On truth (1): Introduction

by Neil Rickert

This is intended as the first of several posts about truth.  We use the word “truth” in many ways, without clearly distinguishing between those uses.  Often people talk of truth as correspondence, although it isn’t always clear what is meant by that.  These posts, to some extent, will be an attempt to explore the idea of correspondence.

In the philosophical literature, often “truth” is applied to propositions.  Here a proposition is something like the meaning of a statement, rather than the statement itself.  There is some dispute as to whether there are such things as propositions, partly because people don’t always agree on the meaning of a statement. I shall, instead, discuss truth as applied to representations, where natural language statements can be considered examples of representations.  I won’t say much about statements until toward the end of this series.  It is easier if we start with simpler forms of representation, such as photographs and other technological representation systems.

For this post, I want to start by looking at correspondence.

Truth is sometimes said to be correspondence to the facts.  But that won’t do.  Most people see a fact as a true statement.  So saying that a statement is true if it corresponds to the facts sounds circular.  Some people will try to explain truth by saying something like:

“The cat is on the mat” is true if and only if the cat is on the mat.

This is sometimes described as a disquotational account of truth, or a deflationary account of truth.  Some people say that it is a correspondence theory, and sometime they reference Tarski’s theory of truth.  However, Tarski was defining truth in a formal language, and a disquotational account can work there.  But, when used within natural language, it seems a rather empty account of truth.

If we want to thing of truth as correspondence, then we should think of it in terms of correspondence with reality.  However, it is not completely clear what “correspondence with reality” should mean.  As a mathematician, I tend to think of a correspondence as some kind of mapping.  And that is what I plan to explore.

The next post in this series will look at the photograph as a representation of reality, and at photography as a way of mapping reality into photographic representations.

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