Truth and Truthmaking


I recently finished an interesting book of modern philosophy on the subject of my title called “Truth and Truth-Making” (2014), a collection of essays from the 1980’s to 2013 edited by E. J. Lowe and A. Rami. The basic idea reflected in all of these ideas is that “truth” is something born by propositions, and that what gives propositions this property is something in the world independent of human mind. Generally speaking this idea makes sense but there are a few complications because we can find examples of propositions that seem true but do not seem to be connected to anything in the world independent of mind. Various solutions to this come to mind, the simplest of which allow of several kinds (as in categories) of truth-makers some of which are independent of mind, while others are themselves constructs of mind.

So truth here gets little attention which goes, rather, to the relation between truth-bearers (propositions) and truth-makers, something besides the structure of the proposition itself (if applicable) and [mostly] independent of mind, that make the propositions true. Most of the work in this arena is focused on what sorts of things “in the world” are or can be truth-makers, and in exactly what the relation between true propositions and their truth-makers consists. Truth-making, in turn, is a new twist on once popular “correspondence theories” of truth. If “the sky is blue today” is made true by there being a cloudless (unbefouled by pollution) sky above us today, then the proposition is true because its content corresponds to the color of the sky and the color of the sky likewise corresponds to the semantic content of the proposition.

It isn’t clear that this symmetry makes sense. It isn’t obvious that the color of the sky (which after all takes no notice of us) corresponds in any but the most trivial sense (because we say so) to the semantic content of a mental construct. The idea behind the truth-maker idea was that the relation is asymmetrical. The proposition “bears truth” because of the color of the sky (is made true by it), but the proposition, while true, does not make the sky blue. More precisely, the relation is non-symmetrical because the fact of the sky’s color has no particular relation at all to the proposition made true by it.

Propositions having to do with the state of the material world are therefore made true (or not) by the state of the material world. This then excludes “analytic truths” like “bachelors are unmarried men” which is made true by the definition of ‘bachelor’. When we speak of “the state of the material world” (and therefore “synthetic propositions”) we speak of something we call “facts”. Facts can be about various sorts of material states. That “water is H2O” is a proposition made true by a state of the world that has been a fact since recombination 340,000 years after the big bang, and will presumably remain true (subject to the evolution of natural law) for billions of years to come. By contrast, that “Mars, Earth, and the sun aligned on April 8, 2014” is made true by the fact of an alignment on that date, while the proposition that Mars, Earth, and the sun align approximately every 778 days is made true by the relation between the orbits of Earth and Mars, a state of affairs made true by those orbits since the stabilization of planetary orbits some 4 billion years ago. In each one of these cases, it is some fact that makes the proposition true. This can be restated as the proposition “expressing a fact”. Substances and processes entangled with the physical world can all be construed as facts. “John exists” is a fact if John is in the world at the time of the utterance. “There exists a John” is a fact if any person (or perhaps animal) named John exists.

Truth makers are of minimal and maximal sorts. The maximal types are typically less interesting because they are less specific. The examples given above are minimal truth makers. The state of the whole universe at any given moment is the maximal truth maker for all the facts of the universe in that moment. As such it doesn’t tell us very much. In the most maximal sense, all physical phenomena, even individually, are made true by the state of the entire universe. Every fact is “made true” by those phenomena that belong to it alone, and also by the universe as a whole. Truth-makers are not mutually exclusive. Most often they are nested together, the more minimal inside the more maximal. Notice that it isn’t merely the existence of the universe that makes every true proposition true, but the form of its existence, the way things (which might have been otherwise) actually are. The alignment of Earth and Mars with the sun [roughly] every 778 days is not made true merely by the existence of planetary orbits, but by the specific relation between the orbits of Earth and Mars.

A fact always involves some arrangement of physical substances and processes. In the temporal dimension, facts are “real” in the present. Some facts come into existence (for example that Caesar was assassinated) and then remain true forever more. Caesar was murdered over 2000 years ago, but that he was murdered is still true today. Other facts come to be, remain true for a time, and then cease to be facts. That Matthew is 12 years old was a fact for a year many years past, but is no longer a fact. It remains a fact however that Matthew was once 12 years old. There are not two facts here only two expressions of the same fact viewed in different temporal perspectives. The totality of facts in the universe consists of the past, the history of the universe, and such facts as are made actual, physical arrangements, brought into being in the present in a process of dynamic evolution.

