Tuesday, October 28, 2014

169. Truth on the move
The best-known notions of truth are static, concerning a state of knowledge. Here I add a dynamic notion, concerning a process of learning.

In item 25 of this blog, I discussed static notions of truth. The dominant notion was that of correspondence of ideas and knowledge with reality, on the basis of objective sense data. A second notion is the view of truth as coherence with a relevant body of knowledge, including accepted facts and logic, or in other words plausibility. A third is the pragmatic view, where something is true if it is fruitful, i.e. contributes to successful practice.

I combine the coherence and pragmatic views into the notion of warranted assertability. This includes both practical success in action and consistency with accepted facts, related knowledge and logic. It is a matter of debate what the relevant existing knowledge, logic, and accepted facts are.

A different notion of truth concerns truth to form or fidelity to some ideal, in ethical and aesthetic truth, as in ‘he is a true friend’ and ‘that is a true work of art’.
I adopt a wider notion that includes both warranted assertability and fidelity to ethical and aesthetic ideals, which I call adequacy. This re-establishes the ancient idea of bringing together the true, the good and the beautiful.

Truth in a dynamic sense lies in a process of trying to achieve truth in a static sense.

The most notorious dynamic notion of truth lies in the philosophy of Friedrich Hegel. In his view, absolute truth, in an absolute spirit, manifests, realizes itself step by step in the course of history. This notion was adopted in the historical materialism of Marx.

An ominous result was that an appeal could be made to people to submit to suffering as a sacrifice to progress towards a horizon of truth and justice. And what is to be sacrificed is up to the ideologues, the Politbureau or the apparatchiks, to decide, as the visionaries of historical necessity.

Nietzsche’s view is closer to my heart: what matters is the ongoing search for truth, not the illusory claim to have reached it. 

Final truth cannot humanly be achieved. In this blog I argue that adequacy is imperfection on the move. Things will come to be seen as truths that now seem absurd, unthinkable.

Can the static and dynamic notions of truth be reconciled? I propose two ways for this.

The first way is this. My ideal, my view of the good life, a flourishing life, is to utilize one’s talents in a creative contribution to the hereafter that one leaves behind, in a dialogic fashion, in debate and collaboration with others.

Then, truth in the form of fidelity to that ideal yields a dynamic notion of truth, in the ongoing striving for truth in the form of adequacy, defined above, combining warranted assertability with fidelity to ideals of ethics and aesthetics.

For the second way to reconcile the static and dynamic views I use the notion of the regulative vs. the constitutive. This is related to a distinction made in the philosophy of science between the context of justification and the context of discovery. The regulative, in justification, lies in criteria for good argument, such as factuality, logic, and coherence with what we know, and fidelity to ideals. The constitutive, in discovery, lies in the process of achieving such adequacy. How that may work is a different story (see item 31 in this blog). 

The first and second ways of reconciling the static and dynamic views of truth amount to the same.