Chapter 7


But that sense in which "the truth" means "the facts" is really a secondary sense of truth. Generally speaking, when a person would say "That's true," he's either referring to a judgment, or a statement, the expression in language of a judgment. In the former case, "That's true" always means the same thing as "I am not mistaken" or "You are not mistaken"; in the latter case, it can also mean, "You are not mistaken and you are not lying." So truth refers to the fact as understood to be a fact, or perhaps as expressed as a fact.

Some more definitions are in order, then,

A judgment is true when the fact as understood is actually the fact.

A judgment is mistaken or in error when the fact as understood differs from the actual fact.

So perceptions are not true or mistaken; they just are what they are. Not even all acts of understanding are true or mistaken; you can't make a mistake about the unicorn you are imagining.

Notice this latter. There are two senses involved here. In the first sense, you can't "make a mistake," because there is no unicorn to be mistaken about; it can be whatever you want it to be, and so you don't have to "conform your judgment" to anything at all.

But also, you can't make a mistake about the unicorn you are imagining; in the sense that you can't think that you are imagining it with a curly mane when in fact you are imagining it with a straight mane. Why? Because the act of imagining is one and the same as the unicorn and as your knowledge of the act of imagining. Hence, it is impossible for you to be imagining one way and be conscious-of-imagining a different way; this would imply that the "imagining" was actually unconscious, like some object, and was "made" conscious by the "being conscious of being conscious." But the imagining is conscious, and so is the consciousness of itself; and so it is absolutely known by itself. Hence, it is impossible to make any mistake about it.

But how about those people who think that imagining and being conscious of imagining are two acts; aren't they making a mistake? This involves a third sense, and here, yes, they can make a mistake (and are in fact mistaken) because this is a fact about the act as an act, and not exactly the awareness of the act itself. That is, the act is conscious of itself; but whether this is immediate and direct or mediate and indirect is something that one can at least reason about. One can say, "It certainly seems that I am aware of my awareness; but this sounds impossible, and so I must be indirectly aware of it." Thus, because the direct awareness of one's own awareness is so different from anything else, and when it is examined seems to defy the laws of physics, people can regard this as an effect and argue to a cause which is a mediate awareness (and in that argument, which involves indirection, they make a mistake). But in this third sense, they are taking the act as an object, and looking at the facts about it. We will do this much later ourselves.

In any case,

Conclusion 6: In the truth-relation, the judgment must agree with what the fact is, not the other way round.

That is, your mind is a receiving-set for information given off by objects; it is your job to "tune the mind in" to the right frequency, and the energy given off by objects has no "responsibility" to be what you judge it to be. So, my dog's fur is tan; and if for some reason I see it as brown (i.e. as the same as earth or walnut wood), then I am the one who made the mistake, not my dog or the light or whatever. The mistake disappears when I correct my judgment, not by the facts adjusting themselves to my preconceptions.

The position of relativism, which we saw in the first chapter, basically thinks of truth as totally inside consciousness, which is assumed either not to "point to" anything outside it, or not to be able to know anything that it is "pointing to." Hence, truth is at present regarded as "internal consistency."

But of course that position has to be a mistake, because it asserts that this is what truth in fact is, and that those who think that truth deals with "matching" are mistaken. If you read what Hume and Dewey and the rest say about the "conformity" theory of truth, you can see that they are not saying, "Well, that position is not internally consistent," they are saying, "That is wrong." Then clearly those who hold that position (the "matching" theory) are taken by them to be objectively mistaken, because truth for them is only internal consistency. But, as I pointed out, this position contradicts itself.

But now we can see how we can get round the difficulty that led these people to that absurd position. Truth does not consist in the "matching" of the perception with the object, but in the "matching" of the relationships between perceptions with the relationships between objects (the facts); and it is the job of understanding to see to it that the relationship "in here" is the same relationship as the one "out there"; and when it assures itself that they are the same, then the judgment is confident of its truth. And that this is what truth is is confirmed by those who deny it, when their denial entails that those who disagree with them are mistaken.

Let me make another diagram to clarify this truth relation:

Let me now look again briefly at James's criterion of truth that I mentioned in the first section in Chapter 10 on opinions: "what works." Modes, 1.1.10 I said there that it could be used as a negative criterion, but wasn't much good positively.

That is, if concepts "fit together," (which is basically what he meant by "works"), then all you know is internal consistency; but this doesn't tell you whether your concepts are perception-based or image-based. This is the flaw in all "internal consistency" theories of truth.

On the other hand, if the concepts don't "fit together," and if as facts they would contradict each other, then either (a) there is some effect here, and there is a cause that makes them consistent, or (b) you're making a mistake.

For example, the internal consistency theory of truth itself doesn't fit with the proponents thinking that they've hit on the right definition--because if that one is right, then all it means (on that theory) is that it's consistent with the rest of their theory, not that anyone else's theory is not as good a one. So there has to be a mistake in it somewhere.

