Alston: A Realist Conception of Truth

  1. Thesis: alethic realism; sees truth in the sense of a statement is true iff what is said to be the case actually is the case (Alston 5).  Interestingly, Alston contrasts his model with epistemic accounts of truth–those accounts that see truth has needing internal access or justification.  Is alethic realism then a form of externalism?
    1. Truth Propositions
      1. Our concept of a propositions is a concept of the content of a belief (2).
      2. Our basic grip on propositions is by way of their furnishing content for illocutionary acts and propositional attributes (Alston 20).
    2. Minimalist account of truth: inchoate correspondence theory; makes a distinction between the concept of a thing and the property of a thing, the latter of which can have many features.  A property of something may have many features which are not reflected in the concept of truth.  
    3. Deflationary accts of truth: mistake to suppose there is a property of truth that one attributes to statements.
      1. speech-act theory:  claims that when we make an apparent truth-statement, we are not attributing truth to anything, but only engaging in a speech-act (43). 
        1. But is this true of all speech-act theories?  This would not apply to realists like Wolterstorff.
  2. Alethic realism and metaphysical realism
    1. Metaphysical Antirealism (Flat denials)
      1. extreme version denies existence of propositions, facts, God, etc.
        1. Zeno, Parmenides
        2. Are they denying facts or just properties?  A property on this view could exist without any connection to ultimate reality.
        3. Quine: 
    2. Metaphysical Antirealism: Reductions
      1. Simply saying all Xs are Ys.
      2. Denies connections between things.  More common version of nominalism.
    3. Realism and Idealism
      1. idealism reduces nonmental to the mental.
        1. the kind of idealism that is incompatible with realism is constitutive dependence: space, substances, etc. are constituted by their dependance on mind.  
          1. Does not deny the reality of the external world; only says that they are mental in nature.
        2. Kant: partial dependance.  
    4. Boundary between flat denials and reduction
    5. Logical relations of metaphysical realism and alethic realism
  3. An epistemological objection to alethic realism
    1. “We can never get ‘outside’ our thought and scrutinize reality itself” (86).
      1. But:  even if this is true, it doesn’t affect the theory itself.  Only the knower.
      2. But:  Must we claim a pure, unmediated perspective?
      3. Perception is a direct mode of awareness of facts.  
  4. Verificationism
    1. “Doesn’t the notion of verification presuppose a notion of truth, one that is independent of verifiability, independent in the sense of not being definable by verifiability, since verifiability, on the contrary has to be defined (partly) by truth” (125)?
  5. Hilary Putnam’s Internalist Realism
    1. Seems like a form of idealism/coherentism.
    2. Alston insists that alethic realism stands or false independent of any critique of metaphysical realism.  I suppose, but metaphysical realism is the best way to rebut Putnam.
    3. Alston’s position:  “The real, independently existing world, the nature of which makes our statements true or false, is one with which we are in contact already through our experience, thought, and discourse” (148).
  6. Putnam, contd.
    1. Holds to a particular sort of mind-dependence.  Every fact is a fact within a conceptual scheme, to which there are acceptable alternatives.
    2. However:  we maintain that truth is evidence-transcendent.  
  7. Epistemic Alternatives
    1. idealization of rational acceptability
    2. Alston’s use of the term justification:  any positive epistemic status that constitutes truth (190).  
    3. ideal epistemic conditions:  a belief to be true would be justifiable in all situations where relevant evidence is available.
  8. A Survey of Justification Options
    1. Problems with deontology
  9. Post-script terms
      1. Notae Bene
        1. emotivism: evaluative utterances are not intended to be assertions of fact or truth, but only of the utteree’s dispositional attitude.
        2. indexicals: token reflexives
        3. sentence types: ordinarily what we call a sentence.
        4. sentence tokens: an utterance or inscription of a sentence type
        5. maker: person who utters propositions.
        6. sense-datum: nonphysical direct object of sensory awareness
        7. Mereological terms: entities whose identity-conditions are given completely by what their constituents are.

Review

Alston begins on a promising note: defend the reality of truth as corresponding to an extra-mental state of affairs.  His Thesis: alethic realism; sees truth in the sense of a statement is true iff what is said to be the case actually is the case (Alston 5).  Interestingly, Alston contrasts his model with epistemic accounts of truth–those accounts that see truth has needing internal access or justification.

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.

Evaluation

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.

 

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