make no presumption
that you (or others) have. What I maintain is that it is impossible to
criticize a theory very productively unless one is familiar with it as a
whole and in detail. This holds for me regardless of how much time those
who criticize it have. I apologize to any discussant on the list,
including yourself, who does have such a grasp of the theory, for
implying that they don't.

You write:
>(2) You write that you don't take the idea that truth has multiple meanings
>as a given, yet you proceed to do exactly that. 

> Basically you just
>regurgitate Bhaskar.  
Indeed: insofar as I attempted to provide a brief summary and
contextualization of the overall theory, in the belief a) that it is
Bhaskar's concept of 'alethic truth' that is being discussed and b) that
the answer he gives to the question you had posed can only be understood
in relation to the overall theory.  (Given that you have so little time,
you might have found it a useful crib instead of reacting in this way!)

>Does RB say truth has four aspects?  Why yes he does.
You've shifted from 'meanings' to 'aspects'. I think they're different,
as I made clear (together with their interrelatedness).

>Does that make it true?  Not intrinsically, no. 
I nowhere say or imply that it does.

> (And if I fail to be a
>Bhaskar-thumping fundamentalist, too bad.)  
I thought you thought it *wasn't* Bhaskar I was thumping.

>Does asking for such an argument mean I'm a bastion of
As I accepted in my reply to Ruth, it would have been more appropriate
to refer to 'subjectivism' and 'objectivism' in relation to theories of
truth as distinct from epistemologies. I do think though (as you
register) that a subjectivist theory of truth, or as Heikki perhaps
better put it, 'the confinement of truth and truth judgements to the
transitive dimension of science' can easily help to generate extreme
forms of relativism, and that an objectivist theory of truth is a
counter to this. I nowhere say or imply that I think you belong to any
particular camp.

>engaged in attacking Bhaskar by every means available?  Not even
Again, I did not say or imply this.

>So, to restate: How is it proper to use the term "truth" (roughly
>equivalent to "veracity," "verity," "correctness" etc) for something that's
>non-propositional?  How, *precisely*, does one define the term "truth" such
>that it can rightly apply to the propositional and non-propositional alike?
>Simply saying that according to Bhaskar it does, is to assume what I think
>has to be proven (for the greater glory of dialectical critical realism,
Here is the relevant part of what I had to say. Please find time to re-
read it carefully and reconsider:

>With respect to c) (in part) and d) [ontolotical and alethic truth] I
>doubt that Bhaskar is contesting the view that only propositions can be
>true - he is rather incorporating this into a deeper account of truth
>on which in the ID things can be *true of* each other in the sense that
>they causally generate them, or speaking dialectically constitute their
>real or dialectical reason or ground. (Thus I don't think he is
>committed to the notion that a causal mechanism is 'true' rather than
>just 'is'; rather, that it may be 'true of' another in the sense

This seems to me to provide or strongly imply a clear answer to your
question: the definition of truth, besides what is requisite re the
truth of propositions (what you say of this will do) must be expanded to
incorporate the notion of the real reason of things in the sense
indicated. In terms of the theory, then, a proposition would be regarded
as maximally true when we know the alethic truth of what it is about at
level d'), and minimally at level a).
Whether you think it answers your question or no, please accept that I
was trying to answer it!
>(3) I concur with Ruth that the issue concerns, not a mere terminological
>quibble, but how we understand certain key concepts.  As I see it, the
>problem is showing (a) that it is incorrect to define "truth" as strictly
I can agree if you say 'exclusively propositional'. I think I've showed
that it is incorrect (rather, Bhaskar has and I've recapped the
argument). At level d) science discovers alethic truths in the sense
indicated. As I said, propositions about them must still be in language,
but it is the alethic truth of some phenomenon that is actually
discovered ie the causal mechanism(s) producing it. If you abstract the
propositions, and even the whole transitive dimension, the alethic
truths are still there (or were, in regard to the human world.) If you
accept (as I think the main participants in the debate do) that science
really does discover causal mechanisms which explain other phenomena,
then it's hard not to see the obection as being basically? at least
partly? terminological: it is permitted to speak of real causal
mechanisms but not if we call them real reasons or alethic truths. Ah,
but reason and truth pertain exclusively to the human world? Not in the
sense indicated.

You say my account of why this notion might be being resisted is
hopeless. Please tell me then, why is it? I find it difficult to
understand except in terms of its having something to do with the
relatism and subjectivism of the times.

>and (b) that there is a coherent way of understanding it
>which embraces the propositional and non-propositional.  Actually, you
>approach such an argument at the one point where you stop rehashing Bhaskar
>and speak for yourself:
>>It seems to me that, if anything, the boot is on the other foot here:
>>those who want to confine the theory of truth to the TD are reifying the
>>divide, such that any crossing of it is equated with collapsing it. But
>>we cross it all the time in performing referential detachment.
>>Not to see this is perhaps to head in the direction of losing sight of
>>the ID altogether, as the realm of unknowable things-in-themselves for
>>us poor prisoners in the world of propositions and discourse.
>I'll take this as a step in the right direction.
Well, thank you. I think the paragraph I quoted above bears on the
question too, as well as the one immediately before the one you've just
quoted (so it is misleading to imply that everything else was a rehash,
if you must put it like that.)

