Caputo: Chapter Three—Letting Truth Be: Augustine, Derrida and the Postmodern Turn—Part One

The example Caputo has for us will come from him bringing together the “oddest of couplings”- St. Augustine and Jacques Derrida (1930-2004).  Here we have one of the great early Christian “Fathers of the Church” and a modern atheist, although a very peculiar type of atheist.  Two very different time periods and two very different persons.  However, are they so different?  Perhaps not.  Putting that aside, Caputo is hoping this interaction will illustrate what forms truth were able to take before modernity and then again in our present time, once modernity had lost some of its allure.  The lesson he hopes we draw from this is deceptively simple:
“…let truth be.  Why does everyone insist on telling truth what to do and how to behave?  Why not let truth be what it will be?  Why not concede that it is truth that leads and we who follow?  Even (and especially) if that means truth is capable of taking unforeseen twists—to the displeasure of Pure Reason, which, like a severe schoolmaster, feels compelled to put down every show of emotion or sign of disorder.  When it comes to truth we must be prepared to be surprised, to let things become ‘curiouser and curiouser’, as Alice said, who seems to know a thing or two about the strange ways of truth.”
Now, of course, Caputo’s idea here is completely unsettling to the fundamentalist.  Whether the one who feels the Bible has to be “read” and understood a certain way (his!) or the secular one who feels the natural world has to be “read” and understood a certain way (his!)- this idea that truth could be something outside of our control is no doubt unnerving.  Fundamentalism is all about control.  They need “truth” to be in a box they control.  They need to control the definitions and what truth “must” mean (to see this all one need do is peruse some of the recent comments!).  They police the borders always looking for any intrusion or possible escape.  Ironically, this is what actually prevents truth from “happening” and from coming.  Truth, if it is really truth, cannot be contained in a box or single definition and here is where we see modernity’s obsession with defining, mapping, and “bucket” thinking.  It’s all about control.  If I get to define it—I get to control it.  Borders or boxes mean nothing to truth, or any other feeble attempts to control it.  And truth doesn’t belong to any one group, not even scientists (cue stunned gasps and wide eyes).  Yes, not even scientists.  Get used to it.  Nor does truth belong solely to the theologians.
Caputo then goes on to note the “repetition” example he has in mind is Derrida’s repetition of Augustine.  He spends some time drawing links between the two, even though on the surface, they would hardly seem to have much in common.  He lays out the historical circumstances of each.  Both were born in what is known as Algeria today.  Both had close relationships with protective mothers.  Most importantly, both spoke in terms of truth “happening”, an encounter, rather than it being something abstract, a system to master, and under our control.  Augustine noted it as “grace” while Derrida called it an “event”.  For Augustine, this came through in his “Confessions” which is still considered one of the “greatest books of religious literature the West has ever known.”  Further, his confessions, while autobiographical, are really a prayer to God, a public prayer he allows the reader to listen to and hear.  His action of writing is a “doing” of something.  He is making a confession—a public confession.  What this means as to truth is noted here:
“Augustine is thereby coming to grips with his life and with God, with his life before God (coram deo).  For him it is possible to explore his inner life only in prayer, only by standing alone before God and examining his heart in the light of God, from whom nothing is hidden…A confession is an example of what Austin [J.L. Austin (1911-60) British philosopher] called a ‘performative’, meaning, not just talking about something but doing something precisely by talking.  For example, when the judge says ‘guilty’, he is not just describing the defendant as guilty, but pronouncing him, making him, guilty.  Or when the bride and groom say ‘I do’, they really did; by pronouncing their vows they make the marriage happen.  When I say, ‘I confess that…’ I make that truth happen.”
The idea here is the possibility our words, our languages, do not just report an inner psychological/emotional state, which can be further reduced to the chemical/mechanical, but rather they actually create something new because of their being put out there, where they “do” or “perform” something.  Caputo continues:
“So here we run into a kind of sublunary truth that tended to be overshadowed in the history of philosophy, the little truth that is to be made or done, as opposed to the truths that I utter in making true statements about things—as when I remark that the tree outside my window is in bloom.  Austin calls this latter type of truth a ‘constative’ truth.  In the history of Truth from Plato to Hegel, constatives gradually come to hog the stage, a process that reaches its peak in modernity.  Philosophers favour truth ‘claims’, true assertions about things, true propositions, sentences that get things right or pick out the objects in the world, as if we pass our days ‘looking at’ the world and reporting the results to one another.” 
And here we see the great disconnect that is so clear when one reads the comment sections, of not only the posts in this series, but regarding many of my posts.  When people are locked into a view that only constative truth statements are the “real” and “true” statements, then clearly they will have problems with other views.  It is like when little Johnny learns for the first time that not everyone is a Christian or believes in God.  What?  How can that be?  Well, it can.  There are other ways to view the world.   Philosophical naturalists/materialists need to have that same awakening.  Continuing:
“But in Austin’s theory—of which there are antecedents and foreshadowings in religious discourse (and which is one of the reasons why the comparison of Augustine and Derrida is interesting)—performatives finally get a few lines on stage.  With these ‘happenings’ of truth, we are getting close to the event of truth, to truth as something that happens, that is done, or made, as when Augustine makes his (book of) confessions.  It might even be the case that the name of God used in a constative, as when I say, ‘There is a God,’ is not as important as its use in a prayer or in a sentence like ‘God be with you.’  So the question Austin would have us consider is whether the name of God is the name of a being to which the word God refers, like the tree outside my window, or whether it is, as Kierkegaard says, the name of a deed?”
Interestingly enough, God is often spoken of this way in Scripture.  We are told that God is love.  And love does, it acts, it is a decision.  It is a deed.  It isn’t an object or “thing” we can pick up on radar, or map, or dissect.  The entire Gospel narrative is about a deed, a life, a living and dying.  Or a dying and a living.
Caputo goes on at this point and gives the background to Derrida’s life.  His was a life of displacement.  He was born in French colonial Algeria.  Caputo writes:
“He [Derrida] once said he had only one language and it was not his own, meaning that he was Jewish but never learned Hebrew, was born in an Arab country but never spoke Arabic or Berber, making the language he did speak, which he called ‘Christian Latin French’, foreign to him.  He came to view his life as a kind of ‘displacement’, a concept central to his philosophy.”
Caputo also notes that few philosophers traveled as much as Derrida.  He spent much of his time on planes, in hotels, and on the road.  All of this is to note that Derrida was, “…everybody and nobody, pretty much the living embodiment of truth on the go.”

