Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pluralism about Truth and Thesis Structure

Michael Lynch’s recently published Truth as One and Many (2009) has helped me crystallize my thoughts on pluralism about truth, and so will be particularly useful in helping me structure my third chapter (“Truth(s)”). As a result, I’ve also reordered my last three chapters (now “Justice,” “Generosity” and “Weakness” – instead of “Generosity,” “Weakness,” and “Justice”), the contents of which I blogged about a bit the other day. In this post, I’ll summarize Lynch’s argument, and then show how it has affected my thesis structure.

Following Lynch (but also some stuff I’ve read by Ralph Walker), I’m going to argue that most theorists of truth are monists about truth; that is, they assume that the notion of truth has one nature that is unchanged when the concept is applied to diverse phenomena, and seek to encapsulate that singular essence in a global theory of truth. However, the scope problem throws up numerous counterexamples across diverse domains of phenomena – the truth of which one theory of truth has difficulty explaining. For example, a correspondence theory of truth cannot account for propositions that are non-representational but are intuitively true (such as, murder is wrong). Hence, the move from global theories of truth (such as correspondence, coherence, or deflationism) towards a pluralism about truth that might include such conventional theories of truth but will apply them locally rather than globally.

Lynch’s thesis begins with what he calls the ‘folk’ concept of truth, which ‘embodies our preconceptions [about truth], the way we tacitly think about it in our ordinary life – even if, normally, we don’t even recognize ourselves as doing so’ (Lynch 2009:7). According to Lynch’s presentation of our folk concept of truth, it includes a number of truisms about truth:

  • Truth is objective (the belief "p" is true if, and only if, with respect to the belief that "p", things are as they are believed to be);
  • Truth is the norm of belief (it is prima facie correct to believe that "p" if and only if the proposition that "p" is true; or ‘truth is belief’s basic norm of correctness,’ Lynch 2009:11); and
  • Truth is the goal of inquiry (true beliefs are a worthy goal of inquiry; truth is pursued indirectly through the direct pursuit of reasons and evidence; the processes of questioning have truth as their aim).

Lynch maintains that truth itself is a singular concept, identified with these three core truisms (there are other, intimately related concepts that I won’t go into here). A theory of truth is only a theory of truth if it incorporates these core truisms (or else it is changing the subject) and is only a theory of truth if it explains them (or explains away those it does not hold). According to Lynch, the correspondence and coherence theories of truth are only viable under certain additional conditions. Only in a propositional domain in which mental states “respond” to external environments, such that propositions either represent or misrepresent reality, the correspondence theory of truth is viable. Similarly, the coherence theory of truth is only viable in a propositional domain that imposes epistemic constraints on the truths of the domain (it must be in principle possible for someone at some time to have warrant for believing any given proposition), and these propositions must be non-representational in character. This problem of scope leads Lynch to advocate pluralism about truth, according to which neither correspondence nor coherence are global theories of truth but are instead theories of how truth is manifest locally in particular domains.

Truth remains singular, but is manifest pluralistically. Truth is one concept (exhibiting core truisms about truth essentially, or, as Lynch also phrases it, playing the truth-role as such), but truth is multiply realizable (in propositions that have a property accidentally that manifests truth). The concept “truth” remains singular but there are multiple properties of propositions that might manifest that singular concept in different ways. The property that manifests truth or plays the truth-role in a particular domain is dependent on the nature of that particular propositional domain. In other words, Lynch’s thesis is not that “truth” correctly applies to correspondence here or coherence there (suggesting two concepts of truth) but rather that truth is one concept that is manifest in correspondence in one domain and coherence in another.

