Wednesday, May 28, 2014

notes on truth



evening | days of ‘truth’

What’s truth?

Look it up in an unabridged dictionary, which I’m doing below.

I love doing that with auratic (e.g., ‘love’), mystified (e.g., ‘spirit’), and allegedly difficult words (e.g., ‘truth’). It’s a tickle. (That reminds me of my undergraduate professor of ancient philosophy giggling regularly during lectures. He was very elderly, and loved his calling. When the very Christian man died, he had his gigantic library shipped to a mission in central Africa.)

The oldest definition of ‘truth’ is allegedly “1 a archaic : the quality or state of being faithful: fidelity, constancy” “Archaic” is not “obsolete”; the lexicographers use ‘obsolete’ frequently, when apt. I think of “true to form” or “being true” in friendship. Merriam-Webster uses S. T. Coleridge: “…whispering tongues can poison truth…” Pithy. Anyway, think a moment of the consanguinity of fidelity, constancy, being true to form, and faithfulness (as a non-religious notion, simply consanguineous with the others here). Archaic may be far beyond primitive (a basic meaning of ‘archaic’) because the meaning is archetypal, in this case evincing from Old English, akin to Old High German and Old Norse: fidelity, trustiness, faith. Truth in trust, an intimacy of reliability, as if deep need for reliability in life is integral to there being good life. Indeed—in deed. Etymology is anthropology.

Very relatedly—consanguineous with definition 1 a is “b : sincerity in character, action, and speech : genuineness in expressing feeling or belief; truthfulness, honesty.” We see easily that 1 b is heir to 1 a: There being fidelity embodied becomes a trait accruing to particulars. Clearly, the origin of there being truth is existential. (Bernard Williams had not finished Truth and Truthfulness when he died. I ask: What is the “and” binding his sense of accuracy [truth] and sincerity [truthfulness]?)

That begets objectivist notions: “2 : something [my emph.] that is true or held to be true…” Now, don’t read this backwards, as if there, ‘true’ already has later meanings. In fact, the origin of ‘true’ (of which ‘truth’ is etymologically derivative) is like the ‘truth’ begotten: “1 a : steady, firm, and dependable in allegiance or devotion to a loved one, friend, leader, group, or cause….” Then ‘true’ accrues to character: “honest, just, upright, truthful, veracious”—we could aptly say virtuous.

So, an archetypy of ‘truth’ evolves to accrue to “something that is or held to be…” reliable at heart. Then, if you recognize that cultural evolution was a cognitive evolution, such that more differentiation comes to denotations, then it’s unsurprising that we see premodern hybridization in the meaning of ‘truth’, accruing to a “state of affairs : something that is the case“; “the body of things, events, and facts,…” i.e., sets. Yet, the premodernity is truly hybrid, including “Truth : a fundamental or spiritual reality conceived of as being partly or wholly transcendent or perceived actuality and experience.” Love that. Truth is “the world of a particular person or in a particular manner” while (if not before) also being “a true relation or account.” Here, we have relationality and denotation all mixed up among persons, things, horizons, and accountability, as the meaning of ‘truth’ becomes more specifically modern: “a judgment, proposition, statement or idea that accords with fact or reality, is logically or intuitively necessary, or follows by sound reasoning from established or necessary truths.”

Isn’t the work of lexicography lovely? Who needs philosophy, when you’ve got good anthropology? No, the point is that our anthropology of accruals and accordances is evolutionary in its lexicality, and that is philosophically delightful, as—I would argue—our lexicality follows from our embodied cognitivity of relating to the world (say, “being in the world,” not the converse; not sense of worldhood following from lexicality, evolutionarily speaking. Of course, child development inherits a world of givenness. Yet, the nature of our lexicality is anthropological).

Although the meaning of ‘truth’ becomes more logocentric, it also becomes more sociological: “truism, platitude….a notion having wide and uncritical acceptance,” as well as “the body of true statements,” etc.

Yet, primordial in all of this, even in modernity, is accrual and accordance that does not reduce to correspondences, I would argue, due to the embodied, enactive, even existential basis of interest in accrual and accordance: “3 a : relationship, conformity, or agreement with fact or reality or among [ged: cohering!] true facts or propositions : the property in a conception [ged: conceptuality], judgment, statement, [etc….] in accord with what is in fact or in necessity.” That sounds almost deflationist.

What begins as a reliabilist true-to-formness, if you will, becomes specified as accruing to the difference between what’s authentic and what’s simulacral: “3 c (1) : fidelity to an original or a possible original…”; “ (2) : the conformity of a work of art to the essential significance of the subject, to the artists’s conception or intent, or to some standard : the coherence of form and content in an apparently necessary whole.”

Isn’t that lovely?



afternoon | in fact...

Habermas’s sense of truth is complicated, certainly pragmatic, in a strict sense of “pragmatic” theory (e.g., Hilary Putnam). Yet, the 2013 version of the article on “Truth” at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy doesn’t mention Habermas in its section on pragmatic theory of truth, though Putnam is discussed later in the article vis-à-vis realism and anti-realism. Also, Davidson is discussed, and even Rorty is mentioned. But the word ‘consensus’ doesn’t appear in the article. Peirce is associated with Hartshorne and Susan Haack.

The author of the SEP article is at Northwestern U. Department of Philosophy, where Habermas is well-known. Go figure (as they say). Or: What is the truth of the absence? Is it a matter of complexity of the theory that the author is quite aware of, but can’t transpose to an encyclopedia article covering so much? (What’s the one-paragraph synopsis of Habermas’s approach to truth? Good question.)

Is the presumption that his approach to truth isn’t very important? The theme isn’t highly cited in Jürgen Habermas: Key Concepts. Truth is discussed there mainly by Barbara Fultner’s chapter on communicative rationality, under the auspices of JH’s essay on “Rightness versus Truth,” an interesting fact because...

  • She did her dissertation under Habermas at NWU; she translated Habermas’s important Truth and Justification, 2003.
  • She’s the editor of Key Concepts; you’d think that she’d provide for presumed importance of the notion in Habermas’s thought (i.e., her discussion in Key Concepts covers the issue?).
  • personal note: JH’s “Rightness versus Truth," in Truth and Justification, is the essay which I provided commentary on, to Barbara, before the translated book was published, which caused her to mention me (unsolicited) at the end of her 2003 “Translator’s Introduction” to that book. 

June 6: I’ve finished transposing to Webpage my 2003 discussion of Habermas’s approach to Truth (which is “biased” by my own interests, but insistent on high fidelity to Habermas’s views). I want to think about “Truth” beyond that discussion, yet in light of lots of other work I need to do (e.g., contemporary treatments of ‘truth’).



This posting is associated with the “being well” area of gedavis.com.