There are philosophers who would say that while facts perhaps were reified in the past, they are real only now, that is in the present. The past is no longer real though it was real. There is only the present, and in the present there are facts that, among other things, can be records (in the present) of events in the past. Either view may be used to connect contingent propositions, facts of history that might have been otherwise, to their truth-makers in physical states-of-affairs. The proposition that “Caesar was assassinated” is made true either by that event more than two thousand years ago, or by present records of that event. That there are such present records is explained by the event’s occurrence in the past plus the further fact that the event was recorded, and the recording has survived to the present. Either way some arrangement of the physical is involved.

What are we to make of the proposition: “more often than not it is better to tell the truth than to lie”. If this is true, something of what we might mean is that the physical out workings of truth telling are on the whole better and those of lying worse most of the time. The qualifier is necessary because there are certainly situations, specific potential arrangements of substances and processes (for example Nazis searching for Jews hidden in your basement) in which it seems that lying results (one is to hope) in far better outcomes. Both the propositions “Often it is better to tell the truth” and “sometimes it is better to lie” can both be true now, in the present, when most realists agree, truth-makers must exist if they exist at all. Significantly, the “better outcomes” referred to are not yet facts. If the proposition bears truth it is because a future corresponds to it, a future having no facticity whatsoever in the present. The truth-maker for this sort of proposition cannot be a physical state-of-affairs because such a state of affairs has not yet occurred. It isn’t yet real.

A more traditional view of truth, one often connected to theism for ontological reasons I discuss in a moment, is that truth is one of a family of universals called “values”, the other members of this family being beauty and goodness. One of the reasons, perhaps the main reason, why modern philosophy has mostly abandoned an examination of truth as such and turned to talk of truth-making and truth-makers is because values, being entirely entities of the mind are both unavailable to third-party investigation (there is no objective accounting for taste in beauty for example) and in addition do not seem amenable to logical clarification (witness the multiplicity of moral theories).

In modern philosophy, where “value talk” is allowed, it is generally assumed that the three values (truth, beauty, and goodness), in addition to being experienced in mind, are also (and merely) “inventions of the mind”. Of course this is controversial. Just how it is that they are inventions, and what they mean for us as rational beings with individual purposes is the core of the modern debate if it is debated at all. But on one side of this debate are those who point out that in the end values can only mean something consistent and universal (that is for all minds) if they are not mere inventions, but come from somewhere. Mind, rather than being an inventor of values, is a detector of values.

It is this conception that leads in the end to some concept of God or proxy for God because human mind, at least, has not been able to grasp any other concept that would reify them! Science does not find these values in its examination of the material world as such. If one says “values come from the gods” (small ‘g’) one has to ask the question “who made the gods and how is it they have such power?”. If values are the result of “a force” (perhaps panpsychism) unsupported by deism or theism, one has to wonder how that quality arises from physics alone and how it comes to be that values are detected specifically and only by persons and not animals who, after all, might have quite sophisticated minds?

Philosophers have been seeking ways to ground values as something more than “mere inventions” but without resorting to theism for a long time. None of the proposed alternatives is without serious problems. One way or another, the only stopping point to the issues raised by the problems ends up being an infinite, personal, and purposeful God who’s character qualities are reflected to human minds by the values. The values constitute our sensitivity (such as it is) to God’s character. Much of this path (and the reason only humans detect values) is covered in two of my books and various other articles in this blog. Here I want to focus on the relation between truth qua value and truth in the modern idea of a property of propositions made so by something in the world.

It will be helpful to summarize what is common to all three values supposing them to be in some sense qualities of God detected by human mind. One supposes God (should he exist) must have qualities. God is said to be spirit and the human detection of values, it is traditionally supposed, is the sum and substance of what we, as limited beings made of meat in a finite universe of purposeless mechanism, can sense of those qualities.

We cannot say what spirit is only that what we can know of it is encompassed by our capacity for values detection. Our detection capacity is not to be taken as the totality of the quality of God’s spirit but only a minimal contact in the same sense as dipping one’s toe into the Pacific Ocean is contact with that ocean. It is precisely that minimal contact necessary and sufficient to qualify us for person-hood (see my “Why Personality“)! Nor should we assume the human capacity to detect values is the best that can be managed in the universe, even among creatures made of meat. It might well be that there are other meat-based creatures in the universe who by the properties of their biology have a natively-richer appreciation for the nature of the same three values. Be that as it may, our own, human, capacity to detect them is what we have, and we must grow our appreciation from our biological starting point as our alien betters must begin from theirs.

