Pragmatic Theory Of Truth • 10

A paragraph from Kant and associated discussion I added to the Wikipedia article on the Correspondence Theory of Truth in June 2006 is useful at this point, and it serves to set up a corresponding statement from Peirce that we’ll take up in due course.  A version of this material survives on the InterSciWiki site:

Immanuel Kant discussed the correspondence theory of truth in the following manner:

Truth is said to consist in the agreement of knowledge with the object.  According to this mere verbal definition, then, my knowledge, in order to be true, must agree with the object.  Now, I can only compare the object with my knowledge by this means, namely, by taking knowledge of it.  My knowledge, then, is to be verified by itself, which is far from being sufficient for truth.  For as the object is external to me, and the knowledge is in me, I can only judge whether my knowledge of the object agrees with my knowledge of the object.  Such a circle in explanation was called by the ancients Diallelos.  And the logicians were accused of this fallacy by the sceptics, who remarked that this account of truth was as if a man before a judicial tribunal should make a statement, and appeal in support of it to a witness whom no one knows, but who defends his own credibility by saying that the man who had called him as a witness is an honourable man.  (Kant, 45).

According to Kant, the definition of truth as correspondence is a “mere verbal definition”, here making use of Aristotle’s distinction between a nominal definition, a definition in name only, and a real definition, a definition that shows the true cause or essence of the thing whose term is being defined.  From Kant’s account of the history, the definition of truth as correspondence was already in dispute from classical times, the “skeptics” criticizing the “logicians” for a form of circular reasoning, though the extent to which the “logicians” actually held such a theory is not evaluated in this account.

A careful analysis of what Kant is saying here can help to explain why there are so many theories of truth on the contemporary scene.  In other words, why would thinkers who examine the question of truth not be satisfied to rest with this very first theory that usually comes to mind?

Reference

  • Kant, Immanuel (1800), Introduction to Logic.  Reprinted, Thomas Kingsmill Abbott (trans.), Dennis Sweet (intro.), Barnes and Noble, New York, NY, 2005.

Resources

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Pragmatic Theory Of Truth • 9

Re: Peirce List Discussion • CGJACGJACG

To put things more plainly, it’s a routine observation that we have no need for moods and tenses in actually doing mathematics, that is, in developing the consequences of given axioms, constructing formal models, or applying models and theories to the applicable phenomena.  Theories of change, intention, and possibility can all be expressed in present tense indicative mood.  Regarding change, intention, and possibilities as real or not is independent of the linguistic forms we happen to use in their description.

Audiences, interpreters, receivers are neither right nor wrong.  It is only that one audience may require us to articulate what goes without saying, what is understood in another.  It may be useful exercise to unfold the implicatures and presuppositions that are taken for granted in another discourse situation, but giving a name to one’s habitual position is not the same thing as a change of address.

So, yes, I would have to say that Peirce was a realist about possibilities, and patterns of possibilities, from the start.  That much is simply implicit in his mathematical approach to logic, probability, and information.

Resources

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Pragmatic Theory Of Truth • 8

Re: Peirce List Discussion • CGJACGJA

With respect to the issues surrounding “modal realism” — what stance Peirce took and when he took it — let me refer to a figure I constantly have in mind, one I drew to map the first few principalities in Peirce’s classification of sciences:


Peirce Syllabus

Normative science rests largely on phenomenology and on mathematics;
metaphysics on phenomenology and on normative science.

— Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers, CP 1.186 (1903)
Syllabus : Classification of Sciences (CP 1.180–202, G-1903-2b)

There is more discussion of the figure and its legend here.

The picture reminds us of both the analogy and the disparity between phenomenology and mathematics, between our observation of actual appearances in phenomenology and our observation of possible existence in mathematics, with “possible” in this case meaning no more than not inconsistent.  The disparity is something we come to know as the fallibility, partiality, or subjectivity of all our models, representations, and theories of reality.

The most astute physicists appreciate the significance of this disparity or gap, and there is a famous quip by Einstein that testifies to it, but more often than not they tend to get by like the rest of us, with a variety of naive realism.

In contrast, doing mathematics requires a more constant awareness of the distance between the two footings, the terra firma of actuality and Plato’s heaven of possibilities.  This means that the standpoint known as “modal realism” is really the modus operandi or standard operating philosophy within the realm of mathematics, so taken for granted that its marching orders need no banners or fanfare in the ordinary course of work.

Being one who sees more continuity of development than radical reconstruction in Peirce’s thought over his lifetime, what I do see changing through the years is the greater diversity of his audiences as the river of his work flows from its constant sources to the alluvial delta he left later generations to sift.  The greatest share of emphatic variance in what he writes is explained more by variations in whom he addresses than what he is trying to communicate.

