Truth, correspondence theory of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N064-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 22, 2024, from

3. Objections to correspondence theories

Traditionally, three kinds of criticisms have been levelled at correspondence theories. The first concerns whatever it is the theory identifies as the truth bearer (beliefs, propositions, statements and so on): some allege that such things cannot, for various reasons, be truth bearers. Second, some allege, about whatever (facts, situations, states of affairs and so on) is identified by the theory as the correspondent of the truth bearer, that such things cannot, for various reasons, serve as the correspondents. Third, there are objections to the alleged relation between truth bearers and reality on the grounds that there is no such relation or that its nature has not been clearly explained by the theory.

The first sort of issue arises with any kind of truth theory, so nothing more will be said of it here. The third sort of objection is rarely legitimate because it aims at the sort of slogans with which correspondence theorists sum up their theories (for example, ‘truth is a correspondence with the facts’) and is thus irrelevant to the theories themselves, such as that of Russell and Austin, in which no such special relation makes any appearance. A closely related objection is that correspondence theories use concepts like ‘belief’ or ‘means that’ which themselves have no undisputed philosophical analysis. But such an accusation is of dubious significance precisely because it is difficult to imagine any philosophical theory against which the same objection could not be made: philosophically important topics tend to link with one another, so such an objection implicitly assumes that a theory does not solve any problem unless it solves every problem.

A correspondence theorist’s description of the connection between truth bearers and facts is largely dictated by the choice of truth bearer anyway. And the latter choice, in turn, is dictated by the needs of the broader philosophical programme which has ‘placed an order’ for a theory of truth. Traditional epistemology is concerned with the comparative evaluation of competing theories about how our beliefs can be justified as likely to be true. But such evaluations would be impossible without first having a notion of what truth, specifically, what true belief, is. On the other hand, the Davidson programme aims to put a theory of truth to work in semantics and, thus, requires a theory of true sentences (see Davidson, D. §4).

Many have rejected the very notion of a fact as some non-linguistic entity existing in the world; facts are really just reifications of true sentences (see facts). The evidence for the claim that ‘fact’ is just another name for ‘true sentence’ is supposed to be that we cannot individuate and identify any particular fact save by using the very same words that we use to individuate and identify its corresponding sentence. There are, however, good reasons for resisting this line of thought. First, it should be no surprise that we cannot specify a given fact save by means of the sentence to which the fact corresponds, because it could not possibly be otherwise. Suppose our language contained a series of nouns (‘Fact1’, ‘Fact2’ and so on) each referring uniquely to a different fact. We could then use these nouns to identify particular facts, but we could also use these terms to make statements. Any expression that could be used to identify facts could be used to make statements. Second, facts can enter into causal relations in a way that true sentences cannot: the fact that the war was lost caused the government to fall, but the true sentence ‘the war was lost’ cannot cause the government to fall. Third, one of the constituents of the fact that the war was lost is a certain war, but no war (distinct from the word ‘war’) can be a constituent of the true sentence ‘the war was lost’.

Some who would accept the existence of atomic facts would still object to the correspondence theory on the grounds that there are no disjunctive, conditional or negative facts; hence, there are no facts to be the correspondents of true disjunctions, conditionals, or negations (see Negative facts). In response to this, a correspondence theorist would rightly note that, on the ordinary sense of fact, it is perfectly correct to say ‘It is a fact that either she gets here on time or I spend the night under a bridge’ or ‘It is a fact that if the donated liver is late, then the patient will die’ or ‘It is a fact that I am not going to make it’. Moreover, a correspondence theory could avoid commitment to conditional, negative or disjunctive facts by giving a recursive analysis of the truth of non-atomic truth bearers.

Citing this article:
Kirkham, Richard L.. Objections to correspondence theories. Truth, correspondence theory of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N064-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Articles