18 April 2010

Not all redundancy theory is alike

Deflationism as to truth is a major trend in epistemology, at least in English speaking countries, one that has lasted throughout much of the 20th century into the 21st. But let us back up a bit: century ago, a triangular debate was underway as to the Meaning of Truth. The correspondence theory, affiliated with various forms of realism about the external world, represented one corner of this triangle. The coherence theory, affiliated generally with idealism, represented another, and pragmatism the third. But the deflationists sought to ring the bell and end the fight, declaring that "truth" doesn't mean anything interesting, i.e. that the grand metaphysical puzzle of its significance is actually a hot air balloon.

Personally, my view is that deflationism is well and good, but if the air is let out of this balloon it will go somewhere else. The matters that Russell, Royce, and James debated back in the old days under the label "truth" will still have to be thrashed out under other labels.

Today, I wish simply to observe that not all deflationism is alike. One variant of deflation is the "redundancy theory of truth." According to this view, to say "it is true that the grass is green" is the same thing as to say "the grass is green," so the extra words are redundant. One of those extra redundant words, of course, is the word "true," no matter how attached to that one we tend to be. Other forms of deflationism give the concept of "truth" some minimalist function. It is not just redundancy. It is, for example, a type of performance. Or a way of creating emphasis (like using italics in the way I just did.) Still, the hot-air of metaphysics is to be deflated.

Now comes a further revelation. File this under the heading "philosophy is fractal." For it appears that not all redundancy theories of truth are alike, either. According to Pierre le Morvan here, there are at least three distinct redundancy theories: a "robust" redundancy that Morvan associates with W.E. Johnson; a skinnier redundancy that Morvan calls the "received interpretation," and an intermediate view he associates with Frank Ramsey.

His explanation of the differences among these, though, makes my brain hurt, so further into the exploration of this Mandelbrot set I will not press.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.