Lynch applies his theory of truth as one and many to the domain of morality. He holds that ‘a property constructed of our epistemic norms for morality could serve to manifest truth for our moral judgements’ (2009:185). He demonstrates that the epistemological norms for the domain of moral judgements demand that propositions within this domain are non-representational, i.e. do not correspond to externally existing entities (‘It is difficult to know how to “locate” something like moral wrongness amongst the furniture of the physical world,’ Lynch 2009:1). Therefore, he argues, the correspondence theory of truth cannot act as a global theory of the manifestation of truth in this domain. Instead, Lynch supplies a theory of the manifestation of truth for the moral domain based upon coherence and concordance. Our folk concept of truth in the moral domain suggests that ‘we see our moral inquires as aiming at constructing frameworks of concordant judgements. Such systems, were there every to be any, would be durably improving coherent frameworks of judgements, some of which – the non-moral judgements – are true in virtue of corresponding t the facts, but others of which – the moral judgements – are true by supercohering to that very framework, that is, by durably belonging to the framework itself’ (2009:175-176).

What I think it is important to grasp here is Lynch’s methodology: we move from our folk concept of truth for a particular domain towards identifying the property that manifests these truisms for this domain. By the same logic, then, a property constructed out of the UK emerging church milieu’s epistemic norms for religion might serve to manifest truth for religious propositions in the religious or spiritual domain (or, at least, for the UK emerging church milieu's religious/spiritual domain). If truth is manifested by a property of propositions because that property plays the truth-role in that particular domain, then my own work needs to answer the following questions:

  • What is the truth-role or truism about truth for the religious/spiritual domain? and
  • What property of propositions plays this role (thereby making propositions true, for this particular domain)?

In Chapter Three (“Truth(s)”), then, I’m going to argue that:

  • Lynch’s initial discussion of what constitutes our everyday folk concept of truth neglects the spiritual and religious dimensions to everyday life;
  • my empirical data from the UK emerging church milieu suggests that the truth-role in the spiritual/religious domain is transformation and call;
  • the property of propositions that enables transformation, call and response therefore manifests truth (for this particular domain), true propositions in this domain do not necessarily therefore have to be representational, and the truth of propositions are judged not by their ability to represent, but by their ability to transform; and
  • the property of propositions that manifests truth in the religious/spiritual domain is the norm of justice.

My previous thesis structure (see post here for details) had closely followed my research questions:

  • How is the notion of truth understood in the UK emerging church milieu? (chapter 3, “Truth(s)”) [Therefore, also, What is the UK emerging church milieu? (chapter 2, “Emergence”)] and
  • What are the philosophical (chapters 4, “Inaccessibility” and 5, “Undecidability”), theological (chapters 6, “Generosity” and 7, “Weakness”), and ethical (chapter 8, “Justice”) implications of these notions of truth?

Now, however, I have decided to reorder things a little.

Chapter 2 morphed into “Contexts” a while a go, so that it more closely answered the question of not only what the UK emerging church milieu is but also why it is important to study it academically.

Chapters 3, 4 and 5 stay in the order they were but are more clearly focused on 3) arguing why pluralism about truth is a useful notion, suggesting that Lynch’s work needs to be supplemented through a study of the notion of truth as it operates in the domain of religion or spirituality, and arguing that the truism that truth is an event that transforms and calls is key here; and 4) and 5) documenting what the diverse philosophical structures of this domain are in order to demonstrate what property manifests truth in the spiritual/religious domain. This therefore leads on to Chapter 6, which is now “Justice,” having been moved from the end of the thesis. Here, I hope to be able to argue that the property that displays the truism of transformation (and therefore manifests truth) in the spiritual domain is the norm of justice.

This argument then informs the debate between Radically Orthodox ‘Catholic Postmodernism’ (James K.A. Smith, see posts here and here) and ‘religion without Religion’ (Jack Caputo, posts on Weak Theology here, here, here, here and here), thus shifting the “Generosity” and “Weakness” chapters to the end of the thesis. The gist of these last three chapters is contained in the paper I hope to give at the Towards a Philosophy of Life conference in Liverpool in June (see post the other day). I’m trying to write this chapter at the moment (in time for the deadline for Panel Review documents, April 27th) so more on this in the next little while as I bang out my argument in more detail. In the meantime, I hope the post here has given a few ideas of how chapters 3, 4 and 5 might go!

No comments: