Thursday, July 14, 2005

A defense of the correspondence theory of truth

I. The Argument from Truth
A second argument I provided was the argument from truth. In presenting this argument I
I was admittedly rather sketchy, pointing out that the Churchlands, operating from a very strong form of naturalism, had drawn the conclusion that the idea of truth should be eliminated and superseded by some more scientifically adequate concepts. Of course I did not provide much of any argument for why naturalism has these implications, and so I can hardly be said to have provide the adequacy of the argument from truth in my book.
Let us reflect for a moment on truth as an epistemic summum bonum or supreme good. It seems to me that the scientific enterprise, at least as classically understood, is based on a desire first and foremost to know the truth, and only secondly to manipulate and control the world. We are told, for example, that no matter how comforting it is to have religious beliefs, if those beliefs are not based on good evidence that they are true, then they ought to be abandoned.
But this raises some questions about what this property of truth is, that we should abandon beliefs that we may find comforting for the sake of truth. Here it seems that many “deflationary” accounts of truth are going to fail to capture why we care about truth so much. In William Hasker’s generally friendly response to me in Philosophia Christi he asks
And now consider truth: why should the naturalist find it problematic? That snow is white is true just in case snow is white; what would motivate (let alone force) a naturalist to reject this?
Here Hasker is adverting to a Tarskian disquotational theory of truth; truth is a matter of taking quotation marks of sentences. But truth has to have more to it than this if it is to carry the weight of being the supreme epistemic value. Timothy Erdel takes Quine to task for, at one point, saying that he rejected religion and politics in favor of the pursuit of truth, but then he defines truth in this disquotational way. As he says:
If truth is no more than Quine generally claims when he is describing or explaining truth (as opposed to when he is appealing to it as the grounding motive more his life’s work), namely, the removing of quotation marks from the names of sentences, then one senses some fairly significant equivocation in his use of the term, “truth.” Presumably one does not cast aside all claims from religion and politics to pursue philosophy as a vocation solely to facilitate the removing of quotes from names of sentences…
So to make the sort of thing we ought epistemically to pursue, even at personal cost, truth
must be something more than mere disquotation. But what can it be? I think that only the correspondence theory is the only one that adequately underwrites the intuition that many of us share that truth is the supreme epistemic good.