- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (April 24, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0801484103
- ISBN-13: 978-0801484100
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,662,303 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Realist Conception of Truth 1st Edition
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"From the standpoint of both general readers and professionals in the field this may be one of the best philosophical books to come along in some time. . . . The depth, the scope, and the clarity of Alston's analysis is matched only by that of the great philosophers with whom he contends. Highest recommendation for all collections."―Choice
"Much in this book deserves agreement and applause; it is argued with care, subtlety, and good sense. "―The Journal of Philosophy
"Alston's book makes a distinguished contribution to thought about truth, both in its positive proposal and in its sustained criticism of epistemic conceptions. . . . His book is mandatory reading for anyone with even a slight interest in truth."―The Philosophical Review
"This excellent, ludidly written study contains many valuable insights."―Erkenntnis
"The most conceptually discriminating treatment of alethic realism available and a major contribution to the philosophical investigation of truth. This book will save many philosophers from the multitude of confusions in current philosophical literature on truth."―Paul K. Moser, Loyola University of Chicago"Easily the most penetrating and comprehensive analysis and critique of anti-realist theories of truth available, along with a vigorous defense of the realist account. With the publication of William Alston's book, the common dismissal of the correspondence theory of truth as outmoded has itself become outmoded!"―Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale Divinity School
From the Back Cover
One of the most important Anglo-American philosophers of our time here joins the current philosophical debate about the nature of truth with a work likely to claim a place at the very center of the contemporary philosophical literature on the subject. William P. Alston formulates and defends a realist conception of truth, which he calls alethic realism (from "aletheia", Greek for "truth"). This idea holds that the truth value of a statement (belief or proposition) depends on whether what the statement is about is as the statement says it is. Although this concept may seem quite obvious, Alston says, many thinkers hold views incompatible with it - and much of his book is devoted to a powerful critique of those views. Michael Dummett and Hilary Putnam are two of the prominent and widely influential contemporary philosophers whose anti-realist ideas he attacks. Alston discusses different realist accounts of truth, examining what they do and do not imply. He distinguishes his version, which he characterizes as "minimalist", from various "deflationary" accounts, all of which deny that asserting the truth of a proposition attributes a property of truth to it. He also examines alethic realism in relation to a variety of metaphysical realisms. Finally, Alston argues for the importance - theoretical and practical - of assessing the truth value of statements, beliefs, and propositions.
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for all p, the proposition that p is true if and only if p
The book could be seen as fleshing out this statement and comparing it to alternatives in recent literature (especially to so called “epistemic” theories). Alston claims that his account can work for other truth-bearers than propositions which is his own preference (which he argues for in passing). Although some of his later arguments seem to hinge on the truth-bearers being propositions.
Alston’s realism is not a “robust” theory of truth; he does not take up the challenge to defend the idea of an objective reality related to our thoughts by the property of truth. But he touches on this idea indirectly at times (although briefly), especially in his responses to points made by Putnam.
The T-Schema is on the surface very similar to Tarski’s classic formulation (briefly: ‘p’ iff p). But Alston explains how they differ in a few ways. Tarski shows how truth can be applied to sentences recursively in artificial languages, these are well understood formal objects that work extensionally, and truth is relativized to each language. Alston aims for something informal that could work globally for any (human?) language. Tarski’s equivalence relation is material equivalence (as defined by standard truth-tables). Alston’s equivalence relation is one of necessary, analytical, conceptual truth. These are the more important differences. Alston means to say that if you see that the T-schema is displaying a necessary, analytical, conceptual truth then you have arrived at the “realist conception of truth”. If you add to this the thesis that truth is important, you get what Alston calls “Alethic realism”.
One interesting realization I made is how little this discussion about truth have to do with questions about relativism and other truth denying, at least as far as I think people commonly think about it. Even if you like Ramsey think that ‘truth’ is not a property you could still informally be a “truth seeker”, i.e. someone who tries to maturely navigate his cognitive environment, make fair assessments of different opinions, gather more information, draw logically valid inferences and other such epistemic virtues. The same goes for someone who denies that the principle of bivalence is accurate for all our inquiries (Dummett) or even someone denying that the world can be known without some significant structuring of it (Kant, Putnam). So Alston’s discussion in this book, to my mind, is almost exclusively among people who already find the “truth seeking” part important. They only differ in which theory they think best make sense of “truth talk”. This is something I think potential readers should be aware of.
As I mentioned before, Alston wants to steer away from more robust accounts of truth and he therefore have to comment on how something so loose as his realism can be non-trivial. The account is not trivial partly because there is on the left side of the T-schema a statement about a proposition, it is on the thought side of things. On the right is a statement about how something _is_ which is a claim about some sort of reality. The concept of realistic truth is to grasp this as a necessary analytical, conceptual truth and we can be shown, through the T-schema, the tight connection between thought and “reality” as they are both expressed by the same sentence p! Having said that, I really think it can be questioned how important this displayed connection really is when it is compatible with such a wide variety of metaphysical, epistemological and semantic positions!
But on the other hand, we might expect that our common human nature should give us at least some common ground as of what truth is. So in this regard it could be viewed as a strength, something we would like to have in a theory of truth.
I have merely touched on a few of the things about this book. The discussion of Dummett's "anti-realism" and Putnam's model dependent ideas about truth are both excellent, interestingly Alston finds both compatible with a realistic conception of truth. The books real strength to me was the way in which it provoked a lot of new ideas in me by being so strangely vague in its thesis. Balancing between being trivially true and being substantial. Totally irrelevant and fairly important.
Alston ends his book by defending its importance. He does this more or less by stating that it is good to be clear about things in general, especially important concepts like truth. Well yes and no. For one, couldn’t nitpicking certain definitions and distinctions be a distraction to real relevant issues? I would have hoped for a lot more from Alston when he gave his motivation for this study. Honestly the book gives me the overall impression that the “concept” of truth is rather unimportant. What’s important is our belief in "it" and "its" relevance to knowledge seeking and moral conduct. Let’s be “clear” about _that_!
I still have a deep respect for Alston, but I can’t feel but a little disappointed at the dryness of this book. His obvious commitment and passion for truth is severely missing from his own account of it.
Does he deliver? Kind of. Some chapters are quite complex (convoluted?) and I am not entirely sure what is going on (more on that below). Other chapters, such as the ones on justification and metaphysical realism, are quite fascinating, but even then there is a problem: Alston will then say the conclusion to the previous discussion isn’t necessary to alethic realism. Not surprisingly, this is a disappointment to the reader.
Alston’s two sub-theses:
Our concept of a propositions is a concept of the content of a belief (2).
Our basic grip on propositions is by way of their furnishing content for illocutionary acts and propositional attributes (Alston 20).
Alston calls this position an “inchoate correspondence theory,” and I think he is correct in where he takes it. From here he examines alternative models offered by Quine, Putnam and others. To be honest, I am not entirely sure what those discussions were about.
My confusion over the book’s “flow” is not unique to me. Alston mentions another review who admitted the same thing (quoted on p. 263). I agree with a mild form of epistemological realism, and I even agree with a moderate metaphysical realism. I simply think Alston could have established his thesis in only 150 pages, if that.