I have also been using James's criterion as a way of finding out whether terms mean anything as defined in certain ways. Very often, I have showed that a term defined in a certain way makes it "point to" exactly the same thing as its opposite, in which case there must be something wrong with defining it in that way. For instance, you will recall that I said that if existence didn't mean the same thing as "activity" in general, then an inactive existence could not in practice be distinguished from nothing at all--in which case, why say that this inactive thing exists?

But James tried to use his "pragmatic" criterion as a definition of truth; and on his own criterion, it doesn't work. The "matching" is the one that does; but it's not a case of matching perceptions, but of matching concepts with facts (i.e. of judgments, because this is precisely what the judgment as such is).

One of the problems any theory of truth faces is how we can be mistaken, how we can know that we are, and how we can correct mistakes. We have already taken care of that. Other theories of truth are apt to make error a kind of moral fault; Descartes, for instance, clearly held this--and was (presumably sincerely and quite morally) mistaken. His idea was that you take an "idea" (a perception) that isn't "clear and distinct" as if it were clear and distinct, and therefore assert it as real when it isn't. But this can't be a really honest mistake for Descartes, because clarity and distinctness are part of what I called the "consciousness of being conscious," and of course you can't really be fooled about the act itself. Hence, error for him (and many like him) is really a kind of moral evil.

But obviously, this can't be the case, or Descartes would have seen the lack of clarity in his concept of a "clear and distinct idea" itself. No, it must be possible sincerely and honestly to be mistaken, without having the least inkling that you are. Who knows? Maybe my own theory is totally on the wrong track--and maybe you see where the error is, or maybe you don't see anything wrong with it and both of us are wrong. It has happened before, God knows.

But at least I can show (a) why it would be natural for people to be mistaken fairly often, (b) why there are some facts we can't be mistaken about (those immediately evident from our consciousness of our consciousness), and (c) how we can at least sometimes recognize errors and set ourselves straight. How you do this in practice, in a given concrete situation, is another difficulty; and there things depend on what kind of factual knowledge you are talking about: correcting errors in physics involves one strategy; correcting errors in a law court involves another; correcting errors in art something totally different.

As long as I have mentioned art, let me say a word or two about aesthetic judgments that I mentioned in passing in the Section 2 in Chapter 7 on analogy, 1.2.7 while distinguishing analogy from metaphor--and which I will devote a section to much later. Basically, what aesthetics does is use the emotions as "receivers"; and since the emotions are the consciousness of the "program" in the brain, which connects the information coming in (the existence) with behavior (based on the state of the body), then a given emotion is partially due to the state of the body, but also partially due to the existence in question.

Hence, emotions are not totally subjective, though they have more of a subjective element to them than perceptions (they vary depending on bodily needs in ways in which the sense organs don't); but there are ways, based on relationships, of assuring oneself that the subjectivity is circumvented, in which case the emotion would "point" only to the existence as the cause of this "component" of it. Relationships between emotions thus restricted would then be the same as the relations between the existences that caused them; and thus we would have a new "receiving instrument" by which we could learn facts about objects. For instance, a sunny field is the same in fact as a smiling face, because it in fact makes a (normal) person react emotionally in the same way as being smiled at does. (And since most of us are normally in a normal emotional condition, we understand what is meant by the phrase "the smiling meadow.")

But of course, if there are aesthetic facts, there can be mistaken aesthetic judgments, where the internal relationship of the emotions caused (in part) by the objects is not the same as the relation between the objects, but is due to something in the body of the "emoter." For instance, saints are not in fact what they are pictured to be in those sentimental statues seen in many churches; the way one feels at seeing them is obviously not the way they made people feel when in the flesh, any more than Uriah Heep is a good expression of what humility really is.

In any case, I am not trying at the moment to be an art critic, but just to mention that if my theory is true, (a) it is not surprising to find that there is such a thing as art, (b) it is even less surprising to find that artists think they are "making statements," (c) that these statements can't be translated into perception-based statements, and yet are regarded by artists as nevertheless "true," and (d) that artists regard certain esthetic expressions as "prostitution of art" or false.

But before we go on to look at the same truth-relation from the opposite direction, let me draw another conclusion:

Conclusion 7: Truth is basically objective, but it involves the subject; this involvement, however, does not make it in any way partially subjective.

The reason truth is basically objective is, of course, that in any case of truth, the fact is the standard to which the judgment must conform, or there is a mistake and no truth. But the fact, though it doesn't exist as such, nevertheless is "embedded" in the objects, which are as they are independently of what the judgment about them is. Hence, what truth basically is belongs to the object, or is objective.

But of course, since truth involves a relation between the relation between the objects (the fact) and the relation in consciousness (which, of course, as within a subject, can be called "subjective"), then there is this subjective pole to the truth-relation itself, or there is no truth, but just the naked (unknown) fact. But the reason this subjective pole is not a subjective "element" in the truth making it "partially subjective" is that when there is truth, the relation "inside" is identically the same relation as the "outside" one; or there is no truth, but a mistake.

Hence, the "outside" relation totally controls the truth, and so the truth, though it involves a mind, is objective and not "infected" with subjectivity at all.

All I am saying here, really, is that a fact is a fact, but a known fact can't be a fact known without someone's knowing it. But it is still the same fact whether it is known (and there is truth in the judgment) or not.