Volume 6, Issue 5, September 2018, Page: 150-158
Truth, Way, and Life: Pragmatic Reflections on the Concept of Truth
Lars Albinus, School for Culture and Society, University of Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark
Received: Sep. 27, 2018;       Accepted: Oct. 19, 2018;       Published: Nov. 28, 2018
DOI: 10.11648/j.hss.20180605.13      View  21      Downloads  12
Abstract
The present article opts for a pragmatic understanding of truth with a special focus on religion as a complex of belief and practice. Although the principle of accordance seems pertinent to the concept of truth, the argument is that there is no single definition of truth, which can account for the range of its actual use. The aim is to drive home this argument by showing how the concept of ‘truth’ is used in various ways and with different connotations, in religion, philosophy, and science. Although the article sides in overall terms with the pragmatic view of truth and language in William James and Ludwig Wittgenstein, it also points to the necessity of taking a semantic level of propositional ‘truth’ into account in order to keep a relativizing notion of sheer fruitfulness at bay. In this respect, it is argued that one should distinguish between the way in which ‘truth’ is used, on the one hand, and the implicit beliefs that support such use, on the other. Among other things, the article traces an implicit understanding of truth as an ideal order of the world that pertains in different ways to a religious and a scientific view of reality. Referring to Foucault’s final studies, it is finally shown that the concept of truth in ancient philosophy was not used as an ontological predicate without also carrying the meaning of being realized as a way of life. In this respect Wittgenstein, James, and Foucault seem to converge in detecting a ‘practice of truth’.
Keywords
The Use of ‘Truth’, Pragmatism, Reality, Way of Life
To cite this article
Lars Albinus, Truth, Way, and Life: Pragmatic Reflections on the Concept of Truth, Humanities and Social Sciences. Vol. 6, No. 5, 2018, pp. 150-158. doi: 10.11648/j.hss.20180605.13
Copyright
Copyright © 2018 Authors retain the copyright of this article.
This article is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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In the Categories (12b11, 14b14), Aristotle defines a statement as true if it parallels the logical structure of the things to which it refers (a definition which also informs Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the empirical positivists of the Vienna Circle). Moreover, truth is also, by implication, in agreement with reason, for, as Aristotle points out elsewhere (De Interpretatione 16a7-8), truth is but another word for the accordance (homoiosis) between thoughts and things.
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“Pragmatism’s Conception of Truth”, in Pragmatism – The Classical Writings, ed., H. S. Thayer, Indianapolis & Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1982, 187, cf. p. 207.
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James delivered this speech as an Address to the Philosophical Clubs of Yale and Brown Universities in 1896.
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James 1982, 197; 200; 202; 204; 207. Although James deals specifically with the relation between propositional attitudes (i.e., in the form of willing and believing) and may therefore, for the mere sake of convenience, refer to ‘truth’ as but another word for the object of belief, it is still bewildering that he repeats the concept of ‘truth’ in the pragmatic sense of ‘practical usefulness’ (as, for instance, p. 196), and in relation to a “desire” that brings it about (p. 203), when at the same time he uses ontological phrases such as “the risk of losing the truth” (p. 193); “we do not give up the quest or hope of truth itself” (p. 197); “in our dealings with objective nature we obviously are recorders, not makers, of the truth” (p. 200); “in case the religious hypothesis … be really true”; “we lose the good, if it be true” (p. 204). All else being equal, such choice of words does not sit well with a strict pragmatic utterance such as ““[t]he knower is an actor, and coefficient of the truth on one side, whilst on the other he registers the truth which he helps to create”, “The Will To Believe”, in: The Works of William James, vol. 7, eds., F.H. Burkhardt, F. Bowers & I.K. Skrupskelis, Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1979, 21.
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Richard Rorty “Religious Faith, Intellectual Responsibility, and Romance”, in The Cambridge Companion to William James, Cambridge University Press, pp. 84-101, 90.
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“Pragmatism’s Conception of Truth”, in Pragmatism – The Classical Writings, ed., H. S. Thayer, Indianapolis & Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1982, p. 235.
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“Pragmatism’s Conception of Truth”, in Pragmatism – The Classical Writings, ed., H. S. Thayer, Indianapolis & Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1982, p. 222.
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Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, §19; §23.
[22]
Thus the evidentialist claim that we should only believe in statements which can be empirically verified (either immediately or logically implied by other verified statements) is, self-evidently, a claim that cannot itself be empirically verified (nor logically implied unless one counts induction as a logically valid means of generalization).
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Peter Winch, “Understanding Primitive Society”, in: Language, Truth, and Religious Belief: Studies in Twentieth-Century Theory and Method in Religion, eds., Nancy K. Frankenberry & H. H. Penner, Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, pp. 342-377, 346.
[24]
James is not far from voicing a similar point, cf. “The Will To Believe”, in: The Works of William James, vol. 7, eds., F.H. Burkhardt, F. Bowers & I.K. Skrupskelis, Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1979, 162 ff.
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See, in this respect, Mark Q. Gardiner, forthcoming in Method & Theory in the Study of Religion.
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Kevin Schilbrack, Philosophy and the Study of Religions. A Manifesto, Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2014, 78.
[27]
Cf. Lars Albinus, “The limitation of truth-semantics in the understanding of religion”, Method & Theory in The Study of Religion, 2015, 27, pp. 447-474.
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Cf. Gardiner & Engler, “Ten implications of semantic holism for theories of religion”, Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 22 (4), 2010, pp. 283-292.