>(4) Ruth rightly questions your assertion that
>>        First, what is being resisted is the apparently
>>non-relativist implications of truth as ontological and objective.
Yes, it would have been better to say 'objectivist' (see my reply to
Ruth today). But I stand by the point made about relativism in the
paragraph going in the right direction.

>(5) Again with Ruth, regarding your statement:
>>    But truth is still relative to the processes in the TD (now
>>'metacritically extended to include the whole material and cultural
>>infra-/intra-superstructure of society' 218). Even alethic truth has to
>>be expressed in language, and is subject to revision as our theories
>>change or are superceded.
>In the first sentence, truth *must* be propositional.  Alethic truth
>*cannot* change with the transitive tides, or else it isn't alethic.  Nor
>(second sentence) can alethic truth be subject to revision.  I assume what
>you meant to write was that its *expression* is subject to revision.  
Yes. Again, see my reply to Ruth. The way I put it is misleading, but I
did manage to go on and say what I meant to say.

>I hope
>this exercise in error gives you a glimpse of why I think it's important to
>clarify precisely how alethia can constitute a *truth*, rather than just
>name a state of reality.  
See my comments above - I tried to do just that, except that I'm not
talking about 'a state of reality' as such, but about a mechanism or
structure which causally produces some other phonomenon.

>(Again: if "alethia" simply *names* reality,
>natural necessity, etc, then why choose a name connected with *truth*?)
I thought I had made it quite clear that I don't think it does, and why.
(I did say that it was another name for natural necessity, but in the
context of the definitions above - the necessity of something else that
science comes to discover.)

>(6)  You write:
>>But secondly, there is an (open) political agenda too, dating back to
>>Tobin's queasy stomach in the present discussion, and beyond that to the
>>Frankfurt school, Heidegger, Nietzsche etc. This broadly equates
>>scientific reason with domination, control, violence.
>Good lord, sir, what are you on about?  What have I said in the present
>discussion--what have I *ever* said--that could even accidentally be
>interpreted as believing that scientific reason should be equated with
>domination etc.? 
Look, I'm sorry I mentioned your queasy stomach again, especially since
doing so has proved so counter-productive. But whatever the reason why
you associated 'Alethia' with 'Pravda', I doubt that you'd question that
'Pravda' has in turn been associated with 'scientific' reason,
domination, control and violence. Further, Heikki went on, in a posting
headed 'Alethia, ontologised truth and violence', to highlight that
>then there comes the suspicion that 'alethia' in Russian means
'pravda'> [nobody seems able to see that it ie Bhaskar's concept
actually doesn't, but never mind; whatever you had intended, you had set
the ball rolling] in the context of arguing that notions of objective
truth, Bhaskar's specifically, encourage violence. And a debate about
this ensued, which the remarks of mine you refer to were intended to
Incidentally, I don't at all object to people having a political agenda,
especially if it's open, only to being expostulated at for seeking to
discuss it.

>Maybe someone in this discussion is attacking CR (at its strongest
>point or not), but that someone ain't me.
I accept this, and I don't see you as an enemy, on the contrary! I don't
greatly mind whether you attack it or not, provided you allow me to try
to defend it where I think appropriate without abusing me as a
fundamentalist etc. (Even that I don't mind all that much personally.
But it doesn't do you, or the list, much good.)
>Likewise, you commented:
>>    Colin baulked at
>>the dynamic character of science.
>I hope Colin will forgive me for speaking in his place, but I don't remember
>him saying anything like this, nor can I even imagine him thinking it.
Here are his words (addressing Ruth) since he might not speak directly
for himself, having retired to the lurk:

>Lets make this simple, by alethia, and we have done this before, RB
>"A species [Note the A, this species of truth does not exhaust the idea
>of truth] of ontological truth constituting and following on the truth
>of, or real reason(s) for, or dialectical ground of, things, as
>distinct from propositions, possible in virtue of the ontological
>stratification [and I would add necessary in virtue of the structured
>nature of] of the world...." Plato, p. 251. Now I have left the last
>part of this definition out because I don't necessary agree with RB
>that it is attainable in virtue of the dynamic character of science.

Now this could mean, not that Colin is questioning the dynamic character
of science, rather that he thinks alethia is attainable by some other
means. But if science attains alethia, but not in virtue of its probing
ever deeper into the stratification of the world (which is what I take
RB to mean by 'dynamism'), it's difficult to see how else it could
attain it. Anyhow, what's the big deal? You do seem rather desperate to
catch me out. I actually don't in the least mind admitting I'm wrong,
where I am wrong.

>Mervyn, you're reading Bhaskar too religiously (sic), 
Never! As science isn't the only path to truth, religion could get me to
discover heaps more alethia!

But seriously: in the hermeneutical tradition stemming considerably from
religious studies there are some good precedents for the fruitfulness of
playing close attention to the detail of major texts. Or is it religious
to regard this particular text (DPF) as major?

Sorry this is so long. I hope I have read you better, and that you will
take it constructively.
Mervyn Hartwig

     --- from list ---


Driftline Main Page


Display software: ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005