Clearly one of the issues that seemed to get the most comments in this last series regarding the evaluation of narratives was the idea of “truth” and how one defines it or what one means by it. I did my best to answer what the notion of “truth” means to me by writing several posts here, here, and here; I also tried to unpack all this even further in the past several comment sections. To questions wanting a specific definition I responded that the best description of what I thought defined what I mean by “truth” is a postmodern/pluralist/theological/critical-realist understanding of truth.
The postmodern/critical-realist aspects I addressed here. By theological I note the Christian specific aspect to what truth is, in that “truth” is seen as personal and relational. In the Christian tradition, truth is a person. Truth is not seen as an abstract principle floating either subjectively only in our minds or objectively as some form of “universal reason.” The pluralist idea can be found here (from the same site given me to choose a definition). Of note:
“The plausibility of theories of truth has often been observed to vary, sometimes extensively, across different domains or regions of discourse. Because of this variance, the problems internal to each such theory become salient as they overgeneralize. A natural suggestion is therefore that not all (declarative) sentences in all domains are true in exactly the same way. Sentences in mathematics, morals, comedy, chemistry, politics, and gastronomy may be true in different ways, if and when they are ever true. ‘Pluralism about truth’ names the thesis that there is more than one way of being true.”
And, of course, it was that very idea that I was trying to get across with the example of Betty and her biological mother. I don’t have to hold to a fact/value distinction where the fact is true but the value only meaningful or significant. Given the pluralist theory, I can say both are true, which is no doubt frustrating to those of the more, shall we say- linear/analytical persuasion. If it helps, a philosopher I admire and one who has definitely influenced my thinking about “truth” is John D. Caputo. He has written a new book and from this source is a partial view of where he’s going as to his notion of “truth”:
“John D Caputo’s entertaining investigation into the nature of truth gets the balance right. His project is to show how postmodernism can help us think through contemporary debates about religion, relativism and the legacy of the Enlightenment. Rather than dividing the world into strict categories such as the rational and irrational, Caputo’s postmodern approach tries to widen our understanding of truth. He is not a naive relativist, however. “I am not arguing against the truth of propositions,” he says. “I am arguing that truth cannot be confined to propositions.” This means taking seriously the truths one encounters in novels, say, as well as religious narratives.”
The writer also adds this critical component:
“This book does not claim to be the final word on truth—indeed Caputo believes the quest for an ultimate and unchanging definition of truth is doomed to failure—but it might be the starting point for a more sophisticated discussion.”
I too agree that such a single or final definition will always elude us. It is one reason I refuse to describe my view of truth as something that could be reduced to a dictionary definition or a single simple theory one could note in a few sentences or with a simple designation (correspondence/coherence, etc.).
Given all the above, I think I have stated my position as best I can. Is it complex? Yes. Is it multi-faceted? Yes. Does is take some reflection and a little heavy lifting to understand? Yes. Can it be stated in a few sentences? No. And for all that, I do not apologize. I plead guilty to all the above. However, I do admit I can certainly be a poor communicator and certainly shoulder any and all blame for that failing. As far as that one goes, guilty as charged.
However, I get the sense sometimes, not that my explanations or reasons are misunderstood but rather just disagreed with. They differ from the theories of truth held by others. I think it especially frustrating when they eschew those theories of truth (correspondence) held by the New Atheists and people like JP Moreland and William Lane Craig. I am so happy not to be in their company, thank you very much. More to the point however, is it possible the issue is not ambiguity on my part but, rather, that it is all too clear what I mean? And what I mean, or what it looks like I mean, simply goes against the grain. If so, then maybe the more productive response would be to explain why my view fails or is incomplete and why whatever views of truth then proposed as counters are better, complete, more accurate, or whatever term one wishes to describe it as the preferable theory.
So, with reservations and a clear admission of my flaws, I think I will stand by the several posts and unpacking I’ve done in the comment sections regarding what I mean by using the term “true.” Agree or disagree with me, or withhold judgment. But please, I can hardly be accused of not unpacking and spilling some ink as to what I mean by something being true.
