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Question of the Month

What is truth, the following answers to this question each win a signed copy of how to be an agnostic by mark vernon. sorry if you’re not here; there were lots of entries..

True beliefs portray the world as it is; false beliefs portray the world as other than it is. A straight ruler appears bent when half-submerged in a glass of water. What is the truth of the matter? Truth’s character is both logical and empirical. The logical ‘principle of non-contradiction’ ensures that the contradictory propositions ‘the ruler is straight’ and ‘the ruler is not straight’ cannot both be true at the same time, and in principle observation should settle which is the case. In practice, things are not so simple. The observable truth would seem to change as the ruler enters the water. Perhaps this is to be expected? After all, if true beliefs describe the world, and the world changes, then truth must change too. However, relativists rubbing their hands at the thought that we each construct our own truth, and sceptics finger-wagging that this shows there is no such thing as truth, should both hold fire. As well as the principle of non-contradiction, we are also guided by the empirical principle that nature is uniform and not capricious. Solid objects are not usually deformed by immersion in water. So, we can approach a truth that is independent of particular observations by, ironically, taking account of the observer in looking at the bigger picture: optical effects resulting from refraction of light explain why the ruler appears bent but, really, is straight.

But how can we be sure there is a world to describe? What if reality itself is an illusion, like the bent stick – a flickering shadow on a cave wall? We may never know whether our observations are just shadows of what is real, but we should resist both mysticism and metaphysics when thinking about truth.

Reaching a consensus on an objective description of the world is possible in principle. That is the wonder of science. Consensus on our subjective descriptions is impossible in principle. That is the wonder of consciousness. Truth is the single currency of the sovereign mind, the knowing subject, and the best thinking – in philosophy, science, art – discriminates between the objective and subjective sides of the coin, and appreciates both the unity of reality and the diversity of experience.

Jon Wainwright, London

Let’s not ask what truth is: let us ask instead how we can recognize it reliably when it appears. Four factors determine the truthfulness of a theory or explanation: congruence, consistency, coherence, and usefulness.

• A true theory is congruent with our experience – meaning, it fits the facts. It is in principle falsifiable, but nothing falsifying it has been found. One way we can infer that our theory is congruent with the facts as we experience them is when what we experience is predictable from the theory. But truth is always provisional, not an end state. When we discover new facts, we may need to change our theory.

• A true theory is internally consistent . It has no contradictions within itself, and it fits together elegantly. The principle of consistency (same as the principle of non-contradiction) allows us to infer things consistent with what we already know. An inconsistent theory – one that contains contradictions – does not allow us to do this.

• Alongside this criterion, a true theory is coherent with everything else we consider true . It confirms, or at least fails to contradict, the rest of our established knowledge, where ‘knowledge’ means beliefs for which we can give rigorous reasons. The physical sciences – physics, chemistry, biology, geology and astronomy – all reinforce each other, for example.

• A true theory is useful . It gives us mastery. When we act on the basis of a true theory or explanation, our actions are successful. What is true works to organize our thought and our practice, so that we are able both to reason with logical rigor to true conclusions and to handle reality effectively. Truth enables us to exert our power, in the sense of our ability to get things done, successfully. It has predictive power, allowing us to make good choices concerning what is likely to happen.

Does this mean that what is useful is true? That is not a useful question, as it’s not the sole criterion. Rather, if a theory is congruent with our experience, internally consistent, coherent with everything else we know, and useful for organizing our thinking and practice, then we can confidently consider it true.

Bill Meacham, by email

Proposition P is true if P is the case, and P is the case if P is true. Together with all other propositions which meet the same criterion, P can then claim to inhabit the realm of Truth.

But is P the case? P may be a sincerely-held belief; but this alone is insufficient to establish its truth. Claims to truth must be well justified. Those beliefs based on prediction and forecast are particularly suspect, and can usually be discounted. The recent prediction that ‘the world will end at 6.00pm on 21 May 2011’ is an example. There was never any systematic attempt at justification, and without this any claim to truth is seriously (and usually fatally) flawed. If it cannot be shown that a belief either corresponds to a known fact, coheres with a ‘consistent and harmonious’ system of beliefs, or prompts actions which have desirable outcomes (the pragmatic approach), then any claim to Truth becomes impossible to justify.

The realm of Truth may contain those arising from mystical convictions, which are more difficult to justify than those based on observations. Although attempts are made to pragmatically justify religious beliefs, the many competing claims leave us in confusion. As regards Truth in the Art-World, Aquinas identifies Truth with Beauty, and defines the truth in art as ‘that which pleases in the very apprehension of it’.

So, Truth is the realm populated by well-justified beliefs. To a certain extent truth is subjective, although a belief gains greater currency by its wider acknowledgment.

Truth is not constant. Some beliefs which were held to be true are now considered false, and some for which truth is now claimed may be deemed false in the future, and vice versa . Truth is good for helping us decide how to act, because it serves as a standard for making some sort of sense of a world populated also by half-truths and untruths.

Ray Pearce, Manchester

Our ancestors did themselves (and us) a great favour when they began using noises to communicate. They probably started with “Hide!” “Wolves!” “Eat!/Don’t eat!” and “Mine/Yours!” The invention of language enabled us to do many things. We could use it to describe the world as we found it; but we could also use it to create things, such as boundaries and private property. As John Searle has argued, the vast structure of our social world, including our laws, businesses, politics, economics and entertainments, has been built out of language.

Telling the truth is just one of the uses of language. Telling the truth is complicated by the fact that we live in a hybrid world, partly natural, partly invented. “Earth rotates” is a true account of a natural given. “Earth rotates once every 24 hours” is only true within the language community which imposes that system of time-measurement on the given reality. Another complication is that we ourselves are physical objects which can be described using objective terms, but we are also social beings, in roles, relationships and structures which are all man-made.

Classifications are a key component of language. A sentence of the simple form ‘X is Y’ can locate an individual within a class (‘Socrates is a man’) or one class within another (‘Daisies are weeds’). Some classifications are givens in nature (the periodic table, biological taxonomy, physical laws) while others are inventions (social roles, types (uses) of furniture, parts of speech). Sentences can mix natural classes with inventions: ‘daisies’ refers to a class of plant given in nature, whereas ‘weeds’ refers to an invented class of ‘dislikeable plants’. In their search for truth the natural sciences seek to discover natural classifications, as distinct from social inventions.

True descriptions are like maps. Some descriptions map objective reality, as the natural sciences do, which is like a map of physical contours. Other descriptions map our socially-constructed world, as journalists, historians, novelists and theologians do, like a map showing political borders.

We have made great progress since our ancestors first grunted at each other. Language was essential to that progress and it provided the true/false distinction which enabled us to analyse and understand the natural world which sustains us.

Les Reid, Belfast

I would like to say that truth exists outside of us, for all to see. Unfortunately, humans can be stubborn, and so the actual pinning down of what a truth is is more complicated. Society plays host to two types of truths; subjective truth and objective truth. Subjective truth is given to us through our individual expe riences in relation to those around us: in short, it’s the truths we have been raised with. Objective truth is discovered by a search which is critical of our experiences until sufficient evidence has been gathered. The subjective truth is not always in opposition to the objective truth, but it does depend on the subject valuing their worldview more than others’.

Our preference as a society is, I believe, revealed through our use of language. If we say: “Look, the sun is going down” we are speaking from our subjective viewpoint. It is true from our individual standpoint, but it is not a truth in the objective sense. The truth, in an objective sense, is that we live on a planet which spins on its axis and it orbits the Sun. So in fact what we should say is “Look, the earth is spinning away from the Sun and will soon obstruct our view of it.” This may seem a pedantic point to make; however, if our language does not reflect the objective truth, it must mean that truth stands firmly in the subjective camp. Based on our use of language in the majority of situations, an alien may then well judge us to be very ignorant, and that our truth is self-serving.

It could be said that subjective truth isn’t truth at all, more belief ; but because as a society our values give more strength to the individual and to personal experience, we must bow to the power of the individual belief as truth, as we seem to do through our everyday use of language.

Anoosh Falak Rafat, St Leonard’s on Sea, East Sussex

Everyone knows perfectly well what truth is – everyone except Pontius Pilate and philosophers. Truth is the quality of being true, and being true is what some statements are. That is to say, truth is a quality of the propositions which underlie correctly-used statements.

What does that mean? Well, imagine a man who thinks that Gordon Brown is still the British PM, and that Gordon Brown was educated at Edinburgh (as he was). When he says “The PM was educated at Edinburgh”, what he means is clearly true: the person he is calling the PM was educated at Edinburgh. Therefore, if (somewhat counter-intuitively) we say the statement itself is true, we’re saying that what the statement actually means is true: that what anyone who understands the meanings and references of all the words in the statement means, is true. Nonetheless, it is perfectly natural to say that a statement itself is true; people who think this would say that the above statement, as uttered by the man who thinks Gordon Brown is PM, is false (even though what he meant by it is true).

However, to generalise, it is not really the statement itself that is true (or false), but what is meant by it. It can’t be the possible state of affairs described by the statement which is true: states of affairs are not true, they just exist. Rather, there must be some wordless ‘proposition’ nailed down by the statement which describes that state of affairs, and which could be expressed accurately in various forms of words (in a variety of statements); and it is that proposition which is either true or false. So when we say that a particular statement is true, that must be shorthand for “the proposition meant by someone who utters that statement, in full knowledge of the meanings and references of the words in it, is true.”

Bob Stone, Worcester

I dilute my solution, place it into a cuvette, and take a reading with the spectrophotometer: 0.8. I repeat the procedure once more and get 0.7; and once again to get 0.9. From this I get the average of 0.8 that I write in my lab-book. The variation is probably based upon tiny inconsistencies in how I am handling the equipment, so three readings should be sufficient for my purposes. Have I discovered the truth? Well yes – I have a measurement that seems roughly consistent, and should, assuming that my notes are complete and my spectrophotometer has been calibrated, be repeatable in many other labs around the world. However, this ‘truth’ is meaningless without some understanding of what I am trying to achieve. The spectrophotometer is set at 280nm, which – so I have been taught – is the wavelength used to measure protein concentration. I know I have made up my solution from a bottle labelled ‘albumin’, which – again, as I have been taught – is a protein. So my experiment has determined the truth of how much protein is in the cuvette. But again, a wider context is needed. What is a protein, how do spectrophotometers work, what is albumin, why do I want to know the concentration in the first place? Observations are great, but really rather pointless without a reason to make them, and without the theoretical knowledge for how to interpret them. Truth, even in science, is therefore highly contextual. What truth is varies not so much with different people, but rather with the narrative they are living by. Two people with a similar narrative will probably agree on how to treat certain observations, and might agree on a conclusion they call the truth, but as narratives diverge so too does agreement on what ‘truth’ might be. In the end, even in an entirely materialistic world, truth is just the word we use to describe an observation that we think fits into our narrative.

Dr Simon Kolstoe, UCL Medical School, London

Truth is unique to the individual. As a phenomenologist, for me, that I feel hungry is more a truth than that 2+3=5. No truth can be ‘objectively verified’ – empirically or otherwise – and the criteria by which we define truths are always relative and subjective. What we consider to be true, whether in morality, science, or art, shifts with the prevailing intellectual wind, and is therefore determined by the social, cultural and technological norms of that specific era. Non-Euclidean geometry at least partially undermines the supposed tautological nature of geometry – usually cited as the cornerstone of the rationalist’s claims that reason can provide knowledge: other geometries are possible, and equally true and consistent. This means that the truth of geometry is once more inextricably linked with your personal perspective on why one mathematical paradigm is ‘truer’ than its viable alternatives.

In the end, humans are both fallible and unique, and any knowledge we discover, true or otherwise, is discovered by a human, finite, individual mind. The closest we can get to objective truth is intersubjective truth, where we have reached a general consensus due to our similar educations and social conditioning. This is why truths often don’t cross cultures. This is an idea close to ‘conceptual relativism’ – a radical development of Kant’s thinking which claims that in learning a language we learn a way of interpreting the world, and thus, to speak a different language is to inhabit a different subjective world.

So our definition of truth needs to be much more flexible than Plato, Descartes and other philosophers claim. I would say that a pragmatic theory of truth is closest: that truth is the ‘thing that works’; if some other set of ideas works better, then it is truer. This is a theory Nietzsche came close to accepting.

The lack of objective truth leaves us free to carve our own truths. As in Sartre’s existentialism, we aren’t trapped by objectivity; rather, the lack of eternal, immutable truths allows us to create what is true for ourselves. Truth is mine. My truth and your truth have no necessary relevance to each other. Because truth is subjective, it can play a much more unique and decisive role in giving life meaning; I am utterly free to choose my truths, and in doing so, I shape my own life. Without subjective truth, there can be no self-determination.

Andrew Warren, Eastleigh, Hants

Truth is interpersonal. We tell each other things, and when they work out we call them truths. When they don’t, we call them errors or, if we are not charitable, lies. What we take as truth depends on what others around us espouse. For many centuries European Christians believed that men had one fewer rib than women because the Bible says that Eve was created from Adam’s rib. Nobody bothered to count because everyone assumed it was true. And when they finally counted, it was because everyone agreed on the result that the real truth became known. Even when we are alone, truth is interpersonal. We express these truths or errors or lies to others and to ourselves in language; and, as Wittgenstein pointed out, there can be no private language.

But the most essential truth, the truth by which we all live our lives, is intensely personal, private. We might call this ‘Truth’, with a capital T. Even though each of us lives our life by Truth, it can be different for each person. Shall I believe and obey the Torah, the New Testament, the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Zend Avesta, the Dhammapada? Or none of the above: shall I find my own Truth in my own way?

We thus need a community of seekers with a commitment to meta-Truth, recognizing that personal Truths are to be respected, even though any Truth will differ from someone else’s. But even in such a community, some beliefs would be acceptable, and others not: my belief that I am exceptional and deserve preferential treatment, perhaps because I alone have received a special revelation, is not likely to be shared by others. From within the in-group we look with fear and revulsion on those who deny the accepted beliefs. From outside, we admire those who hold aloft the light of truth amidst the darkness of human ignorance. And in every case it is we who judge, not I alone. Even the most personal Truth is adjudicated within a community and depends on the esteem of others.

Robert Tables, Blanco, TX

The word ‘true’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘ treowe ’ meaning ‘believed’. ‘Believe’ itself is from ‘ gelyfan ’, ‘to esteem dear’. So etymologically, ‘truth’ would be something believed to be of some value, rather than necessarily being correct. ‘Believe’ is still used in the older sense, as in “I believe in democracy” – a different sense to ‘believing in Father Christmas’. Such ambiguity facilitates equivocation – useful to politicians, etc, who can be economical with the truth. One function of language is to conceal truth.

In an experiment by Solomon Asch, subjects were given pairs of cards. On one were three lines of different lengths; on the other card a single line. The test was to determine which of the three lines was the same length as the single line. The truth was obvious; but in the group of subjects all were stooges except one. The stooges called out answers, most of which were of the same, obviously wrong, line. The self-doubt thus incurred in the real subjects made only one quarter of them trust the evidence of their senses enough to pick the correct answer.

Schopenhauer noticed the reluctance of the establishment to engage with new ideas, choosing to ignore rather than risk disputing and refuting them. Colin Wilson mentions Thomas Kuhn’s contention that “once scientists have become comfortably settled with a certain theory, they are deeply unwilling to admit that there might be anything wrong with it” and links this with the ‘Right Man’ theory of writer A.E.Van Vogt. A ‘Right Man’ would never admit that he might be wrong. Wilson suggests that people start with the ‘truth’ they want to believe, and then work backwards to find supporting evidence. Similarly, Robert Pirsig says that ideas coming from outside orthodox establishments tend to be dismissed. Thinkers hit “an invisible wall of prejudice… nobody inside… is ever going to listen… not because what you say isn’t true, but solely because you have been identified as outside that wall.” He termed this a ‘cultural immune system’.

We may remember our experiences and relate them accurately; but as to complex things like history, politics, peoples’ motives, etc, the models of reality we have can at best be only partly true. We are naive if taken in by ‘spin’; we’re gullible, paranoid or crazy if we give credit to ‘conspiracy theories’; and, with limited knowledge of psychology, scientific method, the nature of politics etc, the ‘truth’ will tend to elude us there too.

Jim Fairer, Kirriemuir, Scotland

As I gather amongst my fellow lovers of wisdom for another round of coffee, debate and discussion, I try to filter in the question I am trying to answer: ‘What is Truth?’ With many a moan and a sigh (and indeed a giggle from some), I try to wiggle out the truth from these B.A. philosophy students. I think it is interesting to examine why philosophy students should hate the question so much. It seems that the question itself is meaningless for some of them. “Really?” they asked, “Aren’t we a little too postmodern for that?” Actually, I reminded them, the question itself can be considered to be postmodern. Postmodernism is not the opposite of realism. Rather, postmodernism only questions the blatant acceptance of reality. If postmodernism did not ask the question of truth, but rather, assumed that [it is true that] there is no truth, it would be just as unassuming about truth as realism is.

“But wait,” said one crafty little Socrates, “You mentioned, realism: so are the questions of what is true and what is real the same question?” Then it became terribly frightening, because we entered into a debate about the relation between language and reality. We agreed amongst ourselves that it certainly seemed that both questions are roughly treated as equal, since when one questions certainty, one questions both truth and reality, and postmodernists certainly question both. The question then became: If Truth and Reality are so intimately connected, to what degree do we have access to reality, and what do we use to access this reality and come to truth? We perused the history of philosophy. It seemed to us that from Descartes to Kant (and some argued that even in phenomenology and existentialism) there has been an unhealthy relationship between us and reality/truth. Indeed, you could argue that a great deal of the history of Western philosophy was trying to deal with the problem of alienation, ie, the alienation of human beings from reality and truth.

Abigail Muscat, Zebbug, Malta

‘Truth’ has a variety of meanings, but the most common definitions refer to the state of being in accordance with facts or reality . There are various criteria, standards and rules by which to judge the truth that statements profess to claim. The problem is how can there be assurance that we are in accordance with facts or realities when the human mind perceives, distorts and manipulates what it wants to see, hear or decipher. Perhaps a better definition of truth could be, an agreement of a judgment by a body of people on the facts and realities in question .

I have indeed always been amazed at how far people are willing to be accomplices to the vast amount of lies, dishonesty and deception which continuously goes on in their lives. The Global Financial Crisis, the investment scandal of Bernard Madoff, the collapse of Enron, and the war in Iraq, are familiar stories of gross deception from the past decade. The Holocaust is another baffling case of a horrendous genocide that was permitted to take place across a whole continent which seemed completely oblivious to reality. And yet even today we find people who deny such an atrocity having taken place, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.

