Friday, August 31, 2012

Truth, by Alexis G. Burgess & John P. Burgess - Book Preview

Alexis G. Burgess’ & John P. Burgess’ book Truth (Princeton University Press, 2011) surveys the current (early 21st century) discussion of theory of truth in English-speaking analytic philosophy for advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students in philosophy. The authors take a particular interest in what interesting qualities all truths might have in common (besides being true), and what is (and what might explain) the practical utility of truth.[1]

In the Introduction, the authors explain how 20th century philosophy of truth centered on a three-cornered debate between (1) realists’ metaphysical conception of truth (correspondence), (2) idealists’ epistemological conception of truth (coherence), and (3) pragmatists’ ethical or utilitarian conception of truth. At the turn of the beginning of the present century, the central debate is between (1) contemporary realism, (2) antirealism, and (3) deflationism about truth. Each of these “isms” has many different versions.

After a chapter on Alfred Tarski’s (1901-1983) contribution to the current discussion which is divided into nontechnical and more technical sections, chapters three through six survey the field of this contemporary debate. The authors express sympathy with the general idea behind deflationism, but dissatisfaction with any of the deflationisms on offer. They consider objections that deflationism cannot explain why truths are useful and that both deflationism and realism neglect the evaluative role of truth. In the chapter on antirealism, the authors attempt to disentangle difference uses of the label “realism”, and present the work of antirealist as opposing “realist” truth-conditional semantics to “antirealist” verification-conditional semantics. They also discuss the pluralist view that realism is appropriate to some domains of discourse while antirealism is appropriate to others.

Burgess & Burgess regard it impossible (or at least unhelpful) to keep separate discussions of the (in)solvability of paradoxes attached to truth and related alethic notions (such as the liar paradox and Russell’s paradox in set theory), on the one hand, from discussions of the nature of truth, on the other hand. The final two chapters of the book provide an account of the work of Saul Kripke (b.1940), and a survey of some proposals seeking to improve upon Tarski and Kripke. They consider, among other proposals, the defeatist view that the intuitive notion of truth is incoherent and so the paradoxes are ultimately unresolvable. They also point out the connection between the (in)solvability of the paradoxes and the debate between deflationist and inflationist accounts of truth.

I hope to find in this relatively short and accessible text a framework for understanding and interacting with the current discussion on theory of truth represented by the articles published in New Waves in Truth (eds. Cory D. Wright and Nikolaj J.L.L. Pedersen, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). I have felt sympathies with both realism and pragmatism for a long time, and have some curiosity about antirealism and deflationism, but have often felt confused by discussions of theory of truth that I have encountered, mostly while reading about expressivism, realism, and antirealism in metaethics. I anticipate this study will better equip me to participate in discussions of metaethics, metaphysics, and philosophy of language.

Authors’ Bios
Alexis George Papantonopoulos Burgess (A.B., Harvard ’02, Ph.D., Princeton ’06) teaches at Stanford University. He writes on fictionalism and nonfactualism, and teaches courses in metaphysics.[2] John Patton Burgess (Ph.D., Berkeley ’74) teaches at Princeton. He does technical work in philosophy of logic and philosophy of mathematics.[3]

[1] Burgess & Burgess, Truth, p. xi.

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