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  • Editor's Introduction
  • John J. Stuhr

Truth is a perennial topic in philosophy. Even so, some philosophers seem always eager and ready to take up this topic anew, alive, and ever-optimistic about possessing the truth about truth and ever-dedicated to converting others to their own view. On the other hand, other philosophers appear exhausted or annoyed by a topic that apparently won't go away and hope to inhabit—or imagine themselves already living in—some post-truth paradise from which they periodically mail "wish you were here" postcards. Still others seem simply otherwise and elsewhere occupied, very busy, without time for truth. The overall result of all this is clear enough: Truth is a site of perennial difference, disagreement, and contestation. And as such it may be a poster child for the practice of philosophy.

This is not merely or even principally a dispute about a definition or a battle over who is empowered to stipulate a term's meaning. It frequently is that, but it is more than that. As William James observed more than a century ago, "Truth as any dictionary will tell you, is a property of certain of our ideas. It means their 'agreement' with 'reality.'" Philosophical quarrel begins, James continued, "only after the question is raised as to what may precisely be meant by the terms 'agreement,' and what by the term 'reality,' when reality is taken as something for our ideas to agree with."1 Any effort, [End Page 457] that is, to determine the nature of truth clearly raises central issues in both epistemology and metaphysics:

  • • Epistemology: concerns about the relations of truth to facts, evidence, justification, and knowledge; matters of epistemic authority and methods and communities of inquiry; and issues about truths as discovered or made, singular or plural, eternal or temporal, and knowable or not.

  • • Metaphysics: problems about the nature of reality as the object or basis or ideal limit condition of truth; concerns about the ability of language to capture, represent, or point to reality; and metaphilosophical issues about whether and how to resolve metaphysical disagreements without begging the question by making metaphysical assumptions at the outset—whether explicitly, implicitly, disguised, or unknowingly.

Philosophical issues about the nature of truth are not simply epistemological and metaphysical:

  • • Aesthetics: issues concerning truth and art; the role of truth in expression, creativity, and imagination; the nature and reach of artistic responsibility, aesthetic experience, and multiple kinds of knowledges and truths.

  • • Ethics: concerns about the relation of truth to the normative generally and about the ethical value of truth in particular and concrete contexts; the role of truth in good lives; the place of truth in moral responsibility and moral rights; and the relation between truth (understood as a good) and morality (understood as goods).

  • • Religion: spiritual concerns about the nature of truth and its relation to revelation and human finitude and to divinity; the relation of truth to faith; the relation of truth to mystery and ineffability; and understandings of truth in contexts of revelation, inspiration, and confession.

  • • Education: issues concerning the expansion of learned habits of inquiry that produce truth; the relation between truth and educational growth; the social transmission of the value of truth and ways in which educators create commitments to truth, knowledge, and membership in fact-based and truth-valuing communities.

  • • Philosophical psychology: concerns about the relation of truth to self-examination, self-knowledge and self-deception; questions about [End Page 458] relations between truth and affect, habit, will, and self-consciousness; and the issue of the role of truth in both psychological therapies and understandings of human flourishing.

  • • Politics: relations of truth to justice, legitimacy, law, freedom, vulnerability, violence, power, community, and cosmopolitanism; questions about the universality or plurality of truth or an individual's or a particular culture's truth; and issues related to constitutionalism, democracy, authoritarianism, and the possibility of "the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

These political concerns about the nature of truth make clear that truth is not simply a perennial philosophical topic but also one with pressing contemporary relevance and bite. The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, makes plain that many people do not believe in the truths...


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pp. 457-462
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