Monday, January 30, 2017

What is true

One of the most simple and yet most complicated concepts man ever has thought out is “truth”. Everybody knows what it means, namely that statements are according to what they say. Or as Aristotle formulated it in his Metaphysics: “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.” (1011b25) Nevertheless everybody also knows how difficult it can be to determine whether a statement is truly true. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says it: “The problem of truth is in a way easy to state: what truths are, and what (if anything) makes them true. But this simple statement masks a great deal of controversy. Whether there is a metaphysical problem of truth at all, and if there is, what kind of theory might address it, are all standing issues in the theory of truth.” (from the entry “Truth”) No wonder that there are many theories that explain what “truth” involves and a lot more secondary books and articles about these theories. Here I cannot treat even a little section of this literature and do justice to what has been written about “truth”. Nevertheless I want to say a little bit about it.
I start with an example that I also used when I discussed the so-called Gettier problem in one of my blogs, although I have changed it a bit (see my blog dated Nov. 12, 2012):

I am worried whether my best cow Betsy hasn’t been stolen from the field where she is supposed to be at pasture. I walk from my farm to the field, where I see a cow in the middle of the herd that exactly looks like Betsy and I am 100% convinced that she is Betsy. Therefore I don't find it necessary to walk to her and check her earmark. I walk home again and say to my wife: “Betsy is in the field”. However, I often confuse Betsy with Jane, when I look from a distance to her, and also now I actually saw Jane. Nevertheless, Betsy is also in the field, and I have seen her, too, for Betsy was grazing left of Jane, and I have seen both cows. However, I thought that the cow left of the cow I mistook for Betsy was Jane.

The Gettier problem is about whether I know whether Betsy is in the field. When talking about truth we have a related problem: Is it true that Betsy is in the field? Or rather, since truth is about statements: Is what I say to my wife – namely “Betsy is in the field” – true?
I think that according to most theories of truth – whether it be the correspondence theory of truth, the coherence theory of truth, the consensus theory of truth, or whichever – the statement that Betsy is in the field is true, if taken as such. And when I said to my wife “Betsy is in the field”, I wanted to say that the cow with earmark HW123 is in the field – since HW123 is Betsy’s earmark – and so that Betsy, the cow with earmark HW123, is in the field. That’s true, indeed. Nevertheless, at the moment that I am saying this statement to my wife, in my mind “Betsy” refers to a cow at a certain place in the field right of the cow I had mistakenly identified as Jane. Let’s suppose that Jane has earmark HW122, and that when I utter to my wife the statement “Betsy is in the field”, I have an image of two cows in my mind and I mean to say that the right cow is in the field. In this statement “Betsy” refers to the cow with earmark HW122 and this statement is false, even though Betsy is in the field, and Jane is also in the field, and even though also the cows HW122 and HW123 are in the field, and even though I have seen both cows in the field (but had unknowingly mistaken the one for the other). As we see: Statements can be true, even if they are false. What we see and say is not always as it appears to us.

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