True vs. "true"
A Defense of Christianity, trans. John Benjamin Jones (Gilber & Rivington: December 1835), p. 63.
Truth is as much the first want as it is the first good of mankind: yes, truth in religion, which by giving us high and pure ideas of the Divinity, teaches us that our homage ought to be worthy of it; truth in morality, which without rigour, as without weak indulgence, traces out to men in all situations their respective duties; truth in policy, which by rendering authority more just, and subjects more submissive, protects governments from the passions of the multitude, and the multitude from the tyranny of governments; truth in our tribunals, which makes vice afraid, reassures and comforts the innocent, and conduces to the triumph of justice; truth in education, which by rendering conduct accordant with doctrine, makes teachers to be the models, as well as the masters of infancy and youth; truth in literature and in the arts, which preserves them from the contagion of bad taste, from false ornaments, and from false thoughts; truth in the commerce of life, which by banishing fraud and imposture, warrants the common safety; truth in every thing, truth before every thing, this is that which the whole human race from its inmost soul is ever seeking, so thoroughly convinced are all men that truth is useful and falsehood hurtful. ¶ When the doctrines of truth are universally inculcated, when they have penetrated into all hearts, and when they animate all classes of society, if they should not succeed in applying a remedy to all disorders, they would certainly have the happy effect of arresting the progress of very many; they would become the fruitful sources of generous sentiment and virtuous action; and they would make us feel that truth is the principle of all life to the social body. But if, on the other hand, error should obtain an ascendancy over the minds of men, and more particularly over the minds of those who are called upon to serve as guides and as examples, it will, by corrupting thought, sentiment, and action, become a principle of dissolution and of death.
Denis Frayssinous, trans. by John Benjamin Jones, Chapter One in A Defence of Christianity (Gilbert & Rivington: December 1835), pp. 33-62.
Frayssinous, a French academic and preacher of the highest stature under Louis XVIII, begins his defense of Christianity with an ode to truth. Along with happiness, it is our greatest need and longing. But not only are we "made for truth", we are, accordingly, equipped with faculties to discover it. Against skepticism, Frayssinous advances a particularist epistemology, arguing that some beliefs arise in us in such a way that they serve as anchor points by which we can considerably extend our knowledge. These moorings are marked by several qualities, namely: "perspicuity, antiquity, universality, and immutability". For example, propositions that are immutable "resist ignorance, prejudice, and passion". We can no more make it so that "there should be effects without causes, than to appoint that for the future men should live without food". Our abilities to discern these basic truths "serve us as guides and torches". "We are compelled to admit the existence of primary truths, felt and perceived as soon as announced, incapable of proof, because they themselves are the proof of every thing, primary in their existence, they precede the experienced use of reason, as the seed precedes the plant." Conceding that his principles for establishing such truths avails only a meager handful of knowledge, Fraysinnous argues that by these lights much can be inferred. "If then the chain of our reasonings are suspended on any one of these primary and immutable principles; if they are united together like the links of that chain, the last held by the one preceding, until they reach the fixed point which sustains the whole, then will the very last consequence be inseparably united to its principle." Finally, Frayssinous addresses the inevitable objection that, if these faculties are so wonderfully veracious, why then the persistence of such disagreement and so many erroneous beliefs. He continues his abbreviated response here in his second discourse, "On the Causes of Our Errors". Disposed as I am to well-qualified particularism, Frayssinous' brief but artful defense is a welcome alternative to his less epistemically sanguine countrymen, such as Foucalt and Derrida. ~ Afterall
Nathan Jacobson » Philosophical Moments from Caprica, Flash Forward, and Community.
Recently a number of philosophically arresting moments have managed to insert themselves into the television landscape. True to form, Ronald D. Moore and company continue to address contemporary political, philosophical, and religious questions in the alternate world of Caprica, territory he brilliantly charted in his groundbreaking Battlestar Galactica. If the pilot is any indication, Caprica promises to explore even more pointedly themes of religious and ethnic tolerance, terrorism, technology, and the nature of the soul. ABC's FlashForward, clearly aimed at continuing the legacy of Lost and retaining its audience, has somewhat disappointed so far, but has nonetheless woven several provocative existential questions into its narrative, including one powerful Sartrean moment in particular. On the comedic front, NBC's Community had the temerity to devote an episode to whether humanity is intrinsically good or evil, and did so superbly. I'll admit to being prone to vegging in front of the tube even when the viewing is less cerebral, but a couple of these moments had me off the couch cheering for the writers.
Ethics of Theism: A Criticism and its Vindication (Harvard: 1868), p. 15.