Discovering the truth will be a hurtful and painful experience when the facts or realities turn out to be different from what is expected. Yet there ought to be no grounds for despair if we accept that the ideal of truth, like all other virtues, can be approached rather than attained. This ideal truth can be glimpsed if we manage to be sceptical, independent and open-minded when presented with the supposed facts and realities. However, in searching for the truth, precaution must be taken, that we are not trapped into a life overshadowed by fear, suspicion and cynicism, since this would suspend us in a state of continuous tension. One might easily conclude that living a life not concerned with probing for the truth would perhaps after all yield greater peace of mind. But it is the life that continuously struggles with the definition of the truth that will ultimately give scope and meaning to human existence.

Ian Rizzo, Zabbar, Malta

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The Pragmatic Theory of Truth

Pragmatic theories of truth are usually associated either with C.S. Peirce’s proposal that true beliefs will be accepted “at the end of inquiry” or with William James’ proposal that truth be defined in terms of utility. More broadly, however, pragmatic theories of truth focus on the connection between truth and epistemic practices, notably practices of inquiry and assertion. Depending on the particular pragmatic theory, true statements might be those that are useful to believe, that are the result of inquiry, that have withstood ongoing examination, that meet a standard of warranted assertibility, or that represent norms of assertoric discourse. Like other theories of truth (e.g., coherence and deflationary theories) pragmatic theories of truth are often put forward as an alternative to correspondence theories of truth. Unlike correspondence theories, which tend to see truth as a static relation between a truth-bearer and a truth-maker, pragmatic theories of truth tend to view truth as a function of the practices people engage in, and the commitments people make, when they solve problems, make assertions, or conduct scientific inquiry. More broadly, pragmatic theories tend to emphasize the significant role the concept of truth plays across a range of disciplines and discourses: not just scientific and fact-stating discourse but also ethical, legal, and political discourse as well.

Pragmatic theories of truth have the effect of shifting attention away from what makes a statement true and toward what people mean or do in describing a statement as true. While sharing many of the impulses behind deflationary theories of truth (in particular, the idea that truth is not a substantial property), pragmatic theories also tend to view truth as more than just a useful tool for making generalizations. Pragmatic theories of truth thus emphasize the broader practical and performative dimensions of truth-talk, stressing the role truth plays in shaping certain kinds of discourse. These practical dimensions, according to pragmatic theories, are essential to understanding the concept of truth.

As these references to pragmatic theories (in the plural) would suggest, over the years a number of different approaches have been classified as “pragmatic”. This points to a degree of ambiguity that has been present since the earliest formulations of the pragmatic theory of truth: for example, the difference between Peirce’s (1878 [1986: 273]) claim that truth is “the opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate” and James’ (1907 [1975: 106]) claim that truth “is only the expedient in the way of our thinking”. Since then the situation has arguably gotten worse, not better. The often-significant differences between various pragmatic theories of truth can make it difficult to determine their shared commitments (if any), while also making it difficult to critique these theories overall. Issues with one version may not apply to other versions, which means that pragmatic theories of truth may well present more of a moving target than do other theories of truth. While few today would equate truth with expediency or utility (as James often seems to do) there remains the question of what the pragmatic theory of truth stands for and how it is related to other theories. Still, pragmatic theories of truth continue to be put forward and defended, often as serious alternatives to more widely accepted theories of truth

1.1 Peirce’s Pragmatic Theory of Truth

1.2 james’ pragmatic theory of truth, 1.3 dewey’s pragmatic theory of truth, 2. neo-pragmatic theories of truth, 3. truth as a norm of inquiry and assertion, 4. common features, 5.1 three classic objections and responses, 5.2 the fundamental objection, other internet resources, related entries, 1. history of the pragmatic theory of truth.

The history of the pragmatic theory of truth is tied to the history of classical American pragmatism. According to one standard account, C.S. Peirce gets credit for first proposing a pragmatic theory of truth, William James is responsible for popularizing the pragmatic theory, and John Dewey subsequently reframed truth in terms of warranted assertibility (for this reading of Dewey see Burgess & Burgess 2011: 4). More specifically, Peirce is associated with the idea that true beliefs are those that will withstand future scrutiny; James with the idea that true beliefs are dependable and useful; Dewey with the idea that truth is a property of well-verified claims (or “judgments”).

The American philosopher, logician and scientist Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) is generally recognized for first proposing a “pragmatic” theory of truth. Peirce’s pragmatic theory of truth is a byproduct of his pragmatic theory of meaning. In a frequently-quoted passage in “How to Make Our Ideas Clear” (1878), Peirce writes that, in order to pin down the meaning of a concept, we must:

Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object. (1878 [1986: 266])

The meaning of the concept of “truth” then boils down to the “practical bearings” of using this term: that is, of describing a belief as true. What, then, is the practical difference of describing a belief as “true” as opposed to any number of other positive attributes such as “creative”, “clever”, or “well-justified”? Peirce’s answer to this question is that true beliefs eventually gain general acceptance by withstanding future inquiry. (Inquiry, for Peirce, is the process that takes us from a state of doubt to a state of stable belief.) This gives us the pragmatic meaning of truth and leads Peirce to conclude, in another frequently-quoted passage, that:

All the followers of science are fully persuaded that the processes of investigation, if only pushed far enough, will give one certain solution to every question to which they can be applied.…The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth. (1878 [1986: 273])

Peirce realized that his reference to “fate” could be easily misinterpreted. In a less-frequently quoted footnote to this passage he writes that “fate” is not meant in a “superstitious” sense but rather as “that which is sure to come true, and can nohow be avoided” (1878 [1986: 273]). Over time Peirce moderated his position, referring less to fate and unanimous agreement and more to scientific investigation and general consensus (Misak 2004). The result is an account that views truth as what would be the result of scientific inquiry, if scientific inquiry were allowed to go on indefinitely. In 1901 Peirce writes that:

Truth is that concordance of an abstract statement with the ideal limit towards which endless investigation would tend to bring scientific belief. (1901a [1935: 5.565])

Consequently, truth does not depend on actual unanimity or an actual end to inquiry:

If Truth consists in satisfaction, it cannot be any actual satisfaction, but must be the satisfaction which would ultimately be found if the inquiry were pushed to its ultimate and indefeasible issue. (1908 [1935: 6.485], emphasis in original)

As these references to inquiry and investigation make clear, Peirce’s concern is with how we come to have and hold the opinions we do. Some beliefs may in fact be very durable but would not stand up to inquiry and investigation (this is true of many cognitive biases, such as the Dunning-Kruger effect where people remain blissfully unaware of their own incompetence). For Peirce, a true belief is not simply one we will hold onto obstinately. Rather, a true belief is one that has and will continue to hold up to sustained inquiry. In the practical terms Peirce prefers, this means that to have a true belief is to have a belief that is dependable in the face of all future challenges. Moreover, to describe a belief as true is to point to this dependability, to signal the belief’s scientific bona fides, and to endorse it as a basis for action.

By focusing on the practical dimension of having true beliefs, Peirce plays down the significance of more theoretical questions about the nature of truth. In particular, Peirce is skeptical that the correspondence theory of truth—roughly, the idea that true beliefs correspond to reality—has much useful to say about the concept of truth. The problem with the correspondence theory of truth, he argues, is that it is only “nominally” correct and hence “useless” (1906 [1998: 379, 380]) as far as describing truth’s practical value. In particular, the correspondence theory of truth sheds no light on what makes true beliefs valuable, the role of truth in the process of inquiry, or how best to go about discovering and defending true beliefs. For Peirce, the importance of truth rests not on a “transcendental” (1901a [1935: 5.572]) connection between beliefs on the one hand and reality on the other, but rather on the practical connection between doubt and belief, and the processes of inquiry that take us from the former to the latter:

If by truth and falsity you mean something not definable in terms of doubt and belief in any way, then you are talking of entities of whose existence you can know nothing, and which Ockham’s razor would clean shave off. Your problems would be greatly simplified, if, instead of saying that you want to know the “Truth”, you were simply to say that you want to attain a state of belief unassailable by doubt. (1905 [1998: 336])

For Peirce, a true belief is one that is indefeasible and unassailable—and indefeasible and unassailable for all the right reasons: namely, because it will stand up to all further inquiry and investigation. In other words,

if we were to reach a stage where we could no longer improve upon a belief, there is no point in withholding the title “true” from it. (Misak 2000: 101)

Peirce’s contemporary, the psychologist and philosopher William James (1842–1910), often gets credit for popularizing the pragmatic theory of truth. In a series of popular lectures and articles, James offers an account of truth that, like Peirce’s, is grounded in the practical role played by the concept of truth. James, too, stresses that truth represents a kind of satisfaction: true beliefs are satisfying beliefs, in some sense. Unlike Peirce, however, James suggests that true beliefs can be satisfying short of being indefeasible and unassailable: short, that is, of how they would stand up to ongoing inquiry and investigation. In the lectures published as Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1907) James writes that:

Ideas…become true just in so far as they help us get into satisfactory relation with other parts of our experience, to summarize them and get about among them by conceptual short-cuts instead of following the interminable succession of particular phenomena. (1907 [1975: 34])

True ideas, James suggests, are like tools: they make us more efficient by helping us do the things that need to get done. James adds to the previous quote by making the connection between truth and utility explicit:

Any idea upon which we can ride, so to speak; any idea that will carry us prosperously from any one part of our experience to any other part, linking things satisfactorily, working securely, simplifying, saving labor; is true for just so much, true in so far forth, true instrumentally. This is the ‘instrumental’ view of truth. (1907 [1975: 34])

While James, here, credits this view to John Dewey and F.C.S. Schiller, it is clearly a view he endorses as well. To understand truth, he argues, we must consider the practical difference—or the pragmatic “cash-value” (1907 [1975: 97]) of having true beliefs. True beliefs, he suggests, are useful and dependable in ways that false beliefs are not:

you can say of it then either that “it is useful because it is true” or that “it is true because it is useful”. Both these phrases mean exactly the same thing. (1907 [1975: 98])

Passages such as this have cemented James’ reputation for equating truth with mere utility (something along the lines of: “< p > is true just in case it is useful to believe that p ” [see Schmitt 1995: 78]). (James does offer the qualification “in the long run and on the whole of course” (1907 [1975: 106]) to indicate that truth is different from instant gratification, though he does not say how long the long run should be.) Such an account might be viewed as a watered-down version of Peirce’s account that substitutes “cash-value” or subjective satisfaction for indefeasibility and unassailability in the face of ongoing inquiry and investigation. Such an account might also be viewed as obviously wrong, given the undeniable existence of useless truths and useful falsehoods.

In the early twentieth century Peirce’s writings were not yet widely available. As a result, the pragmatic theory of truth was frequently identified with James’ account—and, as we will see, many philosophers did view it as obviously wrong. James, in turn, accused his critics of willful misunderstanding: that because he wrote in an accessible, engaging style his critics “have boggled at every word they could boggle at, and refused to take the spirit rather than the letter of our discourse” (1909 [1975: 99]). However, it is also the case that James tends to overlook or intentionally blur—it is hard to say which—the distinction between (a) giving an account of true ideas and (b) giving an account of the concept of truth. This means that, while James’ theory might give a psychologically realistic account of why we care about the truth (true ideas help us get things done) his theory fails to shed much light on what the concept of truth exactly is or on what makes an idea true. And, in fact, James often seems to encourage this reading. In the preface to The Meaning of Truth he doubles down by quoting many of his earlier claims and noting that “when the pragmatists speak of truth, they mean exclusively something about the ideas , namely their workableness” (1909 [1975: 6], emphasis added). James’ point seems to be this: from a practical standpoint, we use the concept of truth to signal our confidence in a particular idea or belief; a true belief is one that can be acted upon, that is dependable and that leads to predictable outcomes; any further speculation is a pointless distraction.

What then about the concept of truth? It often seems that James understands the concept of truth in terms of verification: thus, “true is the name for whatever idea starts the verification-process, useful is the name for its completed function in experience” (1907 [1975: 98]). And, more generally:

Truth for us is simply a collective name for verification-processes, just as health, wealth, strength, etc., are names for other processes connected with life, and also pursued because it pays to pursue them. (1907 [1975: 104])

James seems to claim that being verified is what makes an idea true, just as having a lot of money is what makes a person wealthy. To be true is to be verified:

Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. Its verity is in fact an event, a process: the process namely of its verifying itself, its veri- fication . Its validity is the process of its valid- ation . (1907 [1975: 97], emphasis in original)

Like Peirce, James argues that a pragmatic account of truth is superior to a correspondence theory because it specifies, in concrete terms, what it means for an idea to correspond or “agree” with reality. For pragmatists, this agreement consists in being led “towards that reality and no other” in a way that yields “satisfaction as a result” (1909 [1975: 104]). By sometimes defining truth in terms of verification, and by unpacking the agreement of ideas and reality in pragmatic terms, James’ account attempts to both criticize and co-opt the correspondence theory of truth.

John Dewey (1859–1952), the third figure from the golden era of classical American pragmatism, had surprisingly little to say about the concept of truth especially given his voluminous writings on other topics. On an anecdotal level, as many have observed, the index to his 527 page Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938 [2008]) has only one reference to “truth”, and that to a footnote mentioning Peirce. Otherwise the reader is advised to “ See also assertibility”.

At first glance, Dewey’s account of truth looks like a combination of Peirce and James. Like Peirce, Dewey emphasizes the connection between truth and rigorous scientific inquiry; like James, Dewey views truth as the verified result of past inquiry rather than as the anticipated result of inquiry proceeding into an indefinite future. For example, in 1911 he writes that:

From the standpoint of scientific inquiry, truth indicates not just accepted beliefs, but beliefs accepted in virtue of a certain method.…To science, truth denotes verified beliefs, propositions that have emerged from a certain procedure of inquiry and testing. By that I mean that if a scientific man were asked to point to samples of what he meant by truth, he would pick…beliefs which were the outcome of the best technique of inquiry available in some particular field; and he would do this no matter what his conception of the Nature of Truth. (1911 [2008: 28])

Furthermore, like both Peirce and James, Dewey charges correspondence theories of truth with being unnecessarily obscure because these theories depend on an abstract (and unverifiable) relationship between a proposition and how things “really are” (1911 [2008: 34]). Finally, Dewey also offers a pragmatic reinterpretation of the correspondence theory that operationalizes the idea of correspondence:

Our definition of truth…uses correspondence as a mark of a meaning or proposition in exactly the same sense in which it is used everywhere else…as the parts of a machine correspond. (1911 [2008: 45])

Dewey has an expansive understanding of “science”. For Dewey, science emerges from and is continuous with everyday processes of trial and error—cooking and small-engine repair count as “scientific” on his account—which means he should not be taken too strictly when he equates truth with scientific verification. (Peirce and James also had expansive understandings of science.) Rather, Dewey’s point is that true propositions, when acted on, lead to the sort of predictable and dependable outcomes that are hallmarks of scientific verification, broadly construed. From a pragmatic standpoint, scientific verification boils down to the process of matching up expectations with outcomes, a process that gives us all the “correspondence” we could ask for.

Dewey eventually came to believe that conventional philosophical terms such as “truth” and “knowledge” were burdened with so much baggage, and had become so fossilized, that it was difficult to grasp the practical role these terms had originally served. As a result, in his later writings Dewey largely avoids speaking of “truth” or “knowledge” while focusing instead on the functions played by these concepts. By his 1938 Logic: The Theory of Inquiry Dewey was speaking of “warranted assertibility” as the goal of inquiry, using this term in place of both “truth” and “knowledge” (1938 [2008: 15–16]). In 1941, in a response to Russell entitled “Propositions, Warranted Assertibility, and Truth”, he wrote that “warranted assertibility” is a “definition of the nature of knowledge in the honorific sense according to which only true beliefs are knowledge” (1941: 169). Here Dewey suggests that “warranted assertibility” is a better way of capturing the function of both knowledge and truth insofar as both are goals of inquiry. His point is that it makes little difference, pragmatically, whether we describe the goal of inquiry as “acquiring more knowledge”, “acquiring more truth”, or better yet, “making more warrantably assertible judgments”.

Because it focuses on truth’s function as a goal of inquiry, Dewey’s pragmatic account of truth has some unconventional features. To begin with, Dewey reserves the term “true” only for claims that are the product of controlled inquiry. This means that claims are neither true nor false before they are tested but that, rather, it is the process of verification that makes them true:

truth and falsity are properties only of that subject-matter which is the end , the close, of the inquiry by means of which it is reached. (1941: 176)

Second, Dewey insists that only “judgments”—not “propositions”—are properly viewed as truth-bearers. For Dewey, “propositions” are the proposals and working hypotheses that are used, via a process of inquiry, to generate conclusions and verified judgments. As such, propositions may be more or less relevant to the inquiry at hand but they are not, strictly speaking true or false (1941: 176). Rather, truth and falsity are reserved for “judgments” or “the settled outcome of inquiry” (1941: 175; 1938 [2008: 124]; Burke 1994): reserved for claims, in other words, that are warrantedly assertible. Third, Dewey continues to argue that this pragmatic approach to truth is “the only one entitled to be called a correspondence theory of truth” (1941: 179) using terms nearly identical to those he used in 1911:

My own view takes correspondence in the operational sense…of answering , as a key answers to conditions imposed by a lock, or as two correspondents “answer” each other; or, in general, as a reply is an adequate answer to a question or criticism—; as, in short, a solution answers the requirements of a problem . (1941: 178)

Thanks to Russell (e.g., 1941: Ch. XXIII) and others, by 1941 Dewey was aware of the problems facing pragmatic accounts of truth. In response, we see him turning to the language of “warranted assertibility”, drawing a distinction between “propositions” and “judgments”, and grounding the concept of truth (or warranted assertibility) in scientific inquiry (Thayer 1947; Burke 1994). These adjustments were designed to extend, clarify, and improve on Peirce’s and James’ accounts. Whether they did so is an open question. Certainly many, such as Quine, concluded that Dewey was only sidestepping important questions about truth: that Dewey’s strategy was “simply to avoid the truth predicate and limp along with warranted belief” (Quine 2008: 165).

Peirce, James, and Dewey were not the only ones to propose or defend a pragmatic theory of truth in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Others, such as F.C.S. Schiller (1864–1937), also put forward pragmatic theories (though Schiller’s view, which he called “humanism”, also attracted more than its share of critics, arguably for very good reasons). Pragmatic theories of truth also received the attention of prominent critics, including Russell (1909, 1910 [1994]), Moore (1908), and Lovejoy (1908a,b) among others. Several of these criticisms will be considered later; suffice it to say that pragmatic theories of truth soon came under pressure that led to revisions and several successor approaches over the next hundred-plus years.

Historically Peirce, James, and Dewey had the greatest influence in setting the parameters for what makes a theory of truth pragmatic—this despite the sometimes significant differences between their respective accounts, and that over time they modified and clarified their positions in response to both criticism and over-enthusiastic praise. While this can make it difficult to pin down a single definition of what, historically, counted as a pragmatic theory of truth, there are some common themes that cut across each of their accounts. First, each account begins from a pragmatic analysis of the meaning of the truth predicate. On the assumption that describing a belief, claim, or judgment as “true” must make some kind of practical difference, each of these accounts attempts to describe what this difference is. Second, each account then connects truth specifically to processes of inquiry: to describe a claim as true is to say that it either has or will stand up to scrutiny. Third, each account rejects correspondence theories of truth as overly abstract, “transcendental”, or metaphysical. Or, more accurately, each attempts to redefine correspondence in pragmatic terms, as the agreement between a claim and a predicted outcome. While the exact accounts offered by Peirce, James, and Dewey found few defenders—by the mid-twentieth century pragmatic theories of truth were largely dormant—these themes did set a trajectory for future versions of the pragmatic theory of truth.