With the next post, we will look at what Derrida means when he speaks of the “event.”
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35 Responses to Caputo: Chapter Three—Letting Truth Be: Augustine, Derrida and the Postmodern Turn—Part One

  1. Hello Darrell

    I've been following this series with interest, and have refrained from commenting until I can get a proper handle on what is being said.

    In general, I agree with the idea that one can extend the meaning of truth beyond, say correspondence. Words can do whatever we want them to, to some extent. The trick is to ensure that when we extend meanings beyond the commonly understood, we are as clear as possible about how the new term functions.

    So, I'm slightly lost by this idea of a performative truth. I'm assuming that any functional definition of truth will include a concept of an untruth. If a thing can be true, then presumably by the same standard a thing can also be untrue. Is this a reasonable supposition?

    If so, then I don't yet see how a sentence like “When I say, 'I confess that…' I make that truth happen.” works. Does it mean that to confess anything at all is to make that truth happen? Or does it rather mean that to confess something is to make true the act of confession, which strikes me as somewhat banal.

    If we think about constative truths, we can see clearly what it means for a statement to be true, in this sense, and also untrue. The standard for truth is also the standard for untruth. Thus it is true that a rainbow is the result of refraction, but untrue that unicorns live in my garden.

    It would be helpful to have example of a performative untruth, as a means of clarifying what exactly it is a performative truth establishes in or about the world.

    Thanks

    Bernard

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  2. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    Delightful as always! I agree about the boringness of truth. Something like gravity does not seem to excite moralism or debate of a heated, culture-is-coming-to-an-end kind of way. Why is that? It is because it is really true, not a questionable claim.

    The debates are about questionable claims, and questionable methods of getting to those claims. Like Eric's – I feel it in my mid-section, so it's probably gotta be true. One could hardly have a more absurd method of getting to truth, but there it is, faith and mysticism masqerading as a search for truth, if not truth itself.