Erroneous statements and opinions, in their naked deformity, are generally too hideous to win the regard and confidence of men even in their present depraved condition; while the manifestation of what is true, in its simple grandeur and pure light, is often too bright and fair to be agreeable to the eye and the heart of man. The great work which a lover of truth finds to do, is to separate the conglomerate mass of knowledge, or what men call knowledge, into its two component parts, the true and the false. What is false owes all its plausibility and power to its being associated and mingled with what is true. What is true, is rendered dim and uncertain and weak by being blended and confounded with the erroneous. The human mind is like a thrashing-floor. The honest inquirer will be constantly using the fan, to separate the chaff from the wheat.
Cornel West on Truth as ... huh? said...
"Cornel West: Truth" interview by Astra Taylor at Killing the Buddha (November 15, 2009).
I think in many ways it is the ultimate question: What is truth? How do we understand truth and what are the ways in which we wrestle with truth? And I believe that Theodor Adorno was right when he said that the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. He said that the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak — that gives it an existential emphasis, you see, so that we’re really talking about truth as a way of life, as opposed to a set of propositions that correspond to a set of things in the world.
Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype & Spin (Baker Books: 2002), pp. 69-71.
Prisoner 174517 was thirsty. Seeing a fat icicle hanging just outside his hut in the Auschwitz extermination camp, he reached out of the window and broke it off to quench his thirst. But before he could get the icicle to his mouth, a guard snatched it out of his hands and dashed it to pieces on the filthy ground. "Warum?" the prisoner burst out instinctively — "Why?" "Hier ist kein warum," the guard answered with brutal finality — "Here there is no why." ¶ That for Primo Levi, the Italian Jewish scientist and writer, was the essence of the death camps — places not only of unchallengable, arbitrary authority but of absolute evil that defied all explanation. In the face of such wickedness, explanations born of psychology, sociology, and economics were pathetic in their inadequacy. One could only shoulder the weight of such an experience and bear witness to the world. "Never again" was too confident an assertion. You never know was the needed refrain.
Os Guinness on Bad Faith said...
Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype & Spin (Baker Books: 2002), pp. 76-7.
Without truth we cannot answer the fundamental objection that faith in God is simply a form of "bad faith" or "poor faith." The wilder accusation of "bad faith" ... is one of the deepest and most damaging charges against these faiths in the last two centuries. Jews and Christians believe, critics say, not because of good reasons but because they are afraid not to believe. Without faith, they would be naked to the alternatives, such as the terror of meaninglessness or the nameless dread of unspecified guilt. Faith is therefore a handy shield to ward off the fear, a comforting tune to whistle in the darkness; it is, however, fundamentally untrue, irrational, and illegitimate — and therefore "inauthentic" and "bad faith."
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, orig. 1926 (Black Dog Publishing: 2006), p. 153.
Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.
Trenton Merricks (Oxford University Press: Jun 1, 2009), 214 pages.
That there are no white ravens is true because there are no white ravens. And so there is a sense in which that truth "depends on the world." But this sort of dependence is trivial. After all, it does not imply that there is anything that is that truth's "truthmaker." Nor does it imply that something exists to which that truth corresponds. Nor does it imply that there are properties whose exemplification grounds that truth. Trenton Merricks explores whether and how truth depends substantively on the world or on things or on being. And he takes a careful look at philosophical debates concerning, among other things, modality, time, and dispositions. He looks at these debates because any account of truth's substantive dependence on being has implications for them. And these debates likewise have implications for how and whether truth depends on being. Along the way, Merricks makes a number of new points about each of these debates that are of independent interest, of interest apart from the question of truth's dependence on being. Truth and Ontology concludes that some truths do not depend on being in any substantive way at all. One result of this conclusion is that it is a mistake to oppose a philosophical theory merely because it violates truth's alleged substantive dependence on being. Another result is that the correspondence theory of truth is false and, more generally, that truth itself is not a relation of any sort between truth-bearers and that which "makes them true." ~ Book Description
E.J. Lowe and A. Rami, eds. (McGill-Queen's University Press: May, 2009), 262 pages.
Truth depends in some sense on reality. But it is a rather delicate matter to spell this intuition out in a plausible and precise way. According to the theory of truth-making this intuition implies that either every truth or at least every truth of a certain class of truths has a so-called truth-maker, an entity whose existence accounts for truth. This book aims to provide several ways of assessing the correctness of this controversial claim. This book presents a detailed introduction to the theory of truth-making, which outlines truth-maker relations, the ontological category of truth-making entities, and the scope of a truth-maker theory. The essays brought together here represent the most important articles on truth-making in the last three decades as well as new essays by leading researchers in the field of the theory of truth and of truth-making. ~ Book Description
John Owen, Evenings with the Skeptics: Free Discussion on Free thinkers, Vol. II: Christian Skepticism (Longmans, Green & Co: 1881), pp.3-52.
