1 Some Questions About Truth

To the lay mind it is a perplexing thing that the nature of truth should be a vexed problem. That such is the case seems another illustration of Berkeley's remark about the proneness of philosophers to throw dust into their own eyes and then complain that they cannot see. . . . The plain man . . . has learned, through hard discipline, that it is no easy matter to discover what the truth is in special instances. But such difficulties assume that the nature of truth is perfectly understood. . . . Whence and why the pother?

(John Dewey, 'The Problem of Truth', 12)

There are at least two ways of asking the question, 'What is truth?' One of them is commonly attributed to Pilate: is there ever any hope that we might disclose the truth if the problem is a really delicate one? As is well known, 'jesting Pilate. . . would not stay for an answer'. 1 Another way of putting that question is the way Socrates asked, 'What is courage, what is piety, what is knowledge?' Many great philosophers took the question 'What is truth?' in a Socratic spirit, and the answers given through the ages are what the title of this book alludes to as 'conceptions of truth'. In advocating a conception of truth, philosophers may pursue different, though internally related, goals. Some of them try to explain the concept of truth—or to demonstrate the futility of all attempts at explaining this concept. Some of them mean to tell us what being true consists in (assuming that this may very well not be written into our concept, as it were). Most of them endeavour to specify (conceptually) necessary and sufficient conditions for something's being true. All of them aspire to be faithful to our workaday concept of truth, which is employed by Dewey's 'plain' men and women who have 'learned, through hard discipline, that it is no easy matter to discover what the truth is in special instances'.

The phrase 'the concept of truth' or, equivalently, 'the concept of being true', like all locutions of the type 'the concept of being F' or 'the concept of F-ness' (where 'F-ness' is a placeholder for the appropriate nominalization of the general

-1-

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Conceptions of Truth
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Conceptions of Truth iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • 1: Some Questions About Truth 1
  • 2: A Bogus Predicate? 33
  • 3: Varieties of Correspondence 93
  • 4: In and Out of Quotation Marks 175
  • 5: Propositions, Time, and Eternity 249
  • 6: Two Pleas for Modesty 317
  • 7: Truth and Justifiability 375
  • Bibliography 455
  • Name Index 481
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