Pragmatic theories of truth enjoyed a resurgence in the last decades of the twentieth century. This resurgence was especially visible in debates between Hilary Putnam (1926–2016) and Richard Rorty (1931–2007) though broadly pragmatic ideas were defended by other philosophers as well (Bacon 2012: Ch. 4). (One example is Crispin Wright’s superassertibility theory (1992, 2001) which he claims is “as well equipped to express the aspiration for a developed pragmatist conception of truth as any other candidate” (2001: 781) though he does not accept the pragmatist label.) While these “neo-pragmatic” theories of truth sometimes resembled the classical pragmatic accounts of Peirce, James, or Dewey, they also differed significantly, often by framing the concept of truth in explicitly epistemic terms such as assertibility or by drawing on intervening philosophical developments.

At the outset, neo-pragmatism was motivated by a renewed dissatisfaction with correspondence theories of truth and the metaphysical frameworks supporting them. Some neo-pragmatic theories of truth grew out of a rejection of metaphysical realism (e.g., Putnam 1981; for background see Khlentzos 2016). If metaphysical realism cannot be supported then this undermines a necessary condition for the correspondence theory of truth: namely, that there be a mind-independent reality to which propositions correspond. Other neo-pragmatic approaches emerged from a rejection of representationalism: if knowledge is not the mind representing objective reality—if we cannot make clear sense of how the mind could be a “mirror of nature” to use Rorty’s (1979) term—then we are also well-advised to give up thinking of truth in realist, correspondence terms. Despite these similar starting points, neo-pragmatic theories took several different and evolving forms over the final decades of the twentieth century.

At one extreme some neo-pragmatic theories of truth seemed to endorse relativism about truth (whether and in what sense they did remains a point of contention). This view was closely associated with influential work by Richard Rorty (1982, 1991a,b). The rejection of representationalism and the correspondence theory of truth could lead to the conclusion that inquiry is best viewed as aiming at agreement or “solidarity”, not knowledge or truth as these terms are traditionally understood. This had the radical consequence of suggesting that truth is no more than “what our peers will, ceteris paribus , let us get away with saying” (Rorty 1979: 176; Rorty [2010a: 45] admits this phrase is provocative) or just “an expression of commendation” (Rorty 1991a: 23). Not surprisingly, many found this position deeply problematic since it appears to relativize truth to whatever one’s audience will accept (Baghramian 2004: 147). A related concern is that this position also seems to conflate truth with justification, suggesting that if a claim meets contextual standards of acceptability then it also counts as true (Gutting 2003). Rorty for one often admitted as much, noting that he tended to “swing back and forth between trying to reduce truth to justification and propounding some form of minimalism about truth” (1998: 21).

A possible response to the accusation of relativism is to claim that this neo-pragmatic approach does not aim to be a full-fledged theory of truth. Perhaps truth is actually a rather light-weight concept and does not need the heavy metaphysical lifting implied by putting forward a “theory”. If the goal is not to describe what truth is but rather to describe how “truth” is used, then these uses are fairly straightforward: among other things, to make generalizations (“everything you said is true”), to commend (“so true!”), and to caution (“what you said is justified, but it might not be true”) (Rorty 1998: 22; 2000: 4). None of these uses requires that we embark on a possibly fruitless hunt for the conditions that make a proposition true, or for a proper definition or theory of truth. If truth is “indefinable” (Rorty 2010b: 391) then Rorty’s approach should not be described as a definition or theory of truth, relativist or otherwise.

This approach differs in some noteworthy ways from earlier pragmatic accounts of truth. For one thing it is able to draw on, and draw parallels with, a range of well-developed non-correspondence theories of truth that begin (and sometimes end) by stressing the fundamental equivalence of “ S is p ” and “‘ S is p ’ is true”. These theories, including disquotationalism, deflationism, and minimalism, simply were not available to earlier pragmatists (though Peirce does at times discuss the underlying notions). Furthermore, while Peirce and Dewey, for example, were proponents of scientific inquiry and scientific processes of verification, on this neo-pragmatic approach science is no more objective or rational than other disciplines: as Rorty put it, “the only sense in which science is exemplary is that it is a model of human solidarity” (1991b: 39). Finally, on this approach Peirce, James, and Dewey simply did not go far enough: they failed to recognize the radical implications of their accounts of truth, or else failed to convey these implications adequately. In turn much of the critical response to this kind of neo-pragmatism is that it goes too far by treating truth merely as a sign of commendation (plus a few other monor functions). In other words, this type of neo-pragmatism can be accused of going to unpragmatic extremes (e.g., Haack 1998; also the exchange in Rorty & Price 2010).

A less extreme version of neo-pragmatism attempts to preserve truth’s objectivity and independence while still rejecting metaphysical realism. This version was most closely associated with Hilary Putnam, though Putnam’s views changed over time (see Hildebrand 2003 for an overview of Putnam’s evolution). While this approach frames truth in epistemic terms—primarily in terms of justification and verification—it amplifies these terms to ensure that truth is more than mere consensus. For example, this approach might identify “being true with being warrantedly assertible under ideal conditions” (Putnam 2012b: 220). More specifically, it might demand “that truth is independent of justification here and now, but not independent of all justification” (Putnam 1981: 56).

Rather than play up assertibility before one’s peers or contemporaries, this neo-pragmatic approach frames truth in terms of ideal warranted assertibility: namely, warranted assertibility in the long run and before all audiences, or at least before all well-informed audiences. Not only does this sound much less relativist but it also bears a strong resemblance to Peirce’s and Dewey’s accounts (though Putnam, for one, resisted the comparison: “my admiration for the classical pragmatists does not extend to any of the different theories of truth that Peirce, James, and Dewey advanced” [2012c: 70]).

To repeat, this neo-pragmatic approach is designed to avoid the problems facing correspondence theories of truth while still preserving truth’s objectivity. In the 1980s this view was associated with Putnam’s broader program of “internal realism”: the idea that “ what objects does the world consist of? is a question that it only makes sense to ask within a theory or description” (Putnam 1981: 49, emphasis in original). Internal realism was designed as an alternative to metaphysical realism that dispensed with achieving an external “God’s Eye Point of View” while still preserving truth’s objectivity, albeit internal to a given theory. (For additional criticisms of metaphysical realism see Khlentzos 2016.) In the mid-1990s Putnam’s views shifted toward what he called “natural realism” (1999; for a critical discussion of Putnam’s changing views see Wright 2000). This shift came about in part because of problems with defining truth in epistemic terms such as ideal warranted assertibility. One problem is that it is difficult to see how one can verify either what these ideal conditions are or whether they have been met: either one might attempt to do so by taking an external “god’s eye view”, which would be inconsistent with internal realism, or one might come to this determination from within one’s current theory, which would be circular and relativistic. (As Putnam put it, “to talk of epistemically ‘ideal’ connections must either be understood outside the framework of internal realism or it too must be understood in a solipsistic manner ” (2012d: 79–80).) Since neither option seems promising this does not bode well for internal realism or for any account of truth closely associated with it.

If internal realism cannot be sustained then a possible fallback position is “natural realism”—the view “that the objects of (normal ‘veridical’) perception are ‘external’ things, and, more generally, aspects of ‘external’ reality” (Putnam 1999: 10)—which leads to a reconciliation of sorts with the correspondence theory of truth. A natural realism suggests “that true empirical statements correspond to states of affairs that actually obtain” (Putnam 2012a: 97), though this does not commit one to a correspondence theory of truth across the board. In other words, natural realism leaves open the possibility that not all true statements “correspond” to a state of affairs, and even those that do (such as empirical statements) do not always correspond in the same way (Putnam 2012c: 68–69; 2012a: 98). While not a ringing endorsement of the correspondence theory of truth, at least as traditionally understood, this neo-pragmatic approach is not a flat-out rejection either.

Viewing truth in terms of ideal warranted assertibility has obvious pragmatic overtones of Peirce and Dewey. In contrast, viewing truth in terms of a commitment to natural realism is not so clearly pragmatic though some parallels still exist. Because natural realism allows for different types of truth-conditions—some but not all statements are true in virtue of correspondence—it is compatible with the truth-aptness of normative discourse: just because ethical statements, for example, do not correspond in an obvious way to ethical state of affairs is no reason to deny that they can be true (Putnam 2002). In addition, like earlier pragmatic theories of truth, this neo-pragmatic approach redefines correspondence: in this case, by taking a pluralist approach to the correspondence relation itself (Goodman 2013; see also Howat 2021 and Shields (forthcoming) for recent attempts to show the compatibility of pragmatic and correspondence theories of truth).

These two approaches—one tending toward relativism, the other tending toward realism—represented the two main currents in late twentieth century neo-pragmatism. Both approaches, at least initially, framed truth in terms of justification, verification, or assertibility, reflecting a debt to the earlier accounts of Peirce, James, and Dewey. Subsequently they evolved in opposite directions. The first approach, associated with Rorty, flirts with relativism and implies that truth is not the important philosophical concept it has long been taken to be. Here, to take a neo-pragmatic stance toward truth is to recognize the relatively mundane functions this concept plays: to generalize, to commend, to caution and not much else. To ask for more, to ask for something “beyond the here and now”, only commits us to “the banal thought that we might be wrong” (Rorty 2010a: 45). The second neo-pragmatic approach, associated with Putnam, attempts to preserve truth’s objectivity and the important role it plays across scientific, mathematical, ethical, and political discourse. This could mean simply “that truth is independent of justification here and now” or “that to call a statement of any kind…true is to say that it has the sort of correctness appropriate to the kind of statement it is” (2012a: 97–98). On this account truth points to standards of correctness more rigorous than simply what our peers will let us get away with saying.

More recently—since roughly the turn of the twenty-first century—pragmatic theories of truth have focused on truth’s role as a norm of assertion or inquiry. These theories are sometimes referred to as “new pragmatic” theories to distinguish them from both classical and neo-pragmatic accounts (Misak 2007b; Legg and Hookway 2021). Like neo-pragmatic accounts, these theories often build on, or react to, positions besides the correspondence theory: for example, deflationary, minimal, and pluralistic theories of truth. Unlike some of the neo-pragmatic accounts discussed above, these theories give relativism a wide berth, avoid defining truth in terms of concepts such as warranted assertibility, and treat correspondence theories of truth with deep suspicion.

On these accounts truth plays a unique and necessary role in assertoric discourse (Price 1998, 2003, 2011; Misak 2000, 2007a, 2015): without the concept of truth there would be no difference between making assertions and, to use Frank Ramsey’s nice phrase, “comparing notes” (1925 [1990: 247]). Instead, truth provides the “convenient friction” that “makes our individual opinions engage with one another” (Price 2003: 169) and “is internally related to inquiry, reasons, and evidence” (Misak 2000: 73).

Like all pragmatic theories of truth, these “new” pragmatic accounts focus on the use and function of truth. However, while classical pragmatists were responding primarily to the correspondence theory of truth, new pragmatic theories also respond to contemporary disquotational, deflationary, and minimal theories of truth (Misak 1998, 2007a). As a result, new pragmatic accounts aim to show that there is more to truth than its disquotational and generalizing function (for a dissenting view see Freedman 2006). Specifically, this “more” is that the concept of truth also functions as a norm that places clear expectations on speakers and their assertions. In asserting something to be true, speakers take on an obligation to specify the consequences of their assertion, to consider how their assertions can be verified, and to offer reasons in support of their claims:

once we see that truth and assertion are intimately connected—once we see that to assert that p is true is to assert p —we can and must look to our practices of assertion and to the commitments incurred in them so as to say something more substantial about truth. (Misak 2007a: 70)

This would mean that truth is not just a goal of inquiry, as Dewey claimed, but actually a norm of inquiry that sets expectations for how inquirers conduct themselves.

More specifically, without the norm of truth assertoric discourse would be degraded nearly beyond recognition. Without the norm of truth, speakers could be held accountable only for either insincerely asserting things they don’t themselves believe (thus violating the norm of “subjective assertibility”) or for asserting things they don’t have enough evidence for (thus violating the norm of “personal warranted assertibility”) (Price 2003: 173–174). The norm of truth is a condition for genuine disagreement between people who speak sincerely and with, from their own perspective, good enough reasons. It provides the “friction” we need to treat disagreements as genuinely needing resolution: otherwise, “differences of opinion would simply slide past one another” (Price 2003: 180–181). In sum, the concept of truth plays an essential role in making assertoric discourse possible, ensuring that assertions come with obligations and that conflicting assertions get attention. Without truth, it is no longer clear to what degree assertions would still be assertions, as opposed to impromptu speculations or musings. (Correspondence theories should find little reason to object: they too can recognize that truth functions as a norm. Of course, correspondence theorists will want to add that truth also requires correspondence to reality, a step “new” pragmatists will resist taking.)

It is important that this account of truth is not a definition or theory of truth, at least in the narrow sense of specifying necessary and sufficient conditions for a proposition being true. (That is, there is no proposal along the lines of “ S is true iff…”; though see Brown (2015: 69) for a Deweyan definition of truth and Heney (2015) for a Peircean response.) As opposed to some versions of neo-pragmatism, which viewed truth as “indefinable” in part because of its supposed simplicity and transparency, this approach avoids definitions because the concept of truth is implicated in a complex range of assertoric practices. Instead, this approach offers something closer to a “pragmatic elucidation” of truth that gives “an account of the role the concept plays in practical endeavors” (Misak 2007a: 68; see also Wiggins 2002: 317).

The proposal to treat truth as a norm of inquiry and assertion can be traced back to both classical and neo-pragmatist accounts. In one respect, this account can be viewed as adding on to neo-pragmatic theories that reduce truth to justification or “personal warranted assertibility”. In this respect, these newer pragmatic accounts are a response to the problems facing neo-pragmatism. In another respect, new pragmatic accounts can be seen as a return to the insights of classical pragmatists updated for a contemporary audience. For example, while Peirce wrote of beliefs being “fated” to be agreed upon at the “ideal limit” of inquiry—conditions that to critics sounded metaphysical and unverifiable—a better approach is to treat true beliefs as those “that would withstand doubt, were we to inquire as far as we fruitfully could on the matter” (Misak 2000: 49). On this account, to say that a belief is true is shorthand for saying that it “gets thing right” and “stands up and would continue to stand up to reasons and evidence” (Misak 2015: 263, 265). This pragmatic elucidation of the concept of truth thus attempts to capture both what speakers say and what they do when they describe a claim as true. In a narrow sense the meaning of truth—what speakers are saying when they use this word—is that true beliefs are indefeasible. However, in a broader sense the meaning of truth is also what speakers are doing when they use this word, with the proposal here that truth functions as a norm that is constitutive of assertoric discourse.

As we have seen, pragmatic accounts of truth focus on the function the concept plays: specifically, the practical difference made by having and using the concept of truth. Early pragmatic accounts tended to analyze this function in terms of the practical implications of labeling a belief as true: depending on the version, to say that a belief is true is to signal one’s confidence, or that the belief is widely accepted, or that it has been scientifically verified, or that it would be assertible under ideal circumstances, among other possible implications. These earlier accounts focus on the function of truth in conversational contexts or in the context of ongoing inquiries. The newer pragmatic theories discussed in this section take a broader approach to truth’s function, addressing its role not just in conversations and inquiries but in making certain kinds of conversations and inquiries possible in the first place. By viewing truth as a norm of assertion and inquiry, these more recent pragmatic theories make the function of truth independent of what individual speakers might imply in specific contexts. Truth is not just what is assertible or verifiable (under either ideal or non-ideal circumstances), but sets objective expectations for making assertions and engaging in inquiry. Unlike neo-pragmatists such as Rorty and Putnam, new pragmatists such as Misak and Price argue that truth plays a role entirely distinct from justification or warranted assertibility. This means that, without the concept of truth and the norm it represents, assertoric discourse (and inquiry in general) would dwindle into mere “comparing notes”.

Pragmatic theories of truth have evolved to where a variety of different approaches are described as “pragmatic”. These theories often disagree significantly with each other, making it difficult either to define pragmatic theories of truth in a simple and straightforward manner or to specify the necessary conditions that a pragmatic theory of truth must meet. As a result, one way to clarify what makes a theory of truth pragmatic is to say something about what pragmatic theories of truth are not. Given that pragmatic theories of truth have often been put forward in contrast to prevailing correspondence and other “substantive” theories of truth (Wyatt & Lynch, 2016), this suggests a common commitment shared by the pragmatic theories described above.

One way to differentiate pragmatic accounts from other theories of truth is to distinguish the several questions that have historically guided discussions of truth. While some have used decision trees to categorize different theories of truth (Lynch 2001a; Künne 2003), or have proposed family trees showing relations of influence and affinity (Haack 1978), another approach is to distinguish separate “projects” that examine different dimensions of the concept of truth (Kirkham 1992). (These projects also break into distinct subprojects; for a similar approach see Frapolli 1996.) On this last approach the first, “metaphysical”, project aims to identify the necessary and sufficient conditions for “what it is for a statement…to be true” (Kirkham 1992: 20; Wyatt & Lynch call this the “essence project” [2016: 324]). This project often takes the form of identifying what makes a statement true: e.g., correspondence to reality, or coherence with other beliefs, or the existence of a particular state of affairs. A second, “justification”, project attempts to specify “some characteristic, possessed by most true statements…by reference to which the probable truth or falsity of the statement can be judged” (Kirkham 1992: 20). This often takes the form of giving a criterion of truth that can be used to determine whether a given statement is true. Finally, the “speech-act” project addresses the question of “what are we doing when we make utterances” that “ascribe truth to some statement?” (Kirkham 1992: 28). Unfortunately, truth-theorists have not always been clear on which project they are pursuing, which can lead to confusion about what counts as a successful or complete theory of truth. It can also lead to truth-theorists talking past each other when they are pursuing distinct projects with different standards and criteria of success.

In these terms, pragmatic theories of truth are best viewed as pursuing the speech-act and justification projects. As noted above, pragmatic accounts of truth have often focused on how the concept of truth is used and what speakers are doing when describing statements as true: depending on the version, speakers may be commending a statement, signaling its scientific reliability, or committing themselves to giving reasons in its support. Likewise, pragmatic theories often focus on the criteria by which truth can be judged: again, depending on the version, this may involve linking truth to verifiability, assertibility, usefulness, or long-term durability. With regard to the speech-act and justification projects pragmatic theories of truth seem to be on solid ground, offering plausible proposals for addressing these projects. They are on much less solid ground when viewed as addressing the metaphysical project (Capps 2020). As we will see, it is difficult to defend the idea, for example, that either utility, verifiability, or widespread acceptance are necessary and sufficient conditions for truth or are what make a statement true (though, to be clear, few pragmatists have defended their positions in these exact terms).