    “For example, when the judge says ‘guilty’, he is not just describing the defendant as guilty, but pronouncing him, making him, guilty. Or when the bride and groom say ‘I do’, they really did; by pronouncing their vows they make the marriage happen. When I say, ‘I confess that…’ I make that truth happen.”

    This is confused in the extreme. If one is asserting one's marriage with another who reciprocates, that is performative and valid, making its intentions true. But if a judge pronounces guilt, that is not performative at all, except as to punishment. Plenty of people (as you should know) have been convicted, even unto the death penalty, who are in fact (and in truth) not guilty, whatever the judge said. Many of them even confessed, while still not being, in fact and in truth, guilty at all.

    But all that aside, if you are making the case here that god is performed out of people's mouths as a kind of shibboleth or totem of their self-expression, with which to soothe themselves and their communities, then I agree entirely. It creates an existing god of communal fantasy, not of objective reality. I assume you can understand the difference here- the philosophy of this is very simple. For example, it sort of militates against the idea that this god had any pre-historical role in doing anything, like making the cosmos, life, etc. Because it didn't exist.

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  3. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    These terms and concepts, (performative; constative) are obviously not mine. Therefore, I can only guess and tell you the way I understand them. I suppose one would need to seek out Austin’s works to really understand what he means. Also, I am noting Caputo’s using of Austin’s terms, so there is even another layer here as to what these terms mean and the way they might be understood.

    Having said that, I think three ideas are important to keep in mind as to the performative aspect. First, it describes something happening or some event that moves a person to action. And because it moved beyond an internal personal event to something that was put out there, in that action, other people are affected. So part of how it “works” is its effect upon others. Second, as to what it would mean for it to be untrue, I think, again, in the same sort of way. If a judge, in acknowledging a new law that prescribes the death penalty for shop lifting, claims that justice has been done, and declares, “Justice is done,” we know this to be false.

    This is what I meant in an earlier post, when I wrote:

    In other words, when we speak of the truth of “justice” we are speaking of its trying to become more just, which means we are still looking for justice to come to us—for it to appear, happen, be an “event”. We can never say “Justice is here or that it is done.” Justice is a word we use to capture an event or happening or “truth”; the truth of justice—but it is always on the way here. It is the difference between a law, a system of laws, a judicial system, and this thing called “justice.” There is a gap, a space, a distance involved here. All those laws and systems (like confessional religions and political parties) can do is try to capture that thing (we call justice) that is going on (is possible at least—it may happen) within those systems and structures. This becomes obvious when we acknowledge that a law can be upheld, a punishment rendered (or the accused set free), and justice not be done at all—in fact, justice end up being victim. Think of Kangaroo courts, lynch mobs, show trials, innocent people on death row, and so forth.”

    Third, unlike being able to look out our window to confirm a flower is indeed blooming (constative) whether the truth of a performative can be confirmed is often a longer and more complex process–because the truth is often still coming, still a ways off.

    So, I don't know if that helped, but that is my take on it.

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  4. Thanks Darrell

    I've tried to find some source on this notion of performative truth, but what I've found appears to refer to something a little different, something along the lines of what is sometimes called a reductive theory of truth, which calls into question what we mean when we say a thing is true (much as pragmatism does, or constructivism, for example). It seems, as best I can understand it, to accept the possibility of contradictory truths.

    Austin appears to be getting at something slightly different, and Caputo, in particular, seems to be attempting to construct a model where both types of truth can exist along side each other. Which would lead to interesting questions about how the two would stand in relation to each other.

    If, as you say, a performative truth can be false, if refers to some thing that is false, even although it leads to an action (so the example you give of a judge) then it would appear to relegate the performative truth to a dependent role, that is the action is true only if it is consistent with the propositional truth. This may be what Burk means when he points out the act of pronouncing the defendant guilty only makes him guilty if he is, in fact, the person who committed the crime. This may also have echoes in the Hegelian notion of interesting a belief through acting out, which Eric often refers to.

    Some of the quotes you give from Caputo suggest he is aiming at something more than this, but quite what this something more is, I can't yet see. I'll shall keep reading with interest.

    Best

    Bernard

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  5. Sorry, not sure how the word 'testing' morphed into 'interesting' there.

