On The Nature Of Truth — Part Five

All truths wait in all things,

They neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it,

They do not need the obstetric forceps of the surgeon,

The insignificant is as big to me as any,

(What is less or more than a touch?)

Logic and sermons never convince,

The damp of the night drives deeper into my soul.

(Only what proves itself to every man and woman is so,

Only what nobody denies is so.)

-Walt Whitman, (1819–1892).

Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, ‘Offering’, 1909.

Bertrand Russell, (1872–1970), advocate for the correspondence theory of truth, wrote of the coherence theory of truth that it flounders on account of the fact that:

‘… there is no proof that there can be only one coherent system’.

William James, (1842–1910), advocate for the pragmatic theory of truth, on the other hand apparently concurs with the coherence theory of truth in one respect:

‘I said … that what is better for us to believe is true unless the belief incidentally clashes with some other vital benefit. Now in real life what vital benefits is any particular belief of ours most liable to clash with? What indeed except the vital benefits yielded by other beliefs when these prove incompatible with the first ones? In other words, the greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths. Truths have once for all this desperate instinct of self-preservation and of desire to extinguish whatever contradicts them’.

The discrepancy between truth and consistency of truths is in need of clarification, lest we suppose truth to lead a kind of dual existence, two different and separate lives, the one unbeknownst to the other.

Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, ‘Truth’, 1905.

And further, the concept of coherence is in need of extra clarification, given Bertrand Russell’s other criticism of the coherence theory of truth:

‘The other objection to this definition of truth is that it assumes the meaning of ‘coherence’ known, whereas, in fact, ‘coherence’ presupposes the truth of the laws of logic. Two propositions are coherent when both may be true, and are incoherent when one at least must be false. Now in order to know whether two propositions can both be true, we must know such truths as the law of contradiction. For example, the two propositions, ‘this tree is a beech’ and ‘this tree is not a beech’, are not coherent, because of the law of contradiction. But if the law of contradiction itself were subjected to the test of coherence, we should find that, if we choose to suppose it false, nothing will any longer be incoherent with anything else. Thus the laws of logic supply the skeleton or framework within which the test of coherence applies, and they themselves cannot be established by this test’.

Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, ‘Angel’ (‘Angel Prelude’), 1909.

At the basis of such objections as these is an assumption concerning the consistency of formal logic and the dependence of any explanation of coherence upon it. And yet coherence can be explicated without invoking the rules of inference of formal logic. The law of non-contradiction, for instance, states that it cannot be the case that a proposition is true and that a denial of said proposition is also true.

For example, let us consider a typical existential statement making a claim about being: ‘P is x’,

That is to say, x is predicated of P.

Either ‘P is x’ is true for P, or ‘P is not x’ is true for P, but not both.

Were we to remain at the level of being, to accept both ‘P is x and ‘P is not x’ would mire us in a contradiction. At the level of change, however, there may well be a situation wherein P both is x and P is not x.

It will of course be objected that the case is different given that something of significance has been omitted from the propositions. That is to say, at the level of change it can be the case that P is x at time t1, and P is not x at time t2 without contradiction, if we consider the notion of time and from whence it originates. Time is an abstraction from change, according to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831); which is to say, the world consists of things, or states of affairs, that are subject to change, and time is simply one mode by which we may talk about the relation between two abstract states of a changing states of affairs. We may talk about which abstract state of affairs preceded another one, or about how often a particular change considered as a discrete unit was repeated while some measurable change occurred; and so on. But to attempt try to describe change at the level of being the most that can be done is to say about a changing thing that both it is x and it is not x, and this is contradiction; this does not demonstrate change to be impossible, but rather that change cannot be described at the level of being, or of non-being for that matter. We cannot employ at time t in order to render the distinction between two predicates and avoid a contradiction, because the phenomenon of time is abstracted from, or is grounded upon, the phenomenon of change.

Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, ‘The Past’, 1907.

Time’s glory is to calm contending kings,

To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light,

To stamp the seal of time in aged things,

To wake the morn of sentinel the night,

To wrong the wronger till he render right,

To ruinate proud buildings with thy hour

And smear with dust their glittering golden towers.

- William Shakespeare, (1564–1616).

A question arises as to whether in effect Hegel is denying the law of non-contradiction. The issue is rather that when relating a richer notion, like that of change, to a poorer one, like that of being, and when thinking on the level of the richer one, we can say that both ‘P is x, and ‘P is not X; or, to put it into Hegelian phrasing, both predicates are contained within change as moments. And further, the law of non-contradiction may be seen as valid and producing contradiction at the level of being alone; which indicates that when thinking about change the notion of being, and non-being, is not sufficient. Hegel’s system dispenses with the law of non-contradiction as some kind of absolute logical axiom; it is replaced with the very much richer dialectical relations among notions.

The coherence theory of truth may therefore be formulated in the following manner and in these specified terms:

Truth is in its essential nature that systematic coherence with the nature and aspect of a significant whole.

The systematization and arrangement of parts of a significant whole is a particular experience that is self-fulfilling and self-fulfilled.

Such systematization and arrangement of parts is the very process of its self-fulfilment, and the specific and material expression of its particularity.

However, such a process is not simply static parts at play with each other on the surface and within the whole; neither is the particularity of the whole, other than in the movement which is its materialization.

The whole is not, if is were to imply that the nature of the whole is a completed result prior or posterior to the process, or in any sense separate from the process.

To be more precise. the whole has no parts in fact, were having parts to mean to consist of fixed and determinate constituents, from and to which proceed the actions and interactions of the whole; analogous to how a train might travel backwards and forwards between its terminal stations.

That which we may designate parts are through and through in the process and constituted by it; they are moments in the self-fulfilling process which is the particularity of the whole.

Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, Andante (Sonata of the Pyramids), 1909.

And further, the particularity of the whole is both the pre-supposition of the distinctive being of its moments, and the emerging outcome as their co-operation which they produce and continuously sustain.

This process of self-fulfilment is truth; this is that which the coherence theory of truth signifies by systematic coherence.

The process is not a movement at play between static elements but the very substance of the moving elements.

The coherence is not an abstract form obtruding upon the surface of materials which preserve within their depths a character that remains unaffected by the obtrusion.

The coherence is instead a kind of form, for want of a better term, that through and through inter-penetrates its materials; and they are materials, if they may be so designated, that preserve no inner separateness nor secrecy, so to speak, in themselves and independently of the form.

The materials of the significant whole preserve their distinctive being in and through, and not in downright opposition of, their identical form; and its identity is the material sameness of different materials.

The materials are only as moments in the process which is the continuous emergence of the coherence.

The form is merely the sustained process of self-fulfilment, wherein just these materials show themselves as constitutive moments of the coherence.

And with this formulation the notion of coherence is thereby expressed in order that the emphasis is placed upon the materiality, the very non-abstract being, the concreteness, of the coherence that is truth, as opposed to the view that finds truth in formal consistency. Truth is thereby conceived as a living and moving whole, as opposed to the Cartesian view of fixed or static truths upon which the edifice of knowledge is constructed.


Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, ‘Funeral Symphony (VII)’, 1903.



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David Proud

David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.