This would suggest that the opposition between pragmatic and correspondence theories of truth is partly a result of their pursuing different projects. From a pragmatic perspective, the problem with the correspondence theory is its pursuit of the metaphysical project that, as its name suggests, invites metaphysical speculation about the conditions which make sentences true—speculation that can distract from more central questions of what makes true beliefs valuable, how the truth predicate is used, and how true beliefs are best recognized and acquired. (Pragmatic theories of truth are not alone in raising these concerns (David 2022).) From the standpoint of correspondence theories and other accounts that pursue the metaphysical project, pragmatic theories will likely seem incomplete, sidestepping the most important questions (Howat 2014). But from the standpoint of pragmatic theories, projects that pursue or prioritize the metaphysical project are deeply misguided and misleading.

This supports the following truism: a common feature of pragmatic theories of truth is that they focus on the practical function that the concept of truth plays. Thus, whether truth is a norm of inquiry (Misak), a way of signaling widespread acceptance (Rorty), stands for future dependability (Peirce), or designates the product of a process of inquiry (Dewey), among other things, pragmatic theories shed light on the concept of truth by examining the practices through which solutions to problems are framed, tested, asserted, and defended—and, ultimately, come to be called true. Pragmatic theories of truth can thus be viewed as making contributions to the speech-act and justification projects by focusing especially on the practices people engage in when they solve problems, make assertions, and conduct scientific inquiry. (For another example, Chang has argued that claims are true “to the extent that there are operationally coherent activities that can be performed by relying on it” (2022: 167).) Of course, even though pragmatic theories of truth largely agree on which questions to address and in what order, this does not mean that they agree on the answers to these questions, or on how to best formulate the meaning and function of truth.

Another common commitment of pragmatic theories of truth—besides prioritizing the speech-act and justification projects—is that they do not restrict truth to certain topics or types of inquiry. That is, regardless of whether the topic is descriptive or normative, scientific or ethical, pragmatists tend to view it as an opportunity for genuine inquiry that incorporates truth-apt assertions. The truth-aptness of ethical and normative statements is a notable feature across a range of pragmatic approaches, including Peirce’s (at least in some of his moods, e.g., 1901b [1958: 8.158]), Dewey’s theory of valuation (1939), Putnam’s questioning of the fact-value dichotomy (2002), and Misak’s claim that “moral beliefs must be in principle responsive to evidence and argument” (2000: 94; for a dissenting view see Frega 2013). This broadly cognitivist attitude—that normative statements are truth-apt—is related to how pragmatic theories of truth de-emphasize the metaphysical project. As a result, from a pragmatic standpoint one of the problems with the correspondence theory of truth is that it can undermine the truth-aptness of normative claims. If, as the correspondence theory proposes, a necessary condition for the truth of a normative claim is the existence of a normative fact to which it corresponds, and if the existence of normative facts is difficult to account for (normative facts seem ontologically distinct from garden-variety physical facts), then this does not bode well for the truth-aptness of normative claims or the point of posing, and inquiring into, normative questions (Lynch 2009). If the correspondence theory of truth leads to skepticism about normative inquiry, then this is all the more reason, according to pragmatists, to sidestep the metaphysical project in favor of the speech-act and justification projects.

As we have seen, pragmatic theories of truth take a variety of different forms. Despite these differences, and despite often being averse to being called a “theory”, pragmatic theories of truth do share some common features. To begin with, and unlike many theories of truth, these theories focus on the pragmatics of truth-talk: that is, they focus on how truth is used as an essential step toward an adequate understanding of the concept of truth (indeed, this comes close to being an oxymoron). More specifically, pragmatic theories look to how truth is used in epistemic contexts where people make assertions, conduct inquiries, solve problems, and act on their beliefs. By prioritizing the speech-act and justification projects, pragmatic theories of truth attempt to ground the concept of truth in epistemic practices as opposed to the abstract relations between truth-bearers (such as propositions or statements) and truth-makers (such as states of affairs) appealed to by correspondence theories (MacBride 2022). Pragmatic theories also recognize that truth can play a fundamental role in shaping inquiry and assertoric discourse—for example, by functioning as a norm of these practices—even when it is not explicitly mentioned. In this respect pragmatic theories are less austere than deflationary theories which limit the use of truth to its generalizing and disquotational roles. And, finally, pragmatic theories of truth draw no limits, at least at the outset, to the types of statements, topics, and inquiries where truth may play a practical role. If it turns out that a given topic is not truth-apt, this is something that should be discovered as a characteristic of that subject matter, not something determined by having chosen one theory of truth or another (Capps 2017).

5. Critical Assessments

Pragmatic theories of truth have faced several objections since first being proposed. Some of these objections can be rather narrow, challenging a specific pragmatic account but not pragmatic theories in general (this is the case with objections raised by other pragmatic accounts). This section will look at more general objections: either objections that are especially common and persistent, or objections that pose a challenge to the basic assumptions underlying pragmatic theories more broadly.

Some objections are as old as the pragmatic theory of truth itself. The following objections were raised in response to James’ account in particular. While James offered his own responses to many of these criticisms (see especially his 1909 [1975]), versions of these objections often apply to other and more recent pragmatic theories of truth (for further discussion see Haack 1976; Tiercelin 2014).

One classic and influential line of criticism is that, if the pragmatic theory of truth equates truth with utility, this definition is (obviously!) refuted by the existence of useful but false beliefs, on the one hand, and by the existence of true but useless beliefs on the other (Russell 1910 [1994] and Lovejoy 1908a,b). In short, there seems to be a clear and obvious difference between describing a belief as true and describing it as useful:

when we say that a belief is true, the thought we wish to convey is not the same thought as when we say that the belief furthers our purposes; thus “true” does not mean “furthering our purposes”. (Russell 1910 [1994: 98])

While this criticism is often aimed especially at James’ account of truth, it plausibly carries over to any pragmatic theory. So whether truth is defined in terms of utility, long-term durability or assertibility (etc.), it is still an open question whether a useful or durable or assertible belief is, in fact, really true. In other words, whatever concept a pragmatic theory uses to define truth, there is likely to be a difference between that concept and the concept of truth (e.g., Bacon 2014 questions the connection between truth and indefeasibility).

A second and related criticism builds on the first. Perhaps utility, long-term durability, and assertibility (etc.) should be viewed not as definitions but rather as criteria of truth, as yardsticks for distinguishing true beliefs from false ones. This seems initially plausible and might even serve as a reasonable response to the first objection above. Falling back on an earlier distinction, this would mean that appeals to utility, long-term durability, and assertibility (etc.) are best seen as answers to the justification and not the metaphysical project. However, without some account of what truth is, or what the necessary and sufficient conditions for truth are, any attempt to offer criteria of truth is arguably incomplete: we cannot have criteria of truth without first knowing what truth is. If so, then the justification project relies on and presupposes a successful resolution to the metaphysical project, the latter cannot be sidestepped or bracketed, and any theory which attempts to do so will give at best a partial account of truth (Creighton 1908; Stebbing 1914).

And a third objection builds on the second. Putting aside the question of whether pragmatic theories of truth adequately address the metaphysical project (or address it at all), there is also a problem with the criteria of truth they propose for addressing the justification project. Pragmatic theories of truth seem committed, in part, to bringing the concept of truth down to earth, to explaining truth in concrete, easily confirmable, terms rather than the abstract, metaphysical correspondence of propositions to truth-makers, for example. The problem is that assessing the usefulness (etc.) of a belief is no more clear-cut than assessing its truth: beliefs may be more or less useful, useful in different ways and for different purposes, or useful in the short- or long-run. Determining whether a belief is really useful is no easier than determining whether it is really true: “it is so often harder to determine whether a belief is useful than whether it is true” (Russell 1910 [1994: 121]; also 1946: 817). Far from making the concept of truth more concrete, and the assessment of beliefs more straightforward, pragmatic theories of truth thus seem to leave the concept as opaque as ever.

These three objections have been around long enough that pragmatists have, at various times, proposed a variety of responses. One response to the first objection, that there is a clear difference between utility (etc.) and truth, is to deny that pragmatic approaches are aiming to define the concept of truth in the first place. It has been argued that pragmatic theories are not about finding a word or concept that can substitute for truth but that they are, rather, focused on tracing the implications of using this concept in practical contexts. This is what Misak (2000, 2007a) calls a “pragmatic elucidation”. Noting that it is “pointless” to offer a definition of truth, she concludes that “we ought to attempt to get leverage on the concept, or a fix on it, by exploring its connections with practice” (2007a: 69; see also Wiggins 2002). It is even possible that James—the main target of Russell and others—would agree with this response. As with Peirce, it often seems that James’ complaint is not with the correspondence theory of truth, per se , as with the assumption that the correspondence theory, by itself, says much interesting or important about the concept of truth. (For charitable interpretations of what James was attempting to say see Ayer 1968, Chisholm 1992, Bybee 1984, Cormier 2001, 2011, Chang 2022, Pihlström 2021, and Perkins 1952; for a reading that emphasizes Peirce’s commitment to correspondence idioms see Atkins 2010.)

This still leaves the second objection: that the metaphysical project of defining truth cannot be avoided by focusing instead on finding the criteria for truth (the “justification project”). To be sure, pragmatic theories of truth have often been framed as providing criteria for distinguishing true from false beliefs. The distinction between offering a definition as opposed to offering criteria would suggest that criteria are separate from, and largely inferior to, a definition of truth. However, one might question the underlying distinction: as Haack (1976) argues,

the pragmatists’ view of meaning is such that a dichotomy between definitions and criteria would have been entirely unacceptable to them. (1976: 236)

If meaning is related to use (as pragmatists generally claim) then explaining how a concept is used, and specifying criteria for recognizing that concept, may provide all one can reasonably expect from a theory of truth. Deflationists have often made a similar point though, as noted above, pragmatists tend to find deflationary accounts excessively austere.

Even so, there is still the issue that pragmatic criteria of truth (whatever they are) do not provide useful insight into the concept of truth. If this concern is valid, then pragmatic criteria, ironically, fail the pragmatic test of making a difference to our understanding of truth. This objection has some merit: for example, if a pragmatic criterion of truth is that true beliefs will stand up to indefinite inquiry then, while it is possible to have true beliefs, “we are never in a position to judge whether a belief is true or not” (Misak 2000: 57). In that case it is not clear what good it serves to have a pragmatic criterion of truth. Pragmatic theories of truth might try to sidestep this objection by stressing their commitment to both the justification and the speech-act project. While pragmatic approaches to the justification project spell out what truth means in conversational contexts—to call a statement true is to cite its usefulness, durability, etc.—pragmatic approaches to the speech-act project point to what speakers do in using the concept of truth. This has the benefit of showing how the concept of truth—operating as a norm of assertion, say—makes a real difference to our understanding of the conditions on assertoric discourse. Pragmatic theories of truth are, as a result, wise to pursue both the justification and the speech-act projects. By itself, pragmatic approaches to the justification project are likely to disappoint.

These classic objections to the pragmatic theory of truth raise several important points. For one thing, they make it clear that pragmatic theories of truth, or at least some historically prominent versions of it, do a poor job if viewed as providing a strict definition of truth. As Russell and others noted, defining truth in terms of utility or similar terms is open to obvious counter-examples. This does not bode well for pragmatic attempts to address the metaphysical project. As a result, pragmatic theories of truth have evolved often by focusing on the justification and speech-act projects instead. This is not to say that each of the above objections have been met. It is still an open question whether the metaphysical project can be avoided as many pragmatic theories attempt to do (e.g., Fox 2008 argues that epistemic accounts such as Putnam’s fail to explain the value of truth as well as more traditional approaches do). It is also an open question whether, as they evolve in response to these objections, pragmatic theories of truth will invite new lines of criticism.

One long-standing and still ongoing objection is that pragmatic theories of truth are anti-realist and, as such, violate basic intuitions about the nature and meaning of truth: call this “the fundamental objection”. The source of this objection rests with the tendency of pragmatic theories of truth to treat truth epistemically, by focusing on verifiability, assertibility, and other related concepts. Some (see, e.g., Schmitt 1995; Nolt 2008) have argued that, by linking truth with verifiability or assertibility, pragmatic theories make truth too subjective and too dependent on our contingent ability to figure things out, as opposed to theories that, for example, appeal to objective facts as truth-makers. Others have argued that pragmatic theories cannot account for what Peirce called buried secrets: statements that would seem to be either true or false despite our inability to figure out which (see de Waal 1999, Howat 2013, and Talisse & Akin 2008 for discussions of this). For similar reasons, some have accused pragmatic theories of denying bivalence (Allen-Hermanson 2001). Whatever form the objection takes, it raises a common concern: that pragmatic theories of truth are insufficiently realist, failing both to account for truth’s objectivity and to distinguish truth from the limitations of actual epistemic practice. What results, accordingly, is not a theory of truth, but rather a theory of justification, warranted assertibility, or some other epistemic concept.

This objection has persisted despite inspiring a range of responses. At one extreme some, such as Rorty, have largely conceded the point while attempting to defuse its force. As noted earlier, Rorty grants that truth is not objective in the traditional sense while also attempting to undercut the very distinction between objectivity and relativism. Others, such as Putnam, have argued against metaphysical realist intuitions (such as “the God’s Eye view” 1981: 55), while defending the idea of a more human-scale objectivity: “objectivity and rationality humanly speaking are what we have; they are better than nothing” (1981: 55). Another response is to claim that pragmatic accounts of truth are fully compatible with realism; any impression to the contrary is a result of confusing pragmatic “elucidations” of truth with more typical “definitions”. For example Peirce’s steadfast commitment to realism is perfectly compatible with his attempting to describe truth in terms of its practical role: hence, his notion of truth

is the ordinary notion, but he insists on this notion’s being philosophically characterized from the viewpoint of the practical first order investigator. (Hookway 2002: 319; see also Hookway 2012 and Legg 2014)

Even James claimed “my account of truth is realistic” (1909 [1975: 117]). Likewise, Chang argues that this objection “ignores the realist dimension of pragmatism, in terms of how pragmatism demands that our ideas answer to experience, and to realities” (2022: 203). Finally, others attempt to undercut the distinction between realism and antirealism though without making concessions to antirealism. Hildebrand argues for embracing a “practical starting point” (Hildebrand 2003: 185) as a way of going “beyond” the realism-antirealism debate (see also Fine 2007). Similarly, Price, while admitting that his theory might seem “fictionalist” about truth, argues that its bona fides are “impeccably pragmatist” (2003: 189) and, in fact, “deprive both sides of the realism-antirealism debate of conceptual resources on which the debate seems to depend” (2003: 188; but see Atkin 2015 for some caveats and Lynch 2015 for a pluralist amendment). Da Costa and French (2003) offer a formal account of pragmatic truth that, they argue, can benefit both sides of the realism-antirealism debate (though they themselves prefer structural realism).

We find, in other words, an assortment of replies that run the gamut from embracing antirealism to defending realism to attempting to undermine the realist-antirealist distinction itself. Evidently, there is no consensus among pragmatic theories of truth as to the best line of response against this objection. In a way, this should be no surprise: the objection boils down to the charge that pragmatic theories of truth are too epistemic, when it is precisely their commitment to epistemic concepts that characterizes pragmatic theories of truth. Responding to this objection may involve concessions and qualifications that compromise the pragmatic nature of these approaches. Or responding may mean showing how pragmatic accounts have certain practical benefits—but these benefits as well as their relative importance are themselves contentious topics. As a result, we should not expect this objection to be easily resolvable, if it can be resolved at all.

Despite being the target of significant criticism from nearly the moment of its birth, the pragmatic theory of truth has managed to survive and, at times, even flourish for over a century. Because the pragmatic theory of truth has come in several different versions, and because these versions often diverge significantly, it can be difficult to pin down and assess generally. Adding to the possible confusion, not all those identified as pragmatists have embraced a pragmatic theory of truth (e.g., Brandom 2011), while similar theories have been held by non-pragmatists (e.g., Dummett 1959; Wright 1992). Viewed more positively, pragmatic theories have evolved and matured to become more refined and, perhaps, more plausible over time. With the benefit of hind-sight we can see how pragmatic theories of truth have stayed focused on the practical function that the concept of truth plays: first, the role truth plays within inquiry and assertoric discourse by, for example, signaling those statements that are especially useful, well-verified, durable, or indefeasible and, second, the role truth plays in shaping inquiry and assertoric discourse by providing a necessary goal or norm. (While pragmatic theories agree on the importance of focusing on truth’s practical function, they often disagree over what this practical function is.)

The pragmatic theory of truth began with Peirce raising the question of truth’s “practical bearings”. It is also possible to ask this question of the pragmatic theory of truth itself: what difference does this theory make? Or to put it in James’ terms, what is its “cash value”? One answer is that, by focusing on the practical function of the concept of truth, pragmatic theories highlight how this concept makes certain kinds of inquiry and discourse possible. In contrast, as Lynch (2009) notes, some accounts of truth make it difficult to see how certain claims are truth-apt:

consider propositions like two and two are four or torture is wrong . Under the assumption that truth is always and everywhere causal correspondence, it is a vexing question how these true thoughts can be true. (Lynch 2009: 34, emphasis in original)

If that is so, then pragmatic theories have the advantage of preserving the possibility and importance of various types of inquiry and discourse. While this does not guarantee that inquiry will always reach a satisfying or definite conclusion, this does suggest that pragmatic theories of truth do make a difference: in the spirit of Peirce’s “first rule of reason”, they “do not block the way of inquiry” (1898 [1992: 178]).

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cognitivism vs. non-cognitivism, moral | Peirce, Charles Sanders | pragmatism | realism: challenges to metaphysical | Rorty, Richard | truth | truth: coherence theory of | truth: correspondence theory of | truth: deflationism about | truth: pluralist theories of | truthmakers


I would like to thank David Hildebrand, Cheryl Misak, Sami Pihlström, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments and suggestions on this article. Additional comments and suggestions are welcome.

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Truth and meaning : essays in semantics

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Of Truth, by Francis Bacon

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"Of Truth" is the opening essay in the final edition of the philosopher, statesman and jurist  Francis Bacon 's "Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral" (1625). In this essay, as associate professor of philosophy Svetozar Minkov points out, Bacon addresses the question of "whether it is worse to lie to others or to oneself--to possess truth (and lie, when necessary, to others) or to think one possesses the truth but be mistaken and hence unintentionally convey falsehoods to both oneself and to others" ("Francis Bacon's 'Inquiry Touching Human Nature,'" 2010). In "Of Truth," Bacon argues that people have a natural inclination to lie to others: "a natural though corrupt love, of the lie itself."

