Basement Philosophy: Truth as Correspondence


My commentary on Heidegger’s lectures on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave:

Part 1:

Truth. Everyone knows what truth is. Why turn it into an annoying philosophical question? This is the very type of thing that turns people off about philosophy: a sheer waste of time discussing something everybody knows about already.

Take it from someone whose life was forever twisted when he caught a mild virus from the philosophy bug: when the question comes to life within you, your hunger for the truth will never be satisfied. And everything else in this world will seem cheap and second rate. Ultimately you will never be able to shake that feeling, though you may try to put it to rest for years on end.

“Essence” is a fancy word that means what a thing is. I know what a door is, and that knowledge applies to all doors. It is what makes it a door. Do all doors need a handle? No. Do all doors need to be made of wood? No. Then what makes a door a door. Well, we might say that a door covers an opening to a room, for instance. Can a bed sheet be a door? Yes, but not typically, it could be a makeshift door. But we would understand that the bed sheet is serving for all intents and purposes as a door. The essence of a door, then, is what all doors have in common. It’s an abstraction. We do not perceive it directly, like the wood or the handle or the bed sheet. When we see the bed sheet covering a rectangular opening, we think to ourselves that it is a door.

We are looking for the essence of truth, what all truths have in common. Why do we assume there is such a thing? Why can’t we be satisfied with particular truths.  It is true that the sun is shining this afternoon. It is true I am sitting in a chair while typing. We know these truths, does it matter whether they share an essence?

Well, it seems that these truths do have something in common: these statements correspond to a factual situation. If I say the sun is shining, all you have to do is look out the window and you’ll see whether it’s true or not. If I don’t plug in my computer, and it shuts itself down in 2 hours because it ran out of battery power, then I will know that what the manufacturers said about battery power is true. Their statement corresponds to the factual situation.

Is correspondence between the proposition and that to which it refers, truth? Knowledge? Isn’t truth knowledge?

So, can we say that the essence of truth is that any statement must ultimately correspond to a factual situation? It seems so. In fact it seems so obviously true that almost everyone would wonder why this is even a topic for discussion.

Martin Heidegger, in his lectures called The Essence of Truth, explodes this idea. To know whether the proposition corresponds (the truth), he says we are ALREADY GIVEN THAT TO WHICH IT CORRESPONDS:

“The dishwasher is running” means I already have the knowledge of “dishwasher” and “running”, and that corresponds to the situation in the statement about the dishwasher in the kitchen running.

That is, I know what a dishwasher is, my knowledge about dishwashers corresponds to dishwashers, and I know what it means for the dishwasher to be running. My knowledge of these things corresponds to the knowledge that the dishwasher is running. Thus, the knowledge of the correspondence in proposition A corresponds to my knowledge of the correspondence contained in situation A. Thus the correspondence corresponds to the correspondence. Knowledge is the knowledge of knowledge. Truth corresponds to truth.

Anything new here?

What is going on, I think, is that Heidegger is pointing out that in our shared common knowledge, correspondence seems to be the essence of truth. But, if we start to look into it, we find a giant circle of reasoning that only tells us what we already know.

We are linking truth and knowledge. What is true is knowledge, is it not? So, where did the knowledge of dishwashers come from, and how do we know what it means to say they are running? We already know these things.

Heidegger says:

The proposition corresponds with what is known in knowledge; thus with what is true..So, does the correspondence of the proposition amount to corresponding with something corresponding?…Truth is correspondence with  a correspondence, the latter itself a correspondence… Must what is given first of all resemble something given…(Essence of Truth, p. 3)

We can end this meditation with a couple of remarks made by Heidegger in this section:

He calls essence the universal, the “what-being” . And then he goes on ask if the “what-being” of the table really the same kind of essence as the “what-being” of the truth? And besides, what would the word “being” mean in this case?

We don’t understand Being yet. My own conclusion is that we MUST ask these questions if are to have a chance at cracking open this data driven zeitgeist which assumes that information is truth, even though it is circularity within circularity.

Like drinking coffee, same bullshit, only faster. Too dangerous to step into the unknown. It corresponds to nothing you have known.


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