dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

The Bible and its Traditions

 When I was in the seminary (just after the dinosaurs became extinct), a new French translation of the Bible sponsored by the École biblique in Jerusalem began to appear, first in individual fascicles and then as a single volume that would later be translated into English and published as The Jerusalem Bible. It was distinguished by its introductions and notes that were based upon the latest historical, textual, and literary scholarship but also reflected the Christian tradition of biblical interpretation.

The other day I discovered that the same École biblique de Jerusalem is sponsoring a very interesting and exciting new undertaking designed (1) to establish a critical original text, (2) to provide a faithful translation, and (3) to relate the text to other biblical and extra-biblical texts, including ones that illustrate the reception of the text in Jewish, Christian, and even Muslim traditions.

The home website of the project is here.  A fascinating history of the original Bible de Jerusalem can be found here. An outline of the new project is here. And as illustrations of what is intended: the passage on the anointing of the sick in the Epistle of James here and, so far only in French ten other biblical texts, including the story of Abraham and Isaac here.

I must say I do like the principles they set out under the Under the heading: “Translation: making it possible to taste an ‘original’ flavor:

Like the reception of other sacred texts, that of the biblical writings occurred very early with a real concern for the text as text. The linguistic material is itself significant, with its “rustling” and its apparent incoherencies, providing the stones [pierres d’attente: toothing stones] for re-readings and later developments. This can already be noted in the intra-biblical rewriting and allusions. Thus, the translator of The Bible in its Traditions upholds two simultaneous exigenciies:

First, for the translation itself, the translator definitely takes the side of the text as it is and gives primacy to the figures of speech that are present in the source language rather than ease in reading it in the target language. His and her motto is: “neither more obscure (!) nor (above all) more clear that the original.”

Second, the translator offers philological notes ranging from grammar to prosody, and points out the most important literary facts (which served as supports for the previous interpretations. He or she indicates the best results coming from the methods of literary analysis that have fortunately been invented or reinvented by contemporary biblical exegesis under the influence of the humanities. [Translation slightly altered in accord with the French.] 
 

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

102 comments
Close

102 comments

Commenting Guidelines

  • All

JAk --

The second and third "here' sites in paragraph three bring up blank pages (on my MacBook Pro).  

Interesting that Tolkein was one of the translators of the original Jerusalem Bible.  He translated the whole of Jonah and advised on some other texts.  Few fine writers combine Tolkein's scholarship with fine wriing, but a good many first-rate poets do get into translating poetry.  Why not ask them to help with, say, Isaiah?  Tolkein was a novelist.  Why not routinely ask all the best writers, whether poets, novelists, or non-fiction writers, to help wiith translating Scriptue and the liurgical tests?

What a fascinating project! Perhaps I missed it, but I didn't see anything in the way of a date by when the project might be finished. Or what prospects there might be for English and other translations, though I'm not quite sure how suitable it will be for casual readers (huge footnotes, including references to the Iliad!)

Since my NJB is about to have its covers drop off, I went to Amazon (though I'm trying not to shop at the Evil Empire) to see about a replacement. I note that Jeff Bezos and his gang have solved all the problems of Biblical authorship by attributing the entire NJB to the pen (or stylus) of Henry Wansbrough (though he himself appears to be satisfied  with the title of General Editor).

An exciting project, indeed. The references to literary and artistic uses and depictions of the "sacrifice of Isaac" at the end of the last link are informative and helpful.

Is your understanding that the text will be published in a print edition or only on line?

JAK,

Thanks for this informaion. As others have commented, I also ask: when do you think it will be published in English?

 

 

Ann:   The links open up properly on my computer.  Perhaps you need to scroll down to get to the text?

I don't know anything about this project than what appears on the website. Clearly it's intended to be in at least three languages as it develops, and it's hard to see how the result could fit into a single volume. It would be mammoth!

One of the high spots of my life was to meet Fr. Jerome Murphy O’Connor socially through a mutual friend in the early 1990s in Berkeley.  In those days he spent each summer lecturing in the US, with the proceeds from his efforts being used to help support the Ecole Biblique.  He asked me to let him know when I was next going to be in Jerusalem.  I did exactly that and was introduced to dinner at the American Colony Hotel (a must when one is in Jerusalem) and a personally guided tour of the school.

Fr. M-O’C was in love with the school, its work and he devoted his life to doing what he could do to keep it a place of ongoing scholarship.

I am sure that he is happy to know that the school remains alive and well (even though he no longer is, at least on this earth) and is embarking on yet another amazing adventure.

I have two questions, neither of which is necessarily in conflict with the principles of traslation that Fr. Komonchak cites.

First, i seem to recall that Fr. Raymond Brown, when asked which of the available English translations of the Bible he thought was best, said that it depended on the audience for which the translation was intended. Translations fo rscholars might be noticabluy differrent from those used in the litrgy or by catechists teaching high schollers. Think for example of some of the passages from St. Paul's epistles that have interminable sentences that are part of the lectionary.

Second, no target language "stands still." Nineteenth century English, for example, is no longer coin of the realm.

Conclusion: Though there are obviously bad translations, is there any good reason to look for the unqualifiedly "best" translation? Or isn't it the case that the very notion of "le mot juste" is utopian and misguided?

Thanks, JAK.  I scrolled down, and did find the history fascinating -- it raises many interesting hermeneutical questions.  

I see that some first-rate "literary specialists" did have a great deal of input into the original translation, including some unsolicited words from the great Claudel.  (As I remember he did some Scripture translations on his own.)  Even if the literary specialists of the first edition did fight, no doubt that raised the literary standards. i just skimmed the second article (instructions for the new edition).  Apparently they aren't going to solicit literary specialists of the first rank for the new edition. Too bad.

I'd like to second Bernard Dauenhauer's suggestions. Well do I recall that period when boxed Jerusalem Bibles sprouted on the mantles of Christian Family Movement living rooms. I couldn't afford one as our family was growing. (According to the kids, the age of dinosaurs had not yet ended.) But it seemed to turn out that  the JB was too scholarly to settle arguments. Or, more precisely, it had a tendency to scatter the thoughts of seekers in all sorts of different directions when it was used. Of course, it was never designed for unbackgrounded study, so we were asking for simple answers and finding that we had asked interesting questions.

I remember the Jerusalem Bible's advent into the homes of my Catholic friends. We had a KJV that my mother got in Methodist Sunday school as a kid, and the JB was actually something a 10-year-old could read. Somewhere along the line, a Catholic boyfriend gave me a JB, which I used for many years. The RCIA ladies discouraged use of the JB as "too complicated and not up-to-date" and gave us copies of the CCC and New American Bible. 

Translations, so tricky. But what a great way to promote interfaith understanding with references to other faiths! What I'd like to see is a Bible that helps readers understand passages as they are interpreted in different Christian traditions. Maybe starting with Revelation ...

In my extreme youth under the illusions of a scholarly life (instilled by John L. McKenzie), I bought La Sainte Bible (pub. 1956). My French was better then and so was my brain, even so it was supplanted by the English, The Jerusalem Bible (pub. 1966), and I now find on the shelves The New Jerusalem Bible (pub. 1989?). I must go back and look again.

But speaking of translation and originalist intent: the Liturgical Press, Benedictine Daily Prayer, uses a translation of the psalms that I think came out somewhere at the turn of 2000. As I recall the translation was meant to capture the original Hebrew cadences. I know language gets imprinted in our memories, but I honestly get tried of those cadences and every now and agains turn to my old ratty, falling apart Christian Prayer (1976) to reassure myself that these are the same psalms but with the proper cadence (at least for my memory bank).

 

Joseph, thanks for the information.  Very interesting.

-----

Jean, the Yale Anchor Bible Series will be bringing out its Revelation in September.

http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/SeriesPage.asp?Series=144

The Anchor Bible is much better than the Jerusalem Bible, imho, for many reasons.  Having individual books, e.g,, emphasizes the fact that the Bible is not just a book, but a library of many books, from many genres, many authors, many historical and cultural settings, etc.

Various scholars have done the translations (over the past fifty years) and written the brilliant commentaries.  (Raymond Brown, as many will recall, did the Gospel of John.)

Here’s an old NYT Book Review article about the Anchor Bible (before Yale bought it from Doubleday).

http://www.nytimes.com/1982/04/11/books/editing-the-anchor-bible.html

-----

Margaret, I know what you mean.   I often look at the old Catholic Girls Guide for the best versions of old prayers.

https://archive.org/stream/catholicgirlsgui00lasa#page/n7/mode/2up

 

 

Thanks, Gerelyn.

Margaret, do you think people resent fiddling with the Psalms so much because they're perhaps the Bible verses that tend to get memorized? I use the 1979 Book of Common prayer for daily devotions, but I wish they'd left the Psalter alone.

At Amazon, the various books of the Anchor Bible, are much cheaper than at the Yale Press site, and used editions are available.  Plus, great Amazon provides very generous samples.  (Including bibliographies, etc.)

Here's the link to Tobit, my favorite book of the bible:

http://smile.amazon.com/Tobit-Anchor-Yale-Bible-Commentaries/dp/03851891...

The author says in his introduction:

"But after spending the past nine years of my life with Tobit and his family, I can honestly say that I really like and admire them.  I ‘feel at home’ with them.  Perhaps, because over my lifetime I have met countless Tobits, Tobiahs, Hannahs, Raguels, Ednas, and Sarahs, albeit rarely with those names.  Some were Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform Jews.  Some of them were Christians—Protestant, Catholic, or Greek Orthodox. . . ."

  

 

Am I correct in understanding that they’re planning a print version in addition to the digital? I’ve looked at their example PDFs, but I admit that I’m still struggling to grasp what this will look like as hardcopy. And they will be providing full translations of each of the main 4 textual traditions in the digital?

(It's amazing to me to read, for the first time, the Song of Songs in French.  So much more erotic/exotic than in English.  And the comparison of the Jewish and Christian interpretations is fascinating.  What a wonderful project.)

I don't know whether there will be book-version.  It's hard to imagine what it would like!  But then think of those medieval manuscripts with the glossa wrapped around the text.

That's kind of what I pictured, as well. Indeed, after a reread, it does say that a printed version is in the workds.

Two things:  1) I agree as strongly as possible with the comment that there is no such thing as a "best" translation. I would tell my students that--if they were short on Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek--to use five (English) Bibles: KJV, NAB, RSV, Jeruslalem Bible and "The Way/the Living Bible" (paraphrase). To this day, the KJV is liturgically sonorous, and however erroneous its inconsequential mistakes--to use it for short passages for weddings and funerals.

2) a) On the other hand, I want people to appreciate, for example, the difficulty the Semitic lnaguages had in expressing comparisons ("many are call, few are chosen"--a circumlocution tor "more."  I prefer--and this too is a strong opiinion over a lifetime of Scripture immersin--creative modern translations over the somewhat wooden ones that Tyndale got from the Vulgate and passed onto us;

b) i  feel, for instance, that "blessed/blest" does not capture at all the essence of the (Greek/Semitic) beatitudes. and "The Way" seems to convey that word (success, achievement, wealth--the oxymoron inherent there--the way Jesus seems to have liked to talk) better than the majority of translations. The word in Hebrew of course ('ashre') conveys blessedness in some sense because the Semitic mind associated wealth and success with the favor of 'elohim. But the prophetic emphasis on the 'anawim balances that, and the inherent oxymoron of "rich are the poor" is certainly there, if we see all the similar "least/greatest," "last/first," etc. elsewhere.