    Bernard

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  6. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “If, as you say, a performative truth can be false, if refers to some thing that is false, even although it leads to an action (so the example you give of a judge) then it would appear to relegate the performative truth to a dependent role, that is the action is true only if it is consistent with the propositional truth. This may be what Burk means when he points out the act of pronouncing the defendant guilty only makes him guilty if he is, in fact, the person who committed the crime.”

    I don’t see how it would make it dependent upon a propositional or constative truth. The greater questions are what constitutes a “crime” and what does it mean for something to be “just.” A person could indeed be guilty of shoplifting. That could be true propositionally and a constative statement. Would that make the death penalty for that crime, just?

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  7. Hi Darrell

    It seems to me, and I may have missed the intent of your example, that we would judge the punishment unjust because we measure it against some constative truth (the moral rightness or wrongness of a punishment).

    Whether the action plays true, therefore, is dependent upon the setting of our moral compass, of those propositions about morality that we would or would not defend. The performative truth is then relegated into a secondary position, to be judged against these primary constative truths.

    This is why I wonder whether there is some way of deciding whether an action constitutes a performative truth or untruth, without reference to constative truths, be they moral, physical or spiritual in their nature. If we can't do this, then I'm not sure what it is the performative truth, as referenced by Caputo, means. Might be I'm missing something crucial here, or that this point will be fleshed out as you go through later chapters. Just thought I'd signal my interest at this stage.

    Cheers

    Bernard

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  8. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “It seems to me, and I may have missed the intent of your example, that we would judge the punishment unjust because we measure it against some constative truth (the moral rightness or wrongness of a punishment).”

    I don’t think Caputo is suggesting we measure a performative against a constative. The very point is that they are two different types of truth. The issue, rather, is that many (Burk) feel that a constative statement is the only type we can call “true.” Do you see that?

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  9. Hi Darrell

    Yes, Caputo is certainly attempting to have these two types of truths as in some sense distinct. The question then becomes, how would one distinguish between a performative truth and untruth, without tying that to constative truths. If we can't do that, then Burk may well have a point. Perhaps Caputo addresses this problem.

    Bernard

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  10. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “Yes, Caputo is certainly attempting to have these two types of truths as in some sense distinct. The question then becomes, how would one distinguish between a performative truth and untruth, without tying that to constative truths. If we can't do that, then Burk may well have a point. Perhaps Caputo addresses this problem.”

    Perhaps the point is that we don’t need to. You suggest a problem where none exists. Thus, Burk has no point, since he is trying to do the very thing Caputo is noting we need not do, namely posit constative statements as the only true statements.

    But I agree, perhaps Caputo addresses this further and that would certainly help.

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  11. Hi Darrell

    Do you mean we may not need to distinguish between performative truths and untruths? One implication of this would perhaps be that all stances are necessarily true, and false. Which is interesting, I suppose.

    Bernard

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  12. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    No, in reference to the part of your question, “…without tying that to constative truths.” Caputo's point, I think, is that we don’t need to. And I gave you examples of how we might think about a performative untruth.

    By the way, you may be able to answer your own question here. You already noted that: “In general, I agree with the idea that one can extend the meaning of truth beyond, say correspondence.”

    So ask yourself, whatever that concept is you are thinking of, of something that could be true- but not in a correspondence way, how would you know if it turned out not to be true?

    If you cannot think of a way it might be untrue, then it’s possible you don’t really believe that something can be true or untrue outside of correspondence. If you can think of a way, then you have answered your own question.

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  13. Burk says:

    Darrell, Bernard-

    I have to protest the confusion that seems to reign here. Performative speech is a very simple concept: speech that accomplishes some act or intention other than simple description. Since it is not describing something, but rather doing something, its truth value is not judge-able on the basis of descriptive accuracy, i.e. our typical conception of truth.

    “Performative utterances (or performatives) are defined in the speech acts theory (part of the philosophy of language) as sentences which are not only passively describing a given reality, but they are changing the (social) reality they are describing.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Performative_utterance

    For example, suppose a couple is getting married, and the man says, “I do”, and the woman says “I do not”. Each speech act is performative, but the man's could be called false, or impotent, as the intended act was not executed.

    That is all there is to it. There is no new realm of transcendent truths to be uncovered here, and if one stakes the truth of god on such performative speech, then it is a far weaker concept than I believe you are interested in defending, from all I understand.

