SEMINAR: THEORIES OF TRUTH

PHIL 633a/433a: W 3:30pm-5:20pm in 104 Connecticut Hall
Yale University
Fall 2005


Instructor: James Woodbridge
email address: j.woodbridge@yale.edu
Course Webpage: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~jw556/yale/Phil633.htm
Office Hours: T 10am-11:30am, W 11am-12:30pm, and by appointment
Office: 406B Connecticut Hall
Office Phone: 432-1683
Dept. Phone: 432-1686


I. COURSE DESCRIPTION

The question at the heart of this course is, “What is truth?” In contrast with the question, “What is true?” (or “What is the truth?”)--an issue addressed by inquiry in general--our query focuses on the nature of truth itself (i.e., what being true involves). The notion of truth is a central philosophical concept. Truth is said to be the aim of inquiry, a criterion of knowledge, and the paramount relation between thought or language and the world. The concept of truth is intertwined with, and often said to explain, other important philosophical ideas, such as realism, objectivity, fact, belief, representation, and rationality. But truth itself is an enduring philosophical enigma, as it remains controversial what truth itself is. Is it an objective property whose applicability is independent of any opinions? Is truth a property that applies only relative to some belief system or worldview? Is truth a property at all? In this course we will examine the strengths and weakness of the main philosophical accounts of truth, including correspondence, coherence, pragmatist, and deflationary views. Readings will be taken mainly from contemporary sources, along with a few historical selections.


II. REQUIRED CLASS MATERIALS

Kirkham, Richard L. Theories of Truth: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992.

Lynch, Michael P. (ed.) The Nature of Truth: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives. Cambridge, MA:
        The MIT Press, 2001.

The books for the course are available downstairs at Labyrinth Books located at 290 York Street.

(They are also on reserve at the Library, along with some additional photocopied readings and related texts.)

III. CLASS REQUIREMENTS AND GRADING SCHEME

Requirements.............................................Percent of Final Grade

Class Contribution.....................................................20%
Reaction Essays.........................................................20%
Term Paper.................................................................60%

About the Requirements:

Class Contribution--One thing this requirement covers is your class attendance. However, attendance is a necessary but not sufficient condition for doing well in class contribution; to achieve this you have to contribute frequently to class discussion. The ClassesV2 site for the course has an Electronic Discussion Board, which can be used to extend or initiate class discussion.

The Reaction Essays--Each Monday by 3pm you will hand in a two-page (typed) reaction paper dealing with (one of) the reading(s) assigned for that week. You will be expected to identify and reconstruct some central point and/or argument from the reading and offer some critical reaction to it (including posing a question or challenge).

The Term Paper--There will be a 15-20 page paper due at the end of the term. Everyone must meet with me by the end of October to discuss term paper topics. Your paper must involve at least one article that was not part of the assigned readings for the class.

Note: All assigments must be satisfactorily completed in order to pass the course.


IV. CLASS FORMAT

This is a seminar course, so our class meetings should be geared mainly toward student discussion rather than lectures. I hope that you will all have views about the theories and related issues we are going to examine, and I want you to express and explore those views whenever possible. It is typical of philosophical topics that people's views on them differ. You are encouraged to question your classmates (and me) when anyone says something you disagree with, but while this is going on everyone should always keep in mind that disagreement is not a personal attack. Philosophical discussion thrives under this kind of interaction and often stems from disagreement. At the same time, philosophical discussion aims at reaching some sort of agreement. We probably won't reach agreement every time, but we should aspire toward it.


VI. TOPICS AND READINGS

The readings from Kirkham's book are listed by author, chapter, and page numbers (in parentheses). The articles from the Lynch anthology are listed by author, title, and chapter number (or page numbers) in parentheses. Readings from other sources will be available on-line through the course Webpage and are listed by author and title, followed by the label "(on-line)".

After a general overview, the course consists of 4 main units. The readings for them are as follows.

0. Overview
Lynch, "Introduction: The Mystery of Truth" (pp. 1-6)
Kirkham, Chapter 1 and 2 (pp. 54-72)
1. The Correspondence Theory of Truth
Lynch, "Realism and the Correspondence Theory: Introduction" (pp. 9-15)
Kirkham, Chapter 4
Russell, "Truth and Falsehood" (1)
Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (selections; photocopy)
David, "Truth as Identity and Truth as Correspondence" (29)
Austin, "Truth" (2)
Strawson, "Truth" (19)
Alston, "A Realist Conception of Truth" (3)
2. Epistemic Theories of Truth
Lynch, "Coherence Theories: Introduction" (pp. 99-102)
Kirkham, Chapters 2 (pp. 41-54) and 3
Blanshard, "Coherence as the Nature of Truth" (5)
Walker, "The Coherence Theory" (6)
Peirce, "How to Make our Ideas Clear" (8)
James, "Pragmatism's Conception of Truth" (9)
Putnam, "Two Philosophical Perspectives" (11)
Rorty, "Is Truth a Goal of Inquiry? Donald Davidson versus Crispin Wright" (12)
3. Tarski's Definition of Truth
Lynch, "Tarski's Theory and Its Importance" (pp. 323-329)
Tarski, "The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics" (15)
Field, "Tarski's Theory of Truth" (16)
Kirkham, Chapters 5 and 6
4. Deflationism about Truth
Lynch, "Deflationary Views and Their Critics: Introduction" (pp. 421-431)
Ramsey, "The Nature of Truth" (18)
Kirkham, Chapter 10
Quine, "Truth" (20)
Horwich, "A Defense of Minimalism" (24)
Gupta, "A Critique of Deflationism" (23)
Devitt, "The Metaphysics of Truth" (25)
Woodbridge, "Deflationism and the Generalization Problem" (on-line) and
        "Truth as a Pretense" (on-line)