Drawing the conclusion for the present case, my initial guess would be that any apparent conversion to modal realism is more likely explained by an increasing need to underscore attitudes of mind that are simply tacit in the scientific application of formal logic, mathematics, probability, and statistics.

Resources

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Pragmatic Theory Of Truth • 7

Re: Peirce List DiscussionVal Daniel

Viewing the normative science of logic and its object, truth, in the medium of a triadic sign relation, the first cut among notions of truth divides those that take the object domain into account in a fundamental way from those that regard truth as a predicate of signs alone.

At first sight, then, it appears we can usefully contrast the pragmatic and correspondence conceptions of truth from the motley crew of intuitions about truth based on coherence, consensus, and truth by logical consistency alone.

That is the perspective Susan Awbrey and I adopted in our work on “Universities as Learning Organizations” and “Conceptual Barriers to Creating Integrated Universities”, where we applied a sign-relational framework to the problem of integrating knowledge across the walls of intellectual silos that have come to shape the disciplinary architectures of our modern universities.

References

  • Awbrey, S.M., and Awbrey, J.L. (2001), “Conceptual Barriers to Creating Integrative Universities”, Organization : The Interdisciplinary Journal of Organization, Theory, and Society 8(2), Sage Publications, London, UK, pp. 269–284.  Abstract.
  • Awbrey, S.M., and Awbrey, J.L. (1999), “Organizations of Learning or Learning Organizations : The Challenge of Creating Integrative Universities for the Next Century”, Second International Conference of the Journal ‘Organization’, Re-Organizing Knowledge, Trans-Forming Institutions : Knowing, Knowledge, and the University in the 21st Century, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA.  Online.
  • Haack, Susan (1993), Evidence and Inquiry : Towards Reconstruction in Epistemology, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, UK.
  • Misak, Cheryl J. (1991), Truth and the End of Inquiry : A Peircean Account of Truth, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Resources

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Pragmatic Theory Of Truth • 6

Re: Peirce List Discussion • CGJAJAJAJASJACGJAJBDJA

Working on what is worth saving in old Wikipedia articles requires me to rummage through their edit histories, which raises a host of annoying ghosts from bygone days.  In this review I’d like to avoid rehashing old skirmishes and use what I’ve learned in the mean time to give a better account of pragmatic truth.

Resources

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Pragmatic Theory Of Truth • 5

I’ve begun reworking the InterSciWiki article on the Pragmatic Theory of Truth and I think it will be useful to develop it further.  The plan that usually works best for me is to revise the content on the wiki and serialize it on my blog.

The ISW article derives from the last Wikipedia version I edited:

I copied that content to several other wikis around the web from 2007 on and a subsequent version of it eventually ended up at ISW, my main working wiki these days.

Here is the lead-in to the ISW article as it currently stands:

Pragmatic theory of truth refers to those accounts, definitions, and theories of the concept truth that distinguish the philosophies of pragmatism and pragmaticism.  The conception of truth in question varies along lines that reflect the influence of several thinkers, initially and notably, Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey, but a number of common features can be identified.  The most characteristic features are (1) a reliance on the pragmatic maxim as a means of clarifying the meanings of difficult concepts, truth in particular, and (2) an emphasis on the fact that the product variously branded as belief, certainty, knowledge, or truth is the result of a process, namely, inquiry.

Resources

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Pragmatic Theory Of Truth • 4

Re: Peirce List DiscussionJerry Rhee (quoting Peirce)

The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to
by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth,
and the object represented in this opinion is the real. 
(CP 5.407, JR’s emphasis).

The key word here is “investigate”.  We can read that loosely as any method of fixing belief, but we know that Peirce ranked methods of fixing belief in order of their malleability to the impressions of reality, their aptness to let what is permanent, persistent, “something upon which our thinking has no effect” (CP 5.384) settle the matter once and for all.

This is the question of “convergence”, a question that mathematicians, physicists, systems theorists, etc. have investigated in great detail.  As a rule we find that some methods of procedure, of stepping through a sequence of states, will eventually converge on a settled or stable state while others will not.  All that is relative, of course, to the mathematical model or theory we have in hand for describing states of information in time.  So we never quite escape the question of how to tell whether a model is good and succeeds in its purpose of giving us information about its object or whether it falls short of that object.

References

  • Peirce, C.S. (1877), “The Fixation Of Belief”, Popular Science Monthly 12 (Nov 1877), pp. 1–15.  Reprinted in Collected Papers, CP 5.358–387.  Online.
  • Peirce, C.S. (1878), “How To Make Our Ideas Clear”, Popular Science Monthly 12 (Jan 1878), pp. 286–302.  Reprinted in Collected Papers, CP 5.388–410.  Online.

Resources

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