Review of Conceptions of Truth, by Wolfgang Künne. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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   1 Published in Mind (2005). Conceptions of Truth, by Wolfgang Künne. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Pp.xiii + 493. H/b £50.00. Künne’s main interest in this impressively erudite monograph is the Socratic question ‘What is Truth?’, ‘understood as a request for an elucidation of the concept’(p.2), although many of his concerns are overtly metaphysical. Künne’s view is that truth is a stable, epistemically unconstrained property of propositions, that we can finitely state what propositional truth is, and that the concept of truth admits a non-reductive explanation. ‘Nihilism’ is the view, shared by Ramsey, Ayer, the early Strawson, Christopher Williams, Grover, and Brandom, that there is no such thing as the  property of truth (or that ‘”is true” isn’t a genuine predicate’(p.56)), and Chapter 2 is devoted to its rejection. Künne concludes that ‘Truth is unique among all the  properties propositions may have in being … transparent in its own right’(p.92). Künne’s development of his own account of truth, like his discussion of nihilism, is intertwined with a detailed survey and rich critique of competing historical and contemporary views. Thus, although he rejects the view that truth is a relational property, Chapter 3 contains a detailed exposition and critique of Correspondence Theories of Truth. Künne highlights a neglected distinction between ‘Fact-based Correspondence’, on which the truth of the belief that Vesuvius erupted   2 in 79 consists in correspondence between the belief as a whole and the fact that Vesuvius erupted in 79, and ‘Object-based Correspondence’ where the correspondence obtains rather between Vesuvius and the concept expressed by ‘erupted in 79’. Section 3.1, on ‘Classical Correspondence’, will be of interest to those philosophers attracted to the idea that ‘the introduction of facts or states of affairs really is a necessary condition for being a “serious” correspondence theorist’(p.101-2). Via sensitive discussions of Aristotle, Aquinas, and Bolzano, amongst others, Künne argues that this necessary condition ‘looks rather arbitrary if one considers what was the dominant understanding of truth as correspondence for many centuries’(p.102), the dominant understanding being more in line with Object- based Correspondence. Object-based theories, however, fail, because they ‘depend on the assumption that every truth-candidate has a subject-predicate structure’(p.112). Künne then introduces two famous versions of Fact-based Correspondence, Moore’s ‘prodigal’ theory, on which ‘However complex a true belief may be, there is exactly … one fact to which it owes its truth’(p.116), and the ‘parsimonious’, logical atomist, theories of Russell and the early Wittgenstein, on which there is no ‘need to find a unique truth-conferrer for each truth’(p.125). Moore’s prodigal theory faces the obvious ‘Occamite Complaint’, while the parsimonious logical atomist theory turns on a general reductive programme that is ‘rather doubtful’(p.126). Künne then takes us through some of the classical objections to correspondence theories: an epistemological objection (Kant and Brentano), Frege’s (so-called) ‘regress argument’, Davidson’s and Gödel’s ‘Slingshot’, and the objection that facts are in some problematic sense unworldly (Strawson). The first three objections all fail, while the fourth pushes the Fact-based Correspondence theorist in the direction of Event-based Correspondence on which ‘the event that took place in Athens in 399BC   3 [is] a plausible candidate for the position of what in the real world makes the historical statement [that Socrates is dead] true’(p.145). This ‘neglected alternative’(Russell 1940), however, would force on us a major conceptual revision of doubtful feasibility on which ‘all … continuants [are] nothing but strings of contiguous and causally related events’(p.148). 