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Friday, May 18, 2018


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I have two questions. 1) You say "I would like to be able to show that truth exists of metaphysical necessity independently of us and our need to presuppose it." I'm wondering why you would like to show this. I share your proclivity, but what justifies me in thinking truth ought to be that way? Shouldn't I remain neutral when doing philosophy?

2) If truth does exist independently of us, what is it, exactly? Or is the question of 'what is truth' a separate question from whether or not it exists independently of us? That is, would you say that 'whatever truth is (e.g. a correspondence )it exists independently of us'?


Ad (1). I have a strong intuition that truth is absolute. And so I look to see if I can support the intuition with arguments and defeat the skeptical counter-arguments.

Ad (2). Yes it is a separate question. It is one thing to ask whether there are truths (true propositions) independently of us, and another to ask what it is that makes a truth true. The questions, though different, do interact since if one said that a truth is made true by someone's assertion of it (a thorough bad answer by the way) then truth could not subsist independently of beings who make assertions.

I would not say that whatever truth is, truths exist independently of us. If what makes a truth true is its warranted assertibility, then truths are not independent of us

James Van Cleve discusses a similar issue in his "Problems from Kant" (pp. 37-43) Shortly:
"Russell seems to be arguing as follows. According to Kant, the necessary truths of arithmetic and geometry owe their necessity to our cognitive constitution... Hence, the laws of arithmetic and geometry are not necessary after all - if our constitution had been different, those laws would have been false and other laws would have held in their place." "A possible defense of Kant can be mounted as follows. In giving the necessary truths of geometry a contingent grounding in our form of intuition, Kant is not denying that these truths are necessary after all; he is only denying that they are necessarily necessary. He may still hold that the laws of arithmetic and geometry are necessary truths in our world, even if in some other worlds (in which forms of intuition are different) they are not necessary."
"The issue before us may be illuminated by reference to the controversy surrounding one of the more notorious doctrines of Descartes, the creation of the eternal truths: 'The mathematical truths which you call eternal have been laid down by God and depend on Him entirely no less than the rest of his creatures...' Necessary truths are necessary only because God wills them to be so; it is contingent that he so wills; therefore, any necessary truth is only contingently necessary."
"Russell drew the correct conclusion after all: if Kant is right, the propositions of arithmetic and geometry lose their necessity. If our nature changed drastically enough, we could wake up tomorrow and find that cubes have nine corners or that 2 + 2 = 5." Or, in Kant's own words: 'We cannot judge in regard to the intuition of other thinking beings, whether they are bound by the same conditions as those which limit our intuition and which for us are universally valid.' These remarks strongly suggest that it is a brute contingency that we have the forms of intuition that we do.
"Putting the objections of Russell and Moore together, we obtain a dilemma: that our form of intuition (read all our truths) is Euclidean is either necessary or contingent. If it is contingent, then geometrical truth depends on a contingency of human nature, and its necessity is thereby abolished. If it is necessary, the question arises as to how we are to obtain knowledge of this necessity (as presumably we must, if we are to base geometrical knowledge on it). Kant's theory does not account for knowledge of necessary facts about our own nature. Therefore, Kant must renounce either the existence of necessary truths or his explanation of how we come to know them. "
But then Van Cleve generalizes: "I do not know how to get Kant out of the difficulty raised by Russell. It is worth pointing out, however, that it is by no means a difficulty for Kant alone. I air the suspicion that the problem here is quite general - that any theory that tries to explain necessity (as opposed to accepting it as ultimate) is bound to fail. I must confess that I have not the slightest idea what nonmodal property might serve to guarantee the presence of necessity in whatever had it. To me, the prospects for a general explanation of necessity look quite dim. So, I conclude this chapter with the following backhanded defense of Kant: it may be that one can do better than he did only by not trying at all. "
Now, to your (S). A slight modification along aforementioned lines would make it unassailable: "At times and in possible situations in which we do not exist, OUR truth does not exist either." But that's obviously not what you are aiming at. Then, if "we break the link between truth and Being", it follows that truth is NOT Being, it requires a thinker about Being. The following, "Things glow by their own light, and our minds are sensitive to this light but not productive of it" amounts to anti-Kantian realism and "we can argue cogently that truth exists, and must exist, independently of us" to the Cartesian argument mentioned above - God thinks all possible truths, so they do exist even if we do not. It seems that these alternatives (van Clever and yours) exhaust the issue.


Thanks very much for these quotations. Your typo 'van Clever' is entirely apropos. Van Cleve is clever. His work is at a very high level.

The characteristic axioms of the S5 system of modal logic are that the possible is necessarily possible, and the necessary is necessarily necessary. Thus, Nec p --> Nec Nec p.

The above defense of Kant would put him at odds with the going system of modal logic.

*7 is prime* gives every indication of being necessarily true, unlike the obviously contingent *The cat lady down the street has 7 cats.* And it is easy to appreciate why the axiom mentioned above is an axiom. But how square it with the divine sovereignty and with Kantianism?

Van Cleve is right to generalize the dilemma that Russell finds Kant to be in.

You are right to detect that what motivates me is an anti-Kantian realism.

There is a way things are, and this way things are is independent of us. Not only is it independent of what we believe and desire, it is also independent of our very existence.

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