This topic may seem obscure and irrelevant to your life, but think again.
How can you read the Bible and its historical background, for example, if you let hyper-skeptics kick sand in your face during your devotionals and personal study?
This article provides three ways for you to be confident.
However, this may shock hyper-skeptical philosophers, who dominate the professional philosophy departments, but we can be highly accurate about reality. We really can know things “out there” that are independent of our minds.
These theories of acquiring truth can clarify matters for you.
1. Correspondence theory of truth
It is time-honored. Most philosophers throughout history have held to it. At its simplest, it says that our beliefs must correspond or fit the facts existing independently and outside of our mind in order for the beliefs to be true. True belief is called knowledge or truth.
For example, one such belief can be stated in a proposition: “Pictures hang on the wall in the hotel room.” The proposition is true if and only if pictures hang on the wall. I unlock the door and see with my own reliable eyesight that there are pictures hanging on the wall. The proposition that reflects my belief fits the fact. I now have knowledge about that aspect of the design of the hotel room.
The correspondence theory is based on commonsense that our grandparents use (or used) every second of their waking life, such as driving down the road or walking in a room without crashing or bumping into things. The theory also depends on the reliability of our five senses. Yes, my five senses are much, much, much more reliable than otherwise. This theory of truth should be our anchor about reality. The next two theories depend, somewhat, on this one.
I like to keep things simple. In the end, the first theory is my anchor. The last two depend on it in some way and to some degree.
2. Coherence theory of truth
A network of beliefs should cohere together in order to arrive at the truth.
For example, the belief that a man can jump twenty feet straight up without assistance does not cohere with my other beliefs. If I see this happen with my own eyes, then I must investigate it. Thus, more facts have now come in. The fence was blocking my view of a trampoline, and the man who leaped straight up twenty feet has practiced a lot.
Another example of coherence is the clues at a crime scene. The facts—note how I now depend on the correspondence theory of truth—must cohere together in order to point to the suspect (John Fieser and Norman Lilligard, Philosophical Questions, Oxford UP, 2005, pp. 365-77).
3. Pragmatic theory of truth
It’s about what works. According to this theory, “truths are beliefs that are confirmed in the course of experience” (Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed. Cambridge UP, 1999).
To cite a simple example, we come to know that the key is the right one because it opens the lock. Further, in the moral realm, we come to know that murder is wrong because of practical experience and a negative outcome. Murder causes a lot of grief for people, and it tears the social fabric. It does not work in society. That is a negative outcome. So we devalue it and value the opposite, enjoying life, a positive outcome. But note how this theory also depends, at least in part, on facts “out there” or independent of our minds before we can draw inferences that lead us to the truth. A lock and key must exist in the real world, and so must a dead body and our enjoyment of life.
It’s time to wrap this up.
Epistemology, the study of how we define and acquire knowledge, is my least favorite area of philosophy.
A professional philosopher, so hyper-skeptical, if he or she is still reading this article, is chuckling at it. But it is intended for nonspecialists. Of course, philosophers argue over the theories, but together the theories go a long way to safeguard the security of our knowledge, as opposed to postmodern hyper-skepticism, anti-realism, and anti-foundationalism. At least now web readers know that there are alternatives.
Professional philosophers have confused things, and this lack of clarity dominates the discussion. But outside of the office and classroom they live by beliefs that correspond to facts. For instance, if their classroom theories cause doubt about driving a car safely, then their theories fail my driver’s test, as I call it. However, our knowledge of the real world out there can be strong and reliable. We nonspecialists need to know that there are alternatives to postmodern excessive doubt.
On a personal note, my motto has been: I will follow the facts, for they will safeguard me from outlandish conclusions. Thus, the correspondence theory should not be abandoned in favor of postmodern hyper-skepticism that tosses us here and there without an anchor. So I prefer the correspondence theory because I seem to live by it every day without thinking twice about it.
It is commonsense—which our grandparents had (or have). Long live reality and my accurate perception of it with my reliable senses!
For a very good survey of the first two theories, as they relate to postmodernism, I recommend this book. The Christian author argues most strongly for maintaining the correspondence theory. I agree. We should not give up on it.
For the entire series, please visit these articles posted at americanthinker.com between March 17, 2007 and May 12, 2007. This post updates Part Seven.
1. Postmodernism and the Bible: Introduction
2. The Origins of Postmodernism
3. Postmodern Truth Soup
4. Deconstruction: a primer
5. The Deconstructed Jesus
6. The De-Deconstructed Jesus
7. Alternatives to Postmodern Hyper-skepticism
8. Postmodernism and the Bible: Conclusion
You can also read how I have fun with Derrida and deconstruction, here: