The Myth of the Coherence Theory of Truth

Although its use is not universal, there is a map of the logical space of theories of truth that is widely applied. According to this map, the most foundational divide amongst theories of truth is that between deflationary and inflationary theories, where, roughly, the former hold that truth is an insubstantial, logical property of little philosophical interest and the latter that it is a substantial property suitable for philosophical attention. Amongst the inflationary theories, there are other fundamental divisions. For example, on the one hand, correspondence theorists hold that the truth of a proposition is a matter of the proposition’s standing in a relation to something else which is not a proposition, such as a fact. On the other hand, coherence theorists hold that the truth of a proposition is a matter of its relations to other propositions. And again, pragmatists hold that the truth of a proposition is a matter of its being useful to believe. Throughout the twentieth century, philosophers used one or other version of this map to orient themselves and their students in the often complex and confusing debates about truth, even while acknowledging that the map may be incomplete in crucial respects (it does not include functionalist and pluralist views, for example). Our objection to the map is not that it is incomplete—although it obviously is—, but that it needs to be radically redrawn. In particular, the familiar division between coherence theories and correspondence theories needs to be rethought. The coherence theory is so often glibly dismissed as absurd that labelling someone as a coherence theorist is often seen as reason enough to ignore them.1 While none of the philosophers usually so labelled should be ignored, we shall argue (§3) that none of them actually held this view anyway. The difficulty—perhaps impossibility—of finding a genuine coherence theorist of truth strikes us as more than just an indication that this is a rare animal. Rather, it suggests the possibility of something significant, namely, that the only occupant of this position in historical space is a set of slogans; this would give us some reason to suppose that the logical space of theories is just as empty at this point..
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