3.5 examines the claim that, although ‘true’ does not have the same sense as any predicate that signifies a relational property like correspondence truth, it may be the case that truth is such a relational property. After a painstaking discussion in which Künne distinguishes between ‘ontic’ and ‘propositional’ readings of ‘making true’, he concludes that ‘many empirical statements are true without the benefit of a “truth-maker” and that “truth-maker”  principles are at bottom not really about truth’(p.169). In addition to rejecting correspondence theories, Künne also rejects identity theories (pp.6-12) and coherence theories (pp.381-393). In Chapter 5, Künne rejects the idea that truth is a property of sentences in favour of the view that propositions are the primary truth-bearers, having prefaced this by a discussion in Chapter 4 of some of the main forms of the view that sentences are the primary truth-bearers: Quinean Disquotationalism (N.B. as Künne argues, not Quine’s Disquotationalism (p.231)) and Tarski’s Semantic Conception of Truth. According to the former, the concept of (sentential) truth can be explained even though we cannot state finitely what sentential truth is (since ‘”S is true in L” abbreviates an infinite disjunction of conjunctions’(p.230); according to the latter, the concept of sentential truth can be explained and we can state finitely what sentential truth is (‘Tarski’s method still turns on disquotation … but what gets disquoted are singular terms, open sentences, and logical operators, which, though finite in number, suffice for all sentences of the language’(p.239). Chapter 5 argues further for a form   4 of ‘eternalism’: truth is a stable property of propositions, ‘a property that cannot be lost’(p.249). ‘Propositional Primitivism’ is the view, subscribed to by Frege, the early Russell, the early Moore, and (latterly) Ernest Sosa, that the concept of propositional truth cannot be explained, and in Chapter 6 Künne sets against this his own ‘modest conception of truth’. Simplifying somewhat, Künne’s modest conception of  propositional truth stands to Horwich’s Minimalism as Tarski’s Semantic Conception of sentential truth stands to Quinean Disquotationalism. According to Horwich’s Minimalist Conception of Truth, ‘the minimal theory virtually exhausts the theory of truth’(p.318), where the minimal theory ‘is a collection of infinitely many  propositions (“axioms”), comprising the propositions expressed by … substitution instance(s) of the Denominalization Schema (Den) The proposition that p is true iff  p’(p.318). While Horwich’s Minimalist conception eschews any attempt at an explicit definition of the form ‘ ! x (x is true iff … x …’), Künne’s modest conception of truth contains ‘the minimal definition of propositional truth’(p.337): (MOD) ! x (x is true iff "  p (x = [p] #  p)) Here, the pair of square-brackets functions, like Horwich’s ‘<…>’, as a sentence forming operator on sentences, so that e.g. ‘[snow is white]’ stands for the proposition that snow is white. The Modest Conception, unlike correspondence theories, ‘makes no use of a two-place predicate signifying a relation between a truth-value bearer, or a  part of it, and something else (whether an object, a fact, or an event)’(p.337). Künne traces the srcins of his modest conception of truth to work by Tarski, Kotarbinski, Carnap, Prior, Kneale, and Mackie, and suggests that it provides a ‘non-reductive explanation’(p.18) or ‘”connecting analysis” or elucidation which explains [the   5 concept of truth] by showing its connections with other concepts’(p.338, fn.70). Chapters 5 and 6 together thus provide an indirect rebuttal of Davidson’s ‘Sentential Primitivism’, according to which sentences are primary truth bearers and the notion of truth cannot be adequately explained. In Chapter 7, Künne defends ‘alethic realism’, the view that truth is epistemically unconstrained, or equivalently, the view that ‘some true propositions which human beings are able to comprehend can never be contents of any justified human beliefs’ (p.20). Alethic realism, thus characterised, is to be distinguished from ‘metaphysical realism’, in the characterisation made familiar by Putnam, and, furthermore, is silent on the acceptability of the principle of bivalence. ‘Alethic anti-realism’ is the view that truth is epistemically constrained, in other words that ‘no  proposition that humans can comprehend is true unless it could be the content of a  justified human belief’ (p.452). Künne discusses and rejects a number of forms of alethic anti-realism, including Brentano’s foundationalism, neo-Hegelian coherentism, Peircian ‘consensualism’, and Putnamian internalism. He goes on to identify a ‘Common Denominator of all varieties of alethic-anti-realism’ as ‘(ComDen) There is no true proposition such that the assumption that it is both true and the content of a justified belief implies a contradiction’ (p.437). Künne attempts to demonstrate the incorrectness of (ComDen) by ‘showing that in the case of  propositions such as [the number of hairs now on my head is odd, but nobody is ever  justified in believing that this is so], being true and being justified exclude each other’(p.439). Künne’s ‘Argument from Justification Blindspots’ for this latter claim deserves an extended appraisal that I cannot attempt here. Instead, I’ll raise three
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