Truth – By Jesús Zamora

This post is also available in: Spanish

While knowledge had God as a guarantor, there was a strong notion of truth which, in the current epistemic research, seems to fluctuate. Is it possible to use a strong notion of truth?

I’m not so sure that the God hypothesis offered that guarantee, because the deepest theologists, including Saint Thomas Aquinas himself -who is the paradigm of Christian theology- deep down accepted what they called a negative theology, in the sense that the truth about God -and therefore the most profound truths about the universe- are for them ineffable, which means they are not graspable through language. And, therefore, deep down anything we say through language is relatively false. So I believe that, deep down, religion -Christian religion in particular- does not necessarily grant an absolutely firm foundation to our desire of knowing the world. And it may be used both to try to establish a foundation of this kind and to give basis to relativistic and skeptical theses. In fact, several of the great theologists have been skeptical in relation to the knowledge of the world, though not necessarily to the knowledge of God. So the concept of truth was neither so stable, so firm, in the ancient tradition, nor it’s necessarily more unstable in our atheist or secular or disenchanted tradition. I believe that, deep down, science -and that’s a subject which worries philosophers more than scientists- is based on having a notion of truth which is pragmatically useful. A notion of truth with some method for agreeing about some subject, about who’s right about a certain problem. For science to work, it’s enough to have some mechanism to help us determine whether it’s that scientist or the other who came up with the right answer to the question. We don’t need something akin to a transcendental notion of truth.

And for that you use the notion of verisimilitude.

Exactly. The idea of verisimilitude is a fairly vague concept which has a long history, even a prehistory, but in current philosophy it was introduced by Popper, who did it with a very different sense to the one I’m trying to defend. Popper suggested it precisely as a defense of the idea that there is an objective truth and that the object of science consisted of getting closer to that objective truth. Popper didn’t succeed: the definitions he tried to give of the concept of closeness to the truth were inconsistent, from the logical point of view. Later many other definitions were attempted, some of them not inconsistent, some of them consistent, but they could hardly be applied to real science. What I tried was suggesting some versions of this concept in which there is no need to suppose that verisimilitude consists of getting closer to an objective truth, but that it is instead some kind of quality of the results we obtain. Verisimilitude in science, the way I suggest it, would be a similar concept to the one we use when saying a movie is realistic, with a similar meaning to the one the same word has in art, literature, etc.

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