Truth, correspondence theory of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N064-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 19, 2024, from

2. The common essence of correspondence theories

If we strip out of Russell’s theory of truth the assumption that beliefs are four-termed relations, and strip out of Austin’s theory his assumptions about meaning being a matter of conventions, we can then encapsulate the two stripped-down theories of truth in these two formulas:

Russell: A belief is true if and only if it is a belief that an object x bears relation R to another object y, and x does bear relation R to y.

Austin: A statement is true if and only if it expresses a state of affairs, and that state of affairs obtains.

If we abstract the common elements of these two theories, we get the following thesis which can be taken as expressing the common denominator of all correspondence theories of truth:

Correspondence: A truth bearer is true if and only if it corresponds to a state of affairs and that state of affairs obtains.

But it must be emphasized that the ‘corresponds to’ in this thesis does not express some particular relation. Rather it should be thought of as a placeholder which any given correspondence theory would replace with some particular and familiar relation. Which relation a particular correspondence theorist would cite will vary, depending on their choice of truth bearer. For beliefs, the relation would be ‘is a belief that’. For linguistic entities such as sentences, ‘says that’ or ‘means that’ or ‘expresses’ would be more appropriate choices. If a proposition is the bearer in question, then the appropriate relation would depend on how one defines propositions. (The differences between the formula expressing Russell’s theory and the schema are attributable to Russell’s conviction that the belief must be isomorphic to the corresponding fact.)

Note that the ‘obtains’ in the correspondence schema does not require that the state of affairs should obtain mind-independently. It is perfectly possible to hold that truth consists in correspondence with facts and to hold also that facts are mind-dependent entities. McTaggart (1921) endorsed such a correspondence theory, and Kant (1781) and Wilfred Sellars (1963) can be read this way too (see Kant, I.; McTaggart, J.M.E.; Sellars, W.). Thus, while most correspondence theorists have been ontological realists, the common belief that a correspondence theory is committed to realism is erroneous.

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

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