What do we mean by the notion of “Truth”? – I
There are mainly three main theories/ways of defining Truth. The most famous one that largely informs the scientific method and also championed by some atheists is known as the “Correspondence Theory of Truth.” It says something is “true” if and only if it corresponds to a real fact “out there” in the world and that any other formulation of truth should be rejected. But there are serious problems with this theory. We will first perform a philosophical analysis of this theory followed by a scientific evaluation of it.
First, the theory posits a kind of “representationalism”, i.e. an idea/concept (in the mind) represents an actual “fact” there; we see it in Descartes, Locke and more clearly in Kant; but this “representationalism” is problematic because, in such a paradigm, all that we “perceive”, “receive” or “know” are mere ideas/impressions/representations/adaptations/appropriations of a “Reality”. unknown” there and therefore it does not really become knowledge but actually comes under agnosticism (that is to say the unknowability of reality in itself) as we find in Kant. This is the famous distinction between “noumena” and “phenomena” in Kant, that is to say that reality in itself is known to us only through the “filter” of our mind (this is i.e. the original reality is colored and modified by our categories of thought) and therefore we only have an anthropocentric representation of reality where pure reality in itself is unknowable. Thus, the theory rather than knowing or discovering the reality actually ends up masking it.
In addition to this, later philosophers like Wittgenstein, Richard Rorty and others problematized the correspondence theory of truth from a different perspective, mainly taking the viewpoint of “language”. Rorty’s main argument is that the representational formulation of truth stops us in our own language simply because the way we describe (or see) reality is already predetermined by our language and therefore any sort of correspondence is redundant. “There is a cat on the table”, for example, is a linguistic description which has already pre-conditioned/pre-determined our perception/description of Reality and thus any assertion of correspondence loses fruit. Rorty says that we have assumed that Reality has a “structure” just like the linguistic structure (for the correspondence to occur) but the fact is that in the very act of our description of the propositions we impose a linguistic structure to reality and therefore the correspondence that we are talking about is only an echo.
On a similar note, Wittgenstein, who was one of the most formidable popularizers of the correspondence theory of truth in his earlier career, describing language as an “image” of reality, i.e. sentences “reflecting” facts in the world, then radically changed its position. to what is called the theory of the “use” of meaning. Wittgenstein realized that there is not “one” logic essential to language; no single essence of “words” as he had previously thought. Indeed, the meaning of words keeps changing, evolving and developing according to the different contexts, purposes and uses at hand. The same “word” means different things in different contexts and uses. The “meaning” of a word in the language is in fact its “use” in the language.
Similarly, Nietzsche borrowing from Darwin criticized the theory in his own way. He would say that what we call “truth” is not a dogmatic correspondence with reality, but rather models and “tools” (which help us to manipulate reality) for our “survival” rather than discovering the ultimate truths of reality. Now Rorty and Wittgenstein (in the spirit of Darwin) argue for another theory of truth called “pragmatic theory of truth”, according to which truth is defined by “use”, i.e. that whatever “works” is true. But this formulation too is fatally biased and requires certain reservations. In what follows, we will present Heidegger’s notion of truth which critiques both correspondence theories and pragmatic theories of truth and presents a richer exposition of them.
Let’s start with correspondence theory. Heidegger argues that for a ‘correspondence’ to exist between mental images/ideas and the objects/facts ‘out there’, there must be an omnipresent common background of existence/’wajood’/Being which allows the correspondence in the first place by “holding” them together. Since, according to the logic of correspondence theory, the constituent elements of correspondence, i.e. ideas/mental representations and objects/facts, are two distinct entities, so there must be a greater common ground of Being that “connects” them and makes such a correspondence possible in the first place. If subject and object are completely disjoint ontologically, then how does this interaction /correspondence possible? Therefore, for Heidegger, Truth is in fact the revelation of this omnipresent background “Being” and not of the individual relations between finite contingent beings. Focusing only on the “theory of the match ripple of truth”, i.e. by seeking the endless relationships between individual beings, we are in fact concealing the true background “Being” which holds individual finite beings in the first place.
Therefore, for Heidegger, factual truth is what reveals real (omnipresent) being. Modern Western philosophy is strongly Cartesian, that is, the human subject (cogito) tries to understand Reality as an “object”. Through this methodology we are able to build working models of Reality by reading its behavioral patterns (what we call science), but this according to Heidegger amounts to mere “technology” and not “understanding”. . To understand is to really “unveil” “being” rather than to exploit it for such and such an end. This is Heidegger’s main objection to the instrumentalist pragmatic theory of Truth.
It is here that Heidegger pleads for the prioritization of “meditative/poetic” thought over “calculative” thought. The reason for this is that in “calculating thought” a subject is already divorced from an object which he is trying to understand in isolation and is therefore caught in Plato’s cave. He tries to get more and more clarity on the details of what this “object” is; not realizing that all the energy is spent studying the “way” this object “appears” to someone rather than the “object” itself. To quote Ben Rogers, “we struggle with the proof of being rather than with being itself”. In “meditative thought”, the subject “flows” so to speak with the object, that is to say “participates” in it and with it and thus allows the Being to reveal itself organically. This is why Heidegger prioritizes poetic thought over propositional thought, simply because in poetic thought language has more vastness, freedom, participation, and greater expressive power at through various nuances, metaphors, unusual style of speech, to express “being”. Being/Reality/Life is complex and diverse, so it is best revealed through complex poetic language, where propositional calculating thought tries to make things as “specific” as possible, during which many other aspects of the Being are neglected, marginalized. or hidden. Ben Rogers’ short article “Poetic Uncovering in Heidegger” clarifies this point best.
(To be continued…)
(The author is pursuing a Masters in Philosophy at JNU, Delhi. Email: [email protected])