This is a long but exceptionally eloquent and learned dialogue between a group of thoughtful friends in the late 19th century. Dr. Trevor poses the question "whether what is demonstrably true in one subject or from one point of view can be false in another or from a different standpoint?" Their dialogue bookends Trevor's formal paper, where he argues that whatever may be the case in reality, at least within our own deliberations, "we cannot without the most gratuitous mental suicide allow the subjective co-existence of antagonistic convictions both claiming to be true at the same time". Trevor begins by noting the severe limits of our knowledge. "The thinker rightly regards himself and his knowledge as a small islet in the immeasurable ocean of the unknown." He unsparingly traces a history of the ecclesiastic autocracy of theological dogma until reason got its foot in the door and began an insurrection, asserting itself against the "Roman" church as the singular arbiter of truth. Nonetheless, he argues, the phenomenon of competing considerations is not just a byproduct of religious authority, but rather an inescapable aspect of being human, coming at us from many angles: "the Known and the Unknown, individual man and collective humanity, Intellect and Emotion". Trevor therefore commends the thinker who has "double vision", the ability to see and integrate various sources of evidence, who is always reticent and reflective, even in conviction. Though it requires treading through some rather dense prose, the discussion of these "Christian skeptics" is a feast of language and thought. At times it captures the spirit of Afterall.net better than I ever could have in my own words. ~ Afterall
Nathan Jacobson (Afterall.net, 2001. Revised June 2007)
Personally, there are few things I relish more than a ranging conversation with friends over an overflowing plate of supreme nachos. And, graciously, it is in this intrinsically good thing that lies the promise of truths that can set us free. Dialogue is no panacea, of course. In and of itself, it cannot usher in peace and goodwill on earth. Indeed, very often grudges and misunderstandings find their breeding ground here. Still, good conversation is the best thing on the menu, whether it is with a book, a blog, or a bloke. So what makes any old conversation about important and controversial issues a good conversation? I'd like to suggest a few essential ingredients, mostly learned from the unsavory taste of foot-in-mouth. Take these insights with a grain — or a dash — of salt.
James Freeman Clarke, Chp. 5 in Every-day Religion (Ticknor: 1886), 63-76.
To speak the truth, or what seems to be truth to us, is not a very hard thing, provided we do not care what harm we do by it, or whom we hurt by it. This kind of "truth-telling" has been always common. Such truth-tellers call themselves plain, blunt men, who say what they think, and do not care who objects to it. A man who has a good deal of self-reliance and not much sympathy, can get a reputation for courage by this way of speaking the truth. But the difficulty about it is, that truth thus spoken does not convince or convert men; it only offends them. It is apt to seem unjust; and injustice is not truth. ¶ Some persons think that unless truth is thus hard and disagreeable it cannot be pure. Civility toward error seems to them treason to the truth. Truth to their mind is a whip with which to lash men, a club with which to knock them down. They regard it as an irritant adapted to arouse sluggish consciences.
Harry G. Frankfurt (Knopf: October 2006), 112 pages.
Having outlined a theory of bullshit and falsehood, Harry G. Frankfurt turns to what lies beyond them: the truth, a concept not as obvious as some might expect. Our culture's devotion to bullshit may seem much stronger than our apparently halfhearted attachment to truth. Some people (professional thinkers) won't even acknowledge "true" and "false" as meaningful categories, and even those who claim to love truth cause the rest of us to wonder whether they, too, aren't simply full of it. Practically speaking, many of us deploy the truth only when absolutely necessary, often finding alternatives to be more saleable, and yet somehow civilization seems to be muddling along. But where are we headed? Is our fast and easy way with the facts actually crippling us? Or is it "all good"? Really, what's the use of truth, anyway? With the same leavening wit and commonsense wisdom that animates his pathbreaking work On Bullshit, Frankfurt encourages us to take another look at the truth: there may be something there that is perhaps too plain to notice but for which we have a mostly unacknowledged yet deep-seated passion. His book will have sentient beings across America asking, "The truth—why didn't I think of that?" ~ Product Description
Who's afraid of Postmodernism? (Baker Academic : 2006), p69-70.
