Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ain’t it the Truth

Several volumes stare dourly down from my shelves, with titles like Truth, or Truth and Meaning, or Reference, Truth, and Reality.  They are typically hard slogging -- dry as dust, to be sure, but more tellingly:  What exactly is the point?   We all wish, no doubt, to know which things are true, but there doesn’t seem -- even to a scientist or to someone otherwise reasonably philosophically inclined -- to be a fundamental problem about Truth simpliciter.    Certainly there are technical issues that arise in the (itself very technical) field of Model Theory, but that is not what these volumes are mostly about.  They mean to grab by the horns the raging bull of Truth Itself, and wrestle it into submission.
In fact, it is already by way of playing that rather artificial game, that we use an expression like “We wish to know which things are true.”  That is not the way we would normally phrase it to ourselves, as we set forth on our education or our research careers.   We wish to know whether this medication can cure such&such a variety of cancer;  or we wish to get clear on how cancer works in general, so as to return to such specific questions with more understanding.   We wish to know whether this space that meets us in physics  is metrizable, and if so, is it metrizable in more than one way, and if so, which metric is most useful for which class of problems.   Or we wax abstract and ask what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a space to be metrizable.  But in none of these instances do we ask, overall and in general,  Which things in the world are true.  Let alone, “What is Truth”.

Still, the matter does keep popping up in philosophical contexts;  and by dint of repeatedly whacking that particular persistent mole, I seem to have managed, over the months,  to actually say something of interest on the matter, here and there.  These scattered remarks are brought together here:

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