    One can take the performative concept to the next level, where it suggests that most speech has performative aspects, even when it is nominally descriptive, since it paints a picture that is unique, different from all other pictures, whether intended to be descriptive or not. But that hardly helps either, since however many imaginary models one has in mind, there is only one reality outside to which to apply them. So their individuality doesn't create any new truths, only inaccurate (or at best perspectival) versions of a single truth. And if they were not about reality, then their truth is entirely subjective, or socially constructed, etc.

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  14. Hi Burk

    I have seen descriptions of the performative theory of truth that are slightly different from the description you are offering which seem to say that when we make a truth claim, we are performing a desire that others believe, and that this is all truth claims can be (similar to the way a pragmatist might suggest that all truth claims are statements about what it is useful to believe) and that any other attempt to think about truth is meaningless.

    I don't think Caputo can be getting at this, as these usually replace, rather than compliment, alternative truth theories. So, I'm assuming he has something else in mind, but can't see what it might be.

    Darrell, I was just noting that the example you used for judging an untruth relied upon a constative truth (your conception of what is just) and wondered if there is another way of doing that within the performative framework.

    To answer your question, one might use other criteria, say via pragmatism, but depending upon the form of pragmatism, that is indeed either subservient to constative truths, or allows contradictions (which both lead to criticisms of pragmatism). Just trying to get a handle on what you understand by performative truth, as definitions are everything in these types of discussions.

    Bernard

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  15. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “Darrell, I was just noting that the example you used for judging an untruth relied upon a constative truth (your conception of what is just)…”

    But my conception is not a constative truth. I cannot point to it like I can the flowers blooming outside my window. It indeed, does not rely upon the constative.

    You seem to be missing the very difference Caputo is trying to point out.

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  16. Darrell says:

    For reference from the post:

    “So here we run into a kind of sublunary truth that tended to be overshadowed in the history of philosophy, the little truth that is to be made or done, as opposed to the truths that I utter in making true statements about things—as when I remark that the tree outside my window is in bloom. Austin calls this latter type of truth a ‘constative’ truth. In the history of Truth from Plato to Hegel, constatives gradually come to hog the stage, a process that reaches its peak in modernity. Philosophers favour truth ‘claims’, true assertions about things, true propositions, sentences that get things right or pick out the objects in the world, as if we pass our days ‘looking at’ the world and reporting the results to one another.”

    Like

  17. Hi Darrell

    Yes, I may well be missing the difference. I had it that constatives were propositions, not just of the physical kind (there is a flower) but also of the aesthetic kind (the flower is beautiful) or moral (best to leave the flower there, for others to enjoy).

    The distinction then becomes between these propositional (or, if you like, correspondence truths) and some other type, being called performative.

    If, however, performative truths are also propositional, and simply refer to propositions that extend beyond the realm of the material, then I have misread this entirely. I am also missing the part the performance plays in establishing the truth of these types of propositions.

    Bernard

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  18. Burk says:

    Hi- This review is a decent presentation of the problems afoot here.

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  19. Thanks Burk

    That's a well written review, and seems to suggest that Caputo doesn't ever get around to defining what he means by truth, which would be a problem.

    Darrell, is this unfair? Maybe he gets to this later in the book?

    Bernard

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  20. Darrell says:

    I would think it clear that Caputo says up front, from the very beginning, how he thinks about truth(s). And it’s not a question of defining or stating a single definition, which is what no doubt frustrates the reviewer. He’s looking for the very thing Caputo is writing against and is not going to do. Such is the reviewer's problem. Caputo isn't going to write at the end of the book, “Oh, by the way, I'm now going to do what I've been criticizing and said we cannot do by providing you a single definition of truth.”

    So I do think it unfair. The reviewer writes:

    “Caputo may protest that some of what I have said confines us to the truth of “propositions” or “assertions,” a subject-matter which he repeatedly says is too narrow for a theory of truth. By contrast, Caputo yearns for a return to a view of truth as “the sun, an all-encompassing horizon in which we live, something that inspires love and desire”—the kind of thing that might even be equated with God. I find some of these metaphors hard to understand. But I want to resist Caputo’s suggestion that a view of truth as a property of propositions precludes thinking of truth as something to love. A dispassionate theory of how to understand what it is for something to be true does not preclude love for truth, any more than a dispassionate theory of why the sun sets does not preclude a love for beautiful sunsets.”