About translations, and church art generally, here comes a rant:

 

Translation can be and *ought* to be the finest art -- just look at the KJV and weep.  But neither sincerity not academic qualifications confer the ability to produce first rate art, and first-rate translations are art.  The Faithful need and appreciate great art in Scripture and liturgy -- just look at the popularity of the Psalms that are so fine that they remain great even in poor translation.  So why isn't the official Church encouraging the very best of contemporary artists to contribute to Scriptural translations and to Church art generally?

 

Yes, the original JB utilized some "literary specialists", including J.R.R. Tolkein (who translated the Jonah), but most weren't of his eminence.  Still, their presence did make a difference in the end literary quality.  But apparently the new edition of he JB is not calling on the very best "literary specialists".  The powers-that-be wouldn't think of enlisting less than the best theologians, best historians, and best linguists to work on translating Scripture and liturgical texts.  Yet the new JB project is apparently going to rely on *less than fine writers* to assist in the *literary aspects* of translations.  

 

(By "fine writers" I mean writers who know best how to combine individual words into word-structures which  produce *total* poetic meaning.  They're the writers who know how the placement of each word in context with the other words produces not only the same complex *sense* as the original work but also produces the same associations, memories, feelings, evaluations and whatever else it is that the best writing elicits in us as we read or hear it.  Granted, amateurs can translate parts of great writing well.  Only the best writers can put the parts together well into the holistic experience we call poetry or fine writing.  No, I don't draw a clear line between the best poetry and prose.)

 

And since VII  the problem of translation also extends to liturgical texts.  So why don't the translation overseers ask for help from experts of *every* sort including the best writers?  In the medieval period the Church obviously  didn't ask the town carpenters to design the cathedrals.  In the Renaissance it hired the greatest of the visual artists and architects and musicians. Why does it leave the literary aspects of the liturgical to the mercy of the academics and to essentially amateurs? 

 

Even though there might be no giant English-speaking Catholic authors left at the moment (Seamus Heaney just died), there are some first-rate ones, e.g., Dana Gioia is a notable Catholic poet who, I suspect, might be honored to be asked to help.  And why not invite Alice Munro, a first-rate fiction writer who knows a great simple sentence when she sees one.  They're the professional word-smiths, for Heaven's sake.

 

Not only might they and others help with liturgical text and Scripture, I bet they could write some fine hymn lyrics, which are also badly needed.  The lyrics of the new hymns  sung at my church rarely say anything worth singing about. They're saltless pablum. 

 

And speaking of hymns, why aren't the finest musicians -- both popular and "serious" -- asked to write hymn *melodies*?  Bach and Mozart wrote glorious, simple, singable hymns.  And you've brought up Tallis.  Well, I dare say  (yes,dare) Paul McCartney has already written some all-time great melodies, why not ask him to write some hymns?  No, he's not Catholic, but be ecumenical.  Bruce Springsteen has already done some very serious popular religious music, and couldn't he do some great lyrics as well? No, he's not my cup of tea, but we're talking about the *Catholic* Church.  Who knows.  He's a powerfully inventive artist.  He might even initiate a new religious idiom.  He might just have some general aesthetic advice worth listening to.  There must also be "serious" musicians also who can write fine melodies.  Consider Andrew Lloyd Webber who not only did Jesus Christ Superstar but has also written a Latin Mass -- yes, Latin.  Leonard Bernstein might have written some melodies of some psalms -- if he had been asked.  Gian Carlo Menotti did an English Mass, but it's rather operatic if I'm not mistaken, but he wrote fine melodies.  (I'd like to hear from some other commenters here about other writers and musicians who might do fine religious work if they were asked.) 

 

Artists don't have to be particularly virtuous to produce great religious art -- they only have to be *human* and want to honor the Lord.  It's because they're human they can write more deeply about human aspirations and challenges and failures.  Yes, sincerity does count, but who says the greatest poets can't also be sincere (see Bach and Mozart) and show their sincerity even better than sincere amateurs?  Don't the Crashaw and Hopkins poems you present in your next post prove that? 

 

And doesn't the Good Lord deserve the best we can offer Him?

 

Sorry to go on at such length, but it's a complex and, I think, important topic.

Singable hymns -- yes, yes, and yes. Two shining examples, from whom we could all learn:

a) the great early Lutheran hymn writers (including, of course, Martin himself), who were such an inspiration for Bach and others (has there ever, before or since, been produced such a collection of seriously singable hymns?);

b) on a more popular level (whatever that might mean): Charles Wesley, and some associated Methodists.

Perhaps there are moderns who could compete in such a race, but if so, why don't we hear from them?

Victor Hugo had a rather exalted idea of the role of translators: http://aprendeenlinea.udea.edu.co/revistas/index.php/mutatismutandis/article/viewFile/4/253 (Here's an excerpt. It's in French, sorry!)

Chaque détail de style, chaque terme, chaque vocable, chaque expression, chaque locution, chaque acception, chaque extension, chaque construction, chaque tournure, souvent la ponctuation même, est métaphysique. Le mot, nous l’avons dit ailleurs, est la chair de l’idée, mais cette chair vit.[…] Le style est âme et sang ; il provient de ce lieu profond de l’homme où l’organisme aime ; le style est entrailles. Le style a une chaîne, l’idiosyncrasie, ce cordon ombilical dont nous parlions tout à l’heure, qui le rattache à l’écrivain. Luttez contre ce style pour l’exprimer, contre cette pensée pour l’extraire, contre cette philosophie pour la comprendre, contre cette poésie pour l’embrasser, contre cette volonté pour lui obéir. Obéir, c’est là qu’éclate la puissance du traducteur. 

Le traducteur vrai, le traducteur prépondérant et définitif, étant intelligence, se subordonne à l’original, et se subordonne avec autorité. La supériorité se manifeste dans cette obeissance souveraine. Le traducteur excellent obéit au poëte comme le miroir obéit à la lumière, en vous renvoyant l’éblouissement. 

 

Religions et traductions, choses plus semblables qu’on ne croit au premier abord. […] Ce qu’ils contemplent, ce qu’ils étudient, ce qu’ils traduisent, n’est pas en dehors de l’humanité, mais simplement en dehors d’un peuple. […] Les traducteurs ont un aïeul illustre, Moïse. […] Moïse est révélateur sous les deux espèces ; sur l’Horeb il est le traducteur de Dieu, dans la Bible, il est traducteur de Job. […]

 

Habituellement, c’est le fond même des langues qui résiste[…] Le ser et l’estar de l’espagnol ne peuvent se nuancer en français. Ser siginifie l’être essentiel; estar, l’être contingent ; pour les deux acceptions, nous n’avons qu’un seul verbe : être. […]

 

Les traducteurs ont une fonction de civilisation. Ils sont des ponts entre les peuples. Ils transvasent l’esprit humain de l’un chez l’autre. Ils servent au passage des idées. C’est par eux que le génie d’une nation fait visite au génie d’une autre nation. Confrontations fécondantes. Les croisements ne sont pas moins nécessaires pour la pensée que pour le sang.[…]

 

Les langues ne s’ajustent pas. Elles n’ont point la même configuration ; elles n’ont point dans l’esprit humain les mêmes frontières. Il les déborde de toutes parts, elles y sont immergées, avec des promontoires différents plongeant plus ou moins avant dans des directions diverses. Où un idiome s’arrête, l’autre continue. Ce que l’un dit, l’autre le manque. Au delà de tous les idiomes, on aperçoit l’inexprimé, et au delà l’inexprimé, l’inexprimable. […]

 

 Toute langue est propriétaire d’un certain nombre de sens. Elle a ceux-ci et n’a point ceux-là.  […] L’esprit humain, un dans son essence, est divers par corruption. Les frontières et les antipathies géographiques le tronçonnnent et le localisent. L’homme ayant perdu l’union, l’esprit a perdu l’unité. On pourrait dire qu’il y a plusieurs esprits humains. L’esprit humain chinois n’est pas l’esprit humain grec. […] Le tout n’appartient qu’au Verbe. Ici éclate l’identité de l’esprit humain et de l’esprit divin. La pensée, c’est l’illimité. Exprimer l’illimité, cela ne se peut. Devant cette énormité immanente, les langues bégaient. Une arrache ceci, l’autre cela. […]

 

Les traductions brisent ces cloisons, détruisent ces compartiments et font communiquer entre eux ces divers esprits humains.

 

Nicholas C. --

I was so glad after ViI when we were allowed to sing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God".  It's one of my most favorite ones, except that people said it was too martial because of the word "fortress".  Well, I recenly discovered that the word in German is "burg", and it means "castle", which gives the song a very different slant, I think. So now it's perfect :-)

Yes, the German and Methodist hymns are the greatest.  After VII they were sung more in Catholic Churches than they are now.  I wonder why they've been mostly dropped.  I guess the St. Louis jesuits drove them out.  Sigh.  Those folk-songy substitutes just weren't as good, and for some reason rock doesn't lend itself to communal singing, though I don't really understsand why.  It certainly has a regular beat.  That streak of individualism again?  Some of the Beatles stuff invites us to singalong, but not much.  And rock lyrics are so repetitive they're boring.  I still think that style has some promise, however.  But it'll take a genius to invent a whole new rock idiom of hymns.

I may be repeating Joris's point above, but I think there are two types of translations: One for scholars who want a workmanlike, fairly literal gloss next to the original, and those who want a good vernacular translation that captures the spirit and mood of the original. 

I read a piece about the Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer (1979) explaining that the translations of the Psalms followed Hebrew versification (explained in the Psalter's preface), but that it also attempted to incorporate English poetic devices (alliteration, particularly) to make them pleasing to the ear (I can't backtrack to where I read this part). 

For private devotion, the Psalms can be jarring if you were raised up on the KJV or the Psalter in the 1928 BCP. However, when used in Anglican services, in which the Psalms are recited antiphonally, responsorially, or responsively, the new language is much clearer and less likely to be bollixed up. They are also much more accessible to children, which I think is also key to any good translation. If you don't want the kiddies to scamper off to the unchurched-but-spiritual camp as soon as they've collected their Confirmation greeting cards and presentation scapulars, better make that language understandable.

Claire --

Hugo never did anything by halves, did he :-)

I believe the great novelist Paul Horgan had some role in the process that resulted in the New American Bible, but I don't know what it was. In any case, the result is certainly no literary masterpiece.

John Mason Neale translated many of the ancient hymns into English and also wrote some of his own. So did John Henry Newman before him. Newman's poetry is not as good as his prose, in my opinion. "Lead, Kindly Light" is better as a hymn than as a sonnet. He translated many of the Breviary hymns. "Praise to the Holiest in the Height" is his.

I think there are a good number of people writing hymns or translating them from other languages, but I wonder how easy it is to get them published and then accepted and used in parishes. 

I would like to know why the music of Lucien Deiss has disappeared from contemporary hymnals. 

Thanks, Claire, for the passages from Hugo.

