19 November 2005

What is Truth?

I plan to begin a series of posts examing arguments from Paolo Crivelli's Aristotle on Truth.

One initial concern I have, is that Crivelli presumes from the start that truth in Aristotle is solely a logical notion. He does not consider, even to set aside, whether truth, for Aristotle, has some sort of purpose--that is, whether it has a role in a teleological view of human nature and nature generally--and whether, for Aristotle, truth is also, and perhaps primarily, an ethical notion. Thus, for instance, Crivelli cites the frequent mentions of truth in Nic. Eth. 6 simply as further evidence of cases where Aristotle takes 'true' and 'false' as qualifying beliefs or thoughts. And yet it is plausible to hold that, in the Ethics, truth is a good or goal of the intellect, and that an intellect's getting it right (aletheuein) is the primary notion, whereas what it is to get it right (to alethes) is secondary.

What is the relevance of this? Couldn't Crivelli reply that he restricts his field in advance to truth in Aristotle insofar as it is a logical notion? The difficulty is that, in developing his theory, Crivelli draws crucially on parts of the Aristotelian corpus that are not in the first instance logical, such as Metaphysics V.29 and IX.10. It is from these passages that Crivelli argues that Aristotle thinks that objects--"states of affairs"--and not simply thoughts or statements, are true and false. Yet presumably the sound interpretation of these passages requires that they be set in context appropriately and assessed with respect to Aristotle's broader philosophical purposes. Moreover, in developing a correspondence theory of truth, Crivelli is proposing a theory of truth as having an 'ontological' or 'metaphysical' basis, and thus on his own terms his theory is not restricted to merely logical considerations.

The post earlier, citing a passage from Aquinas, shows how broader considerations might be relevant, and therefore at least have to be considered. If, as Aquinas holds, we use the notion of 'truth' at all (besides 'existing' or 'one') only because we want to indicate something that is the good or goal of the intellect, then that use of the term must be regarded as the central case, with respect to which other uses need ultimately to be understood. If, then, (for instance) we find Aristotle saying something like, "The diagonal's commensurability is false", we would be initially disposed to gloss this as something like: "One is not getting it right in thinking that the diagonal is commensurable".

In a similar way, although to a lesser extent, it concerns me that there is no discussion of Plato, even of a basic sort, in Crivelli's book, since I find that there is hardly any viewpoint in Aristotle, which is not more reliably understood, if put in relation to Plato's thought. It could be the case that Plato turns out to be entirely irrelevant to an Aristotelian theory of truth, and yet, as I see it, this is something that would need to be justified, not presupposed.