The tension between truth and untruth in Heidegger (SZ period)

Obviousness is a special case of common sense perverting disclosive character and yet it simulates real truth through its certainty and clarity; herein lies Heidegger’s reason for doubting obviousness.

Being-certain is essential to Dasein; it is the reason why we orient ourselves to truth, for truth too is about being certain. So how do we have two senses of truth – the unconcealed and the obvious? And how do these interrelate, beyond sharing the appearance of the key characteristics of certainty and clarity?

Certainty is based on common sense. But what is obvious, i.e. based on common sense, perverts the real truth because it holds something up as open when the thing is still concealed. The consequences of this ‘improper certainty’ are two fold: both the being of that about which Dasein is certain, and Dasein’s own being, are covered up.

In contrast, proper certainty is based on convictions. Conviction in Heidegger’s sense is a holding of oneself in truth or maintaining of Dasein in truth. We comport ourselves to the unconcealment of real truth.

Das Man uses Dasein as a disguise. Thus, when we ask ‘who speaks out in certainty’, the They answers through the mouth of Dasein. This is further evidence of the improper certainty of obviousness, the perversion of unconcealment to mere appearance, or semblance of a coming into the light. In Heidegger’s words, a disguise is “something which has been disclosed [which] is still visible, but as a semblance”.

Only in the mode of genuine authenticity can Dasein fully lay claim to being in the truth, holding oneself in the truth. This is because genuine authenticity renders everything transparent, so Dasein cannot be misled. That is not to say that the threats to truth posed by das Man are warded off, but Dasein now has the power to combat them, not only for itself but also for others as ‘conscience’.

Genuine inauthenticity, on the other hand, is characterised by an indifference towards the substance of truth. Inauthentic Dasein is just ‘going through the motions’, putting on a display of being truth seeking, but not doing it for itself. Other adjectives relevant to this mode of being might be misappropriation and disownment.

When we cash out ‘genuineness’, we are faced with four types of character in two modes of being. Genuineness is appropriation, a concern with truth, and can be divided into proper and improper modes of being. The proper mode is that of the philosopher, whilst the improper mode is the philodoxer. Non-genuineness is misappropriation, unconcern with truth, and can be further divided into non-genuine proper and non-genuine improper. Again, the former is the mode of the pseudo-philosopher whilst the latter is the mde of the pseudo-philodoxer. Finally, genuineness is completed by authenticity, whilst non-genuineness is completed by inauthenticity, in the manner described above.

The philodoxer and the pseudo-philosopher are united by their orientation toward the public realm, although they inhabit two sides of genuineness. The philodoxer fails to make distinctions and as such is often prone to being misled by the pseudo-philosopher, who simulates truth claims by putting on the appearance of authenticity. Meanwhile, the pseudo-philodoxer simulates allegiance to untruth through the disguise of das Man. The philosopher might be said to be addressing his claims to the pseudo-philodoxer for this reason, as the latter has a chance at being liberated since he was once oriented toward truth. The relation between the philosopher and pseudo-philodoxer is also characterised by absence – both are excluded from the public realm, neither can converge on common ground, and both therefore exist in solitariness.

Having got to grips with the four possible modes of being oriented toward truth, we can ask ourselves where obviousness might fit in. As we have said, truth is in the mode of genuine authenticity, because this is the only mode devoid of semblance. It is the philosopher alone who can lay claim to truths.

Obviousness, linked to common sense, would fit within the public realm. It cannot be said to be oriented toward truth because it obstructs truth, as we have seen above. Thus, obviousness gives rise to pseudo-truths. But it nonetheless shares a structural likeness with genuine inauthenticity, the mode of the philodoxer. One explanation for the undecideability of obviousness is that it reveals a tension in Dasein between being in truth and untruth simultaneously. Perhaps it is the fate of Dasein that this tension cannot be adequately resolved.

So what do we do? Hopefully this analysis has shown us that, whilst we can be certain in a pragmatic sense – it helps us to get on in the everyday course of our existence in the world particularly in our interactions with others – it is unwise to use that certainty to buttress a more essential view of truth itself.

This article was useful in analysing obviousness within Heidegger’s earlier thought.


Some thoughts on the idea of a truth commission

Even a cursory glance across the history of the twentieth century will reveal plentiful transitional periods precipitated by regime change. The struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the nationalist Serbian rule under Milosovic and, of course, the fall of German National Socialism: all of these represent regime changes that seem to demand an answer from the newly emerging democratic nation state to the question: should we forget or remember?

Transitional periods face many systematic challenges, but perhaps the most essential question is whether a nation can really face the present reality and future possibilities without confronting the past, however painful that process may be? On the other hand, what are the benefits of turning over the past? Or, more importantly, who are we trying to benefit?

The sense of delivering justice to those who were victimised is what constitutes the justification for bodies like a truth commission. The form that justice takes, however, is likely to far from conventional. In the cases of war crimes, genocides, mass rape and so on, criminal justice is deemed to be inappropriate or insufficient. Such is the gravity of the crime, that the parameters of justification must be enlarged from our everyday criminal proceedings, to capture additional senses: the political, compensatory, restorative, and transformative.

The entity of the truth commission itself has a specific set up. First, it is focused on the past. Second, instead of documenting individual cases, it aims to document the greatest number of human rights violations possible. Third, it is an extraordinary body, existing for a limited period of time and with the expectation that the final report submitted constitutes the closing of that particular body. Finally, it would appear to have a certain amount of authority, nonetheless this is granted by the political body that establishes it.

We cannot lose sight of the fact that there is no guarantee that facing up to the past ensures future stability in the emerging democracy. On the other hand, there is a stronger sense that best way a nation has a shot at moving forward is by creating a whole new moral foundation for the community. Regimes pervert a sense of right and wrong by appealing to their own ethical framework. Thus, it isn’t as simple, post regime change, as replacing the governing elites and instituting a new political framework, since the ethics of the nation – people’s hearts and minds – have become distorted. Hence the requirement for a new moral foundation.

It is not the role of the truth commission to come up with a new set of moral standards, by measuring what has passed before against a vision of the newly democratic nation in question. Rather, the commission facilitates a population’s ability to reflect, introspect, and ultimately come to terms with history rather than burying it deep down. In effect, the truth commission enables a mastering of history. Establishing the truths about a state’s past wrongs can help lay the foundations for the new order, but it is not up to the commission to say what that new order is.

Might a truth commission be bound to deliver an ‘official’ truth? How do we know for sure that it won’t be influenced by strategic interventions on the part of the new political order? In a sense, we can’t say with certainty that this won’t happen. Aside from the threat of strategic intervention, these are are real people and as such bring a set of real lived experiences to the table. It wouldn’t be possible to segregate those experiences, to look at the facts of the matter, because the process and the end result would be meaningless to practice. No, better to accept the limitations that bound the commission and the people who make it up, than to seek a purely objective insight into historical matters.

In sum, the objective of a truth commission is not to produce a new set of moral standards, but, in calling attention to the conditions in which violence etc can arise, to try to make sure  that such events can’t happen again.

Glossing Heidegger on the Essence of Truth

The Questionworthiness of Our ‘Self-Evident’ Preconceptions Concerning ‘Essence’ and ‘Truth’

When we ask the question ‘what is that?’ we are asking after the essence of the thing. But do we not already know the ‘that’? ‘Indeed, must we not know them in order afterward to ask, and even to give an answer, about what they are?’ Must we not be able to use the word ‘table’ in order to even point to the object, and in so using the word be able to call to mind functional characteristics of the object at the very least? Questions so phrased seem to push us toward an a priori understanding of essence. But what is it about essence itself that makes a thing what it is? The essence is the universal, the common feature, the something in general. And yet, it is precisely in our grasp of the particular that we are able to formulate generalisations. By observing what all particular objects hold in common, we are able to extrapolate and pronounce the class of objects as universals. ‘Thus too,’ Heidegger says, ‘in the case of our question “what is truth?”’

So we unpack our question ‘what is truth’ by asking ‘what is the essence of truth?’ We are already familiar with particular truths – from the mathematical to the observational – but what is the essence of these particular truths? They contain ‘something true’. And wherein is that truth contained? It is in the propositions themselves, such as ‘2+2=4’ or ‘it is cold outside’. Thus, truth consists in the content of propositions corresponding with the facts about which they are saying something. We can verify that 2+2 does equal 4 through a simple calculation, and that it is cold outside by opening a window. And we can generalise these particulars through the maxim: being-true consists in correspondence. ‘So truth is correspondence, grounding in correctness, between proposition and thing’.

This is a quite peculiar situation. For not only do we know particular truths, but it would seem that the question we asked previously on the essence of truth is also answered! Not only do we know the essence of truth, we must necessarily know it for how could we otherwise name truths? ‘We could not otherwise bring forward what is stated and claim it as truth’. Not only do we know the essence of truth (correspondence), we also know the meaning of essence itself (universal) and in what essence consists (essence-hood). So why do we still inquire into the essence of truth? What is intelligible is what is understood by us, through our ability to measure, survey and comprehend a thing’s basic structure. What is intelligible is thus self-evident. But is the maxim ‘truth as correspondence’ really intelligible?

Correspondence is a being-toward the thing; the measure for the proposition consists in the correspondence between it and the thing. So do we not know what and how the thing is about which we speak? ‘Such knowing can only arise from knowledge, and knowledge grasps the true, for false knowledge is no knowledge at all’. What is the true? True is what is known, that which corresponds with the facts. The proposition corresponds with what is known and thus with what is true. So are we then left with the definition: true is correspondence with something corresponding?! And so to leave ourselves open to correspondence ad infinitum? What was the first correspondence? Is it not itself a ‘resemblance’, correspondence under another name? ‘Since everything is discussed in a groundless and formal way, we obtain nothing at all intelligible with the concept of truth as correspondence. What presents itself as self-evident is utterly obscure’.