Having said all that, I was struck by some of the responses and comments (or their absence) in the last post and thought they were important enough to try and address once more. Specifically, this isn’t about trying to unpack a response or comment further, it is about the fact certain questions referring directly to some responses were never answered. I thought that rather interesting. If they were, I missed it. I wanted to give each one another opportunity to address the questions or comments I posed in response. For context and background, I would suggest that anyone interested go back and read through the comment section to get the flow and sense of what is being discussed. I’m not going to do that again here and will assume anyone responding now has done that and understands my questions and thoughts noted presently.
So, first, there were some interesting comments by JP. JP of course wanted a definition of truth from me. And he was also concerned that, while my criteria might be good for evaluating narratives, it was purely subjective: “…Because your criteria are just that: your criteria. They express your own personal preferences as to what is important in a narrative – nothing more.”
I first asked JP if he thought he had a correct definition or theory of truth. His response:
“You ask what I think is the correct theory. I don’t think there is one, in the sense that the notion of “truth” is a human invention, not something “out there” we’re trying to figure out.”
Interestingly enough, this means that any definition or theory I would have proposed that asserted truth wasn’t just a human invention, JP would have found false or incomplete, because he doesn’t think “there is one”. But that is a minor point. The greater point here is that JP has just given us a theory of truth. It is the theory, which is the view from philosophical naturalism that says “truth” is just a human invention, entirely subjective and relative to time and culture.
And I think the irony was missed by JP when he noted, “I don’t think there is one,” and then turned around and gave us his theory of truth (It’s a human invention). He does, actually, think there is a theory and I’m assuming he thinks it a correct or “true” one.
For further irony, it is his criteria—one that subjectively expresses his own personal preference. Again, same boat. Yep, that’s me paddling on the other side of you.
JP never responded to any instance of my pointing out these two rather telling problems. It would certainly help me out to hear a response.
One last point here, JP’s very last assertion was:
“In fact, while your approach could be used to argue for (or against) the usefulness of a the belief in God, it has nothing to say about whether or not this belief is actually true.”
Or, I should have said, one last irony here. Notice the “actually” true. Well, that was the whole point of the series and the preceding back-and-forth in the comments. We disagree over what is “actually” true and how that can be ascertained. If truth is only a human subjective invention then what pray tell would ever convince someone who thought such that God’s existence was “actually” true? And, need I say again, the point wasn’t to “prove” in an empirical/scientific way the “truth” of a narrative. Clearly, JP thinks “actually” means empirically/scientifically, and I started the whole series off with the fact that no narrative (including the atheist’s or agnostic’s) can be proved in such a manner. If JP is going to define “actually” to mean empirically/scientifically, then he is begging the question and has said really nothing about my criteria or view of truth, other than he disagrees. Why does he disagree? Because his view (truth is a human invention) is the correct one and something can only be “actually” true in one way (his). Oh, okay. I’m glad that was cleared up.
Anyway, the first two ironies would be a great place to start. We can let the other just hang there a bit.
And then of course there was Bernard defending vigorously the fact he has nothing to defend. And very simply, I will just cite the pertinent exchange again, for which there never was any further comment or response:
“Rather you embrace speculative narratives. Fair enough. But the claim that we all do this is nonsense.” -Bernard
“So, it is not that I do not embrace a narrative, but rather that the narrative I embrace avoids subjective beliefs…” -Bernard
And that narrative you embrace (which you admit here) is embraced subjectively as it seeks to avoid the views that those “others” subjectively embrace. -Darrell
The irony here is that Bernard is telling us (subjectively—from his perspective) the narrative he holds avoids subjective beliefs. How does he know that? Well, he knows it subjectively and he believes it subjectively. And to start talking about tossing coins in the air changes none of that (that is another issue). The narratives we each embrace, we embrace subjectively by faith (even if one’s view is that everyone else does this except me!). Same boat. Don’t look now, but that’s me and JP right next to you paddling away. Hi. And I love that word “avoid.” I avoid certain narratives too. I avoid narratives that embrace subjective beliefs about truth only being established empirically. Avoidance is part of being in the same boat. We might call it the USS Avoidance. Welcome aboard everyone. You are the captain of your own ship!
So, it would be great to hear from both JP and Bernard and for them to just address these areas because I do not see they were addressed in the last post’s comment section. Perhaps they were and I just missed it. If so, it would be great if someone could spell it out for me. Clearly all the rest was addressed and there is no need to hash that out again here. As I already noted at the end of the comments, we will just have to agree to disagree as to the rest. And that may be the case here too, but it would be nice to actually hear responses to the above first.