Pragmatic Scruples and the Correspondence Theory of Truth

The correspondence theory of truth has come under attack for many different reasons.  One line of attack comes from pragmatic considerations.  According to the pragmatic maxim, the meaning of any concept lies in its practical bearing upon conduct.  So, if a concept makes no difference practically, then it is “meaningless surplusage.”  Cheryl Misak has argued that the correspondence theory of truth is just such meaningless surplusage because it adds nothing to our concepts of truth or of inquiry to ask whether a proposition that is the best inquiry can do is really true.  Also, she argues that those who endorse the correspondence theory of truth can take it as no more than an article of faith that inquiry leads to the truth.

I defend the correspondence theory of truth against Misak’s charges.  To the first, I contend that there are at least two good reasons for claiming there is a gap between the best inquiry can do and the truth.  The first is a theoretical consideration: scientific inquiry utilizes induction; however, induction can never yield anything but probable—even if highly probable—truths.   Hence, any claim not assumed as a postulate of scientific inquiry must be regarded as dubitable and fallible.  The second is a practical consideration: by acknowledging a gap between the best inquiry can do and the truth, there are always grounds for continuing to pursue inquiry even when it seems we have pursued a line of inquiry as far as it could fruitfully go.

To Misak’s second charge, I argue that the correspondence theorist ought to adopt the Principle of Concomitance as a postulate of scientific inquiry: the results that are the best inquiry can do are concomitants of the truth.  That is to say, the results of inquiry will reliably track the truth in a sufficiently large and varied set of circumstances of the sort we normally encounter.  I defend this principle both on the basis of Peirce’s critical commonsensism and on the basis of Crispin Wright’s theory of entitlement.

Also in this essay are: (a) comments that Peirce himself was a correspondence theorist about truth; (b) a discussion of Hume’s problem of induction and how it relates to the Principle of Concomitance; (c) a discussion of Cartesian skepticism in relation to the correspondence theory of truth; and (d) comments on the uncloseable gap between the best inquiry can do and the truth in relationship to Peirce’s synechism.

For a more recent work on my view of Peirce’s theory of truth, see (2) on my presentations page.