There are two things that I might note about what he says. First,It's important to keep in mind that, as he notes, each language has its own strengths and its own limitations. That holds true both for the original language and the target language. That is, all languages are finite.

Second, the very influential philosopher of language, Frege, had the odd view that meanings somehow inhabit an eternal realm. What we do when we say something meaningful is to put it into some particualr language. Translators then attempt to transpose this eternal meaning from that language into some second language. Each of these languages is something like the garb of the idea expressed in them. I think that this is a very wrongheaded understanding the relationship between thought and language. I don't have a full blown alternative theory to propose, but therre is something to the observation of Merleau-Ponty who says that I don't know what I mean until I say it. That is, meanings are just as temporal, just as contingent, etc. as is everything we do or undergo.

IClaire, I'm not sure from ehat Hugo says here whether he would agree with Meerleau-Ponty. Do you think that he would? And would you?

The importance of all this to the question of how we understand a text said to be "Revealed" is obvious. The Koran, according to some Islamic views is that God dictated it to Mohammed. We don't think that about the Bible.

Bernard, I don't know if he believes that ideas exist outside of language. When he says that words are the incarnation of an idea, it might appear to suggest that the idea exists outside them, but I read it to mean that the words are an essential part of the message itself.

He wrote that, I think, to prepare an introduction to his son's translation into French of the complete works of Shakespeare.

 

To Ann's list of professional wordsmiths,  I hereby add the name of Kathleen Norris.  Read "Dakota" and you'll see why.

I read Norris's "The Cloister Walk" and liked it. But would a translator have to be someone who writes about religion? 

Canongate Books has commissioned writers to reimagine classical mythology (Margaret Atwood's "Penelopiad" got a lot of attention). Might be interesting to assign great modern writers a book of the Bible to reimagine (Leviticus might be a challenge ...). More interpretation than translation, but I bet it would be interesting and sure to spark a lot of argument.

 

JAK --

I gather from discussions at Pray Tell, the liturgy blog, that parish ministers generally decide which music will be used, though in some parishes pastors decide what they want, and the music publishers decide what they'll put in hymnals.

Rita Ferrone might tell us more.

One thing that made John's gospel come alive for me was seeing the movie version of it.  It gives the gospel word for word ... the Good News translation ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_News_Bible

You can watch the whole movie on youtube here ... http://youtu.be/2R6jVgZ1XJg ... Christopher Plummer reads it  :)

PS - the film has an intro at the beginning to try to undo the anti-Semitic character of some of that gospel.

Bernard --

I suspect that Frege's notion that a book's meaning exists permanently  in some other dimension is the view of most people.  The influence of Plato on the view is very clear, I think -- there's this sort of immaterial thing existing in some dimension that is accessible through language somehow, but we all understand the language a bit differently so we have different interpretations of "it", 'the" work.  Others seem to think that words do have set meanings that allow us to interpret texts as if there really is some fixed meaning accessible to all of us if we just look carefully enough (see the New Critics).  But others think "the work"  is the set of meanings of the author of the work, and the way to find the real work it to look for what the author meant by the words.  Others theorists think that there isn't any sure way to discover any "one meaning" or set of meanings which is "the" work.  All those theories make the Platonic view an attractive one.  But I go with the post-moderns -- there isn't any one meaning or set of meanings which is "the work".  Sigh.

 

Bernard --

I suspect that Frege's notion that a book's meaning exists permanently  in some other dimension is the view of most people.  The influence of Plato on the view is very clear, I think -- there's this sort of immaterial thing existing in some dimension that is accessible through language somehow, but we all understand the language a bit differently so we have different interpretations of "it", 'the" work.  Others seem to think that words do have set meanings that allow us to interpret texts as if there really is some fixed meaning accessible to all of us if we just look carefully enough (see the New Critics).  But others think "the work"  is the set of meanings of the author of the work, and the way to find the real work it to look for what the author meant by the words.  Others theorists think that there isn't any sure way to discover any "one meaning" or set of meanings which is "the" work.  All those theories make the Platonic view an attractive one.  But I go with the post-moderns -- there isn't any one meaning or set of meanings which is "the work".  Sigh.

 

On the chapter on the sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac, it is interesting to have a list of artistic representations in the end, especially with an indication of salient features of each of them. 

But what about the less famous parts of the bible? Has every verse of the old testament been commented on from a Christian perspective?

 

Ann, I don't disagree with you. I think that Frege was concerned to fight what he took to be Mill's psychologism. Frege, I think, had mathematical propositions in mind. What do we say about the proposition "2 + 2 = 4? Does its truth depend upon some human being ever thinking or saying that 2 plus 2 equals 4? Or is it not that the truth of this proposition is independent of any human acknowledgment of it? For Frege, the latter is the case. Yes, this is "Platonist." It's not hard to see the appeal of Frege's position. But when it is generalized beyond the formal realm, then it runs into trouble. From my perspective, there's no easy way to harmonize in one theory the discourse proper to the formal realm and the discourse proper to the historical realm. I'm pretty confident that Frege is wrong when it comes to discourse in the historical realm. I have to leave it to the logicians and mathematicians to determine what we should say about formal discourse.

Claire, any thoughts?

I would like to know why the music of Lucien Deiss has disappeared from contemporary hymnals. 

Fr. K - I started to write one one of my typical  seven-paragraph, freshman-term-paper comments in response to this, but I think I can start with a few sentences, and expand my thoughts if anyone is nterested.  

I've seen you ask this before, and my response was that his work tended to be organ-based and the meter is irregular, and those are two factors that make it less likely that his work will be used in parishes.  Publishers include in their hymnals what they believe the parishes they serve (which means the pastors and music directors of those parishes) want to sing. Whether we call this democracy or populism or perhaps even the tyranny of the free market, it is how liturgical music works in the American Catholic church.  It would be nice in some ways if some authority of liturgical and musical taste could or would decree that certain works must be retained and used, but the bishops seem to be reluctant to exert their authority in that direction, and when on occasion they do, they seem to be pretty much ignored anyway.  If we have a sort of middlebrow liturgical music praxis, my view is that these are some of the reasons why.

 

Bernard,

you asked earlier whether Hugo thought that "meanings somehow inhabit an eternal realm". Reading again the beginning of his essay with your question in mind, I would say that, yes, he did think that. Now that you brought it up, it is clear.

As to whether the truth of a mathematical proposition is independent of any human acknowledgment of it, we certainly behave as though that were true. Most mathematicians act like explorers trying to uncover a structure that is hidden but that exists, and feel like explorers who have some intuition of what exists, not like creators who are making things up. I don't know if that attitude is correct, but it is how most of us operate.

 

Claire:  I doubt that every verse of the Old Testament was commented on by Christians and given a Christian interpretation. St. Augustine commented on a good number of figures and events in his anti-Manichean work "Against Faustus" who had made fun of the patriarchs and their escapades. In the 1960s a French priest, Pierre Grelot, published a book entitled  Le sens chrétien de l'ancien testament, and then in 1998 Le mystère du Christ dans les psaumes . I always found him worth reading. There are a couple of publishing ventures that are presenting biblical books as interpreted by the Fathers.

Ann and Bernard:   

Fr. Lonergan used to make fun of people who think that truth is so objective that it doesn't have to reside in a mind. (I think he was thinking of neo-Scholastics.)  He often referred to Aquinas's discussion of truth in the Summa theologica, I, q. 16, where Thomas began by quoting Aristotle to the effect that "the true and the false don't exist in things but in the intellect," went on to say that truth is found in judgments and not in the senses or in the act of understanding, and later asked whether a created truth is eternal. His presentation of the issue is interesting. The first argument that there can be eternal created truths instances the nature of a circle and that 2 plus 3 equals 5--nothing could be more eternal, the objection is, and so there are at least some eternal created truths. Here is the fourth objection:

Anything that lacks a beginning and an end is eternal. But the truth of propositions lacks a beginning and an end. Because if truth began when it had not existed before, it had been true that truth did not exist, and it was by truth that it was true, and so truth existed before it began. Similarly, it truth is considered to have an end, it follows that it would exist after it ceased, for it will be true that truth does not exist. Therefore, truth is eternal. 

In his response, Thomas says that "truth is always some relationship to an intellect. Therefore, if no intellect is eternal, no truth is eternal. But because only the divine intellect is eternal, in it alone does truth have eternity." 

In response to the first objection, he replies that the nature or a circle and that 2 plus 3 are 5 are indeed eternal but [only] in the divine mind. Here is his response to the fourth objection:

Because our intellect is not eternal, the truth of propositions that are formed by us is also not eternal but began at some time. And before a truth of this kind existed, it was not true to say that such a truth did not exist except in the divine mind in which alone is truth eternal. But now it is true to say that truth did not exist then. And this is true only by the truth that now exists in our intellectm but not through some truth in reality.  Because that is a truth about the non-existent, and the non-existent has no truth of its own but only in the intellect that grasps it. So it is true to say that truth did not exist to the extent that we grasp its non-existence as preceding its existence.

You will notice that his argument is Aristotelian: bonum et malum sunt in rebus, verum et falsum in mente.

May I ask what is a proposition apart from a mind?

I guess I'm one of those benighted individuals whose fated role is to express the "It seems ..." parts of the syllogisms.  I think I must be a graduate of the the-tree-fell-in-the-woods-even-though-nobody-saw-it school.    It seems that 2+3 equalled 5 before my mind was created and will continue to be true after my brain is decomposing (or, if my wife and kids are cheap, after it's cremated).  Thus its truth isn't contingent on my intellect.  Thomas seems to be positing a sort of collective human intellect, whose truthful propositions are passed from teacher to student and one generation to the next.  2+1 equalled three before any human intellect existed, as when two hydrogen atoms combined with one oxygen atom to create the cluster of three atoms we call the water molecule.   What could be truer - more factual - than the existence of water?   I suppose the existence of water could be said to be not-eternal, inasmuch as the laws of physics had a beginning in the Big Bang.  Do we distinguish between (1) the existence of the water molecule; (2) the truth of the existence of the molecule; and (3) our apprehension of the truth of the molecule's existence?

Before a truth of this kind existed, it was not true to say that such a truth did not exist except in the divine mind in which alone is truth eternal.

Does that sentence mean the following: Before..., it was not true to say: "such a truth does not exist except in the divine mind..."

Or does it mean the following: Before..., saying "such a truth does not exist" was not true, except in the divine mind...

That is, does the "except" refer to the second or first negation?

I'm with Jim. The proposition "2+3=5" is a truth in reality just as much as the proposition "Mountains are higher than oceans". It was true that mountains were higher than oceans even before men existed to form that thought. It was true that 2+3 equalled 5 even before men were around to form that thought. 2,3,5 have just as much reality as mountains and oceans. They're not "the non-existent". I don't get it and I feel stupid.

Plato was an idealist - he believed eternal truths, Forms, existed "out there" or I guess in the mind of God, that truth isn't created but discovered.  But are you guys saying that if there was no God, there could be no eternal truths?  Why not? 

Jim:

The old conundrum is: Does a falling tree make a sound if there's no one there to hear it? And if you don't think you need an ear for there to be sound, then you'd answer Yes. If you think that more than sound waves are needed for there to be a sound, that is, if an ear is needed, then you'd answer No. The latter is Aristotle's position: sound waves are potentially sound, just as an ear is potentially hearing; an ear's actualization of that potentialy is the sound waves' actualization of its potentiality: Sensibile in actu est sensus in actu.