We began by defining true in terms of propositions. But we also call things and beings true. ‘What does true gold correspond with, if being-true means correspondence?’ True is – in truth! – more ambiguous than we first thought. Are we to conclude that truth means something different in different cases? What then is its proper meaning? Does one usage have priority over another? If neither has priority, must we conclude instead that the common derivation consists in something expressed other than correspondence? ‘Truth as correspondence (characteristic of the proposition) is thus ambiguous, insufficiently delimited in itself or determined in its origins. It is therefore not intelligible, its self-evidence is illusory’.

Before, we defined essence as that which determines particularities in general, ‘in respect of what they are’. Essence is the universal, the what-being. And we applied this definition through the example of things – tables, chairs – quite different indeed from truth. Does it follow that the essence-hood of essence is also quite different in both cases? More pertinently, were we justified in ‘transposing’ our conception of essence-hood in things to truth? Even if we grant that essence-hood is the same in both cases, do we really understand the what-being – the definition of being that is at stake in the case of things and truth? The answer is we don’t understand it, we cannot clarify it, and yet we speak of it in such assured self-evident terms. ‘At bottom, what we are asking about remains unintelligible’.

We have said that we have knowledge of particulars, and that through our knowledge of these particulars as such, we already know the particulars in their essence. Indeed, we held that it is necessary to know the essence of the particulars otherwise we would not be able to recognise particulars at all from within their universal class. But why is it necessary? ‘Is it an accident, simply a fact that we register and submit to? Do we understand the essence-hood of essence if we stand helplessly before this peculiarity? Not at all. Essence and essence-hood are also in this respect unintelligible’.

Even assuming that the essence of truth is as we originally claimed, correspondence between proposition as fact and concerning universals governing particulars, are we really able to take this self-evidence as the ‘foundation for our investigation, as vouching for itself and as something secure and true?’ On what have we secured this understanding, how is self-evidence a guarantee for truth in and of itself? ‘How much has been self-evident and obvious to us humans and yet later turned out to be illusory, the opposite of truth and sound knowledge! Thus our appeal to self-evidence as the guarantee of truth is ungrounded and unintelligible’.

That which is self-evident enters into us without us having to do anything, without us having to actively perceive or take anything on. We find it so. But, and this is the devastating question in the whole piece, who are we then? And why is it that we are the ‘court of appeal’? Is what is self-evident to us really to be taken as the ‘ultimate and primary criterion? We don’t even properly understand what is at stake, let alone why it must be us to arbitrate the debate. ‘Do we know whether in general, within which limits, and with which deficiencies, the self-evident can and may be a standard for human beings? Who tells us who the human being is? Is this not all completely unintelligible?’

And so Heidegger has unraveled what at first seemed unshakeable. I will quote his concluding paragraph in full:

‘We began by defining the essence of truth as correspondence and correctness. This seemed self-evident, and therefore binding. Now, already after a few crude steps, this self-evidence has emerged as thoroughly incomprehensible; the concept of the essence of truth in two respects, the concept of the essence-hood of essence in two respects, the appeal to self-evidence as the measure and guarantee of secure knowledge again in two respects. The seemingly self-evident has become incomprehensible. But this means, in so far as we want to linger over and further examine this incomprehensibility, that is has become worthy of questioning. We must first of all ask how it comes about that we quite naturally move and feel comfortable within such self-evidences. How is it that the apparently self-evident turns out, upon closer examination, to be understood least? Answer: because it is too close to us and because we proceed in this way with everything close. We take care, for example, that this and that is in order, that we come here with pen and exercise book, and that our propositions, if possible, correspond with what we intend and talk about. We know that truth belongs in a certain way to our daily affairs, and we know quite naturally what this means. It lies so close to us that we have no distance from it, and therefore no possibility of having an overall view of it and comprehending it’.

Truth as One: A Reading of Michael Lynch

Truth as One

The Correspondence Theory of Truth is held as the realist position because it takes seriously the claim that there is one objective world about which we can have objective knowledge. The Objectivity Truism is at its heart, whether it be Plato, Aristotle or contemporary theorists who are writing from that perspective and it is commonly objected to on the grounds that the theory is vacuous, merely restating a platitude and consequently adding nothing to truth as such. Today, Correspondence has grown or developed into Representationalism. It is manifest in disciplines beyond the boundaries of philosophy, such as cognitive neuroscience, which holds that the mind represents the world and that beliefs are the vehicles of representation.

Representationalism can be traced back to early Wittgenstein and Russell in the early twentieth century; for these philosophers, correctly represented beliefs are ‘true’ beliefs, a la correspondence theory. True beliefs represent facts, which are in turn constituted by objects and/or properties, thus facts, importantly, are not metaphysically distinct from objects or properties. What is the element of the belief which represents the object or property? Concepts: these are the ‘components’ of belief. And thus we have contemporary naturalistic representationalism.

Representationalism is essentially a two-part theory of truth. In the first element, the truth of a belief is defined in terms of the representational features of its component concepts. Hence the representationalist’s basic intuition that beliefs are true because their components stand in certain representational relations to reality, and that reality is a certain way. This basic intuition can then be applied to more complex propositions. The second element is a theory of how concept denote objects or properties. For some, such a theory is explanatorily trivial in that all a theory of denotation amounts to saying is:

<c> denotes x iff c = x

Contemporary philosophers, however, regard a theory of denotation as a substantive issue, claiming that denotation can be explained naturalistically, in the same way as psychology provides an explanation of perception. There are, briefly, two theories of denotation: causal and teleological. The former prioritises appropriate conditions whilst the latter prioritises the biological/evolutionary function. In essence, both can be thought of as a framing hypothesis for naturalistically investigating mental representation.

Both the causal and teleological theories can be combined with a model of representation to give a representational theory of truth that not only incorporates truisms as part of the theory, but also offers an explanation of those truisms:

(CC) Causal-correspondence: The belief that a is F is true iff the object causally mapped by <a> has the property causally mapped by <F>

(TC) Teleological correspondence: The belief that a is F is true iff the object functionally mapped by <a> has the property functionally mapped by <F>

Another criticism of the representationalist’s position is about the possibility of unbelieved truths; for example, is it possible that a proposition is true or false if there is no possibility of discovering warrant for the proposition? In answer to this objection, one could go the way of Donald Davidson and dismiss the significance of them altogether, for nothing would be true or false if there were no thinking creatures. On the other hand, if you want to take the objection seriously, representationalists can argue for a subjunctive bi-conditional (norm of belief), such as:

(UB): The proposition that p is true iff were the proposition that p to be believed, the belief would be true

Representationalism also helps us to answer other interesting questions such as: why is truth an aim of inquiry? Answer: a truth making property is regulative of any practice aimed at belief; inquiry aims at truth because true beliefs are those that correctly represent the way the world is. The representationalist’s theory of truth is also a component part of a relatively simple way to explain interesting phenomena like intentionality. On this theory, truth is reductively explained in terms of an internal connection with representation. As such, platitudes have to be combined with concepts like represent/causal in order to give an informative an explanatorily interesting account of the nature of truth. Overall, we can conclude that representationalism is a successor theory of truth to older correspondence theories of truth and, far from being a decrepit topic in metaphysics, representationalism is taken seriously beyond the boundaries of philosophical discourse including in the scientific realm.

There are, nonetheless, particular problems with representationalism. The first of these is the problem of scope. TC and CC are only plausible in the case of ‘middle sized dry goods’ [Lynch, p.32], that is where we can make a statement that is responsive to the action of <F>. Responsiveness is plausible if mental states with a certain content <G> are causally responsive to an external environment that contains this content <G>, hence the conclusion that truth or falsity rests on the correct assertion of the proposition and the content matching that proposition. Responsiveness is not so plausible if the states or content are not causally responsive, that is, if there isn’t enough <G> to make the content of the proposition correct. Thus, some other account of what makes these statements true comes into play.

As it turns out, Lynch argues, the representationalist is committed to two further conditions. First, that true beliefs map objects that exist and have mind-independent properties (realist position). Second, that objects and properties that are so mapped are capable of entering into at least indirect causal interaction with our minds (causation position). Thus, because of these additional commitments, the scope problem arises because it seems highly implausible that all of our true propositions can fulfil the conditions demanded. For example, in the case of mathematical or moral truths such as ‘2+2=4’ or ‘torture is wrong’, how do our minds interact with numbers? How is wrongness a natural property? Even if we reject (2), non-naturalist correspondence theorists are still committed to the concept of mind independence, but how is that legal facts, for example, are mind-independent when they are the paradigmatic mental construction?

Various ‘isms’ have been constructed in order to deal with the scope problem, such as expressivism, fictionalism and error theory (not an ism, fair enough, but you get the point). But for Lynch, the sheer fact that these are even necessary points to the seriousness of the criticism and, moreover, it isn’t clear that any of the modifications have sufficiently overcome it. Thus, ‘the more substantive the correspondence theory becomes – as when it is seen as part of a larger theory of representation – the more it is vulnerable to the scope problem, and the less plausible it is as a universal theory of truth’ [Lynch, p.35-6].

