Correspondence theory of truth

In the chapter section entitled "Truth" of Michael Lynch's "The Nature of Truth," J.L. Austin's version of the correspondence theory of truth relies on a conventional correlation using a set of two conventions. The first he called a descriptive convention which ties sentences with types of state of affairs (things, events, etc.), to be found in the world; the second are demonstrative conventions that link statements with historic situations (Austin, 27). He goes further and writes, "A statement is said to be true when the historic state of affairs to which it is correlated by the demonstrative conventions (the one to which it `refers') is of a type with which the sentence used in making it is correlated by the descriptive conventions" (28). In this way, Austin proposes how each statement (an utterance) corresponds to both a fact or situation, and a type of situation. But immediately Austin gives a disclaimer. Austin wants to ensure the readers that these historical situations "to be found in the world" are not merely synonymous with "facts." Two suppositions would arise with the usage of the word:

  1. the word "fact" is another way of saying a "true statement." This is exchangeable with the phrase "stating the facts" or "the fact states...."
  2. "for every true statement there exists `one' and its own precisely corresponding fact-for every cap the head it fits "(27).

There is a reason for the disclaimer. For his correlation-conventions type of correspondence theory, Austin wants to avoid these two suppositions. The first gives way to coherence or formalist theories, and the second the isomorphism that Bertrand Russell advocated in the first chapter of Lynch's book, "Truth and Falsehood" (see chapter one). Austin indicates this with the puzzle, "Either we suppose that there is nothing there but the true statement itself, nothing to which it corresponds, or else we populate the world with linguistic Doppelganger" (27).

If the correspondence theorist is not going to be divided by this double-edge sword, a more perspicacious referent for the "real world" must be construed. The aforementioned set of conventions allowed Austin to avoid what he viewed as a problem in a correspondence theory of truth, namely that of an isomorphic congruent of statements with facts (states of affairs) in the world, or an isomorphism of T-value a in correspondence to a non-linguistic entity b. Yet inversely, Austin also did not want a linguistic product to merely match another linguistic entity, or really in this view, vice versa. This would make correspondence theory a tenuous semantic theory of redundancy. The questionable appeal to truth on that account would be at the most the nature of grammar. If I was to utter the state of affair I-am-typing-on-my-laptop, this is really no different from these words: "I am typing on my laptop." The former doesn't indicate anything about the latter, other than what Austin had suggested, a linguistic doppelganger. So to rescue correspondence from this superfluity, Austin had to differentiate his co-relational variety away from the trap of the two suppositions already mentioned that Russell may maintain.

Austin's worry, I think is a way to elevate his correspondence theory of truth above the problem he has identified in Russell's hand-in-glove-fit consequence of mistaking (ii) supposition and also in early Wittgenstein in his Tractatus days. Both account for a relation of "structural isomorphism" or that a linguistic structure and the structure of the world somehow mirror each other, matching in some magical fashion with some unknown knitting force (magical because the relating/structuralizing mechanism is obscure, insubstantial). This is if an identification of a relational mechanism is even possible since such identification would employ (and thus presuppose) human mental faculty that is doing the relating of such an entity, thus amounting to just articulated metaphysics. Russell nevertheless called this, a complex unity of relations, and (from how I understand it) this is similar to Wittgenstein's ideas of verbal complexes combinations. Each theory is supposed to reveal some underlying structure of their truthbearers to reflect perfectly the structure of the corresponding natural world, the truthmaker(s). In other words, there is a truthmaker that allows for a truthbearer, often put as the schema:

If ? , then there is an x such that necessarily, if x exists, then ? (Standford, Truth 3:3).

A thing in the world must correspond with a truth-value bearer (which for Austin would be his conventions). An ontological commitment is necessary for the schema to represent truth. In Russell's schema, ? would fit x like a mirror image commitment. Austin doesn't demand such an isomorphic congruence to show a consistency between linguistic structure and the structure of the world. He needs only apply his double conventions to formulate a correspondence of subject-object unity of an internal ? with an external x, and not just offer two symbols/variables harmoniously hand-shaking each other in a linguistic world of platitudinous diplomacy.

Austin declares one can employ any formality, semiotics, or what-have-you conventions, making them a part of the world. The conventions may be correlated with any historical situation if they are sufficiently communicated. Though the common denominator of correspondence (commitment of reference) is intact, in this way Austin's co-relational variety discounts Russell's isomorphic congruence. He writes, "There is no need whatsoever for the words used in making a true statement to `mirror' in any way, however indirect, any feature whatsoever of the situation or event; a statement no more needs, in order to be true, to reproduce the `multiplicity,' say, or the `structure' or `form' of the reality, than a word needs to be echoic or writing pictographic. To suppose that it does, is to fall once again into the error of reading back into the world the features of language" (30). Austin offers his conventions as a superior correspondence, "A statement is made and its making is an historic event, the utterance by a certain speaker or writer of certain words (a sentence) to an audience with reference to an historic situation, event or what not" (27). The isomorphism is assorted away. But then the question still remains, how do you replace referents with more salient ones, regardless? We go back to the problem of (i), an epistemic access to a metaphysically independent realm. More so, does Austin's correspondence theory really, or literally, have an ontological ground to stand on? Maybe this is not just Austin's problem but all of correspondence theory. If you think about it, we have really just characterized Aristotle's tautological sense of A is A and refashioned the law of identity in modern linguistics of truthbearer is truthmaker circular fiasco. Both notions are mentally constructed and then expressed by language composed of propositions supposedly predicated by an external world, but yet play like a game of textual platitudes and echoes Berkeley's "an idea can be like nothing but an idea."

The correspondence theorists' different terms for their truthbearer are multiple and have been dressed up in various linguistic garbs, like sentences, utterances, statements, propositions, judgments, beliefs, etc. and perhaps the same semantic textile is used to sew the corresponding truthmaker referents of facts, state of affairs that obtain, historical situations, etc. Or perhaps there is no correspondence at all: there is nothing under the referential clothing that Russell knitted with his mental thread. I think likewise Austin's correlating conventions do not go far enough in surmounting the mental-physical reference-redundancy. Linguistic doppelgangers or not, isomorphic or not, the correspondence theory of truth will nevertheless have to surpass this Cartesian impasse if it is to succeed.

Our thoughts regarding the world cannot escape this paradoxical quality inherent in our inquiry. Analytic philosophy employ semantic methods of solving the ancient philosophical dilemma of the subject-object dualism by predominantly enlisting language as possible truth-value bearers, but despite this linguistic approach, reoccurring habits of reference divide a "real world" and what these two words in quotation are supposed to be describing. The issue remains that reference still depends on cognitive concepts we use to describe the world. Whatever we label the real world, whether as "states of affairs" or "facts" we still use our conceptual networking to label them. Like in Austin's correspondence theory of truth, there is still the referential problem despite the discounting of structural isomorphism. And though in linguistic philosophy we rarely allude to this referential problem anymore as some kind of Kantian "Ding-an-sich" and despite all the lingual advances to a theory of truth, debates about accessibility of the real world still occupy, if not allude, us.

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