    This is a good example of misunderstanding Caputo. Nowhere does Caputo say that correspondence “precludes” someone from loving the truth. What Caputo says is that correspondence, alone, doesn't require love or passion for the truth, since it simply states the truth about something (the earth is round) and the “truth” of that matter/fact remains- whether or not one loves that truth or not. The brute fact is indifferent to how we feel about it. Caputo’s problem is with those who elevate this one type of truth (correspondence/constative) to a place over and above a truth one must love, like the truth of justice.

    Further, the reviewer is not addressing the true problem. It’s not that a theory of truth regarding why the sun sets precludes loving sunsets. It’s that the theory regarding how the sun sets (mechanistic-physics) is presented as the only thing we can call true, while our love of sunsets is seen as something less.

    The reviewer’s complaints seem to arise from either misunderstanding Caputo or they mimic the types of complaints one could lodge against any philosophical work.

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  21. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    “Caputo’s problem is with those who elevate this one type of truth (correspondence/constative) to a place over and above a truth one must love, like the truth of justice.

    … It’s that the theory regarding how the sun sets (mechanistic-physics) is presented as the only thing we can call true, while our love of sunsets is seen as something less.”

    Here is the problem. You and Caputo seem to have such a high regard for this word “truth”, that you wish to attach it to things you have great interest in, but which it has no business being attached to.

    Love of sunsets is not “less” than a scientific truth. It is different. Is one sunset “truer” than another one? No, that is no way to talk about sunsets in the first place. The absurdity should be very clear here. If I like one better than another, does that make it truer? Are Disney sunsets the truest of all?

    Likewise with justice, which deals with the good, not with truth. Better justice is gooder than worse justice or injustice. Truth has nothing to do with it. This is of course why a definition of truth would be so helpful, to avoid this pitfall of calling everything you like “true”, and everything you don't like false.

    It is not a problem of the scientists or materialists, but your problem of some kind of philosophy or science envy, or a reflex of religious thought that equates belief, and faith with goodness and truth (!)… that this discussion (and book) seems to want more to muddy waters than clarify them.

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  22. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “Love of sunsets is not “less” than a scientific truth. It is different. Is one sunset “truer” than another one? No, that is no way to talk about sunsets in the first place. The absurdity should be very clear here. If I like one better than another, does that make it truer? Are Disney sunsets the truest of all?”

    You miss the point. It's not really about sunsets (that would be absurd). It's about that “truth” that “event” that is possible when we are taken with such beauty (wherever found). You are right that they are different. But difference doesn't mean one is less true than the other.

    There is no envy at all. The only envy is on the part of those religious fundamentalists who want to copy the epistemology of modernity–those like JP Moreland. Caputo on the other hand is saying, let's not go down that road at all, because look at the damage–look at what it reduces truth to (mechanics).

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  23. Burk says:

    Darrell-

    I am thinking it might be helpful to pose the question, whenever the word “true” is used here, to ask- true to what? True is more transitive than intransitive, always having an implicit standard. Am I true to my church? To my image of morality, my artistic taste and self-understanding, to reality? Each of these are different things, pretty easily distinguished by the standard the truth refers to.

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  24. Hi Darrell

    The reviewer makes an interesting point, I think, with regard to the definition apples. He says, for a definition to make sense, it must identify a commonality. So, although of course we might speak of many kinds of truth, for truth to be a meaningful term, it must refer to some thing that all examples of truth have in common.

    So, what is it that the constative and performative truths both have in common? If we could clear this up, I think we could work out whether Caputo is indeed adding something to the discussion of truth.

    Thoughts on what this might be?

    Bernard

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  25. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “…pretty easily distinguished by the standard the truth refers to.”

    The standard is the very thing disputed. What is the standard? And it won’t help to simply say the standard Caputo is saying shouldn’t be the only one (constative).

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  26. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    I hear Caputo saying what they have in common is they both refer to “truths”, just in different ways and to different types of truth. But they are not different in such a way that the constative reigns over the performative as it has come to do in modernity—and that is the point here. If you or Burk wants to make that opposite point that only the constative refers to “truths” while the performative refers to something else- then please do. You said you thought that correspondence truths were not the only type of truths. As I noted already, if you can give us an example, then you have answered your own question. If you cannot, then perhaps you don’t really believe there are other types of truth. Is that possible?