On the opposite side of the ring, we have antirepresentationalism and superwarrant. For early twentieth century thinkers such as C.S. Peirce, truth is defined as the End of Inquiry, that is: “The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to be all who investigate is what we mean by truth”. For the representationalists, what is true is so because something makes it true. For Peirce and the pragmatists, what is true is so because we agree upon it. In contemporary philosophy, Putnam has expanded upon the early antirepresentationalist intuitions through a theory of internal realism that claims that a proposition that p is true if the proposition that p could be warranted to believe in ideal epistemic circumstances for assessing the proposition that p. Positive aspects of Putnam’s account include his use of the subjunctive to get around having to claim the actuality of ideal epistemic circumstances, and that circumstances are not global but tailormade for each particular beliefs.

There are, however, some negatives, in particular the ‘conditional fallacy’. Crispin Wright has posited ‘superassertability’ to overcome this problem, or the ‘superwarrant’:

(SW) Superwarrant: A belief is true iff it is superwarranted

The benefits of SW are that it negates entirely the concept of ‘ideal’ epistemic conditions, since a belief is warranted by the information available at that present time to ordinary inquirers. Thus to be superwarranted is to be continually warranted at each stage of inquiry without defeat. Disagreements still arise amongst defenders of superwarrant, for example: is inquiry strongly incomplete? What is the nature of warrant? In answer to the latter question, defenders might align themselves with a coherence theory of truth, thus SW becomes SC: A belief that p is true iff that belief is supercoherent.

Other positive aspects include being able to incorporate the objectivity truism into the theory, if one is accepting of two further platitudes: 1) when I believe that p, things are as I believe them to be iff p; 2) the metaphysical view of idealism: p iff the belief that p is superwarranted. Moreover, it entails an attractively simple theory of content, which both explains how we grasp content and how we manifest that grasp in our behaviour.

Antirepresentationalism falls prey to the scope problem, though obviously for different reasons than did representationalism, for (SW) both requires that all content is non-representational and implies that truth is globally epistemically constrained. Now, in the case of some normative truths such as what is deemed to be ‘funny’, or legal truths, epistemic constraint seems plausible, for why would there be a truth for something if no one could ever be warranted in believing it? On the other hand, epistemic constraint becomes implausible when we try to apply it across the board: there must be some truths for which no evidence will be available on principle. Lynch refers to this as ‘humility in the face of the size of the universe [which] seems to demand that’ [Lynch, p.43]. But SW would force us to deny this, therefore resulting in the ‘absurd consequence’ that one must argue that all truths are justifiably believed by someone, or face admitting that the theory is limited in scope.

A second criticism results in a similarly absurd consequence; the ‘many systems objection’, which was pre-empted by Russell, argues that there could be more than one supercoherent system but SW has no way of showing us why two instance of P could not be members of rival systems. Even if one were to argue that supercoherence is predicated on propositions that are undefeasible – even from challenges from rival systems – defenders are still only able to say of one system of belief that it is primary ‘just because it says of itself that is so’: an absurd consequence. The antirepresentationalist faces two options: she can either restate the claim that what make <F> true is that it is a member of S (which leads to absurdity through not answering the many systems criticism) OR she can accept that propositions are not true in virtue of being members of S (which means abandoning coherence as a theory of truth altogether). Thus, there is no way to give an account of warrant apart from one that goes ‘all the way down’ and results in these problems.

The net result is that Lynch can now cite the scope problem as ‘entirely general’: ‘for any sufficiently characterised truth property <F>, there appears to be some kind of propositions <K> which lack <F> but which are intuitively true (or capable of being true)’ [Lynch, p.49]. The scope problem paves the way for Lynch to bring in his third alternative to dealing with the problem. Whilst the traditionalists ‘go for broke’ and damn the counterexamples, and the deflationists dismiss the whole project of a metaphysical account of truth altogether, functionalists argues that there can be more than one property that makes beliefs true. This is the third way that Lynch argues for throughout the rest of his book.



Unworthy Preconceptions of Truth


We know that truth belongs in a certain way to our daily affairs, and we know quite naturally what this means. It lies so close to us that we have no distance from it, and therefore no possibility of having an overall view of it and comprehending it.

So the first thing must be to distance ourselves from this self-evidence, to step back from it so that what we so readily conceive as truth can be left standing and resting by itself. But where are we to step back to, from where are we to observe the self-evident?

(Heidegger, The Essence of Truth)

I’m trying to go back to the beginning myself; the way forward in this project will come through a careful consideration of what is essential to a definition of truth. Heidegger teaches us that when he talks about going back to the beginning, back to the Greeks, back to aletheia, to unhiddenness, to see the eroneousness of our path from aletheia to adaequatio. More from Heidegger coming up shortly.

Michael Lynch: Functionalism and Logical Pluralism

Truth, Consequence and the Universality of Reason – Michael P Lynch

Lynch writes from the perspective of an alethic functionalist, that is ‘truth is a functional property that can be realised…in more than one way…If truth were a functional property, then our true beliefs about the concrete physical world needn’t manifest truth – or “be true in the same way” – as our thoughts about matters where the human stain is deepest, such as morality or the law’ (3). So defined, truth is an immanent property. This core truism about truth allows us to retain the intuition that truth is one, as well as saying that the ways in which it is manifested can be many. That is, functionalism entails pluralism about truth.

In this chapter, Lynch is concerned with the consequences of the pluralistic definition of truth in terms of its relation to different domains of reason or inquiry. Though analysis of the truth property in atomic propositions appears, superficially at least, to be reasonably straightforward (p is true if and only if p is true), compound propositions – and mixed compounds in particular – present a set of problems for the alethic functionalist.

Mixed compounds are demonstrated by propositions such as ‘murder is wrong and the book is on the table’. The problem points to a deeper concern than a merely technical issue; specifically, how do we reason across different domains of inquiry? For if what is true varies across different domains – from the moral to the physical in the example above – then how can reason be universally applicable in different domains? We could potentially wind up with as many ways of reasoning as there are propositions.

One strategy in the case of mixed compounds stems from the definition of mixed inferences: ‘a valid inference is one where truth is preserved across its manifestations from the premises of the argument to its conclusion’. Analogously, The recursive strategy would apply the theory in the first instance to atomic propositions, and then understand compound propositions as ‘a truth-function of the atomic proposition of which it is composed’. But does this mean that compound propositions have a truth of their own or not? For the functionalist, compound propositions are true without manifesting truth. They thereby follow thinkers like Russell and Wittgenstein, who claimed that logical constraints do not manifest [themselves].

Thus, compound propositions are only true in a derivative sense. This claim accords with another Wittgensteinian intuition that the only thing that makes a compound true is the truth of its component parts. Moreover, the functionalist view parallels truth-maker theories, which similarly hold that there are no compound truth-makers. There are costs involved with holding this view, however; Lynch argues that holding the extensional definition of the truth disjunctive requires us to revise the original theory. The original theory looked something like this:

For all propositions P, P is true if and only if it has a property that manifests truth.

This must now be replaced with the following characterisation:

A proposition is true iff it manifests truth or is a derivatively true truth-functional compound proposition.

Thus, the property of truth can either be held or derived, leading to the claim that it can be manifest in more than one way, described below in relation to domain-specific logical pluralism.

Lynch doesn’t think that replacing the original theory with the above characterisation is a problem. The functionalist can adopt a weak grounding principle to show how compounds supervene on the atomic; the principle holds that there can be no change in the truth-value of some atomic proposition. Furthermore, manifestation, as a reflexive relation, allows the functionalist to say that ‘when a proposition is true only by virtue of self-manifesting truth, we can say that the relevant proposition is plainly true’. That is, a compound proposition is plainly true if their truth-value is grounded. This view is amenable to the functionalist because she is already committed a) the thought that what’s true depends on what is true in a particular way, and b) via her account of propositional domains, to the idea that true atomic propositions have further properties like superwarrant, which manifest truth.

We now come round to what seems to be Lynch’s principle concern, namely, the problem of logical pluralism and whether the functionalist is committed to this view. Logical pluralism is the view that there is more than one logic governing our reasoning. It therefore begs the question is there more than one way for an argument to be valid?

Beall and Restall are two contemporary logical pluralists. They put forward the claim that an argument is valid if and only if, in every case where the premises are true, so is the conclusion. This minimal concept of truth, they argue, can be further enriched, but only if the enrichment stems from additions that are necessary, normative or formal. Thus the classical and constructivist formulations:

Classical: An argument is valid if and only if in every possible world where the premises are true, so is the conclusion

Constructivist: An argument is valid if and only if at every possible stage of inquiry where the premises are true, so is the conclusion.

The latter formulation is similar to the functionalist’s account of superwarrant, whereby stages of inquiry are both extensible (additional information might always come in) and inclusive (all successive stages of inquiry include the information warranted at previous stages).

Domain specific logical pluralism (DLP) holds that the classical formulation might apply in some cases, and the constructivist might apply in others. Lynch is quick to point out that there is no direct route from functionalism about truth to DLP: just because there is more than one way for a proposition to be true does not mean that there must be more than one way for truth to be preserved from one proposition to another. There could, however, be an indirect link, for if there is more than one way to manifest truth, and some of the manifesting properties are epistemically defined properties like super warrant, and some not, then different domains will admit of different manifestations of the consequence relation. That is, some argument forms are valid in some domains and not others. Nonetheless, Lynch argues that the functionalist is still not committed to DLP, for she can either deny that truth is variably manifested or claim that our truisms about truth constrain the logic that governs any given domain. In spite of the get out clause provided, Lynch claims that the functionalist will probably still allow for some version of DLP, but she would ‘do well to be modest’, and claim:

Modest: where a compound proposition or inference contains propositions from distinct domains, the default governing logic is that comprised by the intersection of the domain-specific logics in play.