Aquinas would agree that 2+3=5 was true before you existed and will be true after you have ceased to exist, but that is because people before you knew that and people after you will know it, and especially, as he says in the article I cite, because God knows it. 

You ask: "Do we distinguish between (1) the existence of the water molecule; (2) the truth of the existence of the molecule; and (3) our apprehension of the truth of the molecule's existence?" That water exists is the judgment of a mind, one that corresponds to reality and so is called a true judgment. There was water before any human being existed, but only in the divine mind was it then true that water existed. That "there was water before any human being existed" is your true judgment, and mine, too, so that now it is not only in the divine mind true that water then existed. When the last human beings have ceaed to exist, it will again be true only in the divine mind that water then existed. 

Claire:  It means that only in the divine mind was it true that such a truth did not exist beforehand. Perhaps I can rewrite the sentence: "Before a truth of this kind existed, only in the divine mind (in which alone is truth eternal) was it true to say that such a truth did not exist." 

2 is not a human invention. It is what two apples, two oranges, two babies, two mountains, two atoms, two dollars, and two days have in common.

 

But what about the less famous parts of the bible? Has every verse of the old testament been commented on from a Christian perspective?

Why does the religious perspective of the commenter matter?  Surely the knowledge of Hebrew and of the cultural and historical and literary background is more important than religion.   

The books in the Yale Anchor Bible are translated by various experts from various religions.  Numbers, e.g., is translated by a great scholar (and rabbi) whose perspective is definitely not Christian, but I've never seen a clearer (imho) or more interesting explanation of The Tale of the Jenny. 

Here's the link to Numbers.  Click on Look Inside and search for "jenny."  

 

http://smile.amazon.com/dp/030013942X/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

Gerelyn, a good part of the comments fall under the header "Christian tradition". They happen to be the comments I find most interesting, and so I am wondering how much there will be under that header in the sections about the less famous parts of the bible. 

I'm late to get back into all this. But maybe I can say a few useful things.

1. Re: Claire's 11:17 am> My late wife was a mathematician. I remember her saying: "Therre are more kinds of numbers that we don't know anything about than there are kinds of numbers that we do know about." A clear Platonist. And so were at least most of her colleagues. But if i'm not mistaken Hilbert was a formalist, i.e., someone who held that math was a game that people established and played according to the rule. An extraordinarily more complex invention than ches or Go, but nonetheless, a human invention.

2. Re Fr. Komonchak's comments on Aquinas: I take it that if we assume that there is a God of the kind that Aquinas talked about, that is a God who is eternal and omniscient, then from eternity God knows everything knowable, including the fact that there are and have been people who framed propositions, namely predications that express their take on their world and how they experience it. This God knows knows which of these propositions that they actually have deserve to count as true and also knows which of them afre false, etc.

But unless I am mistaken thhis God knows all this in the simple act of knowing Himself to be the Creator of all that there is. So He knows all that there is to know eminently and not by way of a numerable set of propositions.

Aquinas defined truth as the "adequation intellectus et rei," the fit between the mind and what the reality is. If the mind is God's mind then the fit is perfect, complete, and exhaustive. If the mind is human then the fit is real, but not exhaustive.

On the supposition of such a God, then everything Aquinas says is consistent. But unless this kind of God is presupposed, then all the problems about the temporality or eternity of the truth that 2+3=5 resurface.

In any event, what and how I know that 2+3=5 is not the same as how God knows it. And to bet back to what goes on in natural human language and translation, What and how God knows what we call the content of Revelation is not identical with what we know of that content. His knowledge is exhaustive, ours isn't.

Nonethess, the fact that our knowledge is finite and non-exhaustive, does not, Descartes notwithstanding, warrant any strong skepticism. We do have lots of solid knowledge and we learn more of it from other people, some by way of translations. What we need to make sense of this well warranted claim of ours to rreally have someknowledge is a more nuanced conception of truth from that proposed in the Thomistic definition of truth as a correspondence between mind and thing. Heidegger has some helpful things to say about truth in "Being and Time," but that's for some other day.

As always, I'm well aware of how much there is that I don't know and of how much there is that I am wrong about. Of my ignorance and error, I have a full blown Platonic idea.

Not sure what you mean by header.  The opening post says "The other day I discovered that the same École biblique de Jerusalem is sponsoring a very interesting and exciting new undertaking designed (1) to establish a critical original text, (2) to provide a faithful translation, and (3) to relate the text to other biblical and extra-biblical texts, including ones that illustrate the reception of the text in Jewish, Christian, and even Muslim traditions."

I read the material at the links Joseph A. Komanchak provided.  (No time to do it again just now, but I did not get the impression that the religious beliefs of the translators and/or commentators were the primary concern.)  (A scripture scholar, like a mathematician, cannot prove that s/he believes in invisible beings, but the proof of her/his scholarship is in the pudding.)

And it may have been in one of those links -- or somewhere else -- that a reasonable (imho) objection to preferring Christian commentary was expressed:  Christian scripture scholars often focus on searching for types of Christ instead of respecting the actual fable, myth, poem, historical account, lamentation, genealogy, etc. being presented. 

If you look at the chapter about Abraham and Isaac for example, each page has a large section entitled "Reception", with paragraphs headed by titles such as "Judaic tradition" or "Christian tradition". The comments are all interesting, but for me the ones under the header "Chrsistian tradition" are most interesting. They explain why that text is read on Easter Vigil, and provides a perspective through which to think about the Passion. Probably that gets old after a while, but for me, who am not so used to it, putting the OT in correspondance with the NT in such a way is an enrichment.

But thank you for giving me an escape from the snares of logic that are threatening to engulf me as my invincible ignorance is becoming exposed more and more.

Oh, I see what you mean.  I liked those Judaic and Christian tradition comparisons, too.  

" Do we distinguish between (1) the existence of the water molecule; (2) the truth of the existence of the molecule; and (3) our apprehension of the truth of the molecule's existence?"

Jim P.--

Indeed, according to Thomas there are three different *meanings* of "true".  

First, there is a thing/reality-which-actually-is.  When you say, ". . . and that's the truth" that's the sort of reality you usually mean.  It's, for instnace, what you swear to talk about in Court in a murder trial.  In everday language such a truth is called simply "the fact".   "The facts, ma'm, just the facts ..."  What is so.  These truths exist apart from the mind.

Second, there is mental truth.  (This is the main meaning.)  This is a person thinking a thought such as "The cat is black".  That *thought* is also called a "proposition".  It is true when it reflects the fact.  It is false when it doesn't have that relationship to a fact.  This is the truth of thoughts.  

There have been some philosophers (especicially philosophers interested in math like Frege and Plato) who thought that the *content* of propositions (e.g., 2 + 2 = 4) exist *apart* from our minds in some eternal world that makes the propositions eternally true.  That's what Plato called "the world of Ideas/Forma".

Then there is the third meaning of "true".  It is not a very common meaning, but it is found even in ordinary language occasionally. Like the second meaning it involves a relationship between a fact  and something else, viz. the goal a fact was meant to achieve.  When you say that a person "sings true" you mean that the person achieves the goal of the song writers and doesn't sing "off-key" -- that the singer's performance matches what was intended by the songwriter.  Another example: a "true friend" is one who measures up to what a friend is meant to be. Both examples involve the goals or standard of some maker or designer being achieved.

Actually, some philosophers think that the issues are rather more complex than this simple description, but those are the main ideas.

"But are you guys saying that if there was no God, there could be no eternal truths?  Why not? "

Crystal --

Exactly what do you mean by "eternal truths"?  Facts?  Thoughts about facts? Measuring up to an ideal?

"Truth/true" is a highly ambiguous word!!!!!

That water exists is the judgment of a mind, one that corresponds to reality and so is called a true judgment. There was water before any human being existed, but only in the divine mind was it then true that water existed. 

Fr. K - thanks.  I have a number of comments I could make but don't want to continue to lead the conversation astray from the main topic.  

Regarding the Jerusalem Bible project: it is very interesting, and I would love to use it as a preaching-preparation resource.

Ann:  Could you give us a reference in Aquinas for the first meaning you attribute to him? I don't find it in the section on Truth in the Summa where he speaks of the principal meaning of the word as attained in a correct judgment and of a secondary meaning (your third one) as something existing in reality as true because it is in accord with God's plan or with some human intention, even this being, of course, some sort of relationship with a mind, divine or human. 

Isn't a "fact" something reached by a true judgment? So doesn't your first meaning collapse into the second? That Caesar crossed the Rubicon would appear to be a "fact" in this sense. I suppose it could be called a "truth," and perhaps that is what you mean. 

Some true judgments state what is the case independently of our minds, such as the existence of Mt. Everest. But the truth that Mt. Everest exists resides only in minds making the judgment that Mt. Everest exists. 

Ann - many thanks.  

You can feed a computer program a few axioms and rules of logical deduction and it will start calculating some true propositions. They're true, they're facts, they're real, as real as a cat, aren't they?

You can also feed a computer a few numbers and some rules to combine existing numbers into larger numbers, and it will start calculating larger and larger numbers.

You can also feed it a dictionary and the rules of grammar, and (with a good program) it will start calculation more and more complex English sentences.

Numbers, propositions, English sentences. What's the difference, really?

JAK --

In Aquinas' "de Veritate", Q 1 (What Is Truth?), Art. 2 (Is truth found principally in the intellect or in things?) the   first objection begins:

"It seems it is found principally in things, for:

1.  It was pointed out that the true is  convertible with being.  But being is found more principally in things than in the soul.  The true, therefore, is princilally outside the soul. "

In other words, being and truth are identical -- insofar as a thing is a being it is a truth.  This is straight Aristotle, whom Aquinas ordinarily agrees with.  But Aristotle also says that "The true and false are in the mind".  Obviously, there is a problem in Aristotle, at least a semantic one.

In the body of the article Aquinas adopts a semantic solution to the problem.  He says that there is more than one meaning of "true", a primary meaning and secondary one.  While the primary meaning of truth pertains to mind,  the secondary meaning pertains to things (facts).  In other words, facts are true in a secondary sense, thoughts are true in a primary sense:  "The true . . . is found secondarily in things and primarily in intellect."

There is more in this article about the truth of our thoughts, the truth of God's knowledge of things, and the secondary truth of things in themselves, but I don't think it clarifies much.

Actually, I think that Aquinas isn't entirely consistent in this article, but he does allow for calling facts "true", our thoughts "true", and God's thoughts "true".  And certainly this conforms to Aristotle's dictum about "truth" being convertible with "being". 

 

Claire, re your 6:32 pm: It's a matter of reference.  If proposition 2 follows from proposition 1 then there is no necessary reference beyond the internal logic of the program and its axions, etc. If there is supposed to e some relevance external to the program, that has to be shown and is not internal to the program. Today. there are some systems of axioms and rules that claim to model all of reality. That connection between the program and what it is supposed to model is the crux of the issue.

