Truth in Aquinas

By John Milbank; Catherine Pickstock | Go to book overview

1

Truth and correspondence

I

How should one respond to the death of realism, the death of the idea that thoughts in our minds can represent to us the way things actually are in the world? For such a death is widely proclaimed by contemporary philosophers.

In summary, they argue that since we only have access to the world via knowledge, it is impossible to check knowledge against the world in order to see if it corresponds with it. This is a powerful and perhaps unanswerable contention, and yet if we accept it, it seems to follow that there can be no such thing as truth at all.

In what follows, however, we wish to argue that one need not accept these essentially secular conclusions. Rather, we want to suggest that a reconsideration of Aquinas can help us to meet the problems arising from the seeming insupportability of a correspondence theory of truth. This might appear to be an inquiry doomed from the outset, since Aquinas is himself a proponent of just such a theory. However, we will try to show why he is not quite the correspondence theorist he is sometimes taken to be, but rather something much more interesting: a theological theorist of truth who challenges in advance the assumptions of modern epistemologists at a level they do not even imagine.

First, however, let us see what sorts of difficulties arise if one rejects correspondence altogether. Bruce Marshall has argued that one need not fear suspicion of correspondence, for, first of all, the death of realism need not mean an out-and-out embrace of anti-realism, and, secondly, theology introduces a specifically Christological mode of correspondence according to which, Christ the God-man is true in his imitation of the life of the eternal Trinity. 1 In the first case, according to Marshall, there is in fact an alternative to anti-realism which does not make appeal to correspondence. Marshall furnishes us with a variety of reasons why, for the purposes of one’s day-to-day existence, one should turn to a ‘disquotational’ theory of truth, which is not anti-realist, although it involves no notion of correspondence, as espoused by Alfred Tarski and later Donald Davidson. This, he claims, is the best available philosophical—though not theological—

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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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