7.06.2005

truth conditions my right eye, too.

in a recent post i made the statement "post-structuralists argue that there is no truth outside of language; that language itself is the condition of 'truth' and 'falsehood.'" and i'm going to try to defend that against proponents of truth-conditional semantics and against Seb's well-reasoned comment in response to the aforementioned post.

objects in the world are not 'true' or 'false.' let's take a classic example:
the sky is blue.
this is a pretty widely accepted fact. i don't think any poststructuralists would argue with it, and i don't think i want to, either. but here's the key: in order to widely accept it, in order to declare it as fact, we have to first communicate about it. making an observation about the sky and saying 'the sky is blue' are two very different things.

even an internal concept that the sky is blue is linguistic, because 'blue' and even 'sky' are defined by their conventional uses. 'the sky is blue' might be understood as 'that which we have constituted as a totality called 'the sky' appears to correspond to the hue i have been taught to call 'blue.'' and of course, every term i've used in that expansion could be expanded itself.

for communication to be sucessful, its participants must begin with certain mutual understandings. some of the most basic of these are the names of colors and objects in the world. 'the sky is blue' is not a pure statement of truth because it is always mediated by these categories and assumptions.

likewise, the 'truth' of the statment is mediated by a particular concept of truth: that which is universally agreed upon; that which is measurable by instruments; that which can be recorded. there MAY be an objective truth regarding the color of the sky, but in order to AGREE on it, we HAVE to communicate about it. and in order to determine whether 'the sky is blue' is true, we have to have already agreed about what 'truth' means.

1 comment:

Seb (respectfully) said...

Ok, this discussion touches my most sensitive philosophical nerve, so I'm going to consider the gauntlet to be thrown, if that's ok... forgive me if I get a little aggressive.

I take issue with these three things that you seem to be saying:
(a) "even an internal concept that the sky is blue is linguistic, because 'blue' and even 'sky' are defined by their conventional uses"
(b) For "the sky is blue" to be true, it must be a widely accepted fact.
(c) In order for a concept of truth to be useful, it must be agreed upon.

With regard to (a), I think I could hold a true belief that is completely incommunicable. For example, suppose I and I alone have ever tasted a mango. I can form a belief conceptually that translates roughly from mentalese into "A mango tastes like X," where X is what I tasted on the occasions where I ate a mango. Since nobody else has ever experienced X, I can't hold this belief in common with anybody else. Nevertheless, if I eat another mango and it again tastes like X, then it seems like that belief has been validated--it is true! (or at least true-er)

How can you have a true belief that is incommunicable? This is the point in (b). Well, if you redefine truth as, roughly, "those statements that allow me to generate reliable predictions of future experience," instead of "widely accepted as fact," then this is no longer a problem. "Mangoes taste like X" is true by this definition as long as mangoes continue to taste like X for me, no matter what anybody else says.

You might argue that this definition of truth as that which gives me accurate predictions has to be agreed upon, and therefore is still a matter of linguistic convention. This is point (c), above. But I don't see any grounds for holding this. The word "blue" doesn't necessarily precede our concept of "blue," just as the phrase "taste of a mango" doesn't necessarily precede "X," the concept that actually contains the memory of the taste of mango. Similarly, the word or convention defining "truth" doesn't necessarily have to precede an individual's concept of "truth (as a property of belief that entails predictive power)". Language--the assigning of a morpheme to that concept--can come after the formation of the concept itself.

(Thanks for providing the opportunity to argue about this. I've been waiting for a chance to articulate these arguments for a while...)

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