A mechanism can be designed to register the temperature of a room--we call it a thermometer. This does not mean that the thermometer senses the heat.  Similarly with devices to measure sound-levels, etc.  I'd place a computer in the same genus as such devices.  They don't understand, don't judge.

 

"You can feed a computer program a few axioms and rules of logical deduction and it will start calculating some true propositions. They're true, they're facts, they're real, as real as a cat, aren't they?"

 

Claire --

 

 I'd say that the output of a computer consists of *symbols* of things -- non-conscious symbols -- and they aren't real cats. 

 

Your question is actually about the philosophical problems of Artificial Intelligence theory.  A good introduction to the basic philosophical AI problem is  philosopher John Searle's Chinese Room thought experiment.  Do give it a look. It's a major battle-ground of a great deal of the AI debate.  The Wikipedia explanation is a good start.

 

Chinese room - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

And here's the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry about it.

 

Chinese Room Argument [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

 

Your additional question "Numbers, propositions, English sentences. What's the difference, really?" would take at least a couple of sophisticated graduate philosophy courses to answer well, and i'm not qualified.  Sigh.  But as a math/computer science teacher you's probably sail through them. 

 

Interesting, isn't it -- how a consideration of translations of the Bible leads to some hot contemporary philosophy. The same thing happened in the middle ages.

 

We can't model everything, but we can certainly calculate many true statements. We know (since Godel) that no program can deduce every proposition that is true, but, with a few axioms and basic rules of deduction that we all agree on, such as modus ponens, a program can deliver a pretty significant list of true statements, including 2+3=5 and including a good chunk of modern algebra.

I would never claim that it models all of reality, but it does model some of it - If we accept that the axioms and rules are valid, then we have to accept that all the statements printed by the computer are true propositions, don't we? They're true because there is a proof that follows approved lines of reasoning from first principles. If one of you - Bernard, Ann, Joe,.. - does not agree that a statement with such a proof is true, then we're not speaking the same language!

I'm not sure what the computer's lack of judgment has to do with it. 

(Ann - just saw your comment - but that Chinese room argument is about consciousness, not about truth, is it?)

Is there a certain subjectivism in Aristotle's and Aquinas' insistence that for a proposition to be seen as true, a mind is necessary to make the judgment?  Perhaps it would be anachronistic to say that Aristotle and Aquinas are subjectivist, but perhaps they laid the groundwork for the subjectivists?

"... with a few axioms and basic rules of deduction that we all agree on, such as modus ponens, a program can deliver a pretty significant list of true statements, including 2+3=5 and including a good chunk of modern algebra."

Claire --

Godel's proof was not about *everything*, it was only about arithmetic.  He proved 1) that all theorems derived from his axioms using his rule were consistent, but 2) not all statements that could be said in his language could be proven using only his axioms and rules.  In other words, he proved that his arithmetic system was consistent but not complete -- there might be some arithmetical statement that could be made that could not be proven.  

There are, I should note, other systems of arithmetic.  By "other systems" I mean systems that begin with different axioms and/or rules.  (Don't ask me what any of them are :-)  And, as I understand the issues, there is a different system (its inventor's name begins with a"G", as I remember) that *can* prove all possible theorems that can be said in its language. It just isn't a very powerful system, that is, it can't be used in some of the more far out math systems involving geometry.  

(I can't say much more about these problems.  I took a course in foundations of math an logic in 1965, and  I understand a great deal has been done since then.  Where these iffy problems stand, I just don't know.)

Arithmetic does not go as far as logic -- it is only about numbers/ numerical relationships.  Logic is about *everything", or so logicins like to think.

"... with a few axioms and basic rules of deduction that we all agree on, such as modus ponens, a program can deliver a pretty significant list of true statements, including 2+3=5 and including a good chunk of modern algebra."

Claire --

Godel's proof was not about *everything*, it was only about arithmetic.  He proved 1) that all theorems derived from his axioms using his rule were consistent, but 2) not all statements that could be said in his language could be proven using only his axioms and rules.  In other words, he proved that his arithmetic system was consistent but not complete -- there might be some arithmetical statement that could be made that could not be proven.  

There are, I should note, other systems of arithmetic.  By "other systems" I mean systems that begin with different axioms and/or rules.  (Don't ask me what any of them are :-)  And, as I understand the issues, there is a different system (its inventor's name begins with a"G", as I remember) that *can* prove all possible theorems that can be said in its language. It just isn't a very powerful system, that is, it can't be used in some of the more far out math systems involving geometry.  

(I can't say much more about these problems.  I took a course in foundations of math an logic in 1965, and  I understand a great deal has been done since then.  Where these iffy problems stand, I just don't know.)

Arithmetic does not go as far as logic -- it is only about numbers/ numerical relationships.  Logic is about *everything", or so logicins like to think.

 

"that Chinese room argument is about consciousness, not about truth, is it?)"

 

Claire --

Yes, it's about consciousness -- consciousness of what is so.  And "consciousness of what is so" is most people's main definition of truth, including the AI thinkers, not to mention Aristotle and Aquinas.  So the puzzle is about both consciousness and truth.  

The Ai people want to know specifically whether computers can be aware/conscious of what is so.  Searle argues in that puzzle that No, there is no evidence that computers are aware of the *meanings* of the symbols which they process, and it is the meanings of the symbols which are ultimately true or false.

 One canalso argue that the physical processes that go on inside a computer are *symbols* of the meanings/thought processes t

By the way, I have yet to mention a *fourth* meaning of "truth" involved in all this mess.  It is the "truth" of symbols, i.e., the truth of a set of marks or some other physical reality to which a mind assigns a meaning.  An example is the set of capitalized words which follows this very sentence.  MY COMPUTER IS WORKING.  If it is a fact that my computer is working, then that set of symbols would be said to be true also. 

This whole area is terribly complex.

"Is there a certain subjectivism in Aristotle's and Aquinas' insistence that for a proposition to be seen as true, a mind is necessary to make the judgment?"

Jim P. --

Given Arisotle and Aquinas' meaning of "true", then Yes, truth is *partly* subjective because a  judgment  is a *conscious* reality.  But it's the actuality, the reality of the object known which esablishes the subjective reality (the judgment) as true: If the object isn't real and the judgment says that it is, then the judgment is not true one.  The subject depends on the object, not vice versa.  (How that comes to be is another question.)

Ann, Gödel's original paper presented things in a narrower way than his proof actually implied; borrowing from http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jrlucas/Godel/mmg.html, "Gödel's theorem states that in any consistent system which is strong enough to produce simple arithmetic there are formulae which cannot be proved-in-the-system, but which we can see to be true."

I must mention that the word "truth" appears nowhere in the pages you linked to about the Chinese room argument. I think that's a different issue. Consciousness and truth are not the same thing, for most of the people around me at least. 

(Your "fourth meaning" is similar to Tarski's semantic theory of truth.)

But are you denying that if a statement has been proved starting from premises that are correct, then that statement is true? I agree that that approach is a narrow, highly restricted version of truth - that there are many more truths than merely what can be syntactically deduced from axioms using logical reasoning - but still, it is true that 2+3=5. It's a statement of a fact (maybe what you called the "first kind" of truth?), and not only is it true, but it can even be verified syntactically. Isn't that compelling enough? How can we even start to argue about anything if we don't agree on the validity of logical deduction? 

it is the meanings of the symbols which are ultimately true or false.

The meaning is captured by the symbols (in the case of numbers at least), the logical deduction can work at both levels (symbols and meaning) at once, and a computer can produce new statements that are true. True, because they can be proved from first principles by reasoning. It's just a manipulation of symbols, but the manipulation is done following rules that preserve meaning, so that the computer can, without "understanding" anything, make true propositions.

Jim: You ask: “Is there a certain subjectivism in Aristotle's and Aquinas' insistence that for a proposition to be seen as true, a mind is necessary to make the judgment?”

I’d be inclined to use the word “subjectivity” and keep “subjectivism” as an “ism”.  Of course a mind is needed to make a judgment: a judgment is the act of a mind. How else would a proposition “be seen to be true”? Isn’t such “seeing” a mental, that is, a subjective event?

Claire: You wrote that a computer, properly programmed, “can deliver a pretty significant list of true statements, including 2+3=5 and including a good chunk of modern algebra.”

Yes, it can, but it is we, making a conscious judgment, who say that they are “true statements.” The computer doesn’t know or say this.

Similarly you write: “If we accept that the axioms and rules are valid, then we have to accept that all the statements printed by the computer are true propositions, don't we? They're true because there is a proof that follows approved lines of reasoning from first principles. If one of you - Bernard, Ann, Joe,.. - does not agree that a statement with such a proof is true, then we're not speaking the same language!”

I would agree with you that such a proof is true, but this is our judgment–a correct one–and not the computer’s.  All the computer did was follow the programmed instructions and spit out a number of black marks on white paper (or on a screen), which human beings know to be numbers and various kinds of mathematical symbols and to represent deductions from first principles.

Claire, Ann, Jim P, Fr. Komonchak, et al:

Let me reefer to the distinction between natural and formal languages. Forma languages, as Claire rightly points out, can generate from a set of consistent, i.e., non-self-contradictory, axioms, any number of propositions that that valid. In that sense, they are rightly said to be true. They are neither meaningless nor false.

When a formal system os applied to objects in the natural world, e.g., people, trees, rocks, God, etc. (let's not fight about what the natural world does or does not contain--that's another issue), then another, difficult issue arises. The traditional term for this issue is the issue of soundness. Consider the following syllogism. All cats are animals. All animals are overweight. Therefore all cats are overweight. Formally, the argument is valid. But it is unsound. Hence the conclusion is false, because the premise that all animals are overweight is false. This falsity is not the outcome of faulty deduction. It is the outcome of faulty input.

In natural language discourse, matters are complicated by the fact that lots, if not all, of its terms and operators, aree plurivocal. They all have a range of lexical meanings. Many of them are employable in metaphors, irony, and other tropes. Questions of both soundness and validity are harder to sort out.

What's the connection between formal languages and natural languages? What's "the truth" about that connection? One way of addressing this question is to claim that all natural languages can be translated into a formal language, a language in which each term or operator has a univocal meaning. This would mean that all metaphoric discourse could be translated without remainder into some set of univocal propositions. Some scientists, e.g., the Nobel-winning physicist at U. of Texas, whose name escapes me at the moment. claims thatall genuine science requires prrecise measurement. He had  claimed  that everything real is inprinciple describable interms of physics, but recently allowed that there were spome phenomena that led him to doubt his earlier claim.

I certainly do not endorse his claim, but I have to acknowledge that some very smart people accept some version of it, e.g., some neuroscientists.

This is not the place to describe what I take to be a more accurate account, a more truthful, of the relationship between formal and natural languages. But let me just say that in my view this is an issue that can only be addressed by beings with minds. Given the finitude of all minds other that God's mind, it is unlikely that this issue will be definitively settled, settled by an argument that is both valid and sound.

All this is directly relevant to biblical transaltion. God does not speak any natural language. And yet, there is Revelation and that Revelation finds expression in natural languages, each of which as Hugo and many others have said has its own strengths and limitations. At bottom, without the gift of faith,  we'd be hard put to have confidence in our religious convictions.

