After truth gives way [Book Review]
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Philosophical Quarterly 61 (243):400-409 (2011)
At first glance, Mark Richard's recent book When Truth Gives Out appears, in the most commendable sense of the word, ‘old-fashioned’. Its central thesis is that truth is sometimes the wrong standard to use when assessing the judgements we make about the world. Not all correct judgements are true, and not all incorrect ones are false. They can all be measured, but they cannot all be measured in the same way. Many of the heroes of old, ensconced in philosophical Valhalla, are no doubt blowing their trumpets in approval. The heroes did not see truth as easy to come by. Far from it. Truth, like wealth, was to be earned, the product of hard epistemological work and stern semantic discipline. Much of what we say and think did not live up to their exacting standards for truth. Morality, literature, poetry, politics, philosophy, psychology and much else besides were often judged lacking. Consequently either we were to believe that all opinions in these matters were equally mistaken, or we were to look for explanations of why we say and think what we do about such things other than the desire to know the truth. We were expressing our sentiments, or prescribing, or commending, or manipulating. But in making such judgements, we were not judging what was true or false. Such were our choices. Grim, surely, but heroic choices often are. So, like the heroes of old, Richard thinks that truth does not live everywhere. In this respect, he is aligned with such worthies as Hume, Russell, Ayer, and one or other of the Wittgensteins. But it is there that the resemblance stops. For in point of fact, Richard's way of approaching these matters is importantly new. This is an outstanding and original work of analytic philosophy, one that manages to be both deep and sensible; it rewards careful study, and defies easy categorization. In what follows, I shall illustrate the distinctiveness of Richard's approach, and the problems it consequently faces, by asking two questions about some of its key elements. The first question concerns what his picture tells us about what remains when (absolute) truth gives way. The second concerns what it tells us about truth. These are hardly the only important aspects of his view – I shall be ignoring, for example, his discussion of emotivism, and a stellar discussion of the semantics of epithet – but they are some of the most fundamental.
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