Realism after the Linguistic-Pragmatic Turn

Published in Cognitio, São Paulo, vol.  4, n. 2 (2003), pp. 211-226

Realism after the linguistic-pragmatic turn – Theresa Calvet de Magalhães

I really am very grateful to Professor Ivo Assad Ibri for having not only  invited me but insisted that I participate this year in the 5th International Meeting on Pragmatism and for this unique opportunity after living for the last 25 years in this wonderful country to return to Peirce. It is also for me a great pleasure to be able to meet now not only the members of the Center for Studies on Pragmatism of this University but all the Brazilian and American  Peircean scholars who are attending this Meeting. But I am not going to talk about Peirce. I chose perhaps a sort of strange path to return to Peirce, reading Habermas and Searle. I certainly hope to have better luck now than I had back in the 1970’s when I began, quite innocently, to study  Peirce after reading one citation on symbols in Derrida and Kristeva, and then wrote my PhD dissertation Sign or Symbol which was published some years later[1].

Reading Wahrheit und Rechtfertigung (1999) and more specifically what Jürgen Habermas writes in the “Introduction” to his recent book, not yet published in English[2], I will try to explain his answer to the epistemological problem of realism: how can we conciliate both the postulate of a world that is independent of our descriptions, a single objective world, and the philosophy of language discovery according to which we have no direct access, non-mediated by language, to “naked” reality. Habermas wants to hold on to the moment of unconditionality that is part of the correspondence idea of truth, while retaining an internal relation between truth and justifiability: his aim is to work out a theory of truth that is inherently pragmatic yet retains the idea of an unconditional truth claim. In light of Habermas’s recent criticism of Richard Rorty’s pragmatic turn[3], his early treatment of a pragmatic theory of truth is important. What Searle tries to show in 1995, in The Construction of Social Reality, is that “external realism” is presupposed by the use of large sections of a public language: for a large class of utterances, each individual utterance requires for its intelligibility a publicly accessible reality that he characterized as representation independent. There is nothing epistemic about realism so construed. External realism is not epistemic: realism is the claim that reality is radically nonepistemic. Searle is not saying here “that in order to know the truth of our claims we have to presuppose realism”. His argument is “completely independent of questions of knowledge or even of truth”. The claim, according to him, “is about conditions of intelligibility, not about conditions ofknowledge.”[4] The presupposition of realism is not just one claim among others, but is, he insists, “a condition of possibility of my being able to make publicly accessible claims at all”. Metaphysical realism and conceptual relativism are then perfectly consistent: conceptual relativism as Searle formulates it –our conception of reality, our conception of how it is, is always made relative to our constitution – is meant, he says, “to be a trivial truth to the effect that we only form concepts that we are able to form”[5].

Does the pragmatic turn require an anti-realist understanding of knowledge?

The Christian Gauss Lectures that Habermas delivered at Princeton in 1971 – “Reflections on the Linguistic Foundations of Sociology” [Vorlesungen zu einer spachtheoretischen Grundlegung der Soziologie][6] –  contain the first formulation of his “formal pragmatics”[7] and also mark the beginning of his appropriation of speech-act theory. Taking generative grammar as a model for developing universal pragmatics, we should be able, he writes, “to discover and reconstruct the rule systems according to which we generate contexts of interactions, that is, the symbolic reality of society” (p. 65). Habermas characterizes the level at which a universal pragmatics has to be developed by comparing it with the theory of grammar originated by Noam Chomsky (p. 68-76), and this sort of facilitates his treatment of the two most important theoretical components of a universal pragmatics: one dealing with the cognitive use of language (p.78-82), the other with its communicative use (p. 82-84). Habermas makes it clear that these two uses of language are interdependent. The task of what Habermas called first universal and later formal pragmatics is to identity and reconstruct universal conditions of possible mutual understanding [Verständigung]. Reaching mutual understanding requires a speaker and hearer to operate not only at the level of intersubjectivity on which they speak with one another but also at the level of objects or states of affairs about which they communicate with one another.

The key phenomenon that a universal pragmatics must explain is the self-explicating capacity of language: a natural language, writes Habermas, “has no metalanguage that is not dependent in turn on an interpretation in that (or another) natural language” (p. 73). The illocutionary acts analyzed by Searle after Austin[8] – the illocutionary act is considered here by Habermas as the elementary unit of speech [elementare Einheit der Rede] – are paradigmatic for this peculiar reflexivity of natural languages. The double structure of illocutionary acts – and Habermas following here Searle[9] represents the structure of illocutionary acts as “Mp” where stands for mode of communication [Modus der Kommunikation] or for the different modes of language use (the main clause used in an utterance in order to establish an intersubjective relation between speakers and hearers) and p for propositional content (the dependent clause with propositional content used in an utterance in order to communicate about objects or states of affairs)  – is considered by Habermas as the foundation of the inherent reflexivity of natural languages. The elementary connection of the illocutionary component and the propositional component of speech acts illustrates the double structure of ordinary language communication:

“Communication about objects (or states of affairs) takes place only on condition of simultaneous metacommunication about the meaning of the use of the dependent clause. A situation where it is possible to reach a mutual understanding requires that at least two speakers-hearers simultaneously establish communication at both levels: at the level of intersubjectivity, where the subjects talk with one another, and at the level of the objects (or state of affairs) about which they communicate. Universal pragmatics aims at the reconstruction of the rule system that a competent speaker must know if she is to be able to fulfill this postulate of the simultaneity of communication and metacommunication. I should like to reserve the term communicative competence for this qualification.” (p. 74).[10]

Communicative competence is crucial for Habermas’s social theory[11]. A communicative  theory of society  – a theory of society that accepts abstract systems of rules for generating intersubjective relations in which subjects themselves are formed – must, insists Habermas, “do justice to the double cognitive-communicative structure of speech” (p. 64).

The distinction between the cognitive and the communicative (or interactive) uses of language captures what Austin had in mind with his (later abandoned) distinction between constative and perfomative utterances[12]:

“I call the use of constative acts (…) cognitive, because the performatively established interpersonal relation between speaker and hearer serves the purpose of reaching an understanding about objects (or states of affairs). By contrast, I call communicative the use of language where reaching an understanding about objects (and states of affairs) occurs for the purpose of establishing an interpersonal relationship. The level of communication that is the end in one case is made into a means in the other. In cognitive language use propositional contents are the topic; they are what the communication is about. But communicative use mentions propositional contents only in order to establish performatively an intersubjective relation between speaker-hearers.” (p. 76).

Without a propositional content “­that p”, which is expressed in cognitive language use in the form of a declarative sentence [Aussagesatz] “p”, the communicative use of language would be impossible. In cognitive language use “we initiate communication with the goal of communicating something about an objectified reality”. In communicative language use “we refer to something in the world in order to produce specific interpersonal relations” (p. 64). All speech acts have a cognitive and a communicative dimension. The meaning of a speech act consists of its propositional content and of the sense of the mode of mutual understanding that is sought. For Habermas, this illocutionary element determines the meaning of the validity that we claim for an utterance:

“The meaning of an assertion qua assertion is that the asserted state of affairs is the case. (…) the meaning of a promise qua promise is that the speaker will in fact keep an obligation to which she has committed herself. Similarly, it is the meaning of a command qua command that the speaker wants to have her demand fulfilled. These validity claims that a speaker raises by performing speech acts ground intersubjective relations, that is, the facticity of social facts.” (p. 63).

These claims converge in the single claim to rationality [Vernunfttigkeit]. Truth claims enjoy paradigmatic status as validity claims: “The paradigm of all claims to validity is propositional truth. Even the communicative use of language must presuppose cognitive language use with its truth claims, since standard speech acts always contain propositional contents.” (p. 86). When we raise a truth claim, we use language cognitively. Habermas’s few brief remarks on the pragmatics of cognitive language use (p. 78-81) focus on questions of reference and perception:

“We make two suppositions (…). We suppose the existence of the object about which we make a statement; and we suppose the truth of the proposition itself, that is, of what we assert about the object. Existence and truth represent the conditions that must be fulfilled if the statement is to represent a fact. The first supposition is justified if both speakers and hearers are able to identify unequivocally the object denoted by the subject expression of a proposition. The second is justified if both speakers and hearers verify whether what is predicated of the object in the proposition asserted is in fact true. The referential expression, be it  a singular term or a definite description, can be understood as specification of how an object can be identified. Together with the expression, it constitutes a proposition that is supposed to correspond to an existing state of affairs. (…) The pragmatics of cognitive use shows that any given object domain is structured by particular interconnections between language, cognition, and action.

(…)  Sensory experience leads to the perception of things, events or states that we ascribe to things (we see that something is in a certain state). The communicative experience based on sensory experience leads via perception to the understanding of persons, utterances, or states that we ascribe to persons (we “see”, i.e., understand, that someone is in a certain state). Experiences can have informational content only because and to the extent that they are surprising – that is, to the extent that they disappoint and modify expectations about objects. This background, which acts as a foil and against which experiences stand out, consists in beliefs (or prejudgments) about objects that we have already experienced. In cognitive language use we put our beliefs in the form of propositions. (…)

A similar connection between language, cognition and action is manifest in predication.” (p. 78-82).

In his subsequent articulations of formal pragmatics, Habermas no longer emphasizes perception and reference. In light of Cristina Lafont’s criticisms to the effect that he needs a theory of reference to avoid some form of linguistic idealism[13] and of Herbert Schnädelbach objection to his privileging of the discursive rationality embodied in argumentative practices[14], Habermas’s discussion of cognitive language use in the Christian Gauss Lectures is therefore important.