Joe, I still am not quite sure why judgment matters. With axioms that we agree are true, rules of deduction that we agree are sound, and a computer program that we agree is correct, the computation can proceed. No human mind needs to be around to make judgments on the validity of the resulting statements, it seems to me. They have meaning and are true (they come with a proof). 

But I suppose that this comes down to the tree in the forest again. If a computer writes a beautiful theorem and its proof on a screen, but no one is there to read it, is that theorem true or not? Of course it's true, I would say. But then what kind of realm would such a true statement inhabit? For example it might exist in the mind of God - why not. As long as no one is trying to say that numbers are non-existent, or that proofs don't prove that something is true, or that mathematical statements are meaningless symbols, I'm happy. (I only get a little stirred up when I think I am hearing a hint of a suggestion that what I've spent most of my life on is not about searching for truth.) 

Bernard, yes, formal languages are incomplete but natural languages are downright messy!

Claire, maybe natural languages are messy, but so's life. And life's petty glorious. Vive la vie et ses langues desordonnes!

Claire: You wrote (I have put in bold what expresses judgments):

With axioms that we agree are true, rules of deduction that we agree are sound, and a computer program that we agree is correct, the computation can proceed. No human mind needs to be around to make judgments on the validity of the resulting statements, it seems to me. They have meaning and are true (they come with a proof).

I don’t believe that the computer itself has made these judgments. You have. We have. Isn’t it human beings that have made these judgments, that made the ones that led them to program the computer to carry out all these computations? Isn’t it human beings that judge these computations to have followed the rules of deduction? Isn’t it human beings that judge the results, therefore, to have meaning and to be true? How can you say that judgment doesn’t matter? What is the physical result of all those whirring calculations performed by the computer but a set of black marks on white paper (or on a screen)? It’s human beings who find meaning in those marks, a theorem perhaps, and judge what they represent to be true, that is, correct.

Nothing of what I’ve been urging in my remarks here denies the reality of numbers or the strength of proofs or the value and urgency of a search for truth, including by means of mathematics.  I’m simply saying that truth is attained through correct judgments about what is the case, whether in our minds and bodies or in the world external to us. In the classic definition, truth is the correspondence between mind and reality, which means that it involves not only reality but minds. Without minds, no truths. Which doesn’t mean that water molecules didn’t exist before there were minds to know that water molecules exist; it means that the proposition, “Water molecules exist,” didn’t itself exist–and so wasn’t either true or false--until there was a mind to make the judgment that the proposition expresses. (I'm prescinding here from God's knowledge that water molecules exist.)

"But are you denying that if a statement has been proved starting from premises that are correct, then that statement is true?"

 

Claire --

 

 

By "correct" do you mean "true" or do you mean "well-formed" as in "well-formed formula"?  Philosophers distinguish facts, mental reflections of facts, and verbal expressions of mental representations -- the actual physical symbols.  They also argue about the generic formula which express "logical form", such as "if p, then q" -- do such formula express *statements* at all (do they really say anything?), or do they have to be instantiate to be actual statements?  (Russell, for instance, thought that "p" and "q" were mere "placeholders".)  At any rate, I don't know of any philosophers who dispute the value of validity.  We distinguish (as you do) truth and validity, and It's the *truth* of statements about the external world which give many philosophers philosophical fits.

 

I don't really know what you mean by "statement", because it seems to me that math formulas (e.g. (a + b = c) v. (2 + 3 = 5), are just generic forms of possible relationships between possible numbers.  The emptiness of such formulas is summarized in Russell's quip:  "Math is the subject in which we know more and more about less and less until we know everything about nothing". (Mention of "possible" stuff gets us into deep metaphysical problems!!)  Anyway, it seems to me that mathematical proofs are proofs in the philosophical sense of assertions about actual numbers of things, but, if you follow Russell, thy don't prove anything at all because they don't assert anything in  the first place. 

 

I don't think any philosopher, no matter how nutty, would deny that 2 + 3 = 5 :-)  I certainly find it compelling without Russell.  Any time there is at least one  pair and one triplet there are five things.  I dare say all philosophers would agree to that.  The Platonists would also go so far as to say that even if this world didn't exist at all, with all its actual pairs and triplets, that expression would still be true in the world of Ideas.  So there's actual disagreement about the truth of arithmetic.  And, as we've just seen, there's a lot of disagreement the many different meanings of the word "truth" and *which* of its meanings is most important metaphysically.

 

Speaking of different worlds, sounds like you're asking some questions as a mathematician I'm not qualified to answer.  You might like this blog of Alexander Pruss. He's a youngish Scholastic philosopher (at Baylor, used to be at Georgetown) who started out with a Ph.D. in math.  Really, really brilliant.  Wish I could understand everything he talks about but I don't have the math or far-out logic. He also gets into fun things like many worlds and many dimensional worlds. .

 

Alexander Pruss's Blog

 

 

Fr. Komonchak, one complaint made against the traditioal correspondence theory of truth that you refer to in your reply to Claire is that the effort to determine whether the necessary correspondence is there leads to an infinite regress.

Consider. Jack judges that Jill is four years old. Is he right? Phil judges that Jack is right about this? Susiie judges that Phil's judgment in this case is right? etc, etc. Does it not remain possible that, all these judgments notwithstanding,  Jack's judgment about Jill's age is mistaken?

This is another version of the issue in Plato's "Apology" when Socrates asks Euthyphro whether the gods love what they do because because it is pious or whether what is pious is pious regardless of what the gods soay or think about it. The same issue, if I'm not mistaken, shows up in some theology about whay God commands what He does. Does His judgment about whether x is good make x good or does He judge that x is good because it is indeed good independently of His judging it so?

Bernard --

About judging piety --  another reason why we need a theological epistemology.  There are so very many theological problems that have their origin in the question:  how do we know whether this is the true anser?  (If there is a true answer. Sigh.)

Joe, like you, I don’t believe that a computer makes judgments. It's just a device executing a sequence of instructions. I agree that, as you point out, in this comment I did start with judgments. But once the computation is launched, even if all humans died while the computer went on working, so that none of us were there to witness the resulting statement and its proof, why would that have any impact on the statement’s truth? It exists: it's written on a screen. It's true: there's a proof of it right there on the screen.  So what if there is no one around to read that proof? So what if there is no one to exercise judgement on the result?

You seem to be saying that, like “Water molecules exist”, that statement on the screen does not itself exist because there is no mind  to make the judgment (except for God’s mind, but God’s existence is not assumed here?). Or that it exists, but is not  a statement, or not a  meaningful one - in spite of having a proof! Or that it is a meaningful statement, but one that is not true - in spite of having a proof that you agree is true!

I understand that you say that Mount Everest exists whether humans are around or not, but that the statement “Mount Everest exists” is only true if someone is thinking about it. That water molecules exist regardless of whether humans are around or not, but that the statement “Water molecules exist” is only true if it’s somebody’s thought. That 2+3 is equal to 5 but that the statement ‘2+3=5’  is only true if someone can count. That, in short, something is true only if it’s somebody’s judgement, in somebody’s mind. That’s what you say. But why should it be so? You’re just repeating yourself, not justifying. 

A justification of sorts seems to be given by Aquinas in your quote: “And this is true only by the truth that now exists in our intellect but not through some truth in reality.  Because that is a truth about the non-existent, and the non-existent has no truth of its own but only in the intellect that grasps it. So it is true to say that truth did not exist to the extent that we grasp its non-existence as preceding its existence.” I don’t understand what is non-existent. In my example, is it the statement written on the screen that would be “non-existent”?

But I, too, am repeating myself. It's like a diaogue of the deaf.

Ann, “a+b=c” is not a statement because a,b, c are undetermined. An example of a statement would be “for all a, for all b, there exists c such that a+b=c”.

"Ann, “a+b=c” is not a statement because a,b, c are undetermined. An example of a statement would be “for all a, for all b, there exists c such that a+b=c”."

Claire --

That is exactly the point I was making when I said the formula would need to be instantiated before it could be a statement.  

It seems to me there is a similar (not identical) point to be made about those computer "statements" you and JAK are arguing about:  until a mind knows a meanings assigned to those symbols, no statement has been made.  In fact, what you mean by "3" might mean what someone from another planet means by "7".  If that were that case, then what you are saying is a true computer statement would be a false one to the alien viewing the same print-out.  Truth is in symbol PLUS meaning. (At least the most common meaning of "truth".) 

 

Bernard:  

I don’t follow your criticism of the correspondence theory. There’s no need to go from Jack to Phil in order to determine if Jack’s judgment is correct. That depends on whether Jill is four years old or not, a judgment that can reasonably be made if there is evidence, e.g., a birth certificate, testimony of Jill's parents, etc., that supports that judgment.

Claire:   If all human beings were eliminated after the computer began executing the program, then at its completion (if the electricity is still functioning) there would exist a set of figures on a screen. That these are the result of intelligence a Martian, arriving a few decades later, might perhaps be able to conclude, but a mind is needed for it to be known that those marks mean something.

May I ask how you define truth?  Perhaps that's the cause of our talking past one another--that we have different notions of truth.  I think that we know the real through true judgments, and judgments are true if they correspond with reality.

My frame of reference is mathematical logic and statements about, say, numbers. By definition something is true if there exists a proof for it, false if there exists a proof for its negative. We try to discover those proofs, but our presence has no influence on the existence and on the truth of those statements.

Reality, and statements about reality expressed in natural language, are just a more complicated and ambiguous version of the same. We try to figure out what's true using all the techniques that we also use when we study numbers but we have only a veiled, very partial view of things. Still, in principle it is the same.

Arithmetic expressions evaluate to numbers: thus "3+5" evaluates to 8. Evaluation is done using rules of arithmetic. Logical expressions evaluate to truth values: thus "for every x, x is even" evaluates to false. Evaluation is done using rules of logic. They're just two different types of expressions about numbers.  Numbers come equipped with structure, and expressions (whether arithmetic or logical) are part of the world of numbers. That world consists of not just flat dull objects but of objects and methods, operations, expressions, properties - lots of rich structure. But human judgement doesn't come into the picture. That world exists apart from us and our judgment. Of that, I am convinced.

Numbers are just a small, cleaner and simpler part of the real world, so I think of propositions about reality in the same way - they're part of the world and of the world's structure, they exist apart from us and our judgment. That's the rough idea, and I believe that it's widely shared by people around me. But it could be completely wrong. On that, I am tentative. It's a feeling, a perspective, a vague intuition, more than a deeply held conviction.

So maybe you're right. Different notions of truth. 

Fr. Komonchak, I agree that I did not do a good job in indicating a difficulty with the correspondence theory of truth. Let me try again.

First, let me distinguish between analytic propositions and empirical propositions. Analytical propositions are true simply by virtue of the meaning of the terms that express them. These are the truths of mathematics, and logic. The terms in which they are expressed are all, by hypothesis, univocal terms. No chance for ambiguity. Leibniz thought that all propositions that could be true were analytic propositions. That is, he thought that there was no firm basis for distinguishing analytic propositions from empirical ones. If he were right, then in the final analysis all true propositions would be necessarily, not just contingently, true.