"What is truth?" said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. Certainly, there be that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief, affecting free-will in thinking as well as in acting. And though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing wits which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them as was in those of the ancients. But it is not only the difficulty and labor which men take in finding out of truth, nor again that when it is found it imposeth upon men's thoughts, that doth bring lies in favor, but a natural though corrupt love of the lie itself. One of the later school of the Grecians examineth the matter, and is at a stand to think what should be in it, that men should love lies where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets, nor for advantage, as with the merchant; but for the lie's sake. But I cannot tell: this same truth is a naked and open daylight that doth not show the masques and mummeries and triumphs of the world half so stately and daintily as candle-lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl that showeth best by day; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond or carbuncle, that showeth best in varied lights. A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt that if there were taken out of men's minds vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves? One of the fathers, in great severity, called poesy vinum daemonum [the wine of devils] because it filleth the imagination, and yet it is but with the shadow of a lie. But it is not the lie that passeth through the mind, but the lie that sinketh in and settleth in it that doth the hurt, such as we spake of before. But howsoever these things are thus in men's depraved judgments and affections, yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making or wooing of it; the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it; and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature. The first creature of God in the works of the days was the light of the sense; the last was the light of reason; and his Sabbath work ever since is the illumination of his spirit. First he breathed light upon the face of the matter, or chaos; then he breathed light into the face of man; and still he breatheth and inspireth light into the face of his chosen. The poet that beautified the sect that was otherwise inferior to the rest, saith yet excellently well, "It is a pleasure to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle and the adventures thereof below; but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene), and to see the errors and wanderings and mists and tempests in the vale below"*; so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling or pride. Certainly it is heaven upon earth to have a man's mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.

To pass from theological and philosophical truth to the truth of civil business: it will be acknowledged, even by those that practice it not, that clear and round dealing is the honor of man's nature, and that mixture of falsehood is like alloy in coin of gold and silver, which may make the metal work the better, but it embaseth it. For these winding and crooked courses are the goings of the serpent, which goeth basely upon the belly and not upon the feet. There is no vice that doth so cover a man with shame as to be found false and perfidious; and therefore Montaigne saith prettily, when he inquired the reason why the word of the lie should be such a disgrace and such an odious charge. Saith he, "If it be well weighed, to say that a man lieth, is as much as to say that he is brave towards God, and a coward towards man." For a lie faces God, and shrinks from man. Surely the wickedness of falsehood and breach of faith cannot possibly be so highly expressed as in that it shall be the last peal to call the judgments of God upon the generations of men: it being foretold that when Christ cometh, "He shall not find faith upon the earth."

*Bacon's paraphrase of the opening lines of Book II of "On the Nature of Things" by Roman poet Titus Lucretius Carus.

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Meaning without Representation: Essays on Truth, Expression, Normativity, and Naturalism

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Steven Gross, Nicholas Tebben, and Michael Williams (eds.), Meaning without Representation: Essays on Truth, Expression, Normativity, and Naturalism , Oxford University Press, 2015, 379pp., $85.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780198722199.

Reviewed by Delia Belleri, University of Vienna

The essays contained in this collective volume all revolve around the question of whether the function of language is to represent the world. There is more than one interpretation of this question, as Nicholas Tebben rightly observes in the Introduction (p. 6). Still, it seems possible to gather the contributions under three main headings. The first has to do with truth deflationism and the idea that being true is not connected with metaphysically loaded relations like "representing the world" or "corresponding to the facts". The second has to do with semantic expressivism and the thesis that language does not serve to represent the world but rather to express certain mental states, either locally (e.g. in the ethics discourse) or globally. The third has to do with the foundational question of whether meaning-facts can be naturalized or not.

The volume presents seventeen essays (including the Introduction), some of them from unquestionably leading authors in the relevant debates (Allan Gibbard, Paul Boghossian, and Paul Horwich, to name but three), and all from highly renowned experts in the field. The book therefore represents a remarkably valuable, up-to-date resource for the specialized reader interested in issues spanning deflationism, pragmatism, and pluralism about truth, global and local forms of expressivism, meaning naturalism, and the Kripkenstein paradox, as well as the multiple interconnections between these themes and their links to foundational and methodological questions such as the status of metaphysics, the role of naturalism in philosophy, the theoretical implications of rethinking truth, meaning, and reference.

This is deep, dense, fascinating philosophy, indeed some of the best philosophy one could happen to read nowadays. My aim in this review is quite modest: provide a summary of the contributed essays that is as informative as possible for the prospective reader, leaving my critical assessment of their contents aside. I have organized the summaries according to their subject: truth deflationism, expressivism, and foundational issues; sub-sections specify which aspects of the main themes are explored. I will deviate a little from the division proposed by the editors in trying to shed light on a number of internal links between the different chapters.

Truth Deflationism: New Proposals and Developments

Rebecca Kukla and Eric Winsberg advocate a "Strict Deflationism" about truth in "Deflationism, Pragmatism, and Metaphysics". The view maintains that: (i) "true" functions as a logical constant, defined in terms of an Introduction rule (S entails that "S" is true) and an Elimination rule (That "S" is true entails S); (ii) bi-conditionals like " 'Snow is white' is true iff snow is white" are trivial consequences of the above-stated rules and merely illustrate the formal, notational role that "true" plays in order for it to serve a number of logical functions. Kukla and Winsberg compare their Strict Deflationism to other brands of deflationism that purport to explain the meaning of "true" by using a pragmatic story: for instance, Grover et al.'s account to the effect that " 'S'is true" expresses a prosentence, i.e. a device of citation of the asserted sentence and endorsement if it. The authors argue that such an account is still too inflationist if one interprets it as offering a theory of truth in pragmatic terms; by contrast, if the truth-theory is kept purely disquotational, pragmatic phenomena can be unproblematically acknowledged and analysed in a distinct fashion.

In "Does the Expressive Role of 'True' Preclude Deflationary Davidsonian Semantics?", Steven Gross asks whether Davidsonian semantics can be made deflationary, that is, whether it can be combined with the view that truth has no explanatory role, but merely serves to specify the truth-conditions of sentences through biconditionals like "S is true in L iff p". Gross counters Claire Horisk's (2007) argument that at least three deflationary theories (set forth by Quine, Horwich, and Brandom) do not live up to the following requirements imposed by a Davidsonian account: first, "S is true" on the left-hand side of the biconditional must refer to a sentence; and second, the sentence must be picked out by its syntactic and not semantic properties. Gross defends all these authors from Horisk's critique, showing that they do meet the above-mentioned requirements and thus opens up promising avenues for a deflation of Davidsonian semantics.

The relation between semantic expressivism and truth deflationism is the topic of Mark Schroeder's article "Hard Cases for Combining Expressivism and Deflationist Truth". Schroeder first holds that it is possible to work out what I believe it would be appropriate to call an "Expressivist Deflationism" about truth. Schroeder formulates truth deflationism as the conjunction of two theses: (i) there is no nature of truth and (ii) all we need do in order to understand what "true" means is explain how its meaning guarantees that no instance of the following schema can be denied: "If S is that P, then S is true just in case P" (for instance: "If what Jane says is that snow is white, then what Jane says is true just in case snow is white"). The explanation required in (ii) is then given in expressivist terms: no instance of the schema can be denied because if it were, then contradictions would derive from our use of "true" insofar as this word allows us to express agreement and disagreement. The second task for Schroeder is to deal with an objection against his view stemming from expressivist accounts for epistemic modals and indicative conditionals. For Schroeder, the objection represents a chance to refine his view's ontological commitments concerning propositions.

From deflationary theories of truth we move to a deflationary proposal about reference. Alexis Burgess ("An Inferentialist Account of Referential Success") puts forward a "conceptually frugal" account of referential success within an inferentialist framework narrowly construed (i.e., where nothing is said about word/world relations). In his view, the concept of singular reference is determined by the following introduction and elimination rules: (In) If a term t figures in a simple atomic truth, then t refers; (Out) If t refers to something, then t could have figured in a simple atomic truth. Here are some notable features of Burgess' account. First, the reference of a term depends on the term occurring (or being able to occur) in a true sentence rather than on the existence of its putative referent. Second, a term has to occur in an atomic sentence, that is, it has to be concatenated with a simple predicate. Third, the consequent of (Out) has a modal construction in order to be compatible with context-sensitivity.

Truth Deflationism: Critics and Opponents

A defence of correspondence theory is undertaken by Michael Glanzberg in his "Representation and the Modern Correspondence Theory of Truth". He starts out by characterizing what he dubs the Modern correspondence theory of truth: this is formulated along Tarskian lines, stating that a sentence Pa is true iff the object to which a refers satisfies P , and it is supplemented by the requirement (previously posed by Field, 1972) that we have some causal picture of the word-to-world relations of reference and satisfaction. In contrast to what Glanzberg calls the Traditional correspondence theory, the Modern version does not presuppose the existence of structured facts and does not presuppose any structural correspondence between sentences and facts. He defends the view against two main objections: the first is that, if all the theory offers is a semantic story featuring reference, satisfaction, and composition, this is not a substantial theory of truth. The second objection asks whether a semantic characterization captures the nature of truth. Glanzberg's conclusion is that the Modern correspondence theory merely offers an "implicit" characterization of truth: the best we can do, he states, is construct semantic systems in which we can see the features of truth in action.

In "Deflationism, Truth and Accuracy", Dean Pettit challenges deflationism by arguing that it is incompatible with a deflation of the notion of accuracy. As he explains, truth is a sub-case of accuracy: while truth is a property of propositional representations, accuracy is a property that can also be ascribed to non-propositional representations, such as pictures, gauges, or maps. Pettit observes that what renders a position genuinely deflationist is its contention that there is no further metaphysics of truth to be uncovered. Horwich's minimalism is considered paradigmatic here. Pettit alleges that even if one were to succeed in giving a minimalist theory of accuracy, this would also seem to imply advancing an intuitively acceptable metaphysical view about the nature of accuracy, thus defeating the deflationary attempt. For instance, even if we were to explicate the accuracy of a (propositional or non-propositional) representation in terms of the schema <<p> is accurate iff p> , Pettit purports to show that any adequate explication will have to portray accuracy as involving a relationship between a representation and its representee, where this seems like a good candidate for a metaphysical account of the nature of accuracy.

Truth Deflationism and Pragmatism

Michael Patrick Lynch ("Pragmatism and the Price of Truth") proclaims himself sympathetic towards the pragmatist idea that truth is both (a) the norm of belief -- what makes a belief correct -- and (b) the goal of inquiry -- the aim we strive to achieve in engaging cognitively with the world. He defends thesis (a) from an attempt to deflate it by trying to derive it from the equivalence schema ("< p > is true iff p ") plus the belief-related norm that it is correct to believe p iff p . Far from being deflatable, thesis (a) helps us understand the role of truth in our cognitive economy: it sets the conceptual priority of truth over justification, making truth the most fundamental norm of belief, and regulates our practices of belief acquisition. So far, the story is pretty much a pragmatist one, and indeed Lynch highlights the similarities between his and Price's approach. However, while Price rejects the idea that any metaphysical claim can be made about truth, and therefore endorses a quietist pragmatism, Lynch favours a more metaphysically laden development, whereby truth is a functional property described by a number of platitudes and realized by a variety of more specific properties, such as correspondence or warranted assertibility. This development goes in an anti-deflationist direction, but it is compatible with a naturalistic, respectable methodology in metaphysics.

Cheryl Misak's "Pragmatism and the Function of Truth" is a historically informed analysis of the many ways in which pragmatism about truth has been defended, from Peirce (1931), to Quine (e.g., 2008), to Rorty (e.g., 1986). Misak reconstructs Peirce's position as a form of disquotationalism, according to which there is nothing more to truth than "'p' is true iff p", which is, however, complemented by the thesis that when we assert that p is true, we are saying that p stands up and will continue to stand up to experience. Ramsey seems close to Peirce when he opposes the Jamesian equation between truth and usefulness, espouses the disquotational schema, and establishes a link between it and the principles that guide our action. Peirce and Ramsey are cited by Misak as examples of a sensible pragmatism, which neither restricts the range of truth so as to exclude normative discourse (Quine), nor combines disquotationalism with a thoroughgoing subjectivism about truth (Rorty).

Expressivism: New Proposals and Developments

Mark Richard outlines an expressivist semantics for moral sentences in "What Would an Expressivist Semantics Be?" Richard proposes that a moral sentence like "Hunting for sport is wrong" conventionally expresses a commitment to valuing hunting for sport in a certain way. Valuing certain actions is here understood in terms of them playing a certain motivational role in one's mental economy, given one's interests. Moreover, commitments have aptness conditions expressed in terms of <i, w> pairs, where i represents a set of interests and w represents the set of possible worlds compatible with i . "Hunting for sport is wrong" therefore expresses a commitment to de-valuing hunting, which is apt in all the possible worlds w where the subject's interests i disfavour hunting. What is crucial in Richard's proposal is that moral sentences are associated with commitments to attitudes, instead of attitudes tout court ; that is because, in his view, commitments can be non-problematically closed under algebraic operators, while attitudes pose a number of difficulties. This feature is specifically argued to improve on Schroeder's (2008) expressivist semantics in terms of attitudes.

Dorit Bar-On explores and clarifies the notion of expression in "Expression: Act, Products, and Meaning". She distinguishes between action-expression (a-expression), which pertains to a subject's venting a mental state through action, and semantic-expression (s-expression), which is a linguistic string's encoding of a certain semantic content. Bar-On then puts this distinction to use in solving three puzzles. First is the puzzle of the origin of language. Here she holds that non-linguistic animal signaling, which could be regarded as mere a-expressions, really foreshadows semantic relations like that of reference or predication. Attending to these complexities helps us to see the link between a-expressions and the s-expressions that later emerge in human language. Second is the puzzle concerning the special epistemic security of first-person avowals like "I am feeling sad". Bar-On explains this epistemic security by regarding avowals as instances of a-expressions of the subject's mental state, which occur through the subject's use of a sentence that conventionally s-expresses a certain proposition. Third is the puzzle of the motivational character of ethical claims like "Stealing is wrong". Bar-On again explains this by contending that ethical claims regarded as acts a-express a motivational state, while ethical claims regarded as products can be identified with sentences that s - express a truth-evaluable content.

In "Global Expressivism and the Truth in Representation", Gibbard outlines and refines his expressivist position by comparing and contrasting it with Price's (2011, 2013) position. Price's picture countenances e-representation, corresponding to a word-to-world relation of tracking, and i-representation, which involves language-use according to various rules, but no tracking. Price regards these as two different typologies of representation that nevertheless fail to answer to a common representational genus. For this reason, Price identifies his position as a global expressivism. Gibbard shares the notions of e-representation and i-representation, but thinks they are differently related. E-representation provides the paradigm for representation. This notwithstanding, some portions of language may be viewed as i-representational, in that they retain the rules and patterns of usage of e-representational discourse, with no need for tracking. Gibbard's main aim in the second part of his essay is to make sense of reference within an i-representational framework. To this end, he appeals to the notion of co-reference. Two terms co-refer if, according to the rules of the language and to the conversational context, they can be inter-substituted within a number of sentences. Co-reference is a normative concept in that it has to do with which substitutions are permitted and which are not; also, the meaning of any word can be explained by stating the terms for which it can be substituted. If co-reference is normative and grounds the semantics of our terms in such a general way, then we have a form of global expressivism.

Expressivism: A Critical Perspective on the Normativity of Meaning

Anandi Hattiangadi's "The Limits of Expressivism" provides a critique of Gibbard's (2013) project to account for intentional concepts in normative terms. Hattiangadi summarizes Gibbard's position as follows: first, semantic concepts like MEANING, REFERENCE, and CONTENT are plan-laden. When a subject believes that E means x , she in the state of mind of accepting a certain plan as to the use of E . Second, precisely because these semantic concepts are normative, there is no need to explain them naturalistically; the only naturalistic explanation needed concerns what it takes for us to grasp concepts such as MEANING, REFERENCE, and CONTENT. Hattiangadi's first critique takes issue with the second thesis, urging that the fact that we need (and can give) a naturalistic explanation of what it is to "grasp the concepts" of meaning, etc. contradicts the contention that no naturalistic explanation is required for intentional concepts. This is because "grasping a concept" is itself an intentional concept. Hattiangadi's second critique builds on the implication that, in Gibbard's theory, meta-theoretical statements like "'Meaning' means x " are themselves to be understood as plan-laden, and hence as normative and expressivistic. This renders these meta-statements explanatorily spurious.

Dealing with the normativity of meaning also implies asking foundational questions about what normativity itself amounts to. Mark Lance's "Life is not a Box-Score: Lived Normativity, Abstract Evaluation and the Is/Ought Distinction", advocates the idea of "lived" or "embodied" normativity as a theoretical tool that can help to explain moral action, but also the normativity enshrined in a number of expressivist proposals concerning meaning. Standard accounts of morality distinguish between a normative and a descriptive dimension, where the normative is usually linked with motivation to act. Lance alleges that the normative as conceived in the standard picture is insufficient to explain motivation, because it represents one's commitments "from the outside". He then introduces the notion of "lived commitments", that is, commitments that are endorsed in a first-personal, conscious way that guide a person's life and reasoning. For instance, it is one thing for Joyce to be "externally" committed to taking care of her ageing father, where this does not imply that she will be motivated to do it; it is another thing for Joyce to have a "lived commitment" to do so, which directly accounts for her striving to live up to this commitment.

Foundational Issues: Naturalism in Semantics and Philosophy

In "Idling and Sidling Towards Philosophical Peace", Price presents a dilemma argument against McDowell's quietism. In various places (e.g., 1994 and 2009), McDowell seems to urge a rejection of naturalized metaphysics, where this leads to: (i) renouncing metaphysics altogether and (ii) assuming a quietist stance whereby no further interesting philosophical inquiry is possible. Price outlines two positions that closely resemble the one just sketched, and argues that McDowell seems to have no choice but to adopt one of the two, even though both are somehow at odds with his core commitments. The first position, which Price calls Sidling, consists in the recognition that, while there is an exclusive (perhaps purely stipulative) sense in which all facts are natural facts, there is also an inclusive sense in which e.g. ethical and generally value-related facts are facts. Framing fact-discourse in this way is compatible with a non-quietist view whereby philosophy is still in place as an anthropological inquiry into our linguistic practices. The second position, which Price dubs Idling, could be described as an across-the-board, though shallow and trivial realism. Price observes that McDowell should recoil from this alternative. However, since this cannot mean that he should adopt a substantive metaphysical stance, the only path left open is to treat metaphysical considerations as simply "language games". This, however, implies embracing the Sidling position, preventing him from being a quietist.

Boghossian, in "Is (Determinate) Meaning a Naturalistic Phenomenon?", deals with Kripke's (1982) argument against the existence of any fact of the matter regarding what we mean by certain terms. Boghossian points to some limitations of Kripke's argument, but aims to show that it could also be used to establish a conclusion weaker than the one its proponent had in mind: if it is naturalistic facts about our dispositions that determine what we mean by certain concepts (e.g. "plus"), then what we mean is indeterminate. "Determining" should here be understood as "providing an adequate supervenience base". Boghossian goes through a number of attempts to argue that the supervenience base is indeed sufficient; he considers, among others, masked dispositions, idealized dispositions, appealing to rules housed in our mental architecture, and appealing to standards for sufficiency of the supervenience base determined by our biological set-up, but finds all of these strategies wanting. He therefore concludes that Kripke's argument succeeds in establishing at least this: either naturalistic, dispositional facts fail to determine meaning-facts, or if they do, meaning facts are indeterminate.

