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Since we have been engaged in an investigation into the nature and limits of knowledge, there is a sense in which truth, like a ghost, has haunted the pages of this book. We cannot understand the nature of knowledge without some reference to the truth; and yet when we turn to examine it explicitly it seems to vanish before our eyes. The question ‘What is truth?’ looks innocent enough, but we can easily tie ourselves up in knots in trying to answer it.
We begin this chapter by looking at three different theories of truth: the correspondence theory, the coherence theory and the pragmatic theory. Although none of them is entirely satisfactory, each of them seems to capture a fragment of the ‘truth about truth’. We then ask how, if at all, we can know the truth, and whether it makes sense to say that we are getting closer to the truth. Perhaps we can steer between the extremes of dogmatism-the belief that you possess the absolute truth- and relativism- the belief that there is no such truth to possess- by adopting what I call a cubist theory of truth. The thought here is that although absolute truth may lie beyond our grasp, we still need to keep hold of some concept of truth if we are to distinguish between reality and fantasy. There is, after all, a difference between wishing that something were true and its actually being true.
The habit of truth may help to discipline our thinking and encourage us to be objective, but disturbing questions remain about whether we should seek the truth at any price. Should we, for example, pursue the truth if it makes people unhappy, or if it can be exploited by the unscrupulous for evil and destructive ends? Since we live in a world of rapid and accelerating technological growth, such questions are of obvious relevance to us.
As we hurtle towards the future, we will need to think very carefully about how to use the knowledge we possess and the extent to which we should pursue it further. Given this, it is perhaps appropriate...