It is also important because it contains an early treatment of the so-called consensus theory of truth, which emerges from his account of the meaning of truth. According to Habermas, the meaning of truth implicit in the pragmatics of assertions is explicated by specifying the conditions under which validity claims can or could be redeemed. This is the task, he says, of the consensus theory of truth:

“(…) the truth that we claim propositions to have by asserting them, depends on two conditions. First, it must be grounded in experience; that is the statement may not conflict with dissonant experience. Second, it must be discursively redeemable; that is the statement must be able to hold up against all counterarguments and command the assent of all potential participants in a discourse. The first condition must be satisfied to make credible that the second condition could be satisfied as required. (…) The truth condition of propositions is the potential assent of all others. Everyone else should be able to convince him- or herself that I am justified in predicating the attribute p of object x and should then be able to agree with me. The universal-pragmatic meaning of truth, therefore, is determined in terms of the demand of reaching a rational consensus. The concept of the discursive redemption of validity claims leads to the concept of rational consensus.” (p. 89).

We can of course say that the interest of such a theory of truth lies more in what it says about how we reach agreement on claims to truth, and that it is not so much a theory of truth as a theory of justification. However, in light of Habermas’s recent criticism of Richard Rorty’s pragmatic turn, his early treatment of a pragmatic theory of truth is important.

Habermas sees speech-act theory as an attempt to bridge the gap between formal semantics and use-oriented theories of meaning. Austin’s and Searle’s account of meaning recognize both the dimension of saying something – on which, from Frege through the early Wittgenstein to Dummett, formal semantics focuses – and the dimension of doing something – on which the use-oriented theories of meaning deriving from the later Wittgenstein concentrate. A pragmatic reintrepretation of the problem of validity requires a reevaluation of what was originally meant by the illocutionary force of a speech act. What a speaker does in performing a speech act is enter into a relationship of obligation with the hearer: “With the illocutionary force of an utterance, a speaker can motivate a hearer to accept the offer contained in her speech act and thereby enter into a rationally motivating binding and bonding relationship”. This conception of the illocutionary force as a binding force presupposes not only that acting and speaking subjects can relate to more than only one world, but also that when they come to an understanding with one another about something in one world, they base their communication on a commonly shared system of worlds[15].

But does the pragmatic turn require an anti-realist understanding of knowledge? Habermas criticizes Rorty for drawing the wrong conclusions from his critique of the philosophy of language. According to Habermas, Rorty rightly emphasizes “that nothing counts as justification unless by reference to what we already accept”, but the conclusion he draws from this  – “that there is no way to get outside our beliefs and our language so as to find some test other than coherence” – is wrong. Certainly, Habermas responds, “within the linguistic paradigm, the truth of a proposition can no longer be conceived as correspondence with something in the world, for otherwise we would have to be able to “get outside of language” while using language”. Nonetheless, he insists that “the correspondence idea of truth was able to take account of a fundamental aspect of the meaning of the truth predicate”. This aspect – the notion of unconditional validity – “is swept under the carpet if the truth of a proposition is conceived as coherence with other propositions or as justified assertibility within an interconnected system of assertions”[16]. Habermas wants to hold on to the moment of unconditionality that is part of the correspondence idea of truth, while retaining an internal relation between truth and justifiability:

“In everyday practices, we cannot use language without acting. Speech itself is effected in the mode of speech acts that for their part are embedded in contexts of interaction and entwined with instrumental action. As actors, that is, as interacting and intervening subjects, we are always already in contact with things about which we can make statements. (…)

For this reason, the question as to the internal connection between justification and truth – a connection that explains why we may, in light of the evidence available to us, raise an unconditional truth claim that aims beyond what is justified – is not an epistemological question. It is not a matter of being or appearance. What is at stake is not the correct representation of reality but everyday practices that must not fall apart. (…) Reaching understanding cannot function unless the participants refer to a single objective world, thereby stabilizing the intersubjectively shared public space with which everything that is merely subjective can be contrasted. This supposition of an objective world that is independent of our descriptions fulfills a functional requirement of our processes of cooperation and communication. Without this supposition, everyday practices, which rest on the (in a certain sense) Platonic distinction between believing and knowing unreservedly, would come apart at the seams.” (“Richard Rorty’s Pragmatic Turn”, On the Pragmatics of Communication, p. 359).

Are there not, asks Habermas, “plausible explanations for the fact that a justification successful in our justificatory context points in favor of the context-independent truth of the justified proposition?”. His aim, then, is to work out a theory of truth that is inherently pragmatic yet retains the idea of an unconditional truth claim:

“In the lifeworld actors depend on behavioral certainties. They have to cope with a world presumed to be objective and, for this reason, operate with the distinction between believing and knowing. There is a practical necessity to rely on what is unconditionally held-to-be- true. This mode of unconditionally holding-to-be-true is reflected on the discursive level in the connotations of truth claims that point beyond the given contexts of justification and require the supposition of ideal justificatory conditions – with a resulting decentering of the justification community. For this reason, the process of justification can be guided by a notion of truth that transcends justification although it is always already operativelyeffective in the realm of action. The function of the validity of statements in everyday practices explains why the discursive redemption of validity claims may at the same time be interpreted as the satisfaction of a  pragmatic need for justification. This need for justification, which sets in train the transformation  of shaken-up behavioral certainties into problematized validity claims, can be satisfied only by a translation of discursively justified beliefs back into behavioral truths.” (“Richard Rorty’s Pragmatic Turn”, On the Pragmatics of Communication, p. 372).

It is this intertwining of truth in rational discourses and truth in action-contexts that favours the context-independent truth of the belief in question. For Habermas, the critical question for today’s rationality debates is whether communicating subjects are from start to finish imprisoned in epochal interpretations of the world, discourses, and language games. His conclusion is that Rorty’s strategy – his naturalization of linguistified reason – “leads to a categorical level-ing of distinctions of such a kind that our descriptions lose their sensitivity for differences that do make a difference in every day practices.”[17]

Realism as a Background Condition of Intelligibility

In 1991, replying to one of his critics, John Searle offers a sketch of a “transcendental” argument for what he calls metaphysical (and later external)realism  – the view that the world (or alternatively, reality or the universe) exists independently of our representations of it[18]:

“metaphysical realism is the condition of possibility of there being public discourse at all. In order that I should address you and say, e.g., “the cat is on the mat” I must presuppose an independently existing world of publicly accessible objects to which expressions like “the cat’ and the “the mat” are used to refer. A public language presupposes a public world. And when I address you in what I presuppose is a public language, a language which you can understand in the same way that I understand it, I also presuppose that there exist public objects of reference. In normal discourse none of these “presuppositions” takes the forms of beliefs or even, strictly speaking, “presuppositions”. They are part of what I call the Background; in the normal functioning of the Background such elements form the conditions of intelligible representation but are not themselves representations.” (John Searle and his critics, p. 190).

According to Searle,  and he had already said this in 1983, in Intentionality[19], “realism” is not a hypothesis, belief, or philosophical thesis, but theprecondition of having hypotheses:

“Realism is part of the Background in the following sense. My commitment to “realism” is exhibited by the fact that I live the way that I do, I drive my car, drink my beer, write my articles, give my lectures, and ski my mountains. Now in addition to all these activities (…) there isn’t a further ‘hypothesis’ that the real world exists. My commitment to the existence of the real world is manifested whenever I do pretty much anything. It is a mistake to treat that commitment as if it were a hypothesis (…). Once we misconstrue the functioning of the Background in this way (…) it immediately becomes problematic. It seems I could never show or demonstrate that there existed a real world independent of my representation of it. But of course I could never show or demonstrate that, since any showing or demonstrating presupposes the Background, and the Background is the embodiment of my commitment to realism. (…) the very having of representations can only exist against a Background which gives representations the character of “representing something”. This is not to say that realism is a true hypothesis, rather it is to say that it is not a hypothesis at all, but the precondition of having hypotheses.” (Intentionality, p. 158-159).

The presupposition of realism is not just one claim among others, but it is, according to Searle, “a condition of possibility of my being able to make publicly accessible claims at all”[20]Metaphysical realism and conceptual relativism are then perfectly consistent: conceptual relativism as Searle formulates it – our conception of reality, our conception of how it is, is always made relative to our constitution  – is meant, he says, “to be a trivial truth to the effect that we only form concepts that we are able to form”[21]. Searle considers the argument that Hilary Putnam uses in The Many Faces of Realism[22] against “metaphysical realism”, and to defend a view he calls “internal realism”, simply bad argument:

“Putnam thinks that because we can only state the fact that iron oxidizes relative to a vocabulary and conceptual system, that therefore the fact only exists relative to a vocabulary and conceptual system. So, on his view if conceptual relativism is true, then metaphysical realism is false. But the premise of his argument does not entail the conclusion. It is, indeed, trivially true that all statements are made within a conceptual apparatus for making statements. Without a language we cannot talk. It does, indeed, follow from this that given alternative conceptual apparatuses there will be alternative descriptions of reality. (…) But it simply does not follow that the fact that iron oxidizes is in any way language-dependent or relative to a system of concepts or anything of the sort. Long after we are all dead and there are no statements of any kind, iron will still oxidize; and this is just another way of saying that the fact that iron oxidizes does not depend in any way on the fact that we can state that iron oxidizes. (Does anyone really, seriously, doubt this?).”[23]