What characterizes the postmodern condition, then, is not a rejection of grand stories in terms of scope or in the sense of epic claims, but rather an unveling of the fact that all knowledge is rooted in some narrative or myth... The result, however... is what Lyotard describes as a "problem of legitimation"... since what we thought were universal criteria have been unveiled as just one game among many. If we consider, for instance, the reality of deep moral diversity and competing visions of the good, postmodern society is at a loss to adjudicate the competing claims. There can be no appeal to a higher court that would transcend a historical context or a language game, no neutral observer or "God's-eye view" that can legitimate or justify one paradigm or moral language game above another. If all moral claims are conditioned by paradigms of historical commitment, then they cannot transcend those conditions; thus every moral claim operates within a "logic" that is conditioned by the paradigm. In other words, every language game has its own set of rules. As a result, criteria that determine what constitutes evidence or proof must be game relative: they will function as rules only for those who share the same paradigm or participate in the same language game. The incommensurability of language games means that there is a plurality of logics that precludes any demonstrative appeal to a common reason. Recognition of the incommensurability of langauge games and the plurality of competing myths means that there is no consensus, no sensus communis. Many — especially Christians — lament this state of affairs... But is the problem as bad as we think? ... In the face of this problem, we must not lose sight of the fact that what constitutes the postmodern condition is precisely a plurality of language games — a condition in which no one story can claim either universal auto-legitimation (because of the plurality of "the people") nor appeal to a phantom universal reason (because reason is just one myth among others, which is itself rooted in a narrative). And this plurality is based on the fact that each game is grounded in different narratives or myths (i.e. founding beliefs).
Michael P. Lynch (The MIT Press: August 2005), 216 pages.
Why does truth matter, when politicians so easily sidestep it and intellectuals scorn it as irrelevant? Why be concerned over an abstract idea like truth when something that isn't true — for example, a report of Iraq's attempting to buy materials for nuclear weapons—gets the desired result — the invasion of Iraq? In this engaging and spirited book, Michael Lynch argues that truth does matter, in both our personal and political lives. Lynch explains that the growing cynicism over truth stems in large part from our confusion over what truth is. "We need to think our way past our confusion and shed our cynicism about the value of truth," he writes. "Otherwise, we will be unable to act with integrity, to live authentically, and to speak truth to power." True to Life defends four simple claims: that truth is objective; that it is good to believe what is true; that truth is a goal worthy of inquiry; and that truth can be worth caring about for its own sake—not just because it gets us other things we want. In defense of these "truisms about truth," Lynch diagnoses the sources of our cynicism and argues that many contemporary theories of truth cannot adequately account for its value. He explains why we should care about truth, arguing that truth and its pursuit are part of living a happy life, important in our personal relationships and for our political values. ~ Product Description (Gold Award Winner for Philosophy in the 2004 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards)
"Host", in the Atlantic Monthly (April 2005), p. 54.
It is worth considering the strange media landscape in which political talk radio is a salient. Never before have there been so many different national news sources — different now in terms of both medium and ideology. Major newspapers from anywhere are available online; there are the broadcast networks plus public TV, cable's CNN, Fox News, CNBC, et al., print and Web magazines, Internet bulletin boards, The Daily Show, e-mail newsletters, blogs. All this is well known; it's part of the Media Environment we live in. But there are prices and ironies here. One is that the increasing control of U.S. mass media by a mere handful of corporations has — rather counterintuitively — created a situation of extreme fragmentation, a kaleidoscope of information options. Another is that the ever increasing number of ideological news outlets creates precisely the kind of relativism that cultural conservatives decry, a kind of epistemic free-for-all in which "the truth" is wholly a matter of perspective and agenda. In some respects all this variety is probably good, productive of difference and dialogue and so on. But it can also be confusing and stressful for the average citizen. Short of signing on to a particular mass ideology and patronizing only those partisan news sources that ratify what you want to believe, it is increasingly hard to determine which sources to pay attention to and how exactly to distinguish real information from spin.
Richard Dawkins on Truth said...
"Hall of Mirrors", in Forbes ASAP, October 2, 2000.
A little learning is a dangerous thing. This has never struck me as a particularly profound or wise remark, but it comes into its own when that little learning is in philosophy. A scientist who has the temerity to utter the t-word — true — is likely to encounter philosophical heckling that goes something like this: "There is no absolute truth. You are committing an act of personal faith when you claim that the scientific method, including mathematics and logic, is the privileged road to truth. Other cultures might believe that truth is to be found in a rabbit's entrails or the ravings of a prophet atop a pole. It is only your personal faith in science that leads you to favor your brand of truth." That strand of half-baked philosophy goes by the name of cultural relativism.