Archive for August 14th, 2011

August 14, 2011

On truth (2): Correspondence

by Neil Rickert

Consider a photograph.  It consists of colored marks on paper that, in some sense, represent features of that part of the world where the photo was taken.  If I have just taken that photo with my camera, I do not ask “Is it true.”  We normally take it for granted that a photograph is true.  The correspondence between the world and the representation which is the picture, results from the optical system in the camera, and the way that it focuses light on the film or other light-sensitive medium.  So the correspondence is both defined by the optical system, and followed by that optical system in forming the photograph.  The representation cannot fail to correspond, unless there was a failure of the mechanism or procedure.

If you give me a picture which you claim is a photograph, I might wonder whether that is a true picture.  The difference is that, in the first case where I took the photo, I know that the correspondence was followed.  In the second case, where you gave me the picture, I cannot be sure whether there has been some “touching up” or other manipulation of the image.  So I cannot be sure whether the picture follows the correspondence that is specified by the optics.

Multiple correspondences

Suppose that I take two photographs.  I take one using black and white film, and the other using color film.  The two resulting pictures are different, even if the same camera was used in exactly the same location and orientation.  We would normally consider both pictures to be true, even though they do not agree.  This is only possible, because we assume two different correspondence mappings, one for black and white pictures and the other for colored pictures.  So we don’t have a single correspondence.  Rather, we use many correspondences and we use context as a guide as to which correspondence is appropriate.

Any method for getting data or making observations of real world events requires that we use the correspondence appropriate for that observation when expressing it in the form of a representation.  Similarly, when science discovers a new phenomenon, it must construct a suitable correspondence so that we can express observations of that new phenomenon.


The traditional view seems to be that we judge truth in terms of correspondence, and that there is some sort of metaphysical correspondence available.  I have attempted to show that there are multiple correspondences, and that we create or modify the correspondences that we use as a way of making it possible to form representations.