Kripke's skeptical considerations on meaning-facts are also the subject of Horwich's "Kripke's Wittgenstein". Here we see a different reaction to Kripke's arguments, which questions his idea that no non-semantic facts can explain the truth-conditional aspects of expressions. In Horwich's view, we do not need to couch meaning in truth-conditional terms, for there is a Wittgensteinian alternative: defining meaning in terms of use (or dispositions thereof). We could then say that the fact that "dog" is used to refer to dogs constitutes the meaning of "dog" and that this explains the truth-conditional import of "dog". More specifically, through an inference to the best explanation, we might say that meaning-constituting use is governed by an ideal law , where an ideal law, familiar from the methodology of science, describes how a certain system would behave in the absence of certain distorting factors. It is by appealing to ideal laws that we are able to resist Kripke's skeptical reasoning.

Although the essays are exclusively accessible to an audience that is already well-versed in the philosophy of language, some are broader in scope and therefore offer relatively fewer technical insights into a variety of issues/ I am thinking of Pettit's piece on truth and accuracy,; Misak's historical reconstruction of truth pragmatism, Richard's development of an expressivist semantics, Bar-On's admirably clear and illuminating study of the notion of expression, and Lance's advocacy of a notion of lived normativity. One could then consider approaching this collection by reading some of the more general contributions first, then proceeding to the more technical ones, where a stronger analytic background is required. Nevertheless, the book is certainly not suitable for beginners or amateurs. It is advanced and highly sophisticated philosophical work, done by some of the best minds in Western academia today.

Field, H. 1972, "Tarski's Theory of Truth". Journal of Philosophy 64 (13): 347-375.

Gibbard, A. 2013, Meaning and Normativity . Oxford University Press.

Horisk, C. 2007, "The Expressive Role of Truth in Truth-Conditional Semantics". Philosophical Quarterly 57 (229): 535-557.

Kripke, S. A. 1982, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language . Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 1994, Mind and World . Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 2009, "Wittgensteinian 'Quietism'." Common Knowledge 15 (3): 365-372.

Peirce, C. S. 1931, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Harvard University Press.

Price, H. Simon Blackburn, Robert Brandom, Paul Horwich & Michael Williams 2013, Expressivism, Pragmatism and Representationalism . Cambridge University Press.

Price, H. 2011, Naturalism Without Mirrors . Oxford University Press.

Quine, W. V. 2008, Quine in Dialogue . Harvard University Press.

Rorty, R. 1986, "Pragmatism, Davidson and Truth". In Ernest LePore (ed.), Truth and Interpretation: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson . Blackwell.

Schroeder, M. 2008, Being For: Evaluating the Semantic Program of Expressivism . Oxford University Press.

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What Is Truth? Essay Example

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The ideal of truth is relevant to the individual. Truth is based on a number of factors that are usually derived from absolute knowledge. However, when finding the relationship between knowledge and truth, one questions their own competence and confidence in establishing what is actually true. There are several debates among philosophers and research that try to derive the nature of truth. Defining the nature of truth is routed in technical analysis, a morass of arcane jargon, subtle distinctions from competing theories, and precise definition. Rene Desecrates famously wrote, “I am therefore I exist.” In stating this he holds that only truth that is certain is what the individuals own cognition of their existence. The principle question among the long time debate is to answer, what is truth? This questions have plagued the minds of philosophers since the time of Plato and Socrates. It has been a never ending debate trying to draw the relationship of knowledge, truth, and understanding what is relevant to their own assessment. From the readings of Martin Luther, Descartes, and others, this paper will explore the philosophical questions of knowledge and truth. Drawing on these reasons to come to a consensus on what can be the individual be assured of what they believe is the absolute truth, and what prevents individuals from the truth.

The notion of truth is developed through the ideas, belief, and opinion of what is and what is not. Truth is an object of relativism of an individual’s ideas, the agreement and disagreement of reality. In understanding truth, there are three principal interpretations that are used, truth as absolute, truth as relative, and truth as an unattainable reality. According to definition, absolute truth is, “is defined as inflexible reality: fixed, invariable, unalterable facts.” (All About Philosophy, n.d) Essentially it is a truth understood universally that cannot be altered. Plato was a staunch believer in this interpretation, as the truth found on earth was a shadow of the truth that existed within the universe. This is the hardest interpretation of truth because there can be no indefinite argument with those that try to negate the existence of absolute truth. In arguing against the interpretation, the arguer themselves tries to search for validation in their statement that absolute truth doesn’t exist. In a matter of contradiction in understanding what is truth is to establish that truth exists. In a better interpretation seeing the truth as relative is explaining that facts and realities vary dependent on their circumstances.

Relativism is in the matter of where no objectivity exists and is subjective which the validity of truth doesn’t exist. According to philosophy, “Relativism is not a single doctrine but a family of views whose common theme is that some central aspect of experience, thought, evaluation, or even reality is somehow relative to something else.” (Swoyer, 2014) The last interpretation of truth is that truth is an unattainable reality where no truth exists. Truth is a universal fact in which corresponds with evidence, reality, and experience. Since an individual’s reality and experience constantly change, it is impossible to reach an absolute truth. This interpretation is relative to one’s own knowledge because it is present in their person’s mind. Using this interpretation many philosophers have carved out several theories of truth.

The pragmatic approach to defining truth is by seeing that truth is the objects and ideas that the individual can validate, assimilate, verify, and corroborate. In understanding what is not true it is essentially what the individual cannot. In establishing the absolute truth, it is what happens and becomes true events that are verified through a process of verification.  In the view of this paper, is that truth is dependent on the individual’s fact and reality, as Aristotle stated, “to say of what is that is it not, or what is not that is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and what is not that it is not, is true.” As confusing as the statement may be to some, the concept of truth is based on a person’s confidence in their own reality as the basis of truth. Not only is the general consensus now, but in also philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas in the 9 th century in which, truth is the equation of things and intellect, more importantly the basis of truth as true is up to the individuals’ knowledge.

In Rene Descartes search for truth, he begins with the method of doubt. Written Descartes, Meditation , “I seem to be able to lay it down as a general rule that whatever I perceive, very clearly and distinctly is true.” (Descartes, 7.35) Descartes add to the questions of what is truth is by the confidence and certainty in knowing that what is true is from the natural experiences and own personal truths. The individuals’ definition of truth is what the person understands in life through logic and reason. The individual establishes their idea of reality from their senses, what they see, and true perceptions.  Descartes wrote in his, Letter to Mersenne , any doubts about truth is perpetuated by the notion that no one can be ignorant of truth because it symbolizes the conformity of thought with its object. (Smith, 2014) Drawing from Descartes works we will answer what prevents us from the truth.

In his Method of Doubt from his First Meditation , his purpose was to negate skepticism by doubting the truth of everything including what we know in our minds. The reasons in which people doubt their truth is based on people second guessing their own subsequent beliefs. People claim to know the truth beyond their own realms of justification. People senses and experiences that have been taught are largely provided from prejudices past down. (Descartes, 1639) People are disappointed that what they believe to be true is often not. Descartes stated, “Whatever I have accepted until now as most true has come to me through my senses. But occasionally I have found that they have deceived me, and it is unwise to trust completely those who have deceived us even once.” (Descartes, 1639)  From these understandings people then began to doubt what they know to be true because they have reasonable doubt.

In order for a person to understand truth, they must first doubt all things around them in a hypothetical doubt, in order to provide a pretense of what we know is the truth and what we cannot know. By determining our own knowledge of what is true, such as the snow is white, because we know there is no other color in existence, we can have a foundation of unshakeable truths.  While the senses can sometimes present falsehood, it is subjective to suggest that all senses are wrong. In determining using one’s experience to determine truth, it is important to note that everyone’s experience is not the same. The way one person sees an event can be different from someone that sees the same event. Take for example the group of five blind men that felt the tusk of an elephant. One men said it was like a snake, while another suggested that was the neck of a giraffe. Who is to tell who is correct and not? From their own experiences, knowledge, and senses what they believe is to be true. By limiting knowledge on what we know is absolute certain is limiting one’s own perception of reality. This is how doubt is raised, and takes away from the confidence of the individuals’ own knowledge of the truth.

Martin Luther takes on the quest for truth through his thesis, which he wrote to the church. In his appendage for reformation of the Catholic Church, he questioned the authority of the Pope, and what their interpretation of the Bible. In his belief that the word of God is the truth, his stance is that followers of the religion must have faith. In believing what is true and what is not, Luther’s is bound by his idea of faith which correspond with God is the absolute truth.  His justification of God being true is based on the works of God, but more importantly the understanding of truth is by faith alone. His unshakeable foundation of what he believes to be true is routed in his on senses, ideas, and experiences derived from his faith.  Just like knowing what is true and not, Descartes share that while we cannot prove that God doesn’t exist, we can prove that he doesn’t exist. While we can see the things around us does exist, if that has indubitable truth in believing that something exists, it is impossible to prove it isn’t true.

From drawing on the works on how a person can assure that they know is true is using Descartes Method of Doubt to provide a foundation in which what we know is true, and what we know is not. Luther bases his justifications of truth on faith and knowledge, while drawing from logic and reasoning to know what is true. A person is able to draw from their own cognitive knowledge in determining what is true. While knowledge all things is limited, one cannot be limited to suggesting to know the truth of things beyond our resonance. Until proven otherwise, what we say is the truth and everything else is subjective. In the relationship between truth and knowledge, Plato and Charles Peirce had their own separate perceptions. Plato believed that truth is derived from a person’s knowledge, while Pierce believed absolute knowledge to determine absolute truth can never be obtained. Plato’s belief of knowledge and the truth is more correct in providing reasoning that knowledge is based on past experiences, where universal knowledge is a factor in determining truth.

The definition of truth and search for knowledge will continue to be an ongoing debate in which many great philosophers in past, present, and the future will offer philosophies to help guide the debate. While truth will continue to be a matter of one’s own perception, in order to assure that what people believe is the truth is to base their knowledge on their own perceptions.  Based what they know on their own absolute truth in their senses, knowledge, ideas, and beliefs that help form their own realities. Truth is relative to only that individual, as people will experience events differently from other individuals. Descartes said it best that what he knows to be true is based on his own existence. Since he knows that he exists, he knows that the reality around him exists, therefore, his own perception of what is true.

Absolute Truth. (n.d). All About Philosophy . Retrieved from

Bennett, Jonathan. (1990). Truth and Stability. Canadian Journal of Philosophy . Vo. 16. Pg. 75-108. Retrieved from

Descartes, Rene. (1639). Meditations on First Philosophy . Marxists. Retrieved from

James, William. (1909). The Meaning of Truth . Authorama. Retrieved from

Luther, Martin. (1520). The Freedom of a Christian . Lutheran Online. Retrieved from

Smith, Kurt. (2014). Descartes’ Life and Works.   The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition). Retrieved from

Swoyer, Chris. (2014). Relativism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition). Retrieved from

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Be thinking

What is truth (on the nature and importance of truth today).

Have you ever been told that truth is relative? That it's all based on language and context? That it's only what a culture believes to be real? Douglas Groothuis tackles these issues and more as he examines the question, "What is truth?".

Truth is so obscured nowadays, and lies so well established, that unless we love the truth, we shall never recognize it . Blaise Pascal

Staring Truth in the Face

"Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." Jesus Christ made this statement after Pontius Pilate had interrogated him prior to the crucifixion (John 18:37, NIV). Pilate then famously replied, "What is truth?" and left the scene.

As philosopher Francis Bacon wrote in his essay 'On Truth':

"What is truth?" said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer .

Although Jesus made no reply to Pilate, Christians affirm that Pilate was staring truth in the face, for Jesus had earlier said to his disciple Thomas, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6).

This historic exchange raises the perennial question of the very nature of truth itself. What does it mean for a statement to be true? Or, to put it another way: What does it take for a statement to achieve truthfulness?

This has been a subject of much debate in postmodernist circles, where the traditional view of truth as objective and knowable is no longer accepted. Many even outside of academic discussions may be as cynical about truth as Pilate. "What is truth?" they smirk, without waiting for an answer. Postmodernist philosopher Richard Rorty claimed that truth is what his colleagues let him get away with. [1] Unless we are clear about the notion of truth, any claim to truth – religious or otherwise – will perplex more than enlighten.

Before attempting to determine which claims are true, we need to understand the nature of truth itself. I will briefly argue for the correspondence view of truth and then pit it against two of its main rivals, relativism and pragmatism.

Truth and Correspondence

The correspondence view of truth, held by the vast majority of philosophers and theologians throughout history, holds that any declarative statement is true if and only if it corresponds to or agrees with factual reality, with the way things are. The statement, "The desk in my study is brown" , is true only if there is, in fact, a brown desk in my study. If indeed there is a brown desk in my study, then the statement, "there is no brown desk in my study" , is false because it fails to correspond to any objective state of affairs.

Minds may recognize this truth, but minds do not create this truth

The titanic statement, "Jesus is Lord of the universe" , is either true or false. It is not both true and false; it is not neither true nor false. This statement either honors reality or it does not; it mirrors the facts or it does not. The Christian claims that this statement is true apart from anyone's opinion (see Romans 3:4). In other words, it has a mind-independent reality. Minds may recognize this truth, but minds do not create this truth. This is because truth is a quality of some statements and not of others. It is not a matter of subjective feeling, majority vote or cultural fashion. The statement, "The world is spherical" , was true even when the vast majority of earthlings took their habitat to be flat.

The correspondence view of truth entails that declarative statements are subject to various kinds of verification and falsification. This concerns the area of epistemology, or the study of how we acquire and defend knowledge claims. [2] A statement can be proven false if it can be shown to disagree with objective reality. The photographs from outer space depicting the earth as a blue orb (along with prior evidence) falsified flat-earth claims. Certainly, not all falsification is as straightforward as this; but if statements are true or false by virtue of their relationship to what they attempt to describe, this makes possible the marshaling of evidence for their veracity or falsity. [3]

Therefore, Christians – who historically have affirmed the correspondence view of truth – hold that there are good historical reasons to believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead in space-time history, thus vindicating His divine authority (see Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11). [4] The Apostle Paul adamantly affirms this view:

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:14-15)

Without the correspondence view of truth, these resounding affirmations ring hollow. Christianity cannot live and thrive without it.

Postmodernism: Truth in Doubt

Today this view of truth is being brought into doubt. Postmodernist philosophers claim that the quest for objective truth asserted through language is part of the discredited project of modernism, an over-confident approach to knowledge stemming from enlightenment rationalism. [5] Therefore, statements about scientific facts, religious claims or moral principles cannot refer to objective states of affairs. On the contrary, language is constructed through communities, and it cannot move beyond its own context and refer to realities outside itself.

A thorough analysis of the postmodernist assault on truth would take us beyond the limits of this article, [6] but a basic critique of this notion of truth is that this view is self-refuting. If all language fails to describe objective conditions, due to its immersion in various cultures, then any language used to describe this universal immersion would be subject to the limitations of its context. And that would mean that any and all language fails to describe the universal limitations of all languages. This kind of statement, therefore, discredits itself. For all its protests about the illegitimacies of "metanarratives" (worldviews), postmodernism offers a metanarrative of its own – one that cannot be true given its own precepts. [7]

Moreover, the notion that objective truth is unknowable entails that a relativistic and/or pragmatic view of truth be put in the place of a correspondence view. I contend that both of these views – that is, relativism and pragmatism – are logically defective and unworthy of belief.

Relativism: Who's to Say?

Relativism comes in various shapes and sizes, but its salient claim is that the truth of a statement depends on the views of persons or cultures, not on whether statements correspond to objective reality. To say a statement is true is simply to say that a person or culture believes it to be true. Hence the popular refrain, "Well, that's true for you."

According to this view, one person can say "Jesus is Lord" and another can say "Allah is Lord" , and both statements will be true, if they accurately express the sentiments of the speakers. This view seems to advance tolerance and civility, but it does so at the expense of logic, meaning and truth. That price is too high.

If I say "Jesus is Lord" and you say "Allah is Lord" , both statements cannot be objectively true because they describe mutually exclusive realities. Jesus is known by Christians as God made flesh (John 1:14), while Muslims deny that Allah incarnates. [8] So, if "Lord" means a position of unrivaled metaphysical and spiritual supremacy, then Jesus and Allah cannot both be Lord because "Jesus" and "Allah" are not two words that mean the same thing.

If we mean to say that I believe in Jesus and you believe in Allah, there is no logical contradiction, since subjective beliefs cannot contradict each other; that is, it may be true that I subjectively believe X and you subjectively believe non-X. However, X and non-X themselves cannot both be objectively true. When dealing with divergent claims to objective truth, contradictions emerge frequently. [9] A 2002 survey by Barna Research found that 44 percent of Americans contend that "the Bible, the Koran and the Book of Mormon are all different expressions of the same spiritual truths." This reveals an untrue view of truth.

Applied to medicine or science, this sort of relativistic attitude would be deemed ridiculous. Medical doctors have good reason not to bleed their patients, as was commonly done for centuries. This is because we objectively know that bleeding does not help patients, whatever the social consensus may have been at an earlier time.

Truth is what corresponds to reality

Unlike the correspondence view of truth, which seeks objective support for the truth or falsity of statements (whenever possible), relativism offers no means of verifying or falsifying any belief apart from discerning whether one holds the belief or whether a particular culture tends to affirm certain things.

The Weakness of Pragmatism

A pragmatic view of truth also rejects the objectivity of truth. This view holds that a belief is true only if it works for a particular person. Therefore, Christianity may be "true for me" if it helps me, but false for another if it doesn't seem to help her. But this view confuses usefulness with verity.

Think of a person who chronically mismanages his money and is very unsuccessful. A few hundred dollars are stolen from him without his knowledge. Yet he thinks he has misplaced the money and says to himself, "That's the last straw. I've got to get my life in order!" After this, he becomes successful through hard work and diligence. Yet his belief that he lost the money, however beneficial, was not true because it did not conform to the reality that the money was stolen. This shows that the truth-value of a belief is different from its use-value. [10]

Truth Defined

So, "What is truth?" Truth is what corresponds to reality. When this is established, we can move on to considering which particular statements are true and reasonable and which are not. Unlike Pilate, we can stay and listen to what Jesus has to say to us. He alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68).

[1] This is a paraphrase, but represents his views truly. See Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (New York: Princeton University Press, 1979), p.176.

[2] For a superb introduction to epistemology in relation to postmodernism, see R. Douglas Geivett, 'Is God a Story? Postmodernity and the Task of Theology', in Myron Penner, ed., Christianity and the Postmodern Turn (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005), pp.37-52.