Searle defends, then, both the view that reality exists independently of our representations of it or the view “that the world exists independently not only of language but also of thought, perception, belief, etc.”[24] – “external realism” -, and the view that all representations of reality are made relative to some more or less arbitrarily selected set of concepts – “conceptual relativity”. Carefully stated, external realism is for Searle “the thesis that there is a way that things are that is independent of all representations of how things are”. This thesis identifies not how things are in fact, he says, but rather a space ofpossibilities for a very large number of statements[25]. Our ordinary linguistic practices presuppose external realism: by making certain sorts of utterances in a public language, we do in fact attempt to communicate with each other, and unless we take external realism for granted, we cannot understand utterances the way we normally do. The assumption Searle is making here is “that there is a normal way of understanding utterances, and that when performing speech acts in a public language, speakers typically attempt to achieve normal understanding”[26]. What Searle tries to show in 1995, in The Construction of Social Reality, is that external realism is presupposed by the use of large sections of a public language: “if you take yourself to be communicating with others in the normal way in the sort of speech acts I have given as examples, you are committed to external realism. I have not shown that there is a real world but only that you are committed to its existence when you talk to me or to anyone else”[27]. For a large class of utterances, each individual utterance requires for itsintelligibility, according to Searle, a publicly accessible reality that he has characterized as representation independent. There is nothing epistemic about realism so construed. External realism is not epistemic: realism is the claim that reality is radically nonepistemic. Searle is not saying “that in order to know the truth of our claims we have to presuppose realism”. His argument, he insists, “is completely independent of questions of knowledge or even of truth. The claim is about conditions of intelligibility, not about conditions of knowledge.”[28]

External realism is not identical with the correspondence theory of truth. For Searle, realism is not a theory of truth and it does not imply any theory of truth:

“Strictly speaking, realism is consistent with any theory of truth because it is a theory of ontology and not of the meaning of “true”[it says that there exists a reality totally independent of our representations]. It is not a semantic theory at all. It is thus possible to hold ER [External Realism] and deny the correspondence theory. On a normal interpretation, the correspondence theory implies realism since it implies that there is a reality to which statements correspond if they are true; but realism does not by itself imply the correspondence theory, since it does not imply that “truth” is the name of a relation of correspondence between statements and reality.” (The Construction of Social Reality, p. 154).

But Searle does offer us a modest version of a correspondence theory of truth in The Construction of Social Reality[29]. We need words for assessing success and failure in achieving fit for representations that have the word-to-world direction of fit, and those words are “true” and “false”.[30] Truth is just a special class of satisfaction: truth is satisfaction of representations with the word-to-world direction of fit.[31] Searle represents the structure of illocutionary acts  – the illocutionary act is the minimal complete unit of human linguistic communication – as F(p) where F stands for illocutionary force (the type of illocutionary act it is) and p for propositional content (the content of an illocutionary act). The general notion of satisfaction is based, according to Vanderveken, on the notion of correspondence:

“Elementary illocutionary acts with a propositional content (…) are directed at objects and states of affairs in the world. They are satisfied only iftheir propositional content represents correctly how things are (…) in the world. (…) the existence of a correspondence between the propositional content of an utterance and the world is a necessary, but not always a sufficient, condition for the satisfaction of that utterance. Indeed, in order that a speech act be satisfied, the correspondence between its propositional content and the world must be established following the proper direction of fit of its illocutionary force. Thus, the conditions of satisfaction of an elementary illocutionary act of the form F(p) are a function of both the truth conditions of its propositional content, and of the direction of fit of its illocutionary force.

First, when an illocutionary act has only the word-to-world direction of fit, it is satisfied in a context of utterance (…), if and only if its propositional content is true in that context (…). Indeed, in such a case, the success of fit between language and the world is achieved by the fact that the propositional content corresponds to a state of affairs existing (in general) independently in the world. Thus the conditions of satisfaction of assertive illocutionary acts are identical with the truth conditions of their propositional content. (…).

Second, when an illocutionary act has the world-to-word direction of fit, it is satisfied in a context of utterance (…) if and only if the speaker or hearer makes its propositional content true in that context in order to satisfy that illocutionary act. Unlike assertive utterances, the commissive and directive utterances have self-referential conditions of satisfaction that are not independent of these utterances. An assertion is true if and only if its propositional content corresponds to a state of affairs that exists in the world, no matter how that state of affairs got into existence. But, strictly speaking, a promise is kept or a request is granted only if the speaker or hearer carries out in the world a future course of action because of the promise or the request. (…) Thus, one speaks of requests which are granted or refused, and of promises which are kept or broken, and not of true or false requests and promises.”.[32]

The illocutionary point of assertive speech acts is to commit the speaker to the truth of the proposition. In one of his most recent works, Rationality in Action, Searle says that there is no way to explain what a statement is (what an assertive speech act is) without explaining that the commitment to truth isinternal to statement making:

“Whenever I make a statement I have a reason to speak truthfully. Why? Because a statement simply is a commitment to the truth of the expressed proposition. There is no gap at all between making a statement and committing oneself to its truth. That is, there are not two independent features of the speech act, first the making of the statement and second committing myself to its truth; there is only making the statement, which is eo ipso a commitment to truth.  (…)

But why is the commitment to truth internal to statement making? (…) What is the big deal about commitment? Well in a sense you can perform speech acts without their normal commitments. That is what happens in works of fiction. In works of fiction nobody holds the author responsible for the truth of the utterances that she makes in the text. We understand those cases as derivative from, and parasitic on, the more fundamental forms, where the commitments are to the truth conditions of the actual utterance. So, to repeat the question, why?  And the answer follows from the nature of meaning itself[33]. The reason why I am committed to the truth of the claim that it is raining when I say that it is raining is that, in making the utterance that it is raining, I have intentionally imposed certain conditions of satisfaction on that utterance. (…) when I seriously assert that it is raining, I am committed to the truth of the proposition, because I have intentionally imposed the commitment to that truth on the utterance when I intentionally imposed the conditions of satisfaction that it be raining on the conditions of satisfaction of my intention-in-action that that intention-in-action should produce the sounds, “It is raining”. And, to repeat, what makes it possible for me to do that in a publicly accessible manner is the fact that I am a participant in the human institution of language and speech acts.”.[34]

In every genuine assertion, the assuming of responsibility must be present: in making an assertion, says Searle, “we take responsibility for truth, sincerity, and evidence”, and these responsibilities are met only, he insists, “if the world is such that the utterance is true, the speaker is sincere, and the speaker has evidence for the assertion.”.[35]

For Searle, all intentionality has a normative structure, but what is special about human animals, he says,

“is not normativity, but rather the human ability to create, through the use of language, a public set of commitments. Humans typically do this by performing public speech acts where the speaker intentionally imposes conditions of satisfaction on conditions of satisfaction. These speech acts are made possible by the existence of institutional structures that the speaker uses to perform meaningful speech acts and to communicate them to other speakers/hearers. Using this apparatus the speaker can undertake commitments when he imposes conditions of satisfaction on conditions of satisfaction. Indeed there is no way to avoid undertaking commitments. The speech act of asserting is a commitment to truth, the speech act of promising is a commitment to a future action. Both arise from the fact that the speaker imposes conditions of satisfaction on conditions of satisfaction. Speech acts commit the speaker to the second set of conditions of satisfaction. In the case of an assertion, he is committed to the truth of the assertion, in the case of a promise, he is committed to carrying out the act that he has promised to perform.”.[36]

But, because promising has the maker of the promise as the subject of the propositional content, it is peculiar among speech acts. Promising has a self-referential component imposed on the conditions of satisfaction:

“the conditions of satisfaction of the promise are not only that the speaker do something, but that he do it because he made a promise to do it. There is, therefore, a self-referential component in promising, and this self referential component does not exist in certain other sorts of speech acts. For example, it does not exist in assertions.”.[37]

“Philosophy in the Real World,” the subtitle of Mind, Language, and Society (1998), captures two important aspects of Searle’s work First, Searle believes that good philosophical inquiry begins by paying close attention to everyday experiences. Second, Searle believes that there exists a reality totally independent of our representations, that the world is not a mere construct of texts and word games, and that we can understand that real world  – a position known as “metaphysical realism”. His refutation of the arguments against external realism and his defense of external realism as a presupposition of large areas of discourse are, he says, the first step in combating  “the attacks on epistemic objectivity, rationality, and intelligence in contemporary intellectual life”. What difference does it really make whether or not one says that one is a “realist” or an “anti-realist”? Searle actually thinks that philosophical theories make a difference to every aspect of our lives.

These brief remarks on Habermas and Searle show that we have to recover our innocence. The tension between the independence of reality and the accessibility of reality to our knowledge is perhaps not so severe. It may be altogether superable if our understanding of ‘independence’ is modest enough and our understanding of ‘accessibility’ fallibilist enough. This is the view of innocent realism[38]. And it might be my way back to Peirce.

* This paper was presented to 5th International Meeting on Pragmatism at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo in November 2002.

[1]. Th. Calvet de Magalhães, Signe ou Symbole. Introduction à la Théorie Sémiotique de C. S. Peirce, Louvain-la-Neuve / Madrid, Cabay, 1981.

[2]. J. Habermas, Wahrheit und RechtfertigungPhilosophische Aufsätze, Frankfurt-am-Main, Suhrkamp, 1999; Vérité et Justification. Translated by Rainer Rochlitz, Paris, Gallimard, 2001; Verità e giustificazione, translated by Mario Carpitella Laterza, Roma-Bari, 2001. The English translation will be published in 2003 [It was published in June 2003: J. Habermas, Truth and Justification (Barbara Fultner, ed.), Cambridge, Mass., The MIT Press].