If, though, we grant the distincgtion between analytic and empirical peropositions, then the task is to distinguish between the empirical propositions that deserve to be called true and those that don't deserve to be called true. Of these latter, some may be false and some may be undecidable. Here we get to the question of evidence and the judgment of that evidence. Any empirical proposition, by definition, concerns things or realities that that could be otherwise. They are contingent. The evidenc in favor of their truth, however compelling , cannot yield apodictic certitude. It remains logically possible that the proposition in question is false. So the judgment of the evidence in favor of the truth of the empirical proposition in question is not and cannot be ironclad. The judgment is never infallible, however much evidence in its favor and however absent is any evidence against its accuracy.

Now if we are willing to speak in terms of the intrinsic fallibiliity of all empirical truth claims, then there is reason to be satisfied with the correspondence theory of truth. I myself am prepared to call empirical propositions true evem if they are not infallibly so. But they are not true in the same sense as analytically true propositions are. If proponents of the correspondence theory are satisfied that the correspondence they find in any particular case is not an apodictically deertain correspondence, then the objection I raise is overcome.

From a somewhat different angle, I have the impression that in the thomistic theory of correspondence there is a double correspondence. There is a correspondence between God's intellect and the way things, all things, are. And then there is a correspondence between what we have in our intellects and God's intellect. That is, our judgments are in accord with His. Am I mistaken about this? If I have this right, then one set of issues may be resolved, but only at the cost of generating some other set. By the way, I suspect, but can't prove, that Leibniz' view that all true propositions are analytically true has its roots in this "double" correspondence, the correspondence that holds between God's intellect, our intellects and things.

Thanks for bearing with this lengthy attempt to respond to your well placed criticism of my earlier remark. 

 

There is an amusing scenario when one ties truth and meaning to the existence of minds.

- Imagine, on the one hand, some genius finds a proof of the star open problem of the time, writes it down, and dies. Other mathematicians look at his writeup cursorily, can't make sense out of it, say dismissively: "This is meaningless" and throw is away. Since no one understands it, they would be correct in saying that it is meaningless.

- Imagine, on the other hand, that one of them stubbornly keeps pouring at it until it starts making sense to them. He or she explains it to the others and becomes famous. Now that proof, that same proof, suddenly has meaning.

- Imagine, on the third hand, that what the genius wrote before dying was nonsense. Then the poor guy stubbornly studying his notes will be out of luck, nothing will emerge and he will remain in obscurity.

It is amusing to think of there being no difference in meaning and truth between the manuscript that has  a proof of the open problem, and the manuscript that is just garbage. To think that saying "This may be true, but we don't understand it" is the same as saying "This is meaningless"! As if we got to decide what was or wasn't true.

I realize that I am rapidly moving to a caricature, but I can't resist... taking it one step further: If I want something to not be true, I just need to make sure to not think about it. If only I can convince all of humanity to do the same, that'll make it not true. For example: are you worried about global warming? Don't be. If nobody worries about it, it won't happen! If global warming happens, blame the doomsayers. It's their fault if it happened! That explains denial as a rational strategy, as well as killing the messenger of bad news. Too funny!

 

Claire:  Your examples are not too far-fetched. I find myself walking along a streambed here in New York State when a certain stone attracts my attention. I pick it up and clean it off and wonder if it might be an arrowhead. Or perhaps it's just another stone that happened to be shaped by various natural forces. I'm interested in the question. If it's an arrowhead, besides its physical and chemical composition, it's also constituted by meaning, that is, a human being worked on this piece of flint and shaped it for a purpose. Which is it, really, truly?

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that tests and the opinion of experts give good grounds for concluding that it is indeed (=really, truly) an arrowhead and that it's approximately 150 years old. For the person who shaped it, it was always an arrowhead, and he, of course, and perhaps other members of his tribe knew it. But then it got lost and lay in the mud of the shore for 150 years until a flood exposed it to sight. It was an arrowhead all those years, but nobody knew it. Now it is still an arrowhead and the experts and I know it. 

Notice that the sentence, "It was an arrowhead all those years, but nobody knew it," is a present judgment which states what is the case(=the truth) with regard (a) to that piece of flint and (b) to a past state of ignorance. 

Does this clarify anything?

Joe, it's very clear but it clarifies nothing, I fear. It's that Aquinas quote that did me in. But no matter.  It's not the first time: I should know to skip Aquinas quotes. He's not for me. I never understand what he writes. (Does that mean it's meaningless?)

 

Fr. KOmonchak, Claire, et al: One last stab at correspondence theories of truth and and their difficulties.

There are many versions of the correspondence theory of truth. None is unproblematic. See the entry on "Correspondence Theory of Truth" inthe Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Every version rightly assumes that we are not wholly devoid of things. But we also know that lots of things that people claim to know just arren't so. The question is how do we distinguish between things that we think that are true and those that we think tht are not true.

On the version that Fr. Komonchak endorses, to have a truth is to make a judgment that some thought that we have corresponds to some reality. Here's the difficulty. At bottom it is a metaphysical difficulty.

Thoughts or propositions that we entertain are mental phenomena. Any number of us can entertain the thought that Lincecum poitched a baseball no-hitter a day or so ago. Some of us might also entertain the thought that his was a perfect game. Since many of us can have the same thought, the "content" of the thought is not a spatio-temporally located rreality. But the game to which the thought refers was a spatio-temporally located event. As it happens, Lincecum did pitch a no-hit game, but it was not a perfect game because he walked one batter. Those of us who made the proper distinction between these two thoughts in our JUDGMENT arrived at the truth. Those of us who did not do so fell into error. Both ending up with the truth and ending up with error involved judgments. What allows us to distinguish judgments that arrive at the truth from those that don't? So far as I can see, the version of the theory endorsed by Fr. Komonchak doesn't tell us. (Mathematical truths need their own, but not unrelated analysis.) 

I would agree with him that exercises of judgment are necessary conditions for us to arrive at a truth, but they are not sufficient. The remaining problem is: What else is needed to make our judgment sufficient for arriviinr at truths? I agree that we do arrive at them, but how we do so requires another account. As I've said earlier, Heidegger has some interesting things to say about truth and our relation to it, but I can't get into that here.

Thanks for bearing with my earlieer ramblings.

Thanks for bearing with my

Bernard --

I agree that correspondence theories of truth do not explain how our thoughts of contingent, exterior things can be known  with total certitude.  Correspondence theories assert that things *cause* our thoughts, and it's through those thoughts that we know the things that caused them.. But this *assumes* that we already know what we're trying to prove -- the reality of those exterior things. Put another way,  the correspondence theories claim that our thoughts are *pictures* of the facts caused by the facts. But if so, how can we know whether the pictures are accurate pictures unless we assume we already know the facts so that we can compare picture and facts.

Plato's terribly clever solution is that what things are (their forms) are themselves present in our minds (as well as in the world of ideas).  But he never explains how this can happen.  It too is a grand assumption.  This, I think, is essentially what Aristotle and Aquinas argue when they try to do the metaphysics of sensory knowledge -- but instead of talking abut the "form" or "Idea" of something they talk about the "species" that is common to thing and though.

 

 

 

 

Claire's amusing scenario above, in which a mathematician creates a proof that is true but which nobody else can understand, may allow us to circle back to the original topic, which would seem to encompass critical biblical interpretation.  While I am far from a biblical scholar, I'm aware that the bound and online versions of the bible that we use for prayer and study are the product of quite a bit of editorial decision-making and clean-up.  This new project seems to make it quite clear to the average reader how many variant readings there are.

Perhaps somewhat along the same lines: Shakespeare scholars puzzle over many lines of his dramas.  For example, in Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 7, lines 46-47, Macbeth says, "I dare do all that may become a man / Who dares do more is none." But (this according to my Riverside Shakespeare), the source we have for the drama, the First Folio, has that second line as, "Who dares no more is none." The substitution of "do" for "no"in that line in standard editions (as here) is an editorial emendation; scholars and directors through the years, puzzling over that line, have concluded that the compilers of the First Folio (who were at least one degree removed from the author himself) were mistaken in their recollection or transcription, and offer "do" as a reasonable alternative.  

Yet, absent the discovery of additional source material like a manuscript, we can't really know the truth of what Shakespeare intended when he wrote that line.  He may have written "no" (i.e. it may be that the compilers of the First Folio compilers had the correct text) and, somewhat like Claire's mathematician, intended to express something which nobody else has been able to discern.  Or he may have written something that was neither "no" or "do", in which case both the First Folio compilers and the scholarly tradition have it wrong.

It seems to me that we non-scholarly readers of the bible also are receiving God's word through a number of filters including scholarly/editorial filters, and it's only natural that we may be left wondering, "This is the text I am given; but is it the true text?"   Paradoxically, all the best efforts of scribes, scholars and church authorities through the years leave us with something that really must, in a sense, be taken on faith.

 

What Ann describes above is true of some correspondence-theories of truth, the naive ones, and her objection is fatal to them.  The image of that is of a mind that wishes to know whether one of its representations of reality is correct, true. So it looks out at reality and sees that its representation corresponds to the reality and so it gives its assent to the representation as true, that is, corresponding to the reality. But if the mind has this ability to look out and see what the reality is, why does one need the representation? One has direct knowledge of the real by seeing it. But, then, how does one know that this vision of the real corresponds to reality? Isn’t one caught up in an infinite regress?

A better approach is to begin by reflecting on things that we know and do not doubt. This is Newman’s strategy, the opposite to that of Descartes’ universal doubt–doubt everything until you get to something you cannot doubt, perhaps your own act of doubting, and then you can say, “Dubito, ergo sum”–I doubt; therefore, I am.  If one is not certain about anything, of course, then one cannot follow Newman’s strategy. Newman, in the section on the "illative sense," his key to how we come to assent:

Of the two, I would rather have to maintain that we ought to begin with believing everything that is offered to our acceptance, than that it is our duty to doubt of everything. The former, indeed, seems the true way of learning. In that case, we soon discover and discard what is contradictory to itself; and error having always some portion of truth in it, and the truth having a reality which error has not, we may expect, that when there is an honest purpose and fair talents, we shall somehow make our way forward, the error falling off from the mind, and the truth developing and occupying it. (Grammar of Assent, 377)

The vast majority of things I know or believe to be true are contingent realities or events, and that I do not enjoy absolute certainty of many of them is no argument for scepticism. Whoever said one had to be absolutely certain? There is nothing contradictory in saying that one can be certain about a contingent event or about a probability.

I used to perform an exercise in my introductory course for graduate students in theology and religious studies. I gave them photocopies of pages, had them all turn them over at the same time, and asked them what they had in front of them. And we spent the next 90 minutes trying to understand what we were looking at. Beginning with that the two pages were photocopies, not originals, photocopies of pages of a diary, written partly in Latin,  partly in code (with initials for people), containing information about the question of Church and State, involving the Apostolic Delegate to the US, etc., etc.  At each stage of questioning, when we seemed to be reaching a consensus, I would ask them, “Are there any more questions about his point? Is everyone satisfied with our answer.” If there were still questions, we would return to that inquiry; if there were none, we would go on to the next nest of questions. The key was when no further relevant questions were arising, when there was no point to lingering there.