Beauty is value as it is detected in the physical world itself. When we use the word ‘beautiful’ literally, we are typically talking about some arrangement of substances we are able to perceive with our physical senses. Goodness is value detected in the acts of persons; value detected in personality as reflected in its actions. It is the acts of persons (and by extension the agents of those acts; the persons themselves) that are good. We might impute goodness to the acts of animals, but animals do not act “for reasons of values”, but only from the constraints of their biology. Goodness reflected in animal actions comes out to fitness, and the goodness (now a metaphor) for fitness, is something recognized only in human mind. This can be seen even more clearly as concerns the state-of-the universe. We might say “it is good that the fine structure constant is what it is or we would not exist”. Here we clearly mean that the fine structure constant’s value is fit for life in the universe as we find it. Clearly it is ourselves, that is human beings, who impute goodness to this measure of fitness. Truth is value not only perceived in mind (as all must be) but as concerns the content (for example beliefs) and judgments of mind. Propositions, after all, are products of mind, and notably products of human mind. As concerns beauty and goodness philosophers have quibbled over the dividing line between humans and animals, but I don’t know of anyone who takes seriously the notion that animals entertain propositions.

The values, being as it were detectable signals of God’s qualities, must be related to one another and must, like the relation between quantum mechanics and general relativity in the physical universe, end up being consistent with one another. Self-consistency, an absolute lack of self-contradiction, must be a quality of an infinite God. The values cannot be inconsistent with one another as they are recognized in their different domains any more than two extant physical phenomenon can be mutually contradictory.

That value propositions have any truth value is controversial in philosophy today, but their truth value is easily accommodated by their relation not to physical states-of-affairs, but to values taken to be qualities of God detectable by human mind. It is in some ways unfortunate that the word ‘truth’ is employed in its meaning as a value, and its being the quality of a proposition. For now I will call the value sense Truth with a capital ‘T’ and the propositional quality truth small ‘t’. So it happens that some sorts of propositions bear truth by their relation to Truth rather than to states-of-affairs. Remember that a truth-maker must be independent of the subjectivity of individual mind. If the values are merely invented in subjective experience they cannot be truth-makers because there is no guarantee that we do not each experience completely different qualities of them. But if value is detected by mind then it is possible for value to serve in the role of truth-maker. Although it is detected only by mind and thus subject to some individual distortion it has, nevertheless, enough shared quality across minds (human minds) to serve as a connection between the proposition and something outside the proposition-conceiving mind.

What does it mean to say that there is a connection between a proposition in mind and Truth conceived as a value detected in mind? As a value, Truth represents or stands for (to the limits of our capacity to detect) some quality of God. To be connected to a value is to be aligned (however incompletely or imperfectly) in some sense with some quality of God. Since God is unified and all his qualities perfectly compliment one another, it amounts to being aligned to some degree with God over-all. This is equally true for beauty and goodness as it is for truth. But as concerns truth the alignment specifically concerns mind and so to the subject matter of propositions, as beauty is to arrangements of particulars in the world (which are also states-of-affairs but truth-making does not preclude there being multiple truth-makers in certain circumstances), and goodness to the acts of persons which also, as it happens bring about various states-of-affairs.

As concerns facts, truth and Truth can come apart. “ISIS has murdered many innocent people” is true on most accounts, but its truth (small ‘t’) does not appear to have anything of goodness or beauty in it. If it is related to God at all it is only indirectly though its connection to a fact. If God exists, then all facts are related to him in a trivial sense because everything must be subsumed under God if he is God though this does not mean that he is personally responsible for them. Actual history has this relation while fantasy history does not. But the truth of a proposition made true by a fact need not have anything good or beautiful about it and its relation to Truth (capital ‘T’) is limited to its being made true by a fact whose actuality is subsumed by him. God apparently permits (at least for a time) much that contravenes his personal will. But Truth conceived as “quality of God” and truth as a property of propositions are not entirely unrelated. In an earlier essay (Process, Substance, Time, and Space) I introduced E. J. Lowe’s “Four Category Ontology”. It will be useful to review that here as it is a structure that works well to explicate the part values play in truth making.