[3]. J. Habermas, “Rorty’s pragmatische Wende”, Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, nº 44 (1996) p. 715-741 (reprinted as chapter 5 of Warheit und Rechtfertigung); the English version of this essay (“Richard Rorty’s Pragmatic Turn”) was published in J. Habermas, On the Pragmatics of Communication (edited by Maeve Cooke), Cambridge, Mass., The MIT Press, 1998, p. 343-382.

[4].  J. R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality, New York, The Free Press, 1995, p. 195.

[5]. E. Lapore and R. Van Gulick (eds.), John Searle and his critics, Cambridge, Mass. / Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1991, p. 190.

[6]. J. Habermas, Reflections on the Linguistic Foundations of Sociology, inOn the Pragmatics of Social Interaction. Preliminary Studies in the Theory of Communicative Action, translated by Barbara Fultner, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 2001, p. 1-103.

[7]. Cf. the fourth lecture: “Universal Pragmatics: Reflections on a Theory of Communicative Competence” (p. 67-84). In a footnote to the 1979 English translation of his essay “What is Universal Pragmatics” [Was heisst Universalpragmatik?] (1976), Habermas expresses dissatisfaction with the label “universal” and a preference for the term “formal pragmatics”: “Hitherto the term “pragmatics” has been employed to refer to the analysis of particular contexts of language use and not to the reconstruction of universal features of using language (or of employing sentences in utterances). To mark this contrast, I introduced a distinction between “empirical” and “universal” pragmatics. I am no longer happy with this terminology; the term “formal pragmatics” – as an extension of “formal semantics” – would serve better. “Formalpragmatik” is the term preferred by F. Schütze, Sprache Soziologisch Gesehen, 2 vols, (Munich, 1975).” (J. Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society. Translated and with an Introduction by Thomas McCarthy, Boston, Beacon Press, 1979, p. 208).

[8]. For Habermas, Searle’s conception of language as a rule-governed intentional behavior in Speech Acts (1969) – speaking a language is performing acts according to rules: the semantic structure of a language is regarded here as a conventional realization of a series of sets of underlying constitutive rules –  has the advantage of avoiding what he calls the false alternative between a study of the meaning of sentences, on the one hand,  and a study of speech acts, on the other hand: “It still might seem that my approach is simply, in Saussurian terms, a study of “parole” rather than “langue”. I am arguing however, that an adequate study of speech acts is a study of langue. There is an important reason why this is true which goes beyond the claim that communication necessarily involves speech acts. I take it to be an analytic truth about language that whatever can be meant can be said (…) There are, therefore, not two irreducible distinct semantic studies, one a study of meanings of sentences and one a study of the performances of speech acts. For just as it is part of our notion of the meaning of a sentence that a literal utterance of that sentence with that meaning in a certain context would be the performance of a particular speech act, so it is part of our notion of a speech act that there is a possible sentence (or sentences) the utterance of which in a certain context would in virtue of its (or their) meaning constitute a performance of that speech act. The speech act or acts performed in the utterance of a sentence are in general a function of the meaning of the sentence.” (J. R. Searle, Speech Acts: An essay in the philosophy of language, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1969, p. 17-18). For Habermas, what really is of interest here is that there are constitutive rules underlying speech acts: “Different human languages, to the extent they are inter-translatable, can be regarded as different conventional realizations of the same underlying rules. The fact that in French one can make a promise by saying  “je promets” and in English one can make it by saying “I promise” is a matter of convention. But the fact that an utterance of a promising device (under appropriate conditions) counts as the undertaking of an obligation is a matter of rules and not a matter of the conventions of French or English.”  (J. R. Searle, Speech Acts, p. 39-40).

[9].  Cf. J. R. Searle, Speech Acts, p. 31-33.

[10]. To delineate more sharply his concept of communicative competence, and to delimit universal pragmatics, Habermas proposes here a didactically plausible series of steps ofabstractions: “The abstractions begin with concrete utterances [konkreten Äusserungen]. I call an utterance “concrete” if it is made within a complete determining context. The first step is sociolinguistic abstraction. It prescinds from all those boundary conditions of linguistic rule systems that vary contingently and are specific only to individual speakers-hearers, and retains “utterances in generalized contexts”. The second step is universal-pragmatic abstraction. It prescinds from all spatio-temporally and socially circumscribed contexts and retains only “situated utterances in general”.  In this way we arrive at the elementary units of speech [elementaren Einheiten der Rede]. The third abstraction is linguistic abstraction, which prescinds from the performance of speech acts and retains only “linguistic expressions” or sentences [Sätze]. In this way we arrive at the elementary units of language. The fourth step is logical abstraction, which disregards all performatively relevant linguistic expressions and retains “assertoric propositions” [Aussagen]. In this way we arrive at the elementary units for rendering states of affairs. Utterances in generalized social contexts are the object of sociolinguistics: It takes the form of a theory of pragmatic competence. (…) Situated utterances in general that are not specific to a given context are the object of universal pragmatics: It takes the form of a theory of communicative competence. Its task is reconstructing the rule system according to which competent speakers transpose linguistic expressions into utterances. Linguistic expressions (or string of symbols) are the object of linguistics: It takes the form of a theory of syntactic competence. (…) Finally assertoric propositions [Aussagen] are the object of logic.” (p. 74-75).

[11]. Habermas’s linguistic turn, writes Barbara Fultner in her “Introduction” to these Preliminary Studies in the Theory of Communicative Action, “was initially motivated by the conviction that a critical social theory required a sound methodological and epistemological foundation: hence the project of providing a linguistic grounding for sociology.” (“Translator’s Introduction”, On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction, p. xxii).

[12].  J. L. Austin, “Performative Utterances” [1956], inPhilosophical Papers (J. O. Urmson and G. J. Warnock, eds.), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1970 (Second Edition), p. 233-252; “Performative-Constative” [1958], translated by G. J. Warnock, in: Charles E. Caton (ed.), Philosophy and Ordinary Language, Urbana, Illinois, University of Illinois Press, 1963, p. 22-54; How To Do Things With WordsThe William James Lectures 1955 (J. O. Urmson, ed.), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1962 (Lecture VIII-Lecture XII).

[13]. C. Lafont, The Linguistic Turn in Hermeneutic Philosophy [1994], Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1999 (chs. 5-6).

[14]. H. Schänelbach, Zur Rehabiliterung des animal rationale, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 1992. In “Some Further Clarifications of the Concept of Communicative Rationality” [1996], Habermas  accepts Schänelbach’s point of criticism and he assumes that “we use the predicate “rational” in the first instance to refer to beliefs, actions, and linguistic utterances because, in the propositional structure of knowledge, in the teleological structure of action, and in the communicative structure of speech, we come upon various roots of rationality. These do not for their part appear to have common roots, at least not in the discursive structure of justificatory practices, nor in the reflexive structure of the self-relation of a subject participating in discourses. It is more probably the case that the structure of discourse establishes an interrelation among the entwined structures of rationality (the structures of knowledge, action, and speech) by, in a sense, bringing together the propositional, teleological, and communicative roots. According to such a model of intermeshed core structures, discursive rationality owes its special position not to its foundational but to its integrative role.” (J. Habermas, On the Pragmatics of Communication, p. 308-309). Habermas makes now a distinction between two sorts of communicative action: “I will speak of communicative action in a weak sense whenever reaching understanding applies to facts and to actor-relative reasons for one-sided expressions of will; I will speak of communicative action in a strong sense as soon as reaching understanding extends to normative reasons for the selection of the goals themselves. In the latter case, the participants refer to intersubjectively shared value orientations that – going beyond their personal preferences –bind their wills. In weak communicative action the actors are oriented solely toward claims to truth and truthfulness; in strong communicative action they are oriented toward intersubjectively recognized rightness claims as well; (…). Underlying communicative action in the weak sense is the presupposition of an objective world that is the same for all; in strong communicative action the participants over and above this count on a social world that is shared by them intersubjectively.” (J. Habermas, On the Pragmatics of Communication, p. 326-328).

[15]. For Habermas, the insights of speech-act theory must be connected up with the communication-theoretic approach expounded by the German psychologist Karl Bühler in Sprachtheorie (1934). This  approach suggests a fruitful line of inquiry for investigations into language as a mechanism of social coordination. Bühler’s schema of language functions that places the linguistic expression in relation to the speaker, the world, and the hearer can be described as a radicalization of the paradigm change in the philosophy of language introduced by speech-act theory (Cf. J. Habermas, “Social Action, Purposive Activity, and Communication” [1981], and “Toward a Critique of the Theory of Meaning” [1988], inOn the Pragmatics of Communication, p. 105-181, and p. 278-305).

[16]. J. Habermas, “Richard Rorty’s Pragmatic Turn” [1996], On the Pragmatics of Communication, p. 357-358.

[17].  Ibidem, p. 377.

[18]. E. Lapore and R. Van Gulick (eds.), John Searle and his critics, p. 190-191; see also J. R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality,  p. 149-197.

[19]. J. R. Searle, Intentionality: An essay in the philosophy of mind, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983.

[20]. E. Lapore and R. Van Gulick (eds.), John Searle and his critics, p. 190.

[21]. Ibidem.

[22]. H. Putnam, The Many Faces of Realism , La Salle, Ill., Open Court, 1987.

[23]. E. Lapore and R. Van Gulick (eds.), John Searle and his critics, p. 191.

[24].  J. R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality, p. 153.

[25].  Ibidem, p. 182. So construed, external realism is for Searle a purely formal constraint.

