Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, and the Postmodern Turn

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, and the Postmodern Turn

Article excerpt

It is difficult to think of a topic of greater concern than the nature of truth. Indeed, truth and the knowledge thereof are the very rails upon which people ought to live their lives. And over the centuries, the classic correspondence theory of truth has outlived most of its critics. But these are postmodern times, or so we are often told, and the classic model, once ensconced deeply in the Western psyche, must now be replaced by a neopragmatist or some other anti-realist model of truth, at least for those concerned with the rampant victimization raging all around us. Thus, "we hold these truths to be self evident" now reads "our socially constructed selves arbitrarily agree that certain chunks of language are to be esteemed in our linguistic community." Something has gone wrong here, and paraphrasing the words of Mad magazine's Alfred E. Newman, "We came, we saw, and we conked out!"

The astute listener will have already picked up that I am an unrepentant correspondence advocate who eschews the various anti-realist views of truth. In what follows I shall weigh in on the topic first, by sketching out the correspondence theory and the postmodern rejection of it, and second, by identifying five confusions of which I believe postmodern revisionists are guilty. I shall close by warning that not only are postmodern views of truth and knowledge confused, but postmodernism is an immoral and cowardly viewpoint that people who love truth and knowledge, especially disciples of the Lord Jesus, should do everything they can to heal.

I. WHAT IS THE CORRESPONDENCE THEORY OF TRUTH?

In its simplest form, the correspondence theory of truth says that a proposition is true just in case it corresponds to reality, when what it asserts to be the case is the case. More generally, truth obtains when a truth bearer stands in an appropriate correspondence relation to a truth maker:

Certain clarifications are called for. First, what is the truth bearer? The thing that is either true or false is not a sentence, statement or other piece of language, but a proposition. A proposition is, minimally, the content of a sentence. For example, "It is raining" and "Es regnet" are two different sentences that express the same proposition. A sentence is a linguistic object consisting in a sense perceptible string of markings formed according to a culturally arbitrary set of syntactical rules, a grammatically well-formed string of spoken or written scratchings/sounds. Sentences are true just in case they express a true proposition or content. We will return to the topic of propositions later.

What about truth makers? What is it that makes a proposition true? The best answer is facts. A fact is some real, that is, obtaining state of affairs in the world, for example, grass's being green, an electron's having negative charge, God's being all-loving. For present purposes, this identification of the truth maker will do, but the account would need to be filled out to incorporate future states of affairs that will obtain or counterfactual states of affairs that would have obtained given such and such. Returning to present purposes, consider the proposition that grass is green. This proposition is true just in case a specific fact, viz., grass's being green, actually obtains in the real world. If Sally has the thought that grass is green, the specific state of affairs (grass actually being green) "makes" the propositional content of her thought true just in case the state of affairs actually is the way the proposition represents it to be. Grass's being green makes Sally's thought true even if Sally is blind and cannot tell whether or not it is true, and even if Sally does not believe the thought. Reality makes thoughts true or false. A thought is not made true by someone believing it or by someone being able to determine whether or not it is true. Put differently, evidence allows one to tell whether or not a thought is true, but the relevant fact is what makes it true. …

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