Truth in Aquinas

By John Milbank; Catherine Pickstock | Go to book overview

Preface

One can detect four main attitudes toward truth in contemporary thought. The first is a doubt as to the possibility of truth altogether; the second is a confinement of truth to practice rather than theory; the third, a confinement of truth to theory rather than practice, but a theory so esoteric that only a tiny minority is privy to it; the fourth promotes, in the face of the first attitude, a fideistic affirmation of some religious truth or other.

In the case of the denial of the possibility of truth, this can take many different forms. Sometimes truth is regarded as an unnecessary term because it is held to denote simply an affirmation of what is the case. But if this ‘what is the case’ is not held to be true, then it reduces to what appears to be the case, or is held to be the case for certain practical purposes. Sometimes, again, truth is regarded as strictly relative to a certain set of cultural assumptions, and where the latter is regarded as arbitrary, then relativism or conventionalism ensues, with the consequence that there is no truth in any absolute sense. Finally, the same approach can receive an ontological extension, in such a way that even natural arrangements in time are regarded as aleatory. There may be temporary truths of fact, in the sense of contingent events of relation between things, including a relation to human understanding, but these facts do not arise according to truth in the sense of a coherent logic. For this position, the only truth that remains is the truth of the aleatory itself, which is enthroned as a positive value.

For this first position, then, either truth is inaccessible, or else reality itself is not amenable to notions of truth. In the latter case, one has a full theoretical nihilism, whilst in the former case, one has a kind of practical nihilism.

The second position is an elaboration upon one version of the first. It holds that if truth as correspondence to reality is either unavailable or meaningless, then this is no cause for despair, because truth belongs much more naturally to practical rather than theoretical activity. Sufficient truth for human purposes is available in the successful attainment of humanly sought ends. Such attainment discloses to us a certain reality outside of which lies only vain speculation. However, this attitude drains truth of its connotations of the indefeasible, and of its sense of value. The first consequence follows, because if human achievement provides us no clue as to what is ultimately the

-xi-

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Truth in Aquinas
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • 1 - Truth and Correspondence 1
  • 2 - Truth and Vision 19
  • 3 - Truth and Touch 60
  • 4 - Truth and Language 88
  • Bibliography 136
  • Index 141
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