    I don’t think the apple analogy works, because Caputo is not saying there is nothing in common between the two types of truth.

    Like

  27. Hi Darrell

    Yes, I agree, Caputo does appear to think there is something in common between the two types of truths, just as all apples share something in common. But what might this commonality be? You offer that they both refer to truths, but that is like all apples have in common the fact that they are apples. For this to become meaningful, we need to get into the defining characteristics, so that we can see what is being spoken of. For apples, this might be the shape, the seeds, the taste, heritage, some genetic markers, whatever. What then, do constative and performative truths have in common? I can't quite see this.

    You're right, I have no trouble imagining non-correspondence definitions of truth, many have been offered in philosophy. So, pragmatism might offer that the binding quality of all truth is its usefulness, and hence when a pragmatist speaks of something being true, we have a clear idea what they are getting at.

    Not sure what Caputo's binding quality is, and the reviewer seems to suggest he doesn't offer one. How do you see this?

    Bernard

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  28. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    What you are missing is the materialist doesn’t believe that both constative and performative statements are equally true (See Burk). We have to keep in mind why Caputo is even bringing the two types up in the first place. The materialist doesn’t say, “Well, what do they have in common?” No, he says, “What you are calling an apple is really an orange.”

    That is the issue. The reviewer misses this too. The issue is not what they have in common; that is a side issue at best. The issue is can we allow that a performative type truth is as “true” if you will, has the same gravity, the same weight, as a constative truth. Caputo is suggesting we can and I agree, as you well know.

    “You're right, I have no trouble imagining non-correspondence definitions of truth, many have been offered in philosophy. So, pragmatism might offer that the binding quality of all truth is its usefulness, and hence when a pragmatist speaks of something being true, we have a clear idea what they are getting at.”

    Well, I thought you were going further than suggesting something you could “imagine.” The question is- do you really think there are truths that are not founded in a correspondence fashion-not is it possible. Again, if that is the real issue here, why not just address it?

    The other issue to keep in mind here and I know this bothers all the analytical philosophers, but it could be there in no single binding aspect to a performative truth. Again, Caputo’s point is to let truth be. The obsession of modernity to define, map, dissect, and control our world is the very thing a performative type truth evades. By the way, I’m not sure pragmatism falls into a performative type truth. A corrupt judge might find it “useful” to let a truly guilty person off in exchange for money, but this would not be justice. Justice evades and escapes a calculation based entirely upon usefulness because it begs the question, what is “useful”?

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  29. Hi Darrell

    I'm not sure we can say it's a side issue. If there is no commonality, then the term has no meaning. The term apple only has meaning because there are some qualities that all apples possess, that allow us to use the term meaningfully. Were this not true, then we could reasonably refer to all things as apples, and the term loses its usefulness.

    I would suggest the term truth must identify some quality, if it is to be useful. or else we are saying nothing more interesting than 'all things are true' for if truth has no binding characteristic, then presumably nothing could be excluded from the definition. Do you imagine this is Caputo's agenda?

    Bernard

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  30. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    What I’m telling you is that your obsession with wanting a “definition” might be the very problem. Moreover, I think all the previous posts on Caputo make it very clear he is not arguing “all things are true.” I think my example of justice tells us the same.

    Look back at the context of the reviewer’s apple analogy. Here is where it comes from:

    “Given the title, one might think that the central question of a book like this would be ‘what is truth?’ Ten pages in however, Caputo announces that this question has no answer, for ‘there is no such thing. Instead there are truths—many of them, in the plural and lower case.’ Caputo sets himself the task of trying to defend this claim while, on one hand, avoiding the absolutism of ‘One Big Truth’ and on the other hand, ‘not ending us all up in the Relativist ditch of ‘anything goes.’”

    So clearly, that is not Caputo’s agenda. Further, the analogy of truth and apples just doesn’t work in the way the reviewer wants it to. If a child were to ask what an apple is, we would show them an apple. Truth is not like that, although, in a way it is. If a child were to ask what truth is, Caputo might answer, we would “show” them (the performative) by walking over to our neighbor’s yard and raking up their leaves. But I doubt the reviewer would get that. Regardless, not only is this a side issue (commonality), it isn't even the right analogy. And the only reason it comes up is for the very reason Caputo is arguing this case: The need of modernity to define, map, dissect, and reduce everything to one thing.

