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Truth and Taste

The word "truth" is often used without any understanding of the difference between descriptive and prescriptive truth, and without clear differentiation between matters of truth and matters of taste.

Descriptive truth, which consists in the agreement of the mind with reality, requires affirmation of the existence of an independent reality. The modern error of ontological idealism must be corrected. (See Reality and Appearance.)

Prescriptive truth consists in the agreement of the mind with right desire.

In both cases it is important to distinguish between the definition of truth and the criteria employed in testing whether a given proposition or judgment is true or false, either beyond the shadow of a doubt, or beyond a reasonable doubt, or by a preponderance of reason and evidence; at the time the proposition (as entertained or judged) has certitude, or has some degree of probability.

In addition to the tests of truth that depend on the agreement of the mind with reality or right desire, there is the test of coherence. If the human mind is confronted with an incompatibility between its prior judgments and a new judgment, it must seek intrinsic coherence or compatibility by choosing between its earlier judgments and the new one. In short, the mind must choose between its earlier hypotheses and a new hypothesis that calls for consideration. The test of coherence is governed by the principle of incompatibility.

There is one further consideration, and that is the distinction between matters of truth and matters of tastes. If anything is a matter of truth, it is transcultural true. The truths of mathematics, of theoretical physics, and all the other empirical natural sciences are transcultural in this sense.

But there is still a question about whether the claims of philosophy, of history, and of the social sciences can be similarly regarded. All that we can say at present is that philosophy's claim to get at the truth is to be regarded as transcultural, not just a matter of taste that will always differ from one culture to another.

To deny philosophy this claim while according it to the empirical or experimental sciences is merely another token of the positivism that prevails throughout the world at the end of the twentieth century.

No one doubts that the natural sciences have transcultural truth. Few believe that philosophy does. Philosophy will achieve that status it should have, and in my judgment can have, only when it succeeds in justifying its claim to be in the sphere of truth rather that the sphere of taste.

The Liar and the Skeptic
Six Great Ideas (1981, 1984), Chapter 5
Milder Forms of Skepticism
Six Great Ideas (1981, 1984), Chapter 6
The Realm of Doubt
Six Great Ideas (1981, 1984), Chapter 7
Is and Ought
Six Great Ideas (1981, 1984), Chapter 10
Real and Apparent Goods
Six Great Ideas (1981, 1984), Chapter 11
Ideas, Issues, and Questions
Six Great Ideas (1981, 1984), Chapter 26
Moral Values
Ten Philosophical Mistakes (1985,1987), Chapter 5
Tests of Truth in Philosophy
The Four Dimensions of Philosophy (1993, 1994), Chapter 5
Science and Philosophy
The Four Dimensions of Philosophy (1993, 1994), Chapters 7
Philosophy's Past, Present, and Future
The Four Dimensions of Philosophy (1993, 1994), Epilogue
The Restriction of Pluralism
Truth in Religion (1990,1992), Chapter 1
The Unity of Man and the Unity of Truth [pages 113-114]
Truth in Religion (1990,1992), Appendix
Recommended Readings on Philosophy, Science, and Religion

Adapted from
Adler's Philosophical Dictionary (1995)
and
Great Ideas from the Great Books (1963)
by Mortimer J. Adler



Revised 15 December 2000

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