Philosophy colloquium, Jack Woods

“The Disunity of Truth as a Working Hypothesis”

By Jack Woods (Leeds, Philosophy) (co-author, Dan Waxman)

Date: Friday, 5th April, 2019 

Time: 1100-1230 

Place: H-232

Abstract:  Many contemporary philosophers are engaged in the project of constructing theories of truth. But what exactly does this project consist in—what are the terms of engagement? Here is a natural pair of views about what we’re up to. First, as a descriptive matter, the ordinary intuitive concept of truth is inconsistent, or at least jointly inconsistent with our actual logical concepts. Second, as a result, the aim of constructing a theory of truth is to provide a revisionary theory which “limits the damage”. And the idea here is to isolate the main functional role that the ordinary notion of truth was supposed to play, and construct (insofar as it’s possible) a maximally strong, consistent theory which best serves that role.

Thinking of things this way, though, invites a question. Why would we think that there exists a single unified role for our notion of truth to play? After all, truth is put to a range of different uses which, on their face, differ wildly from one another. In pure mathematics, we use the notion of truth to distinguish intended from unintended models and to prove otherwise undecidable sentences. In natural language semantics, we use the notion of truth to give a compositional theory of meaning. In studying human behavior, we use the notion of truth to explain how we reliably and successfully achieve our aims. In epistemology, we use the notion of truth as a target for belief, assertion, and justification. And more generally, we seem to use truth in many domains as a mere device of generalization.

Focusing on these quite distinct roles for a truth concept to play naturally leads one to wonder whether a single concept is capable of playing them all. More specifically, once the diversity of roles of truth is made clear, there seems to be space for a radically disunified view of truth: perhaps the aim of damage limitation might be better served by allowing our naive—inconsistent—notion of truth to fragment into several different notions, each of which is locally suited for one of the projects of the kind mentioned above. In other words, these quite distinct roles seem to suggest that we flirt with a version of alethic pluralism.

About the speaker: Jack Woods is University Academic Fellow in Mathematical Philosophy at the University of Leeds. He works in the philosophy of logic, language, and metaethics. He also has interests in ancient philosophy. His recent work has focused on a defense of a conventional approach to normativity, especially the normativity of logic. He taught previously at the Department of Philosophy at Bilkent University and did his graduate work at Princeton University under John Burgess. He has published in journals such as Ethics, Philosophical Studies, The Journal of Philosophical Logic, Nous, and Philosophia Mathematica.


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