[26]. J. R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality, p. 184.

[27]. Ibidem, p. 194.

[28]. J. R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality, p. 195.

[29]. Ibidem, p. 199-226.

[30]. Austin had already said,  in the William James Lectures that he delivered at Harvard University in 1955, that “truth and falsity are (except by an artificial abstraction which is always possible and legitimate for certain purposes) not names for relations, qualities, or what not, but for a dimension of assessment – how the words stand in respect of satisfactoriness to the facts, events, situations, &c., to which they refer.” (J. L. Austin,  How To  Do Things With Words, p. 149).

[31]. For the semantic concepts of success and satisfaction, see Daniel Vanderveken, Meaning and Speech Acts, Vol. I: Principles of Language Use, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 129-136.

[32]. D. Vanderveken, Meaning and Speech Acts, Vol. I: Principles of Language Use, p. 132-133.

[33]. Cf. J. R. Searle, Mind, Language and Society: Philosophy in the Real World, New York, Basic Books, 1998, p. 139-144.

[34]. J. R. Searle, Rationality in Action, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 2001, p. 184-186.

[35]. Ibidem, p. 176. According to Charles S. Peirce, an assertion is an act in which a speaker addresses a listener and assumes responsibility for its truth: “What is the nature of assertion? We have no magnifying-glass that can enlarge its features, and render them more discernible; but in default of such an instrument we can select for examination a very formal assertion, the features of which have purposely been rendered very prominent, in order to emphasize its solemnity. If a man desires to assert anything very solemnly, he takes such steps as will enable him to go before a magistrate or notary and take a binding oath to it. Taking an oath is not mainly an event of the nature of a setting forth, Vorstellung, or representing. It is not mere saying, but is doing. The law, I believe, calls it an “act”. At any rate, it would be followed by very real effects, in case the substance of what is asserted should be proved untrue. This ingredient, the assuming of responsibility, which is so prominent in solemn assertion, must be present in every genuine assertion.” (Collected  Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce [CP], ed. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, Cambridge, Mass., The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965, 5.547 [c. 1908] ). Cf. J. Brock, “An Introduction to Peirce’s Theory of Speech Acts”, Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 17 (1981), p. 319-326; Ch. Chauviré, Peirce et la signification. Introduction à la logique du vague, Paris, PUF, 1995, p. 142-152; Th. Calvet de Magalhães, Signe ou Symbole. Introduction à la Théorie Sémiotique de C. S. Peirce, p. 83-87, and p. 197-200.

[36].  J. R. Searle, Rationality in Action, p. 183.

[37]. Ibidem, p. 213.

[38]. Cf. S. Haack, Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate: Unfashionable Essays. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1998, p. 156-164.

Introduction to Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature

In his introduction to Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Rorty gives an overview of the philosophical tradition to date and then sets out the aims of his book. Philosophy as a discipline, he tells us, ‘sees itself as the attempt to underwrite or debunk claims to knowledge made by science, morality, art, or religion’. Moreover, its central concern has been with a general theory of representation, in which every area of culture is distinguished as representing reality well, badly, or not at all. Philosophy has furnished us with the convictions we need to ‘discover the significance of one’s life’ as it is the area of culture ‘where one touched bottom’. The overall result of this trajectory has been that philosophy has made itself more and more irrelevant to the rest of its culture as it strived to become more “scientific” and “rigorous”.

The heroes of the piece come in the form of Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Dewey. Common to all three is the distinction between early and later philosophies, with each trying, ‘in his early years, to find a new way of making philosophy “foundational”’. Latterly, all three ‘broke free of the Kantian conception of philosophy as foundational’; the remainder of their time was spend ‘warning’ us against the temptation to see ourselves in the framework of the seventeenth-century notion of knowledge and mind. As such, their later work is ‘therapeutic rather than constructive, edifying rather than systematic, designed to make the reader question his own motives for philosophising rather than to supply him with a new philosophical programme’.

Rorty pushes this spirit of questioning to its radical limit in this book. Following from Wittgenstein’s, Heidegger’s and Dewey’s intuition that the notion of knowledge as accurate representation must be abandoned, Rorty aims ‘to undermine the reader’s confidence in “the mind” as something about which one should have a “philosophical” view, in “knowledge” as something about which there ought to be a “theory” and which has “foundations”, and in “philosophy” as it has been conceived since Kant’. Like his heroes, he has no desire to be constructive, though he admits that the therapy offered is ‘parasitic upon the constructive efforts of the very analytic philosophers whose frame of reference I am trying to put into question’.

That frame of reference revolves around the notion that human inquiry takes place within a framework which can be discovered a priori, and on which such things as “foundations of knowledge” and a “theory of representation” depend for their limit-value. This is the Descartes-Locke-Kant tradition that sees ‘pictures rather than propositions, metaphors rather than statements’ as determining ‘most of our philosophical convictions’. And the picture which holds philosophy captive is that of the mind as a ‘great mirror containing various representations…capable of being studied by pure, nonempirical methods’. It is Rorty’s overriding belief that ‘without the notion of the mind as mirror, the notion of knowledge as accuracy of representation would not have suggested itself’.


Philosophy & the Mirror of Nature: Philosophy without Mirrors (III)

Edification, Relativism, and Objective Truth

Rorty now turns to address the familiar criticism of relativism, which is levelled against the edifying philosophers he is keen to champion. He starts from Sartre’s distinction between thinking of oneself as pour-soi and en-soi to make the point that ‘the cultural role of the edifying philosopher is to help us avoid the self-deception which comes from believing that we now ourselves by knowing a set of objective facts’ (373). He uses the examples of behaviourism, naturalism and physicalism to argues conversely; these are examples he has previously commended as helping us to ‘avoid the self-deception of thinking that we possess a deep, hidden, metaphysically significant nature which makes us “irreducibly” different from inkwells or atoms’ (373).

Philosophers who doubt traditional epistemology are often said to doubt the claim that at most one competing theory can be true; it is hard, however, to find philosophers who actually does question this notion. A coherentist or pragmatist would, rather than arguing for that claim, instead say that the plethora of theories on offer dhows that we should have no grounds for choice among these candidates for “the truth”; the moral to draw is that ‘there are some terms – for example, “the true theory”, “the right thing to do” – which are, intuitively and grammatically, singular, but for which no set of necessary and sufficient conditions can be given which will pick out a unique referent’ (373). It is down to Plato, Rorty argues, that we try to formulate uniquely individuating conditions for truth, reality or goodness, and moreover, that we see these conditions as having ‘no connection whatever with the practices of justification which obtain among us’ (374). Following Plato presents us with a dilemma: on the one hand, we must seek to find criteria for picking out these unique referents, but on the other hand, our only hints about what might count as criteria are provided by current practice: ‘philosophers thus condemn themselves to a Sisyphean task, for no sooner has an account of a transcendental term been perfected that it is labelled a “naturalistic fallacy”, a confusion between essence and accident’ (374).

Even philosophers who follow the intuition that there is “one right thing to do” as a reason for rejecting “objective values” stop short of taking the impossibility of finding unique conditions for the single true theory of the world as a reason for denying objective physical reality. Yet, Rorty argues, they should, ‘for formally the two notions are on a par’ (374). The standard response is to argue that we are pushed around by reality in a way that we are not by moral values, but, Rorty asks, ‘what does being shoved around have to do with objectivity, accurate representation, or correspondence?’ (375) The issue is that such philosophers have confused ‘contact with reality’ with ‘dealing with reality’, in other words, a confusion between the causal, non-intentional reality and our ways of describing that reality: ‘only by such a confusion can the inability to offer individuating conditions for the one true description of material things be confused with insensitivity to the things’ obdurancy’ (375).

Turning again to Sartre, it is our desire to ‘convert knowledge from something discursive…into something as ineluctable as being shoved about [by reality]’ (375-6) that eradicates the need to take responsibility for choice among competing ideas and words; in obfuscating responsibility, Sartre claims that we turn ourselves into things (entre-en-soi). This desire takes the form of seeing truth as a matter of necessity, which Sartre characterises as ‘the urge to be rid of one’s freedom to erect yet another alternative theory or vocabulary’ (376). As such, edifying philosophers are called “relativist” because they refuse to join in ‘the common human hope that the burden of choice will pass away’ (376). Sartre develops the image of the Mirror of Nature to show how such imagery is always trying to transcend itself; in the process, the mirror disappears altogether since it aims to converge with what is being mirrored. Analogously, the human mind that is indistinguishable from the mirror is the image of God (or a ‘mere machine’ from the negative point of view) in that we would have no need to take an attitude toward what we see, or to choose a description of it. ‘From this point of view,’ Rorty writes, ‘to look for commensuration rather than simply continued conversation…it to attempt to escape from humanity’ (377). Thus, if we abandon the notion that philosophy must show how all possible discourse converges upon consensus would be to abandon the hope ‘of being anything more than merely human’ (377) and to ‘settle back into the “relativism” which assumes that our only useful notions of “true” and “real” and “good” are extrapolations from those practices and beliefs’ (377).

If we view sustaining conversation as a sufficient aim of philosophy, we preserve the notion of human beings as generators of new descriptions rather than simply objects that one could accurately describe. Conversely, to see truth (ultimate commensuration) as the aim of philosophy is to hypostatise the notion of humanity, to generalise the givenness of man’s essence in a single descriptive vocabulary. It is the aim of edifying – and existentialist – philosophy to perform the ‘social function’ in which man is prevented from ‘deluding himself with the notion that he knows himself, or anything else, except under original descriptions’ (379).