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(PO) Philosophical Occasions 1912-1951, eds., James C. Klagge & Alfred Nordmann, Indianapolis & Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, p. 123. Religious views of the world, from Augustine to a Buddhist Holy man, do not rest on a theory about the world, says Wittgenstein, PO, p. 119. Therefore, the game of truth as we normally play it in a modern context implies the possibility of error, which is, nonetheless, irrelevant in religious belief (ibid.). The point of Wittgenstein’s remark, which is certainly not universally valid (but rather directed against Frazer’s rationalistic universalism), may be to prevent us from imposing logical or theoretical thinking in contexts where such thinking is, at best, secondary.
[30]
Wittgenstein refers primarily to instances of religious belief among tribal cultures and tries to show how we are often inclined to think and react in a similar manner. “A hypothetical explanation”, he notices, “will be of little help to someone, say, who is upset because of love” PO, 123). The point is that not every symbol, or belief, works as an explanation or a hypothesis, but might just as well reflect the expression of an emotional state of mind. “Kissing the picture of one’s beloved” (ibid.) would be a non-religious case in point.
[31]
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology & Religious Belief, ed., Cyril Barrett, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1970, p. 58.
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Rappaport, Roy A., Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999, 9.
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Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, § 373.
[34]
Shribhashya 1.1.1., cf. Wendy Doniger, Hinduism, The Norton Anthology of World Religions, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2015, p. 290. James would clearly condone such consequential notion of the real inasmuch as he emphasizes that “all propositions whether attributive or existential, are believed through the very fact of being conceived”, 1979, p. 164. Yet, after offering a thought-experiment much like Plato’s cave-allegory, he states that: “[a] dream candle has existence, true enough; but not the same existence (existence for itself, namely, or extra mentem meam) which the candles of waking perception have”, op.cit. 165. Unlike Vedānta thought, James thus slips back into focusing epistemologically on the content rather than effect of a certain perception.
[35]
Cf, Doniger, Hinduism, The Norton Anthology of World Religions, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2015, p. 291.
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Doniger, Hinduism, The Norton Anthology of World Religions, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.,2015, p. 290.
[37]
A curious similarity with the noēsis noēseos of Aristotle’s nameless but living god (theos), Metaphysica 1074b, is notable, as is also the theologico-philosophical variant espoused, for instance, by Thomas Aquinas.
[38]
Cf. Doniger, Hinduism, The Norton Anthology of World Religions, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2015, 289.
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Ludwig Wittgenstein, (CV) Culture and Value, ed. G.H. von Wright, Chicago: University of Chicago Press (translated by Peter Winch), 1970, p. 35e.
[40]
Jürgen Habermas, Moralbewußtsein und kommunikativen Handeln, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1983, 68.
[41]
Plato, Laches 188c-189a, cf. Michel Foucault, Fearless Speech, ed. Joseph Pearson, L.A.: Seimotext(e), MIT Press 2001, p. 98 f; 101.
[42]
Foucault, 2001, p. 100; likewise Thomas Flynn, “Foucault as parrhesiast”, in: The Final Foucault, eds., J. Bernauer & D. Rasmussen, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1988, pp. 102-118, p. 108.
[43]
Foucault, Fearless Speech, ed. Joseph Pearson, L.A.: Seimotext(e), MIT Press 2001, p. 101.
[44]
William James, “Pragmatism’s Conception of Truth”, in Pragmatism – The Classical Writings, ed., H. S. Thayer, Indianapolis & Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1982, 235, cf. Above.
[45]
Michel Foucault, The Courage of Truth: The Government of Self and Others II: Lectures at Collège de France 1983-1984, translated by Graham Burchell, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, p. 234.
[46]
Foucault, The Courage of Truth: The Government of Self and Others II: Lectures at Collège de France 1983-1984,2011, p. 235.
[47]
Foucault, Fearless Speech, ed. Joseph Pearson, L.A.: Seimotext(e), MIT Press 2001, 106. This resonates in Wittgenstein’s musings from 1937: “The way to solve the problem you see in life is to live in a way that will make what is problematic disappear. The fact that life is problematic shows that the shape of your life does not fit into life’s mould. So you must change the way you live and, once your life does fit into the mould, what is problematic will disappear,” CV 27e.
[48]
Even though Habermas makes a sharp distinction between discursively redeemable criteria of truth as a matter of reality-depicting statements, on the one hand, and social criteria of credibility pertaining to authenticity, on the other, the semantic connection between Wahrheit and Wahrhaftigkeit (truth and truthfulness) speaks for itself.
[49]
Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke in drei Bänden, ed., Karl Schlechta, München: Carl Hanser Verlag, II, pp. 1197 §35.
[50]
Paul Ricoeur, Essays on Biblical Interpretation, translated by Lewis S. Mudge, Philadelphia: Fortress Press 1984, chapter 3.
[51]
Karl-Heinrich Lütcke, “Auctoritas” bei Augustin, 1968, Stuttgart, W. Kohlhammer Verlag, 73.
[52]
Foucault, The Courage of Truth: The Government of Self and Others II: Lectures at Collège de France 1983-1984,2011, p. 246.
[53]
Foucault, The Courage of Truth: The Government of Self and Others II: Lectures at Collège de France 1983-1984,2011, p. 319.
[54]
Foucault, The Courage of Truth: The Government of Self and Others II: Lectures at Collège de France 1983-1984,2011, 310.
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