There are notions that reach us clouded in a transcendental aura – meaning, being, good, beauty, truth. Philosophy has conceived of three concepts of truth: truth as correspondence (in the Aristotelian conception, truth is a quality of thought: it is made of the correspondence between the thought and reality) truth as coherence (truth is all, said Hegel) and the pragmatic truth (the idea of truth is interpreted through the idea of utility which is a component in the analysis of action).
Truth has not fallen from the sky. It is a process of unveiling (aletheia), inherent in the world – something which New Age and Paganism share in rejecting [is] belief in “external” sources of truth and meaning. First, modern science has structured itself by separating itself from the type of knowledge called philosophy. Mathematical theorems furnish the paradigm of immutable truth. Thus, truth and meaning are notions that are restricted in terms of validity. That which mathematical logic attempts to thematicize is evidently the concept of truth, from Tarski to Gödel. In a being’s broad sense of manifesting his/her being, truth never presents itself in a pure form. A being’s poetic nomination reaches us totally penetrated by myth and by fiction. What is beautiful is a truth that is not opposed to falsehood. Semiotics speaks of the “truth effects” or the stages of veridiction, rejecting any ontology for this category. Speaking on the stratification of stages, P.A. Brandt links the problems of veridiction to the intersubjective structure of communication. Thus it is that this author realises the ironic statement or the notion of truth as a verisimilar effect from the registries of rhetoric (from the discourse of persuasion to that of fiction). Derrida speaks of the “semantic effect,” something which has its place over a deep chasm without losing its consistency.
The complete realisation of truth is not an “absolute knowledge” but a textual performativity which does not let itself be defined in terms of knowledge or truth. Judgments of truth are always finite, contingent, and we cannot define what truth is except that it is the very functioning of all thought activity. But truth is necessary: “ex falso sequitur quodlibet”, as the Scholastics said.
The problem of philosophy has always been one of the mobility of things. Authentic knowledge should be immutable because it falls back not upon appearances (doxa) but on principles (episteme). In Plato, it is in the name of truth, his only reference, that mimesis is judged, proscribed or prescribed. Diogenes Laertius says that Pythagoras compared life to the Olympic Games and considered philosophers as men gone hunting for the truth when: “he compared life to the Olympic Games in that some go to compete for awards and others go to hawk their wares, but the best (do it) as spectators, in the same way as in life, I tell you, as when slaves go out hunting for glory and profit, and the philosophers, for their part, for truth” (Diogenes Laertius, 1980, VII, 8: 326-329). Man can place himself before the truth in two ways: either consider it as something that is possessed in the past or in the present, or go in search of it because you believe that it may be in the future. Plato writes in Phaedrus (Phaedrus 247 d-248 c) that the soul, be it divine or human, is possessed of the fundamental need to take in spiritual food such as truth or the meaning of being. In Laches, Socrates is called to decide which way is best to teach valentia to the young. The discussion of the meaning of the word valentia takes off from the premise that valentia is good. No-one knows what it is but it is known that one must be valiant. This means that the word, rather than designating a concept, falls back on a topos, a principle which assigns a favourable evaluation on human actions. The Sophists have now taught a piece of practical wisdom: knowledge of what is convenient or feasible. The final norm is not truth but utility: the “appearance of truth,” the verisimilar, the opinion (the doxa) and the formation of opinion become more important than the truth. It is against this Sophist assumption of knowledge that Socrates is built. He had unmasked the false knowledge of the Sophists calling it ignorance. For Socrates, truth must be sought in public, in dialogue. Whether it be today’s consensual theory of truth or the theory of coherence, their fundamentals are here.
Truth corresponds to a total coherence of affirmations. Truth, as the correspondence theory goes, is the concordance of my thoughts with real facts.
The domain in which writing works is neither true nor false, but rather undecidable. No text attains the signification that it is aiming for. If we consider the relationship of the text with a thing (with the world) according to classical philosophical schema – adequation, correspondence, unveiling, presence – we see that they are all inadequate in being able to determine what it is. Writing inscribes the truth “in a system in which it is just a place and a function”.
Whatever debate there is about what is true is determined by the game of rhetorical and syntactical structures upon which the question of what is “true” or “false” has no relevance whatsoever.
Let us consider, for example, legal/judicial discourse. This discourse focuses on the actions of the plaintiff and the accused. Its criterion is verisimilitude (it is likely that ‘X’ has committed this crime: we see a dead body and find the victim’s blood on someone’s shirt). The principal mechanism for this type of discourse is the anti-mimesis, which indicates an incomplete syllogism. Rational proof is obtained through syllogistic rationalisation: the person who committed the act ‘Y’ is the one who would stand to benefit from act ‘Y’; so ‘X’ stood to gain and therefore ‘X’ committed ‘Y’. The Sophist today encounters his greatest expression in the ideology that we can define as the “truth towards”, a partially absolutised truth, a privileged perspective. Advertising and publicity are moderate forms of this employment of the truth in the service of economic and political interests. The subjection of truth to a goal necessarily leads to its relativisation. There is a clear similarity between the theory of speech actions and the linguistics of Port-Royal and Bally. The illocutionary forces of “order” and “assertion” indicate what a statement consists of, they comment on the statement and the stated and not an external object to the statement. By their self-referential character, these forces can escape any thought in terms of truth or falsehood. The theory of speech acts is an example of the veritative conception of signification. Insufficient, for having abandoned what seemed the most original in the notion of illocutionary force. This retrograde movement consisted of the introduction of the concept of “condition of happiness” which replaced the “conditions of truth” in the veritative conception of signification. Searle, for example, characterises the illocutionary force of order using a condition of hierarchical superiority of the locator over the listener; without this condition, this act of order cannot enjoy an institutional realization. Thus the illocutionary act, as the philosophers of language so call it, belongs to objective reality: it is necessary to ask if ‘X’, in saying ‘Come’ to ‘Y’, did or did not really give an order. Which means abandoning the self-referential character that seemed to make up the core of the theory. Nor can we think that in signification there exists a purely objective sector that is not contaminated by pragmatic intentions. The concept of polyphony leads to the description of the meaning of the stated as a type of crystallised dialogue, or better put, the meaning of the stated consists of a description of the statement and this description consists of making the statement appear as a confrontation of several voices juxtaposed over each other or responding to each other. If we put ourselves at the level of the locator, the stated must be considered as a monologue. However, at a deeper level, the locator of the stated, in his monologue, places a dialogue of many more elementary voices on stage, which Ducrot calls the ‘staters’”.
Pragmatism reduces truth to utility or to the effects that our thoughts, words and concepts have on our conduct. By reducing theoretical truth to a conviction of practical order, leading to an instance of consensus as the scientist does in the visible world, neutralises critical judgment, closing each one of us off into the truths of his/her tribe and making the beliefs that predominate there beyond criticism. This is how cultures differ or oppose each other without any one side being in error. The “perspectivist” conception of truth has dethroned once and for all the (philosophical) pretension of a truth with absolute and immutable value.