[3] For an introduction to the role of logic in the testing of worldviews, see Ronald Nash, World-Views in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), especially pp.54-106.

[4] See J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1987), Chapter 6; N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress, 2003).

[5] See Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Chapter 2.

[6] See Groothuis, Truth Decay .

[7] See James Sire, The Universe Next Door, 4th ed . (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), p.237.

[8] See Abduhl Saleeb and Norman Geisler, Answering Islam, 2nd ed . (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002).

[9] On this see the booklet by Douglas Groothuis, Are All Religions One? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), and Ajith Fernando, Sharing the Truth in Love: How to Relate to People of Other Faiths (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, 2001).

[10] See Winfried Corduan, No Doubt About It (Nashville, TN: Broadman, Holman, 1997), pp.60-61.

© 2007 Douglas Groothuis This article is an updated, edited and revised version of the essay, "What is Truth?" which originally appeared on

Truth Shall Make You Free

Douglas Groothuis

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Read our detailed notes on the Francis Bacon’s famous essay, “Of Truth”. Our notes cover Of Truth summary and analysis.

Of Truth by Francis Bacon Summary & Analysis

In this essay, Bacon has presented the objective truth in various manifestations.Similarly, Bacon shares with us the subjective truth, operative in social life. “OF TRUTH” is Bacon’s masterpiece that shows his keen observation of human beings with special regard to truth. In the beginning of the essay, Bacon rightly observes that generally people do not care for truth as Pilate, the governor of the Roman Empire, while conducting the trial of Jesus Christ, cares little for truth:

“What is truth? Said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.”

Advancing his essay, Bacon explores the reasons why the people do not like truth. First, truth is acquired through hard work and man is ever reluctant to work hard. Secondly, truth curtails man’s freedom. More than that the real reason of man’s disliking to truth is that man is attached to lies which Bacon says “a natural though corrupt love of the lie itself.” Man loves falsehood because, Bacon says that truth is as if the bright light of the day and would show what men, in actual, are. They look attractive and colourful in the dim light of lies.He futher adds,

“A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure.”

It is a fact that man prefers to cherish illusions, which make his life more interesting. With a profound observation of man’s psychology, Bacon states that if deprived of false pride and vanities, the human mind would contract like a deflated balloon and these human beings would become poor, sad and ill. However, poetic untruth is not gone unnoticed by Bacon’s piercing intellect. He says though poetic untruth is a wine of the Devil in priest’s eyes, yet it is not as harmful as the other lies are. Bacon being a literary artist illustrates this concept with an apt imagery that the poetic untruth is but the shadow of a lie. The enquiry of truth, knowledge of truth and belief of truth are compared with the enjoyment of love. Such a comparison lends the literary charm to this essay.Bacon further says in that the last act of creation was to create rational faculty, which helps in finding truth, is the finished product of God’s blessing as he says:

“… The last was the light of reason…is the illumination of his spirit.”

Bacon’s moral idealism is obvious when he advancing his argument in favour of truth asserts that the earth can be made paradise only with the help of truth. Man should ever stick to truth in every matter, do the act of charity and have faith in every matter, do the act of charity and have faith in God. Bacon’s strong belief in truth and Divinity is stated thus:

“Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in Providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.”

From the objective truth, Bacon passes judgment, to the subjective truth, which he calls “the truth of civil business”. It is the compelling quality of truth, Bacon observes, that the persons who do not practice truth, acknowledge it. Bacon’s idealistic moral attitude is obvious in these lines when he says: “….. that clear and round dealing is the honour of man’s nature; and that mixture of falsehood is like alloy in coin of gold and silver, which may make the metal work better, but it embaseth it.”

Bacon further asserts that the liars are like a snake that goes basely upon the belly and not upon the feet. Imagery comprising comparison is apt and convincing. Moreover, Bacon refers to Montaigne who is of the view that “a lie faces God and shrinks from man”. Bacon adds that falsehood is the height of wickedness and as such will invite the Judgment of God upon all human beings on Doom’s day. Therefore, Bacon concludes his essay with didacticism with a tinge of Christian morality.

In the essay, “OF TRUTH”, there is no digression. All the arguments in the essay pertain to the single main idea, truth. Bacon’s wide learning is clearly observed when he refers to Pilate (history), Lucian (Greek literature), Creation, Montaigne (a French essayist). “OF TRUTH” is enriched with striking similes and analogies, such as he equates liars as a snake moving basely on its belly, mixture of falsehood is like an alloy of gold and silver.Similarly, truth is ‘open day light’ whereas lie is ‘candle light i.e fake dim light. Truth is ‘a pearl’ i.e worthy and precious whereas ,lie is ‘a diamond’ that reflects light illusions when placed in daylight.

The essay “OF TRUTH” is not ornamental as was the practice of the Elizabethan prose writers. Bacon is simple, natural and straightforward in his essay though Elizabethan colour is also found in “OF TRUTH” because there is a moderate use of Latinism in the essay. Economy of words is found in the essay not alone, but syntactic brevity is also obvious in this essay. We find conversational ease in this essay, which is the outstanding feature of Bacon’s style. There is a peculiar feature of Bacon i.e. aphorism. We find many short, crispy, memorable and witty sayings in this essay.

Therefore, Bacon’s essay “OF TRUTH” is rich in matter and manner. This is really a council ‘civil and moral’.

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Definition of truth

Examples of truth in a sentence.

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'truth.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Middle English trewthe , from Old English trēowth fidelity; akin to Old English trēowe faithful — more at true entry 1

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3b

Phrases Containing truth

  • bend the truth
  • the gospel truth
  • truth table
  • the naked truth
  • truth serum
  • stretch the truth
  • truth - value
  • to tell the truth
  • half - truth
  • the whole truth
  • truth be told
  • truth be told / known
  • nothing could be farther from the truth
  • the truth of the matter
  • moment of truth
  • nothing could be further from the truth
  • to tell (you) the truth

Dictionary Entries Near truth

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“Truth.” Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Apr. 2024.

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Trump Media Merger Provides Trump a Potential Cash Lifeline

Having closed the merger of his social media company, Mr. Trump could find ways to raise cash against the value of his stake in the company, estimated at more than $3 billion.

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Former President Donald Trump stands at an outdoor podium with a large microphone, wearing a red hat that has "45-47" written on the side.

By Matthew Goldstein

Former President Donald J. Trump’s social media company — and the parent of his favorite communications platform, Truth Social — became a public company on Friday through a merger that will raise Mr. Trump’s wealth by billions of dollars and potentially help pay his mounting legal bills.

Trump Media & Technology Group is poised to debut on Wall Street at a market value of around $5 billion — based on the $37 share price of its merger partner, Digital World Acquisition Corp. Given that Mr. Trump owns more than 60 percent of the company, his overall net worth will increase by $3 billion — instantly doubling his wealth from the $2.6 billion estimate by Forbes magazine in October.

So far, those gains are on paper, and Mr. Trump is unlikely to be able to quickly turn it into cash because of restrictions in the merger agreement that prevent major shareholders from selling shares for at least six months, or using them as collateral for loans. But because Mr. Trump controls so much of Trump Media, and because his allies are expected to make up a majority of the new board, they could waive those restrictions on his request.

The question of where Mr. Trump can raise cash has become an urgent one because he is on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars of legal bills tied to the multiple cases against him. Mr. Trump is facing a Monday deadline to cover a $454 million penalty in a civil fraud case brought by the New York State attorney general, which accuses him of greatly inflating the value of his real estate holdings in deals with banks.

If Mr. Trump cannot come up with the cash or a bond to cover the penalty while he appeals the ruling, the attorney general’s office could seize some of his properties.

Trump Media’s board might be reluctant to allow Mr. Trump to sell shares early as that would likely deflate the company’s share price. But lifting the restriction on using shares as collateral would help him secure a bond and minimize the negative impact on the stock price.

Before the merger closed, Mr. Trump was chairman of Trump Media but neither it nor Digital World disclosed whether he will continue to retain the title. Either way, Mr. Trump will hold enormous sway over the company as the company’s new seven-member board includes Mr. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and three former members of his administration. His 79 million shares give him a large majority stake in the company and his brand is critical to the success of Truth Social, which has become his main megaphone with communicating to his supporters.

There is no guarantee that the stock of Trump Media will continue to trade at its current levels. If the share price falls over the coming months, the sizable increase to his net worth could be smaller over time. Digital World’s shares dropped about 14 percent after the shareholder vote approving the merger.

As part of the merger, investors in Digital World — the cash-rich shell company that voted to merge with Trump Media — will now become shareholders of Mr. Trump’s three-year-old company. The deal will transfer more than $300 million from Digital World’s coffers to Trump Media, a struggling business with little revenue, and allow Truth Social to keep operating.

Shares of Trump Media could begin trading on the stock market as early as Monday under the stock symbol DJT.

Many of Digital World’s 400,000 shareholders are ordinary investors and fans of Mr. Trump, whose enthusiasm about the former president has propped up the shares for years. But it remains to be seen whether they will hold on to the stock now that the merger is done.

In a statement before the vote, Trump Media said that “the merger will enable Truth Social to enhance and expand our platform.”

With the future of his real estate business in flux because of the ruling in the New York civil fraud case, Trump Media could become one of Mr. Trump’s main moneymakers — and a potential source of conflict should he win the presidency in November. Trump Media currently gets most of its revenue from Truth Social, its flagship platform where several upstart companies advertise their products, targeting Mr. Trump’s supporters and using slogans that are variations on America First or Make America Great Again.

In using the stock symbol DJT, Trump Media is taking a trip back in time. One of Mr. Trump’s former publicly traded companies, Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts, had traded under that stock symbol until it filed for bankruptcy in 2004.

The merger of Digital World and Trump Media, first proposed in October 2021, is one of the more prominent deals to emerge from a strategy that many companies used to go public that was all the rage during the pandemic. Special purpose acquisition companies like Digital World are speculative investment vehicles set up for the purpose of raising money in an initial public offering and then finding an operating business to buy.

In going public through a SPAC merger, Trump Media is following other so-called alt-right businesses like Rumble, an online video streaming service that caters to right-leaning media personalities, and PublicSquare, which bills itself as an online marketplace for the “patriotic parallel economy.”

Trump Media took in just $3.3 million in advertising revenue on Truth Social during the first nine months of last year, and the company, during that period, incurred a net loss of $49 million.

“It’s unclear to me what is the strategy to building out the platform especially so it may reach a broader advertiser,” said Shannon McGregor, a professor of journalism and media at the University of North Carolina. “There does seem to be a ceiling in these niche markets.”

The merger was almost derailed by a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into deal talks between the two companies that took place before Digital World’s initial public offering. Securities rules prohibit SPACs from engaging in meaningful merger talks before going public.

But the deal got back on track after Digital World settled with the S.E.C. in July, agreeing to pay an $18 million penalty after the merger was completed and to revise its corporate filings.

After the deal was done on Friday, many shareholders and Trump fans celebrated online. Chad Nedohin, a vocal proponent of the merger on Truth Social, posted a livestream of the shareholder meeting on Rumble. In a chat room, viewers shared their enthusiasm for the deal, with messages such as “Great day to be alive” and “The day is finally here.”

Matthew Goldstein covers Wall Street and white-collar crime and housing issues. More about Matthew Goldstein

Watch CBS News

Trump's Truth Social is losing money and has scant sales. Yet it could trade at a $5 billion value.

By Aimee Picchi

Edited By Anne Marie Lee

Updated on: March 22, 2024 / 5:48 PM EDT / CBS News

Former President Donald Trump will soon be at the helm of a publicly traded company that will trade under the ticker "DJT," after his initials, and boast a potential valuation of more than $5 billion — a lofty amount for a business that's losing money and has scant revenue. 

Trump's next career move as head of a publicly traded company comes after shareholders of Digital World Acquisition Corp. (DWAC), a so-called blank-check company, also known as a SPAC ,  approved a merger on Friday morning with the Trump Media & Technology Group. With the nod, DWAC will combine with Trump Media & Technology Group and could soon begin trading under the latter name. 

Typically, investors put their money into companies they believe will provide solid returns for their investment, though time-honored fundamentals such as profit and revenue growth, dividends and share appreciation. But Trump Media's main business, Truth Social, is a social media platform that is lagging rivals such as Facebook and "X" (formerly Twitter), with scant revenue and mounting losses, according to regulatory filings. 

That hasn't fazed investors in DWAC, some of whom appear to be supporters of Trump, who are touting the stock on Truth Social. "I am holding and not selling! I believe in TRUTH and MAGA," one member of a Truth Social group focused on the DWAC stock posted on Friday morning. 

Typically, a company with the financial profile of Trump Media & Technology Group would be hard-pressed to reach a valuation of $5 billion, but the stock does not appear to be trading on traditional financial mileposts like revenue and profit, said Kristi Marvin, chief executive of 

"This has never traded on fundamentals, and I don't expect it to, going forward," Marvin told CBS MoneyWatch. "This is almost like a barometer for Trump and how he's doing in the election."

The majority of the DWAC shareholders are retail investors, meaning they are individual investors rather than institutional , Marvin noted. Essentially, she added, DWAC, as well as its next iteration as Trump Media, is a "retail meme stock." 

Meme stocks and SPACs

Special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, are shell companies created to take a private business public without conducting an initial public offering. 

In 2021, DWAC announced its intent to merge with Trump's media group, sending shares of Digital World upward by more than 800%, sparking comparisons  with meme stock businesses like GameStop. At that time, SPACs were also drawing outsized attention from small investors after some gained endorsements from celebrities and investors alike.

Investors who own DWAC stock will receive one share of the new company for each share of DWAC they owned, according to a regulatory filing. 

With about 136 million shares outstanding after the merger, the new business could have a valuation of $5.4 billion, based on DWAC's current price. Trump, who will serve as chairman of Trump Media & Technology Group, will own about 58% of the company, which would value his stake at about $3.5 billion .

To be sure, there's no guarantee the newly merged company will continue to trade at the same price as DWAC. Companies can sometimes trade lower in the months after a SPAC merger, as some early investors sell their stock, Marvin noted. 

"You have a washing out of the original shareholders," she said.

But it's likely the newly merged company will continue to appeal primarily to individual investors, as some institutional investors may shy away from the company based on political concerns, among other issues, Marvin added. 

Risk factors: Bankruptcy, failure and jail 

Investors in Trump Media & Technology Group are buying shares in a fledgling social media business that booked $3.3 million in revenue for the first nine months of 2023, according to a regulatory filing. 

But like many other tech startups, Trump Media is hemorrhaging money, with its losses mounting to $49 million during that same period last year. Of course, a company's financial struggles aren't necessarily a hindrance to earning a lofty public valuation, as seen in the case of money-losing Reddit, whose IPO this week gave it an $8 billion market cap.

Truth Social had roughly 5 million active members in February of this year — including mobile users as well as website visitors, according to research firm Similarweb estimates. Truth Social doesn't disclose its user numbers.

By comparison, TikTok has 2 billion users and Facebook 3 billion. However, in the so-called "alt-tech" space, Truth Social fares better than rivals such as Parler, which just returned to Apple's app store this week  after being offline for more than a year , and Gettr, which had less than 2 million visitors in February.

The question is whether Truth Social can ramp up revenue by attracting new advertisers to a platform that critics say is squarely focused on Trump's personality and conservative views. Expanding its user base will be key to its success, according to risk factors listed in a regulatory filing related to the merger. 

That isn't the only risk for the business, according to the filing. Among others are the "death, incarceration or incapacity" of Trump, as well as Trump's history with some of his earlier businesses, including the bankruptcy of the Trump Taj Mahal in 1991 and the bankruptcy of the Trump Hotels and Casinos Resorts in 2004, among other bankruptcies. 

"A number of companies that were associated with President Trump have filed for bankruptcy," the filing states. "There can be no assurances that [Trump Media & Technology Group] will not also become bankrupt."

—with reporting by the Associated Press Board of Directors.

  • Donald Trump
  • Truth Social

Aimee Picchi is the associate managing editor for CBS MoneyWatch, where she covers business and personal finance. She previously worked at Bloomberg News and has written for national news outlets including USA Today and Consumer Reports.

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Truth, Meaning and Realism By A. C. G rayling

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Roger Teichmann, Truth, Meaning and Realism By A. C. G rayling , Analysis , Volume 69, Issue 1, January 2009, Pages 169–171,

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The ten essays gathered together in this book treat of truth, meaning, (anti-)realism, natural kind terms, and related topics. Almost all began life as invited contributions to conferences. From the Preface we learn that Grayling, in contrast to those colleagues whose perfectionism leads them to publish too little, preferred to ‘venture ideas as if they were letters to friends’. (The passage is also quoted on the back cover.) The style could hardly be called epistolary, however; a high level of generality is maintained throughout, and there is much plotting of the relationships between philosophical positions (logical geography). An aesthetic of tentativeness also prevails: at one point, for example, Grayling withdraws his too hasty offer of a sketch of an argument, in favour of ‘a sketch of how an argument might look in outline’ (31). A sketch of a sketch, perhaps?

Things are not so sketchy that one cannot discern some positive claims. One of these is embodied in what Grayling calls Explicit Speaker Theory, something which he makes use of in more than one essay. The notion of an Explicit Speaker is meant to help solve certain philosophical puzzles, and in doing so to point towards a pragmatic, somewhat Gricean, account of linguistic meaning. An Explicit Speaker is an imaginary figure who always ‘expresses his intended meaning’ as fully and as exactly as his audience needs, and who is as epistemically cautious as possible ‘with respect to the claims made or presupposed in or by what he says’ (93). Grayling invokes this person (a) in order to tackle some well-known questions as to whether certain statements have or lack a truth-value, and (b) to justify a certain view of Putnam's Twin Earth thought-experiments.

The description of the Explicit Speaker appears to require that the ‘intended meaning’ in the mind of a speaker should have the sort of independent existence that means there will be a fact of the matter how successfully this meaning has been ‘expressed’ on a given occasion. I am not confident that this (perhaps inadvertent) Lockean aspect can be deleted from the Theory. But in any case, Grayling's use of the Explicit Speaker doesn't seem to help either with (a) or with (b). Grayling discusses the relationship between logical constants and their natural language (near-) equivalents. A traditional form of the problem here is whether, say, ‘She blinked at him and he fainted’ is true, false or truth-valueless, in the circumstance where he first fainted and then she blinked at him. Grayling tackles this by pointing out that the Explicit Speaker would not, in those circumstances, use that sentence; so that one who does thus use it falls short of being an Explicit Speaker. The same tactic is used on other cases relevant to (a). And the reply in each case, surely, is: All well and good – but what does that show about the truth-status of non-Explicit utterances? Explicit Speaker Theory yields no answer to this, which was after all our original question; and this seems to show that it bypasses the problem (and the issues to do with meaning that surround it) altogether. At one point, Grayling diagnoses matters by saying that a non-Explicit utterance suffers from ellipsis, adding ‘[a]nd there is nothing philosophically problematic about ellipsis’ (103). The conclusion ought rather to be that, if this is ellipsis, then ellipsis turns out after all sometimes to be philosophically problematic.