Kind/Type ————- Attributes


Objects ————- Modes/Tropes

Kinds –> Characterized by Attributes, instantiated by objects
Objects –> Characterized by Modes, instantiated by kinds
Attributes –> Exemplified by Objects

We begin with a square. The top two corners are universals, the bottom two particulars. In the lower left corner are “individual substances” normally taken to be material and abstract things of the world both natural and artifactual. Particular planets, stars, dogs, trees, chairs, statues, people, sets and propositions can all serve as particulars. In Lowe’s view there are no “bare particulars”; every one of these objects (concrete or abstract) is a member of one or more “kinds” or “classes” (the upper left corner). My dog, for example is a member of the class “dogs” and also “animals”. Most classes nest wholly within super-classes (like dogs and animals) but this is not always so. A statue made of clay and one made of bronze are both kinds of statues, but one belongs also to the class of bronze artifactual objects while the other belongs to clay artifactual objects. The kinds instantiate global universals (upper right corner) which Lowe calls “attributes”. These globals include such abstract concepts as “color”, “shape”, “size”, “mass”. Taking color as a universal attribute, it is instantiated in classes like “red things”, “blue things”, etc. The last corner (lower right) are individual “modes” (Lowe’s preferred term) or “tropes” As with the classes, these also instantiate universal attributes, but this time as a “particular red”, or a “particular shape”. In turn, the modes are instantiated in the individual substances (back to the lower left corner). An apple has a particular shade of redness, a particular size, and a particular roundness. Particular sets have their members.

There exists a diagonal connection of “exemplification” between the lower left and upper right corners. Particulars exemplify attributes but they do so indirectly. The direct relations are only those represented by the sides of the square. Attributes are instantiated in kinds and modes, while these two are instantiated in particulars; individual substances. In Lowe’s view, only the individual substances “exist” in the sense of being objects in the physical universe. Kinds, attributes, and modes are real only insofar as they are instantiated (the Attributes via their instantiation of kinds and modes) in individual particulars. The class “unicorns” doesn’t exist if there aren’t any unicorns, and the likewise the mode of a size or shape of unicorn horn. There are no uninstantiated kinds, attributes, or modes. Lowe was a realist. Attributes exist (though not as substances) because they are instantiated through classes and modes in real particulars. The classes or kinds are abstractions exemplified by particulars, but the modes are not abstractions. They are real because they inhere in the particulars that instantiate them.

In Lowe’s view, it is the modes that establish most facts (the particular redness of an individual apple, the specific characteristic of Earth’s orbit around the sun) and thus ground the truths of propositions. But there are exceptions. Existence is not taken to be a property like a color or shape. “The [particular] apple exists” is made true by the apple itself, the particular, while “mammals are animals” is made true by the relation between the class (kind) “mammal” and the kind “animal”, in this case that the former is wholely subsumed by the latter.

Values, taken as a whole, i.e., the “qualities of God” to which our minds are sensitive belong to the attributes. These in turn are instantiated in three classes, beauty, goodness, and Truth, and also in modes corresponding to particulars that are beautiful, good, or True. A particular sunset and a particular rose are both beautiful. Each is an instantiation of the class “beauty” and each has its own particular mode or beauty trope. Individual acts are good likewise by being examples of the class and in having their own modes. What about Truth? In contemporary philosophy, truth is taken to be instantiated in (a property of) propositions, that is particular individual propositions. As a group, they are members of the class of propositions and each of the true propositions instantiates some specific “truth mode”. It is here in the particularity of the modes that the truth makers for value propositions are mostly to be located.

The modes ground value propositions in the same way that they ground propositions pertaining to the physical world. But in the case of values, the classes (Truth, beauty, and goodness) are not related in the same way as “animals” are related to “mammals”. They are each a distinct class, beauty being value reflected (to appropriately sensitive minds) in the material world, goodness reflected in the acts of persons, and truth in propositions or statements generally. “There is truth” is not grounded in a particular truth as was the case with existence, but in the presence of the class, while “truth is good” is not grounded in the class as was the case with “mammals are animals” but in the collective universal attribute values.

Classes, attributes, and modes can all have internal relations. Relations between modes often serve as truth makers for propositions about the world. The Earth’s “orbital mode” and Mars’ “orbital mode” are related such that they line up (with the sun) every 778 days. The proposition “Earth and Mars align with the sun every 778 days” is made true by the relation between their two orbital modes. One of the powerful features of Lowe’s ontological scheme is that it fits such different sorts (kinds) of particulars as chairs, statues, and propositions. Using this scheme we can see that truth as a property of propositions and Truth as a quality of God are related in that the truth of a proposition has to do with the modes instantiated by it. In the example above, they are the modes of two orbits and that these two modes are modes of orbits in the actual universe.

Lowe’s ontological scheme thus proves very flexible as concerns both propositions about the physical world and values. As concerns Truth (and truth), both fit nicely in the scheme while the scheme itself connects them or relates them as modes instantiating different universal attributes, the universal “history of the universe” and the universal “qualities of God”.