Eventually, the students came near to what I knew from the start: that these were pages from the diary of Joseph Clifford Fenton describing his being called to the Apostolic Delegation on Massachusetts Avenue and being given a list of four propositions that allegedly summarized the views of John Courtney Murray and that the Holy Office had recently declared to be erroneous. I have no doubt at all that this is what these pages of Fenton’s diary were describing, but I didn’t come to know it by looking out at those pages and “seeing” what they are, but by a long and patient set of inquiries, including deciphering the code-names for the parties involved, and finding corroboration when the same propositions were found, among the papers of Francis Connell, on a page inside an envelope marked “Under the seal of the Holy Office.”

I have no doubts whatsoever and believe it to be true–that is, to correspond to reality–that this is what those pages were about and that the events described took place.

Is this notion of truth not the one that operates, per formatively, in our common use of the terms “true” or “truth”?  If someone tells you something, and you ask, “Is that true?”, what do you mean if not “Does that correspond to reality?” We ask and answer such questions every day, all the time, and I think we would do better to reflect on what we do, and do reasonably, all the time and everyday, than to entangle ourselves in the false problem of how we get from our minds to reality. Thus, to use Bernard’s example: It is either true or false that Tim Lincecum pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres two days ago. I believe that Bernard and I agree that this did happen, that it’s true, corresponds to reality, and that those who say that it did not happen are mistaken. I know why I am certain of this. I would like Bernard to tell me why he believes it true that Lincecum pitched that no-hitter. (By the way, I do not think the issue is metaphysical.)

JAK --

You have switched the issue from truth to certainty.  When I think "The cat is on the mat" that is a thought/judgment about *a cat*.  When I think "I am certain that the cat is on the mat" that is a thought/judgment about *me*.  The subjects are quite different.  Certainty is a subjective reality, a state of the mind, and, being known directly there is  no epistemic issue of how the mind gets from the mind to the mind.  But the cat is, we think, a  non-subjective reality, a thing existing outside of the mind, and that brings up quite a different set of questions and problems.

Ann, I haven't switched anything. Re-read my last post. It's almost all about the correspondence theory of truth. I introduced the question in this post because Bernard has raised it and because it is common to hear people say, "You can't be certain of anything," as a way of dismissing the idea that we can know reality.

Fr. Komonchak, I think there's a good deal of common ground (correspondence?) between what you said this morning and what I think. But there remain some outstanding issues.

About common ground. What I take you to have described is a process for arriving at what is widely called moral certitude. In the case of moral certitude, there is abundant evidence in favor of some claim and no evidence against it. This kind of certainty is all that can be achieved about factual matters. Following Aristotle's advice to seek only the degree of clarity and precision that fits with the subject matter  we are considering, it makes no sense to seek anything beyond moral certitude. In the case of moral certitude, it remains logically possible that the claim for which I have moral certitude is indeed false, but I have no motivated reason to concern myself with that mere logical possiblilty . So it is not self-contradictory to say that Lincecum didn't pitch a no-hitter, but it it is contrary to practical wisdom to doubt it.

In mathematical matters, though, moral certitude is not enough. A mathematical proposition is acceptable as proven to be true if and only if its denial leads to a contradictio. The evidence for the truth of a mathematical proposition must all be of the following form. Proposition p is true if and only if it is an axiom (axioms, by definition, are not self-contradictory) or is logically derivable from some axiom set. Hypotheses and conjectures figure largely in mathematical research, but, unless proven, they are not accorded the status of truths. If you want to claim to know some mathematical proposition, you have to claim that it is logically, not simply morally, certain.

Since Descartes, any number of philosophers and scientists have regarded the moral certitude we can gain is unworthy of beihg called true. They have sought mathematical certitude for all topics. They have taken to heart Galileo's comment that "all the world is a book and the language in which it is written is mathematics." With you and Newman, I think that this claim is excessive. But the issue of how to understand our human condition, capable of achieving for some topics logical certitude but not for others is a hard problem. I think that it is a serious metaphysical issue, but is one that I know of no conclusive way of solving. Earlier, I mentioned that I thought that Heidegger had some important things to say about this matter. Consider his analysis in "Being and Time"  about what it is to be human. He also has a 1951 essay "Science and Reflection" in which he makes a strong case for the ultimate finitude of all of our knowledge about ourselves, nature, language and history. But rightly he makes no claim to having established the logical certitude of his claims.

One last point. There is nothing naive about the several versions of the correspondence theory of truth discussed in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Pinlosophy entry. A number of them are very sophisticated. That doesn't make any of them right, but naive they're not.

Bernard:  I didn't say that all correspondence-theories are naive, just the one that I described.  I agree with you about degrees and kinds of certainty. Wasn't it Aristotle already who said that one shouldn't look for or expect to achieve the same certitude in all inquiries?

Yes, Father, that is Aristotle's view.

One "curio" occurred to me last evening. It may interest you.

I know some members f a mathematics team that found, constructed, discovered or whatever the right term  is an algorithmic process for determining whether a large number (one with zillions of places) was a prime number. It's been proven that there are infinitely many primes and that there infinitely many numbers. No even number other than 2 is prime, and neither are many odd ones. How can one tell whether some very large number is a prime? 

The team developed this algorithic process to run on computers. Their work was done when they finished producing the algorithm that could with mathematical certainty determine whether any number was prime or not. The mathematicians did not need to run the computers to find out whether some particular large number x is or is not prime. Whether it is or isn't will only become apparent to anyone when and if the computer is run to determine it. By hypothesis, if it is prime it is and always has been prime, whether anyone has known that fact.

I think that this is the sort of issue that Claire was calling attention to. Human judgment was involved in the process of constructing the algorithmic process, but once the process has been established, there is no need for any other judgments to deal with particular numbers.

There's a particular twist to all this. This algorithmic process could find a large prime number that could be used as a "password" to protect information. If it were indeed a very large number, the amount of time needed to discover it by any means other than the algorithm in question would be prohibitively time-consuming. So the algorithm had a commercial value. I find this fascinating. Maybe you will also.

JAK --

 

I've re-read your last post again, and when I bracket what you say about certainty what seems to be left is an old-fashioned "picture" theory of truth, and we agree that those don't work.  Can you just tell me how your correspondence theory *differs* from a picture theory?  I might get it them.  I'm really interested because I think this remains one of the greatest of philosophical problems.

 

I do not believe that in this life we know reality except by means of experience (internal and external), intelligent grasp, and rational judgment, that is, by assenting to or dissenting from a hypothetical proposition. Experience provides the data (of sense or of consciousness) for inquiry. Inquiry is, first, about what a thing is or why an event occurs–the sorts of questions to which one does not reply with a Yes or No. An insight suggests an answer to the first type of question, but not all insights are correct, and we want to know whether our insights are true, correspond to reality, and so we engage in a second sort of inquiry, to which Yes or No is a proper response.

We make judgments all the time–think of all the judgments expressed in our various posts to this thread. I think I can safely assume that all the judgments we typed expressed what we think is the case, that is, that we are not lying, and that they expressed what is true, that they correspond to reality, to the way things are.

As I write this, the blog-thread about the investigation of Archbishop Nienstedt is unfolding. I notice in various places the following comments:

“I pray that the truth would come out as a result of the investigation,” Nienstedt said.”

“The full truth needs to be exposed in order for children to be protected today.”

“Silence is not an option anymore, it only hurts, and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others”

“Yes, may the truth be known.”

“The false accusation by the young man of being groped while having a group picture taken didn't work for the LGBT community so they have now found another way to attack.”

“On another note - you reference the ‘false’ allegation of the young man - it appears that the case has now been re-opened.  Wouldn't be too quick to jump to the use of the term ‘false’ - yes, it is still an allegation but we don't know enough in terms of whether it is false or not.”

I believe that in every case the use of the term “truth” or “false” implies the correspondence-theory of truth–that is, whether or not in fact the archbishop committed the acts of which he is accused. I do not know of another meaning of the word “truth” that fits its use in ordinary language.

The matter is under adjudication, that is, it is being investigated. The accusation so far is simply that: it has the epistemological status of a hypothesis, and hypotheses need to be verified. We are not, or should not be, content with mere hypotheses. We naturally go on to ask, “Is it true? Does it correspond to reality?”

Now, of course, it is not possible in this case simply to take a look at what’s out there and, seeing what’s out there and not seeing what’s not out there, we have to gather, sift, and weigh evidence, which in that particular case would probably be the testimony of others (unless, that is, there are some documents or video or audio recordings). And what one would hope to reach is a clear determination, a judgment, about the truth or falsehood of the accusations.

How would one know that one had reached the point of making such a determination, judgment? I think it is by a process that resembles what a jury does in the case of a trial. The standard for conviction is a conclusion “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The adjective “reasonable” here is important. It means that not every possible doubt needs to be excluded; some doubts are frivolous. Doubts arise because questions remain, and so the criterion is that one may reasonably conclude if no further relevant questions arise. If none arises, then one has no reasonable doubts, and one may conclude the matter.

I think that’s how things operate in everyday life. We ask questions until we’re satisfied, but when we’re satisfied, we say Yes or No, and move on to something else. It’s not an infallible operative criterion, of course, but whoever said we’re infallible?  The ability to make a true judgment about what is the case is obviously also going to be some function of one’s intellectual abilities, range of life-experiences, knowledge of related matters, temperament, etc. We know the extremes of the rash person, who does not bother to gather and sift the evidence, and of the person unwilling to commit until he knows everything about everything. But in between there are people whose judgments hit the nail on the head, say what is the case, and I think they do that by asking and answering relevant questions about pertinent data until no more questions arise.

JAK --

Thank you for your answer.  In fact, I agree that that is the way we function.  What I disagree with is saying that what we call "true" empirical judgments are known to be true in the fullest sense of the term "true".  And it is not enough to say that we have no reason to doubt them -- to say there's no reason to doubt says something about our psychology, not the empirical things we judge.

This is not to say we know no truths. We do know the "sensory" data that appears in our minds. (I say "sensory* in quotes because our senses are also a hypothesis.) Those data are simply there, and we know that the conscious reality (ones own consciousness) of those data is not the data themselves for the simple reason that the knowledge of the presnce of self and object are direct, not inferred conclusions about something real.  For instance, I know that I'mexperiencing a grayish green at the moment.  I also know some a priori things, e.g.,  1 + 1= 2.  

Such small things are enough to establish metaphysics, I think.  And Descartes might be right when he argues that God who made us is veracity itself and He would not make our sensory activities essentially false.  Or something like that. I think that argument needs to be explored.

 

Ann:  You wrote: "What I disagree with is saying that what we call "true" empirical judgments are known to be true in the fullest sense of the term "true". And it is not enough to say that we have no reason to doubt them -- to say there's no reason to doubt says something about our psychology, not the empirical things we judge. "

May I ask what you mean by "in the fullest sense of the term 'true.'" 

I suppose one could say that it's "our psychology" at work, if by that you mean that knowing is a conscious process or that temperament may play a role, e.g., some people are quick, even rash, to judge and others are timid or reluctant to judge, or that long experience in a field enables a person to make correct judgments about data that inexperienced people can't (or shouldn't) make.  But it's through a conscious process that we are able to make judgments about "empirical things," and part of that conscious process is grasping when it is reasonable to make a judgement about them. So I wouldn't be as afraid of admitting self-reflective psychology into a description of the process of knowing.

 

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment