Truth, correspondence theory of

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

1. Two kinds of correspondence theory

Correspondence theories come in two varieties – correspondence as correlation, and correspondence as congruence. The former variety asserts that every truth bearer (proposition, sentence, belief, and so on) is correlated to a possible fact. If the possible fact to which a given truth bearer is correlated actually obtains, the truth bearer is true; otherwise it is false. What the correspondence-as-correlation theory does not claim is that the truth bearer depicts, or is structurally isomorphic with, the possible fact to which it is correlated. Rather, a truth bearer as a whole is correlated to a possible fact as a whole. A correspondence-as-congruence theory does claim that truth bearers and the possible facts to which they correspond have parallel structures. Representing this second school is Bertrand Russell, who affirms that Othello’s belief that Desdemona loves Cassio is a complex relation between Othello (the subject), Desdemona (an object-term), Cassio (another object-term) and loving (the object-relation) (Russell 1912). Truth requires a congruence between this four-term relation and a second, three-term relation called ‘a fact’ which has Desdemona, loving, and Cassio (in that order) as its terms. If such a three-term relation exists in reality, then Othello’s belief is true. If there is no such fact, the belief is false (see Russell, B. §10).

J.L. Austin has offered a correspondence-as-correlation theory. Truth is considered as a single, four-term relation between a statement, a sentence, a state of affairs (that is, a possible fact), and a type of state of affairs. For Austin, a statement is the information conveyed by a declarative sentence. So a sentence is the medium in which a statement is made. And the meaning of statements is a matter of two kinds of conventions that have evolved in our language. First, there are descriptive conventions correlating sentences with types of states of affairs. Second, there are demonstrative conventions correlating statements to particular states of affairs. Thus, ‘A statement is said to be true when the historic [that is, particular] state of affairs to which it is correlated by the demonstrative conventions (the one to which it “refers”) is of a type which the sentence used in making it is correlated by the descriptive conventions’ (Austin [1950] 1970: 121–2). Hence, ‘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’. The correspondence between the truth bearer and the world is ‘absolutely and purely conventional’. For example, ‘the cat is on the mat’ would in an ordinary context refer to the present state of affairs in which speaker and hearer find themselves, along with a cat and a nearby mat. Therefore, if a cat is on a mat in the state of affairs in which the speaker is located, the statement is true because the present state of affairs is of just the type described by the sentence.

In favour of the correspondence-as-correlation view is the fact that some sentences (for example, the Latin word ‘sum’, which translates as ‘I am’) are atomic meaning units which have no internal semantic structure and thus could correlate with possible facts only whole-for-whole.

Citing this article:
Kirkham, Richard L.. Two kinds of correspondence theory. Truth, correspondence theory of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N064-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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