    How about addressing Caputo’s main point?

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  31. Hi Darrell

    I suppose I would hold that for the term apple to be meaningful, there must be some common thing that binds all apples (even if this definition might become fuzzy at its edges). If we can not say what all X's have in common, then I'm not sure I see how we can hold that some thing is Not-X.

    I agree, Caputo does not want to appear to admit all things as truths. He seems to think truth refers to something important. But by what criteria, then, might we exclude something as not true?

    Your justice example appeared to do it by referring to constative truths (the judgement did not match the moral truth of the situation). But if this is how Caputo does it, all of his truths would become truths by dint of their reference to a constative truth. At which point it becomes difficult to see what his idea of performative truths meriting attention would be about.

    I would guess then that this is not how Caputo defines truth. You argue that an obsession with definitions get sin the way, but without such a definition, how can we sort truths form non-truths? And if we can not, how accepting all things as true? This is what puzzles me with the Caputo view as you're expressing it.

    It may well be that definitions are not important to you on this matter, in which case there's nowhere for this conversation to go. Just thought it worth asking.

    Bernard

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  32. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “Your justice example appeared to do it by referring to constative truths (the judgement did not match the moral truth of the situation).”

    I addressed this. It doesn’t refer to a constative truth. A moral situation is not a constative truth. It is not like saying, “The flowers are blooming outside my window.” If Caputo thought performative truths relied upon constative truths it would defeat his entire purpose in discussing them.

    “You argue that an obsession with definitions get sin the way, but without such a definition, how can we sort truths form non-truths? And if we can not, how accepting all things as true? This is what puzzles me with the Caputo view as you're expressing it.”

    Caputo gave us examples of constative and performative truths. The examples define. I don’t see the problem. What I do see however, is no one addressing Caputo’s main point and reason for bringing up the two types of truth in the first place.

    How about starting there and then seeing if the other questions are addressed in the process.

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  33. Hi Darrell

    You write 'the examples define.' I simply don't see how this can work, perhaps I'm being dim. While we learn how to apply definitions by observing examples, this works precisely because there are qualities that bind the groupings together. We are able to work out what apples are through observation precisely because the grouping apple displays commonalities, and these commonalities, taken together, define the group. No commonality equals no definition, as far as I can see. If I say the word dringle refers to any member of the group containing cars and watermelon, I've not defined dringle.

    So, what, to your mind, binds performative and constative truths? I don't get it.

    Bernard

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  34. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “So, what, to your mind, binds performative and constative truths?”

    I already addressed this—here it is again: “The other issue to keep in mind here and I know this bothers all the analytical philosophers, but it could be there in no single binding aspect to a performative truth. Again, Caputo’s point is to let truth be. The obsession of modernity to define, map, dissect, and control our world is the very thing a performative type truth evades.”

    Beyond the commonality of both types of truth pointing and telling us true things about ourselves and the world we live in, perhaps there is nothing more that binds them. So what? What in the world would that have to do with Caputo’s main points or thesis? You are bringing up a minor aspect, a side question, to terms used by a philosopher (Austin) who makes up a tiny portion of the entire book and, in the meantime, not even addressing the reason Caputo borrows the terms from Austin in the first place.

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  35. Hi Darrell

    I suppose the point, to my mind, is that if the attempt to broaden the definition of truth ends up with no thing binding all truths, then we have no way of excluding anything from the truth category, and so all things become true. So, we might say that God is true, or a particular moral code is true, in the same way that Alice in Wonderland is true. And I don't imagine that this is Caputo's intent.

    And so, I think we should be curious about what this thing that binds the performative and constative truths together in the truth category might be. Your suggestion, that they have in common their reference to true things about ourselves and our world simply shifts the problem. What is the quality of a true thing about the world?

    In other words, I think it is very difficult to say anything meaningful of truth without having in mind some sort of truth theory. There is a danger that one might end up saying nothing at all, albeit in an eloquent and emotionally compelling manner. This, it strikes me, sits at the heart of the reviewer's criticism, and I'm simply wondering aloud if that is fair?

    Bernard

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