Thursday, November 19, 2009

Correspondence theory of truth

A correspondence theory of truth is sometimes presented as making sense of our intuition about the correspondence between true statements/beliefs/propositions and the world. However, Correspondence Theory(tm) holds more specifically that every true proposition corresponds to something in the world. And that is surely not intuitive. Certainly, Aristotle who said that to speak truly is to say of what is that it is and of what is not that it is not did not think that negative propositions corresponded to something that is. There is no widely held intuition that the proposition that there are no unicorns is made true by a thing. In fact, the idea that it is is counterintuitive, as are particular fleshings out of it. This is not a decisive count against it, but it seems that the Correspondence Theorist(tm) may have engaged in a bait and switch—done justice to the letter of the correspondence intuition but not in the way that that intuition called for, while committing us to a highly counterintuitive thesis.

Suppose Aristotle were right that all statements can be classified into the positive and the negative, and that the positive ones are made true by something that is, and the negative true are true because there is nothing that makes their negations true. Surely that would fully satisfy our correspondence intuition, though it would not be a Correspondence Theory(tm).

13 comments:

Marc said...

Dr. Pruss:

In his book Truth and Ontology, Trenton Merricks (as you may already be aware) suggests that Correspondence Theory concerns an analysis of being true, while Truthmaker Theory concerns an analysis of making true. (I've not read the book, but I believe he attempts to claim that Correspondence Theory is false.) I'm uncertain whether this significantly affects the motivation behind your above remarks, but I found Merricks' distinction intriguing.

-- Marc

Adrian Woods said...

Moser Knowledge and Evidence page 26, The claim that a proposition, P, is true means that things are as they are stated to be by P.

I dont think 'things' in this context are to like, tangible things - rather something like states of affairs. So then 'there are no unicorns' is true if there in fact are no unicorns.

I wonder if you think this avoids your critique. It sounds intuitive to me.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I don't think it is intuitive that there is a lack of unicorns, which is what that state of affairs would basically be. That there is such a state of affairs may be the result of a plausible theory, and hence there may be reason to believe it, but it is not simply a part of the intuition that truth corresponds to reality.

Heath White said...

I tend to think it is important that
(a) classical versions of the correspondence theory appeal to the adequation of MIND to reality, not sentences or propositions, and
(b) what these things correspond to is "THE WORLD" or REALITY. I think there is a fallacy of division in the offing if we take this to mean that each individual true item corresponds to some individual bit of reality.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Heath:

That sounds about right. In other words, contemporary correspondence theory, understood as correspondence between propositions or sentences and bits of the world goes beyond the correspondence intuition.

Heath White said...

Alex: Yes.

There is a related issue which I have at best speculative thoughts on. If you take some version of meaning holism seriously--that there is no meaning to a sentence in isolation, but only in a system of sentences--and you think meaning has something to do with truth-conditions, then you can be inclined to a view wherein there are no truth-conditions for a sentence in isolation, but only in a system of similar sentences.

This in turn leads to a view that makes the system the primary bearer of truth, rather than the sentence or proposition. (One can generate sympathy for this view by reflecting on the history of scientific theories, I think.) And that would make sense if we thought that what was at stake in correspondence, was a matter of the adequation of one's whole mind or outlook, to reality as a whole.

This is rather different than contemporary truth-talk, however, and I think there are some iffy steps in the argument.

Adrian Woods said...

Heath, sounds like a coherence theory of truth. If I say that there are no unicorns. I can see how context (who I'm addressing, when, where, why) may be important. I fail to see what the necessary connection to any other proposition would be. Are you suggesting that we can not evaluate '~unicorns' on its own accord?

I realize that my notion, leaning toward correspondence, has a ring of empiricism to it - which I whole heartily reject. I guess I'm fine with the inconsistency for now.

Adrian Woods said...

Pruss,

what exactly is unintuitive about ~unicorns?

Alexander R Pruss said...

It is counterintuitive to suppose that as you take the last unicorn away from a world, suddenly a new item pops into existence--the state of affairs of there not being any unicorns.

I gather you don't share this feeling.

I think there is a deep difference among philosophers in regard to such things. Some feel free to posit all sorts of things, and others don't. A standard explanation is that some people like to use Ockham's razor like Sweeney Todd and some don't. But I think the explanation is that the razor users take existence to be weightier than the other folk do. :-)

There is also a specifically theistic argument. See my next post.

Heath White said...

Adrian,

No, not a coherence theory of truth. Truth would not be (on my speculative proposal) an intrinsic property of a system of beliefs, but a relational property (beliefs are true in relation to a world).

And the other propositions relevant to "there are no unicorns" include things like "unicorns are the size and shape of horses", "unicorns have a single long slim horn on their foreheads", "unicorns have fur", etc. The point is that if someone believed that unicorns had thick heavy gray skin, two short thick horns protruding from their upper noses, lived on the plains of Africa, were related to elephants, and so on...we'd just say, "oh you mean rhinoceroses. There *are* some of those."

James said...

Suppose Aristotle were right that all statements can be classified into the positive and the negative, and that the positive ones are made true by something that is, and the negative true are true because there is nothing that makes their negations true. Surely that would fully satisfy our correspondence intuition, though it would not be a Correspondence Theory(tm).

If not a correspondence theory, what would it be then?

By the way, if the basic idea of the correspondence theory is that something is true iff it corresponds to the way the world actually is (or something along those lines), then this seems to give the theory a nice self-consistency since we can argue that the correspondence theory is itself true on the basis that it corresponds to the way we actually conceive of truth.

Adrian Woods said...

I'm diggin James

Heath
Are you suggesting that the truth of P is an enthymeme? Relational or Intrinsic it stills seems you are suggesting that what matters is the totality of beliefs which have some coherence which doesn't have any real contact with the way the world actually is.

Pruss
I'm not sure that correspondence is really a metaphysical claim in that - all of sudden something appears i.e. ~unicorns. That is just not what correspondence theorist are saying. It strikes me as an epistemological claim. Which is why I connect it to some version of empiricism. That is tentative because I think McDowell thinks of himself as a quasi empiricist in that he wants to find traction between the mind and the world.

Then again, the distinction between metaphysics and epistemology gets blurry sometimes.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Correspondence is a metaphysical claim. I don't see how it could be an epistemological claim. It's a claim about the metaphysics of truth. Correspondence theory goes beyond mere traction between the world and language.