Truth, trust, and rules

“I was born for this, and for this I have come into the cosmos: that I might testify to the truth; everyone who belongs to the truth hearkens to my voice.”

Pilate says to him, “What is truth?”

John 18:37–38

[P]ublic goods [roads, schools, etc.] can be understood as goods to be achieved by individuals qua individuals, and to be enjoyed by individuals qua individuals, while common goods are only to be enjoyed and achieved . . . by individuals qua members of various groups or qua participants in various activities. (MacIntyre, Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity, pp. 168–9)

What I am trying to envisage then is a form of political society in which it is taken for granted that disability and dependence on others are something all of us experience at certain times in our lives and this to unpredictable degrees, and that consequently our interest in how the needs of the disabled are adequately voiced and met is not a special interest of one particular group rather than of others, but rather the interest of the whole political society, an interest that is integral to the common good. (p. 130)

One of the great originating insights of tradition-constituted enquiries is that false beliefs and false judgements represent a failure of the mind, not of its objects. It is mind which stands in need of correction. Those realities which mind encounters reveal themselves as the are,the presented, the manifest, the unhidden. So the most primitive conception of truth is of the manifestedness of the objects which present themselves to mind; and it is when mind fails to re-present that manifestedness that falsity, the inadequacy of mind to its objects, appears.

This falsity is recognized retrospectively as a past inadequacy when the discrepancy between the beliefs of an earlier stage of a tradition of enquiry are contrasted with the world of things and persons as it has come to be understood at a some later stage. So correspondence or the lack of it becomes a feature of a developing complex conception of truth. The relationship of correspondence or lack of correspondence which holds between the mind and its objects is given expression in judgements, but it is not judgements themselves which correspond to objects or indeed to anything else. We may indeed say of a false judgement that things are not as the judgement declares them to be, or of a true judgement that he or she who utters it says that what is is and what is not is not. But there are not two distinguishable items, a judgement on the one hand and that portrayed in the judgement on the other, between which a relationship of correspondence can hold or fail to hold.

The commonest candidate, in modern versions of what is all too often taken to be the correspondence theory of truth, for that which corresponds to a judgement in this way is a fact. But facts, like telescopes and wigs for gentlemen, were a seventeenth-century invention. In the sixteenth century and earlier ‘fact’ in English was usually a rendering of the Latin ‘factum’, a deed, an action, and sometimes in Scholastic Latin an event or an occasion. It was only in the seventeenth century that ‘fact’ was first used in the way in which later philosophers such as Russell, Wittgenstein, and Ramsey were to use it. It is of course and always was harmless, philosophically and otherwise, to use the word ‘fact’ of what a judgement states. What is and was not harmless, but highly misleading, was to conceive of a realm of facts independent of judgement or any other form of linguistic expression, so that judgements or statements or sentences could be paired off with facts, truth or falsity being the alleged relationship between such paired items. This kind of correspondence theory of truth arrived on the philosophical scene only comparatively recently and has been as conclusively refuted as any theory can be. It is a large error to read it into older formulations concerning truth . . . let alone into that correspondence which I am ascribing to the conception of truth deployed in the early history of traditions.

Those who have reached a certain stage in that development are then able to look back and to identify their own previous intellectual inadequacy or the intellectual inadequacy of their predecessors by comparing what they now judge the world, or at least part of it, to be with what it was then judged to be. To claim truth for one’s present mindset and the judgements which are its expression is to claim that this kind of inadequacy, this kind of discrepancy, will never appear in any possible future situation, no matter how searching the enquiry, no matter h ow much evidence is provided, no matter what developments in rational enquiry may occur. The test for truth in the present. therefore, is always to summon up as many questions and as many objections of the greatest strength possible; what can be justifiably claimed as true is what has sufficiently withstood such dialectical questioning and framing of objections. (Whose Justice? Which Rationality? pp. 357–8)

[N]o one who is engages in a craft is only a craftsperson; we come to the practice of a craft with a history qua family, qua member of this or that local community, an so on. So the actions of someone who engages in a craft are at the point of intersection of two or more histories, two or more dramatic narratives. (Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, p. 128)

“To understand the application of rules as part of the exercise of the virtues is to understand the point of rule-following . . .” (Ibid., 139, emphasis added)

But love your enemies and do good and lend without despairing of it; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Become compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. And do not judge, and you surely shall not be judged, and do not condemn, and you surely shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. (Luke 6:35–37)

[I]ntegralism prevails wherever revelation is presented primarily as a system of true propositions to be believed from above and where, as a result, form is placed above content, power above the cross. The integralist strives by all means, visible and hidden, public and secret, first to gain political and social power for the church, and then to proclaim the Sermon on the Mount and Golgotha from this secured citadel and pulpit.

“See: I send you forth as sheep into the midst of wolves; so be as wise as serpents and as guileless as doves.”

Mathew 10:16

Most of our contemporaries do not . . . for the most part . . . recognize in themselves in their encounters with traditions that they have already implicitly to some significant degree given their allegiance to some one particular tradition. Instead they tend to live betwixt and between, accepting usually unquestioningly the assumptions of the dominant liberal individualist forms of public life, but drawing in different areas of their lives upon a variety of tradition-generated resources of thought and action, transmitted from a variety of familial, religious, educational, and other social and cultural sources. This type of self which has too many half-convictions and too few settled coherent convictions, too many partly formulated alternatives and too few opportunities to evaluate them systematically, brings to its encounters with the claims of rival traditions a fundamental incoherence which is too disturbing to be admitted to self-conscious awareness except on the rarest of occasions.

This fragmentation appears in divided moral attitudes expressed in inconsistent moral and political principles, in a tolerance of different rationalities in different milieus, in protective compartmentalization of the self, and in uses of language which move from one language-in-use through the idioms of internationalized modernity to fragments of another. (The simplest test of the truth of this is as follows: take almost any debatable principle which the majority of members of any given group profess to accept; then it will characteristically be the case that some incompatible principle, in some form of wording, often employing an idiom very different from that used in formulating the first principle, will also receive the assent of a substantial fraction of the same group.) How can such persons be addressed by and become engaged in argumentative dialogue with any one tradition of enquiry, let along with more than one? (MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, pp. 397–8)

. . . a conception of truth beyond and ordering all particular truths; a conception of a range of senses in the light of which utterances to be judged true or false and so placed within that ordering are to be construed; a conception of a range of genres of utterance, dramatic, lyrical, historical, and the like, by reference to which utterances may be classified so that we may then proceed to identify their true sense; and a contrast between those uses of genres in which one way or another truth is at stake and those governed instead only by standards of rhetorical effectiveness. It is only within a community in which to some large degree shared beliefs embodying this fourfold scheme are presupposed in everyday practice — whether or not they are made explicit at the level of theory — the concept of systematic accountability for one’s utterances and one’s actions can also inform the shared life of a community. (Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, pp. 200–201)



Author of the books “Hideous Dream,” “Full Spectrum Disorder,” “Borderline,” “Mammon’s Ecology,” and “Tough Gynes.”

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