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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Truth Dichotomy

This essay examines certain philosophical trends in truth-research in light of the Gospel of John to ask the question of whether it is possible that truth has many forms (polymorphous) and also question whether truth has an "essence."

In the present essay we are taking note of a dichotomy that has taken place in philosophical research and reflection on the nature of truth. This dichotomy is between what we will call the analytic project, which looks at truth as an object and what we will call the existential project that focuses its attention upon the subject and the subjective process. We will take particular note of Kierkegaard, who provides us with the most emphatic declaration of this dichotomy.
After exploring the nature of this dichotomy we will turn to the Gospel of John for a summary analysis of the use of avlh,qeia. We will note the highly developed and philosophically pregnant use of this term in the Gospel of John and make a few, brief observations germane to our topic. Armed with the alēthic concepts of the Fourth Gospel we will then be ready to transition into our last point, which will be to question whether this dichotomy in philosophical truth-discussion is legitimate, desirable, or even useful in our development of a philosophy of truth.

Find the entire essay here:

This essay is being submitted to publication. Comments are welcome.

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ktismatics said...

I read this paper quickly, looking for something in particular. Not being well-versed in philosophy it's tough for me to comment. It seems that you were landing on a particular starting point for the analytic approach, but then kept backpedalling all the way back to Aristotle. That threw me off a little. And the Kierkegaardian quotes didn't really illuminate the existential position for me very well.

The "analytic" notion says that my conception of truth corresponds to something that's true out there in reality, whereas the "existential" position says... what exactly? That the important thing is my subjective experiencing of something that feels like truth, or of how truth affects me personally, or what? Is it some sort of intuition?

I wasn't sure how the Gospel of John fit the discussion. Were you trying to see which competing truth theory made itself manifest in John? Do you think the writer of John manifests both theories of truth plus more, or do you think he precedes the distinctions that were made clearer by later philosophers? This idea of "doing the truth" is an interesting one: does it represent some precursor of a pragmatic theory of truth? I guess not: it's more about the morality of living in accordance with the truth however it's ascertained.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Distinguishing Analytic from Existential:

A few ways we might distinguish the two are as follows...

Analytic: God exists
Existential/Kierkegaardian: My God exits

A: Jesus Christ died upon the cross as redemption for sin.
E/K: Jesus Christ dies upon the cross as redemption for my sin.

A: My wife has beautiful blue eyes.
E/K: My wife has beautiful blue eyes.

The first two examples are obviously religious in nature. It is possible to acknowledge a theological truth at a distance. Much different to experience the impact of that truth in one's soul. So, in a sense it is more spiritual. But more than simply being emotive or a psychological experience it is also decisive - lived out in life. I cite K on page 5: Only in subjectivity is there decision, whereas wanting to become objective is untruth. The passion of the infinite, not its content is the deciding factor, for its content is precisely itself. In this way the subjective "how" and subjectivity are the truth...When subjectivity is truth, the definition of truth must also contain in itself an expression of the antithesis to objectivity, a memento of that fork in the road...An objective uncertainty, held fast through appropriation with the most passionate inwardness, is the truth, the highest truth there is for an existing person.

Now, I don't set objective and subjective truth in contention with each other in the same way as K, though I do appreciate his point.

In the third example above I use the same language because the objective truth about the eyes of one's wife can be stated completely devoid of subjective passions and desire - an objective reflection. Conversely, the very same objective truth can be stated with an intangible and mysterious passion for the mind, body and soul of that person - an experience words will fall short of describing. The difference between the two can be linguistically represented in the exact same manner and yet the truth of it resides at different levels: objective for the man whose heart is cool towards his wife , but subjectively passionate for the man whose heart is set aflame.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Interesting observation about the pragmatic theory of truth. I do think that there are come parallels between John and pragmatic theories of truth.

I see three forms of truth in the Gospel of John:
Truth as correspondence
Truth as experience (crf. Kierkegaard)
Truth as action

John's development of aletheia is extensive and fascinating, but the reason for this essay was to explore the fact that John doesn't seem particularly choosy about whether or not his "aletheia" fits into a particular theory of truth. Philosophical truth theory has become very fragmented (dichotomized) in that truth is either correspondence or pragmatic, either subjective (Kierkegaard) or objective, etc. And even within these camps there are many in house debates.

John's conception of truth does not suffer the death of a thousand qualifications. That is its value for the contemporary truth-theory discussion. That is to say nothing about the value it has for the church. Ironically, though, I think that it today's atmosphere Christian thinkers would be the last ones to appreciate John's alethic development.

Anonymous said...