What is Science without “Truth”?

According to a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views 44.9% of the respondents accept or lean towards correspondence theories of truth. Whereby a correspondence theory of truth states that the truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to the world and whether it accurately describes (i.e., corresponds with) that world. As I’ve tried to explain in Does The Truth Exist?, the idea of something – a sentence or a belief – being true can only hold within a set of presumptions supporting this sentence or belief. Also, as I’ve explained in What You See versus What Other People See, we’re always forced to see the world from our own point of view; there is no “God’s eye point of view” from which we can tell which of our beliefs correspond to reality and which don’t. Therefore I was flabbergasted to read that so many philosophers – 44.9% (!) – truly believed that our notion of “truth” must be founded in this – for us unobservable – correspondence relation.

Because think about it: how would we be able to falsify a correspondence relation between a sentence and “reality”, if it’s impossible for us to judge the accuracy of this relation? It is like attaching one part of a wire to the word “tree” and throwing the other part into the dark and asking, “Is it really connected to a tree?”, even though it’s so dark that we are unable to judge whether or not this is the case. And if there’s no way for us to judge this, how then can we base our notion of “truth” on it? Isn’t that ridiculous?

It seems like we’re indoctrinated with ideas about absolute entities “floating around” somewhere in space, waiting for us to find them. Notions like “Truth”, “Right” and “God”. While the latter is losing value in our science-based society, the former two have occupied the empty space left by its departure from our Western “intellectual” belief-system. But isn’t it true that the notions of “Truth” and “Right” are just as unattainable as the notion of “God”? That, although the statement “God does exist” cannot be falsified or confirmed, so can’t statements like “the Truth exists” and “the Right exists”? Isn’t it just a shift in paradigm? A shift in authority between religion and science? A shift that doesn’t bring us any closer towards those absolute – and therefore unreachable – concepts like “Truth” and “God”?

If so, then we have to radically alter our notion of science and what its practice should be. We usually think of science as progressively, by means of getting rid of the “wrong” beliefs, getting closer to the Truth. Of accumulating “facts” and “laws” in an everlasting effort to get to know the world as it really is. But what if the Truth is unattainable, or even more disturbing: what if it doesn’t even exist.  Should science then still be involved in the accumulation of “true” ideas? Without knowing whether its ideas are true or not? That seems stupid, right?

The only manner in which the idea of “getting to know the Truth” might be tenable, is by radically redefining our notion of “Truth”. Each annotation of truth as something that “accurately describes the world out there” should be discarded. Scientists should be seen as what they truly are: builders of useful concepts. A revival of instrumentalism should be fought for. This is the only way in which we will be able to take science’s efforts seriously. And it is in this way that science can – like we believe it does – make progress. Ideas can become more and more useful; our knowledge of subatomic particles can provide us with new insights regarding energy supply. Why would we need the notion of “Truth” for that?

But what do you think?

Written by Rob Graumans

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