Tuesday, May 16, 2006

On the Essence of Truth--The Usual Concept of Truth

1. The Usual Concept of Truth
We ordinarily understand truth as “what [117] makes a true thing true.” From this, “[t]he true is the actual.” For example, we can detect true gold from fools gold because the latter is “merely a ‘semblance’,” it only looks like gold, whereas true gold actually is gold. But we cannot base our understanding in terms of ‘actuality’ since the fools gold also is also something “actual,” even if it is not “genuine” gold. What, then, do the terms “genuine” and “true” mean? It is often spoken of in terms of “accordance”--that the object conforms to our understanding of what “gold” is.
Genuine gold is that actual gold the actuality of which is in accordance [in der Übereinstimmung steht] with what, always and in advance, we “properly” mean by “gold.” Conversely, wherever we suspect false gold, we say: “Here something is not in accord” [stimmt nicht]. On the other hand, we say of whatever is “as it should be”: “It is in accord.” The matter is in accord [Die S a c h e stimmt].
This raises another issue: we do not only call facts/objects (“the matter”) “true,” but also “our statements about beings.” Thus, a proposition is true if “what it means and says is in accordance with the matter about which the statement is made.” But in this case, contrary to our previous exposition, it is the proposition, not the matter, that is “in accord.” Whereas before we were concerned with whether an object itself is genuine or false according to some established criteria, now we are concerned with whether a proposition that is about an object is genuine or false. Truth, then, is seen in a double relationship: first, that an object accords with a previously understood meaning, and second, that a proposition accords with an object.

Understanding this double nature, truth is that which “accords” in two senses: “on the one hand, the consonance [Einstimmigkeit] of a matter with what is supposed in advance regarding it and, on the other hand, the accordance of what is meant in the statement with the matter.” This is seen in “the traditional definition of truth: veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectūs.” [118] While this is traditionally translated as “truth is the adequation of intellect to thing,” this translation only makes sense on the basis of the “adequation of thing to intellect” (the more literal translation). Either way, both conceptions about “the essence of veritas have continually in view a conforming to... [Sichrichten nach...), and hence think truth as correctness [Richtigkeit].”

We need to understand that these two notions of truth are not mere inversions: depending on which translation we focus on the intellectus and res have different meanings. In its medieval manifestation, the adequation of thing to intellect is not a Kantian transcendental unity of apperception, but the Christian notion that the object, as a creation (ens creatum) of God, “corresponds to the idea preconceived in the intellectus divinus, i.e., in the mind of God, and thus measures up to the idea (is correct) and in this sense is ‘true.’” For the God who micromanages, as he does in traditional Christian thought, this means that everything--every object, event, being, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential--accomplishes some divine intent, some divine telos by virtue of being created by God. The human mind, as a gift from God, must also be adequate according to God’s intent and this intent is only realized in “the correspondence of what is thought to the matter” which, ultimately, returns to the ideas of God. In this way, the human intellect must be able to correspond to the matter in the same way as God’s ideas/intents, “on the basis of the unity of the divine plan of creation.” An object’s ‘true’ meaning depends on where that object fits within God’s plan; it is ordered in terms of the divine intention. With this understanding, “veritas essentially im-[119]plies convenientia, the coming of beings themselves, as created, into agreement with the Creator, an ‘accord’ with regard to the way they are determined in the order of creation.”

This, then, can be generalized: the theologically motivated understanding of creation can be replaced by “the capacity of all objects to be planned by means of a worldly reason [Weltvernunft] which supplies the law for itself and thus also claims that its procedure is immediately intelligible (what is considered ‘logical’).” With this teleological interpretation of the medieval conception of adaequatio rei ad intellectum, truth itself needs no more elucidation: correctness is essentially established by the intent of the agent; even material entities are correct only as they accord “with the ‘rational’ concept of its essence.” This interpretation seems to be far removed from questions of “the Being of all beings” and, thus, it seems to have a self-evident (or fundamental) feel to it: it apparently occurs prior to the question of being (it certainly does in its theological basis) and thus seems to escape any ontological commitments. This is seen in many modern approaches to rationality: it is the formal gateway through which all ontologies must pass, hence it is temporally and logically prior to all existence(s). Furthermore, it seems to account for the fact of untruth: untruth is “the nonaccordance of the statement with the matter.” Since truth is defined by its accordance, any discussion of truth itself can safely ignore the question of untruth. This notion, as Heidegger will later argue, misses the fundamental connection between truth and untruth, concealing their ontological intertwining. It is also worth pointing out the precursors of ‘technology’ in the above: the reduction of the essence of beings to their telic use, as ‘resources’ that are utilized through ‘planning.’

But where can we go from here when this conception of truth [120] seems to be fundamental and “obvious”? In seeing the theological ground for this notion of truth, even “the philosophical definition completely pure of all admixture of theology” is seen as “an old--though not the oldest--tradition of thinking.” With such a pedigree, what is still “worthy of question”? Fundamentally, we have yet to question the notion and nature of the “accordance of a statement with the matter.”

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