Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Taylor Carman on truth, correspondence, and correctness.
Does Heidegger accept or reject the correspondence theory—or, if it’s not exactly a “theory,” then the correspondence conception—of truth? Casual readers often simply assume he rejects it, but this is not obvious. Indeed, Hubert Dreyfus and Mark Wrathall have recently, though in different ways, argued that Heidegger embraces the correspondence theory. Dreyfus does so by equating the problem of truth with the problem of realism, so that the case for correspondence is simply the case for realism, at least with respect to entities posited by the natural sciences. Wrathall does so by identifying correspondence (Übereinstimmung) with correctness (Richtigkeit), as Heidegger himself frequently does, and then maintaining that Heidegger has no objection to the notion of truth as correctness. I agree that Heidegger accepts the notion of truth as correctness. I want to argue, however, that correspondence is not the same as correctness, that the distinction between them is philosophically significant, and that Heidegger recognizes both the distinction and its significance—sometimes explicitly, but more often implicitly in the way he conceives and criticizes the metaphysical tradition from Plato to Nietzsche.

First, a point of clarification. The notion of truth as correspondence is often conflated with a related but distinct issue, namely realism. Some philosophers reject realism because they think it presupposes a correspondence conception of truth, which they find either empty or incoherent. Others reject the correspondence conception of truth because they think it requires realism about the entities on the object side of the correspondence relation. But these are two separate, if connected, issues. The crude intuition that propositions (or beliefs or sentences or whatever) are true in virtue of the way the world is seems compelling precisely—but only—where we already have a notion of the world itself being a certain way, independent of the way we understand it, a notion of the world, as Bernard Williams says, “as it is anyway.” The idea of a kind of external anchor in reality, it seems to me, is what breathes life into the metaphor of correspondence, so that the order of intelligibility is the reverse of what it might seem: it’s not that realism presupposes the correspondence theory of truth, but that the image of correspondence thrives on an assumption of realism, that is, some notion of the way the world really is, independent of our way of understandig it. Without realism, the notion of correspondence may have nothing going for it, but neither is it clear that the notion of correspondence adds anything to the realism on which it thrives. If we are to retain the correspondence conception of truth, our reason for doing so cannot simply be that we are realists about the entities to which we suppose our truths correspond.
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