When it comes to Putnam's thought-experiments, Grayling argues that if Earth and Twin Earth were peopled by Explicit Speakers, they would indeed mean different things by ‘water’, as Putnam says, but not for externalist reasons. This is because we are to imagine each speaker to be equipped with a Best Dictionary for his language, where a Best Dictionary includes encyclopaedic knowledge of his community's ‘best current theories’ about chemistry, etc. (88; 106); speakers from different Earths thus include different chemical formulae in their definitions of ‘water’. This again leaves us in the dark about non-Explicit speakers, or indeed about Explicit Speakers belonging to communities with little or no chemical knowledge. (Putnam could have set his story in A.D. 800.) Moreover, the view that all the (constantly changing) empirical knowledge we have about X contributes to the meaning of the term ‘X’ (cf. 87) looks absurd.

I have concentrated on a specific strand in Grayling's book. Elsewhere there are discussions of Davidson, Dummett, Wiggins, McGinn, Coady and others. As the author modestly says, ‘All the papers are of their time’ (vii) – the 1970s and ‘80s, I assume. The style and content of the book do indeed take one back to those days. There are some episodes of sound sense in a scholarly setting; but on the whole, the perfectionists, even in these RAE-poisoned days, may have a point.

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  • The Case for Marrying an Older Man

A woman’s life is all work and little rest. An age gap relationship can help.

truth meaning essay

In the summer, in the south of France, my husband and I like to play, rather badly, the lottery. We take long, scorching walks to the village — gratuitous beauty, gratuitous heat — kicking up dust and languid debates over how we’d spend such an influx. I purchase scratch-offs, jackpot tickets, scraping the former with euro coins in restaurants too fine for that. I never cash them in, nor do I check the winning numbers. For I already won something like the lotto, with its gifts and its curses, when he married me.

He is ten years older than I am. I chose him on purpose, not by chance. As far as life decisions go, on balance, I recommend it.

When I was 20 and a junior at Harvard College, a series of great ironies began to mock me. I could study all I wanted, prove myself as exceptional as I liked, and still my fiercest advantage remained so universal it deflated my other plans. My youth. The newness of my face and body. Compellingly effortless; cruelly fleeting. I shared it with the average, idle young woman shrugging down the street. The thought, when it descended on me, jolted my perspective, the way a falling leaf can make you look up: I could diligently craft an ideal existence, over years and years of sleepless nights and industry. Or I could just marry it early.

So naturally I began to lug a heavy suitcase of books each Saturday to the Harvard Business School to work on my Nabokov paper. In one cavernous, well-appointed room sat approximately 50 of the planet’s most suitable bachelors. I had high breasts, most of my eggs, plausible deniability when it came to purity, a flush ponytail, a pep in my step that had yet to run out. Apologies to Progress, but older men still desired those things.

I could not understand why my female classmates did not join me, given their intelligence. Each time I reconsidered the project, it struck me as more reasonable. Why ignore our youth when it amounted to a superpower? Why assume the burdens of womanhood, its too-quick-to-vanish upper hand, but not its brief benefits at least? Perhaps it came easier to avoid the topic wholesale than to accept that women really do have a tragically short window of power, and reason enough to take advantage of that fact while they can. As for me, I liked history, Victorian novels, knew of imminent female pitfalls from all the books I’d read: vampiric boyfriends; labor, at the office and in the hospital, expected simultaneously; a decline in status as we aged, like a looming eclipse. I’d have disliked being called calculating, but I had, like all women, a calculator in my head. I thought it silly to ignore its answers when they pointed to an unfairness for which we really ought to have been preparing.

I was competitive by nature, an English-literature student with all the corresponding major ambitions and minor prospects (Great American novel; email job). A little Bovarist , frantic for new places and ideas; to travel here, to travel there, to be in the room where things happened. I resented the callow boys in my class, who lusted after a particular, socially sanctioned type on campus: thin and sexless, emotionally detached and socially connected, the opposite of me. Restless one Saturday night, I slipped on a red dress and snuck into a graduate-school event, coiling an HDMI cord around my wrist as proof of some technical duty. I danced. I drank for free, until one of the organizers asked me to leave. I called and climbed into an Uber. Then I promptly climbed out of it. For there he was, emerging from the revolving doors. Brown eyes, curved lips, immaculate jacket. I went to him, asked him for a cigarette. A date, days later. A second one, where I discovered he was a person, potentially my favorite kind: funny, clear-eyed, brilliant, on intimate terms with the universe.

I used to love men like men love women — that is, not very well, and with a hunger driven only by my own inadequacies. Not him. In those early days, I spoke fondly of my family, stocked the fridge with his favorite pasta, folded his clothes more neatly than I ever have since. I wrote his mother a thank-you note for hosting me in his native France, something befitting a daughter-in-law. It worked; I meant it. After graduation and my fellowship at Oxford, I stayed in Europe for his career and married him at 23.

Of course I just fell in love. Romances have a setting; I had only intervened to place myself well. Mainly, I spotted the precise trouble of being a woman ahead of time, tried to surf it instead of letting it drown me on principle. I had grown bored of discussions of fair and unfair, equal or unequal , and preferred instead to consider a thing called ease.

The reception of a particular age-gap relationship depends on its obviousness. The greater and more visible the difference in years and status between a man and a woman, the more it strikes others as transactional. Transactional thinking in relationships is both as American as it gets and the least kosher subject in the American romantic lexicon. When a 50-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman walk down the street, the questions form themselves inside of you; they make you feel cynical and obscene: How good of a deal is that? Which party is getting the better one? Would I take it? He is older. Income rises with age, so we assume he has money, at least relative to her; at minimum, more connections and experience. She has supple skin. Energy. Sex. Maybe she gets a Birkin. Maybe he gets a baby long after his prime. The sight of their entwined hands throws a lucid light on the calculations each of us makes, in love, to varying degrees of denial. You could get married in the most romantic place in the world, like I did, and you would still have to sign a contract.

Twenty and 30 is not like 30 and 40; some freshness to my features back then, some clumsiness in my bearing, warped our decade, in the eyes of others, to an uncrossable gulf. Perhaps this explains the anger we felt directed at us at the start of our relationship. People seemed to take us very, very personally. I recall a hellish car ride with a friend of his who began to castigate me in the backseat, in tones so low that only I could hear him. He told me, You wanted a rich boyfriend. You chased and snuck into parties . He spared me the insult of gold digger, but he drew, with other words, the outline for it. Most offended were the single older women, my husband’s classmates. They discussed me in the bathroom at parties when I was in the stall. What does he see in her? What do they talk about? They were concerned about me. They wielded their concern like a bludgeon. They paraphrased without meaning to my favorite line from Nabokov’s Lolita : “You took advantage of my disadvantage,” suspecting me of some weakness he in turn mined. It did not disturb them, so much, to consider that all relationships were trades. The trouble was the trade I’d made struck them as a bad one.

The truth is you can fall in love with someone for all sorts of reasons, tiny transactions, pluses and minuses, whose sum is your affection for each other, your loyalty, your commitment. The way someone picks up your favorite croissant. Their habit of listening hard. What they do for you on your anniversary and your reciprocal gesture, wrapped thoughtfully. The serenity they inspire; your happiness, enlivening it. When someone says they feel unappreciated, what they really mean is you’re in debt to them.

When I think of same-age, same-stage relationships, what I tend to picture is a woman who is doing too much for too little.

I’m 27 now, and most women my age have “partners.” These days, girls become partners quite young. A partner is supposed to be a modern answer to the oppression of marriage, the terrible feeling of someone looming over you, head of a household to which you can only ever be the neck. Necks are vulnerable. The problem with a partner, however, is if you’re equal in all things, you compromise in all things. And men are too skilled at taking .

There is a boy out there who knows how to floss because my friend taught him. Now he kisses college girls with fresh breath. A boy married to my friend who doesn’t know how to pack his own suitcase. She “likes to do it for him.” A million boys who know how to touch a woman, who go to therapy because they were pushed, who learned fidelity, boundaries, decency, manners, to use a top sheet and act humanely beneath it, to call their mothers, match colors, bring flowers to a funeral and inhale, exhale in the face of rage, because some girl, some girl we know, some girl they probably don’t speak to and will never, ever credit, took the time to teach him. All while she was working, raising herself, clawing up the cliff-face of adulthood. Hauling him at her own expense.

I find a post on Reddit where five thousand men try to define “ a woman’s touch .” They describe raised flower beds, blankets, photographs of their loved ones, not hers, sprouting on the mantel overnight. Candles, coasters, side tables. Someone remembering to take lint out of the dryer. To give compliments. I wonder what these women are getting back. I imagine them like Cinderella’s mice, scurrying around, their sole proof of life their contributions to a more central character. On occasion I meet a nice couple, who grew up together. They know each other with a fraternalism tender and alien to me.  But I think of all my friends who failed at this, were failed at this, and I think, No, absolutely not, too risky . Riskier, sometimes, than an age gap.

My younger brother is in his early 20s, handsome, successful, but in many ways: an endearing disaster. By his age, I had long since wisened up. He leaves his clothes in the dryer, takes out a single shirt, steams it for three minutes. His towel on the floor, for someone else to retrieve. His lovely, same-age girlfriend is aching to fix these tendencies, among others. She is capable beyond words. Statistically, they will not end up together. He moved into his first place recently, and she, the girlfriend, supplied him with a long, detailed list of things he needed for his apartment: sheets, towels, hangers, a colander, which made me laugh. She picked out his couch. I will bet you anything she will fix his laundry habits, and if so, they will impress the next girl. If they break up, she will never see that couch again, and he will forget its story. I tell her when I visit because I like her, though I get in trouble for it: You shouldn’t do so much for him, not for someone who is not stuck with you, not for any boy, not even for my wonderful brother.

Too much work had left my husband, by 30, jaded and uninspired. He’d burned out — but I could reenchant things. I danced at restaurants when they played a song I liked. I turned grocery shopping into an adventure, pleased by what I provided. Ambitious, hungry, he needed someone smart enough to sustain his interest, but flexible enough in her habits to build them around his hours. I could. I do: read myself occupied, make myself free, materialize beside him when he calls for me. In exchange, I left a lucrative but deadening spreadsheet job to write full-time, without having to live like a writer. I learned to cook, a little, and decorate, somewhat poorly. Mostly I get to read, to walk central London and Miami and think in delicious circles, to work hard, when necessary, for free, and write stories for far less than minimum wage when I tally all the hours I take to write them.

At 20, I had felt daunted by the project of becoming my ideal self, couldn’t imagine doing it in tandem with someone, two raw lumps of clay trying to mold one another and only sullying things worse. I’d go on dates with boys my age and leave with the impression they were telling me not about themselves but some person who didn’t exist yet and on whom I was meant to bet regardless. My husband struck me instead as so finished, formed. Analyzable for compatibility. He bore the traces of other women who’d improved him, small but crucial basics like use a coaster ; listen, don’t give advice. Young egos mellow into patience and generosity.

My husband isn’t my partner. He’s my mentor, my lover, and, only in certain contexts, my friend. I’ll never forget it, how he showed me around our first place like he was introducing me to myself: This is the wine you’ll drink, where you’ll keep your clothes, we vacation here, this is the other language we’ll speak, you’ll learn it, and I did. Adulthood seemed a series of exhausting obligations. But his logistics ran so smoothly that he simply tacked mine on. I moved into his flat, onto his level, drag and drop, cleaner thrice a week, bills automatic. By opting out of partnership in my 20s, I granted myself a kind of compartmentalized, liberating selfishness none of my friends have managed. I am the work in progress, the party we worry about, a surprising dominance. When I searched for my first job, at 21, we combined our efforts, for my sake. He had wisdom to impart, contacts with whom he arranged coffees; we spent an afternoon, laughing, drawing up earnest lists of my pros and cons (highly sociable; sloppy math). Meanwhile, I took calls from a dear friend who had a boyfriend her age. Both savagely ambitious, hyperclose and entwined in each other’s projects. If each was a start-up , the other was the first hire, an intense dedication I found riveting. Yet every time she called me, I hung up with the distinct feeling that too much was happening at the same time: both learning to please a boss; to forge more adult relationships with their families; to pay bills and taxes and hang prints on the wall. Neither had any advice to give and certainly no stability. I pictured a three-legged race, two people tied together and hobbling toward every milestone.

I don’t fool myself. My marriage has its cons. There are only so many times one can say “thank you” — for splendid scenes, fine dinners — before the phrase starts to grate. I live in an apartment whose rent he pays and that shapes the freedom with which I can ever be angry with him. He doesn’t have to hold it over my head. It just floats there, complicating usual shorthands to explain dissatisfaction like, You aren’t being supportive lately . It’s a Frenchism to say, “Take a decision,” and from time to time I joke: from whom? Occasionally I find myself in some fabulous country at some fabulous party and I think what a long way I have traveled, like a lucky cloud, and it is frightening to think of oneself as vapor.

Mostly I worry that if he ever betrayed me and I had to move on, I would survive, but would find in my humor, preferences, the way I make coffee or the bed nothing that he did not teach, change, mold, recompose, stamp with his initials, the way Renaissance painters hid in their paintings their faces among a crowd. I wonder if when they looked at their paintings, they saw their own faces first. But this is the wrong question, if our aim is happiness. Like the other question on which I’m expected to dwell: Who is in charge, the man who drives or the woman who put him there so she could enjoy herself? I sit in the car, in the painting it would have taken me a corporate job and 20 years to paint alone, and my concern over who has the upper hand becomes as distant as the horizon, the one he and I made so wide for me.

To be a woman is to race against the clock, in several ways, until there is nothing left to be but run ragged.

We try to put it off, but it will hit us at some point: that we live in a world in which our power has a different shape from that of men, a different distribution of advantage, ours a funnel and theirs an expanding cone. A woman at 20 rarely has to earn her welcome; a boy at 20 will be turned away at the door. A woman at 30 may find a younger woman has taken her seat; a man at 30 will have invited her. I think back to the women in the bathroom, my husband’s classmates. What was my relationship if not an inconvertible sign of this unfairness? What was I doing, in marrying older, if not endorsing it? I had taken advantage of their disadvantage. I had preempted my own. After all, principled women are meant to defy unfairness, to show some integrity or denial, not plan around it, like I had. These were driven women, successful, beautiful, capable. I merely possessed the one thing they had already lost. In getting ahead of the problem, had I pushed them down? If I hadn’t, would it really have made any difference?

When we decided we wanted to be equal to men, we got on men’s time. We worked when they worked, retired when they retired, had to squeeze pregnancy, children, menopause somewhere impossibly in the margins. I have a friend, in her late 20s, who wears a mood ring; these days it is often red, flickering in the air like a siren when she explains her predicament to me. She has raised her fair share of same-age boyfriends. She has put her head down, worked laboriously alongside them, too. At last she is beginning to reap the dividends, earning the income to finally enjoy herself. But it is now, exactly at this precipice of freedom and pleasure, that a time problem comes closing in. If she would like to have children before 35, she must begin her next profession, motherhood, rather soon, compromising inevitably her original one. The same-age partner, equally unsettled in his career, will take only the minimum time off, she guesses, or else pay some cost which will come back to bite her. Everything unfailingly does. If she freezes her eggs to buy time, the decision and its logistics will burden her singly — and perhaps it will not work. Overlay the years a woman is supposed to establish herself in her career and her fertility window and it’s a perfect, miserable circle. By midlife women report feeling invisible, undervalued; it is a telling cliché, that after all this, some husbands leave for a younger girl. So when is her time, exactly? For leisure, ease, liberty? There is no brand of feminism which achieved female rest. If women’s problem in the ’50s was a paralyzing malaise, now it is that they are too active, too capable, never permitted a vacation they didn’t plan. It’s not that our efforts to have it all were fated for failure. They simply weren’t imaginative enough.

For me, my relationship, with its age gap, has alleviated this rush , permitted me to massage the clock, shift its hands to my benefit. Very soon, we will decide to have children, and I don’t panic over last gasps of fun, because I took so many big breaths of it early: on the holidays of someone who had worked a decade longer than I had, in beautiful places when I was young and beautiful, a symmetry I recommend. If such a thing as maternal energy exists, mine was never depleted. I spent the last nearly seven years supported more than I support and I am still not as old as my husband was when he met me. When I have a child, I will expect more help from him than I would if he were younger, for what does professional tenure earn you if not the right to set more limits on work demands — or, if not, to secure some child care, at the very least? When I return to work after maternal upheaval, he will aid me, as he’s always had, with his ability to put himself aside, as younger men are rarely able.

Above all, the great gift of my marriage is flexibility. A chance to live my life before I become responsible for someone else’s — a lover’s, or a child’s. A chance to write. A chance at a destiny that doesn’t adhere rigidly to the routines and timelines of men, but lends itself instead to roomy accommodation, to the very fluidity Betty Friedan dreamed of in 1963 in The Feminine Mystique , but we’ve largely forgotten: some career or style of life that “permits year-to-year variation — a full-time paid job in one community, part-time in another, exercise of the professional skill in serious volunteer work or a period of study during pregnancy or early motherhood when a full-time job is not feasible.” Some things are just not feasible in our current structures. Somewhere along the way we stopped admitting that, and all we did was make women feel like personal failures. I dream of new structures, a world in which women have entry-level jobs in their 30s; alternate avenues for promotion; corporate ladders with balconies on which they can stand still, have a smoke, take a break, make a baby, enjoy themselves, before they keep climbing. Perhaps men long for this in their own way. Actually I am sure of that.

Once, when we first fell in love, I put my head in his lap on a long car ride; I remember his hands on my face, the sun, the twisting turns of a mountain road, surprising and not surprising us like our romance, and his voice, telling me that it was his biggest regret that I was so young, he feared he would lose me. Last week, we looked back at old photos and agreed we’d given each other our respective best years. Sometimes real equality is not so obvious, sometimes it takes turns, sometimes it takes almost a decade to reveal itself.

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  1. Truth

    Truth is one of the central subjects in philosophy. It is also one of the largest. Truth has been a topic of discussion in its own right for thousands of years. Moreover, a huge variety of issues in philosophy relate to truth, either by relying on theses about truth, or implying theses about truth. It would be impossible to survey all there is ...

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    Truth tables show how this is done for the simple language of Propositional Logic (e.g. the complex proposition expressed by "A or B" is true, according to the truth table, if and only if proposition A is true, or proposition B is true, or both are true). Tarski's goal is to define truth for even more complex languages.

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  17. What Is Truth? Essay Example

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    Truth and Correspondence. The correspondence view of truth, held by the vast majority of philosophers and theologians throughout history, holds that any declarative statement is true if and only if it corresponds to or agrees with factual reality, with the way things are. The statement, "The desk in my study is brown", is true only if there is ...

  19. Of Truth by Francis Bacon Summary & Analysis

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  20. Truth Definition & Meaning

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