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Truth and the company it keeps

Notes on:
Jonathan Dancy, “A Defense of Coherence”

208
The plurality objection stemming from Quine’s underdetermination of theory by evidence suggests that there may be competing coherent systems describing the world (since any system is allowed to reject some recalcitrant data). But if so, no system can be said to be true. Coherentists, such as Bradley, want to insist that there is only one coherent system and that, because it is empirically based, it is self-correcting as it goes. If one, then it makes sense to speak of it as true.

210-211
Nevertheless, there are advantages to holding that there is a relation between a coherent belief set and a coherent set of propositions of a true system. The coherentist ought to believe that we can approach the latter by increasing the coherence of the former. Dancy defends this against those who would hold a coherence theory of justification but not one of truth (Ewing, Rescher, Lehrer), those who are probably scared off by the plurality objection.

[Advantage to us? So it is a criterion of the truth that it be conducive to our projects? Why not just drop the allusion to “truth” altogether and accept that what we want and value is a certain picture of the world that we can work with?… But then, the very idea of truth is a prize catch because it carries with it an implied finality which is what we want to claim for our system. Is that what we want to claim for our system? There is also the concern that as long as the concept—implied finality and all—is out there, unclaimed, it may be used against us, so that is why we want to claim it and why it will not just do to relinquish it and settle on something ostensibly more modest. The powerful symbolism of the truth keeps up the fight for it—or keeps up the use of the term to describe what we have.]

214
Remarking on Bradley’s apparent empiricism, Dancy notes the privileging of sensory experience is in part genetic. It just happens to be the first source of our information input: “genetic asymmetry”. And even though we are pressed to return to sensory input continually, Bradley sees in this no presumption to special privilege. It remains data like any other, to be tested by “system” or coherent integration.

[Suppose someone were to assert that the best way to be sincere or earnest was always to speak out loud the very first thing that popped into one’s mind in all situations—that this was somehow always the best policy on a certain scale of value, say moral or therapeutic. The idea is that second thoughts, revisions, self-censure, etc. or their results would be less reliable indicators of—something. This might be uncontroversially correct if that something were no more than the very first thing to enter our minds. But if the insinuation is that a more interesting or sophisticated truth about our selves would thereby come to light, it seems we would need to hear more argument. (A move reminiscent of certain psychoanalytic practices such as free association, etc.)]

Posted by luno in epistemology (Friday December 23, 2005 at 3:32 pm)
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