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Correspondence Theory

The correspondence theory of Truth is the theory that something is rendered true by the existence of a fact with corresponding elements and a similar structure.

A rejection of any sort of relativism about truth, the correspondence theory maintains that the truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to the world, and whether it accurately describes (corresponds with) that world.

Problems for the theory arise from consideration of precisely what is supposed to correspond with what. If a statement is just a sentence then it is merely a physical thing (for example, ink on a page, or sound waves) with no intrinsic meaning. So it is usually claimed that it is the proposition (or meaning) expressed by a statement that corresponds with the facts. Yet both these "entities", propositions and facts, may be unappealing to minimalists who refuse to admit such abstract entities to their Ontology.

__Another question is exactly what "correspondence" means.__

Consider first the correspondence theory, associated with Plato, Aristotle, G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, Karl Popper, Noam Chomsky and others. We can define it as follows:

(1) The proposition that P is true iff P corresponds with the facts.

So "truth" means "correspondence with the facts." That's a traditional formulation of the theory. So let's try to explain what it says. For example, it's true that some dogs bark if the proposition, "Some dogs bark," corresponds with the facts. Which facts? Actually, just one: the fact that some dogs bark. So suppose that it is a fact that some dogs bark (that's not hard to suppose). Then we can improve our example. We could say: it's true that some dogs bark if, and only if, the proposition, "Some dogs bark," corresponds with the fact that some dogs bark. Or we could say: it's true that God exists if, and only if, the proposition, "God exists," corresponds with the fact that God exists.

The most commonly cited problem for the correspondence theory is this question: What is this relation of correspondence? When does a proposition correspond with the facts? Well, you can think of correspondence as a sort of matching-up relation -- if a proposition can be matched up with a fact, then it corresponds to that fact. But that's still puzzling, isn't it? I mean, when does a proposition "match up" with a fact? To say that "correspondence" means "matching up" doesn't really shed a whole lot of light on the subject. Bertrand Russell and shortly after, Ludwig Wittgenstein, suggested that proposition and fact "correspond" when their structure is isomorphic. See Richard Kirkham's book cited below for a discussion of this view.

Well, one thing we might observe in any case is that, in order for a proposition to be true, according to the correspondence theory, there must be some fact to which it corresponds. So a fact has to exist in order to be matched up a proposition. And remember, we've already decided which fact that a proposition has to correspond with: the proposition that P has to correspond with the fact that P, if the proposition that P is true.

So here is a suggestion that can help get us around the objection about correspondence. We can say that it is true that P if, and only if, there exists a fact that P. If we put it like that, then we don't have to talk about correspondence at all. We just say: it's true that some dogs bark if, and only if, there exists a fact, that some dogs bark. And we could put it even simpler than that:

(2) The proposition that P is true iff it is a fact that P.

So consider that the revised version of the correspondence theory:

(3) P is true when it is a fact that P.

Examples of this might be:

(4a) The proposition that dogs bark is true if it's a fact that some dogs bark.
(4b) The proposition that God exists is true if it's a fact that God exists.
(4c) The proposition that snow is white is true if it's a fact that snow is white.

And so on. We can regard that as explaining what it means for a proposition to correspond with a fact: basically, if there is a fact that P, then that fact corresponds with the proposition that P.

But this reformulation of the theory faces now a different problem. Namely what are facts, and what does it mean to say that facts exist, or that there is some alleged fact? Look at the problem like this: Our reformulation basically says that "true proposition" means "factual proposition." So then we have to ask ourselves, "Have we really explained anything about truth, about true propositions, if we merely said that they are factual? Because then aren't we just letting this other word, fact, do all the work of the word we're confused about, 'true'? And then wouldn't we have to give some account of what facts are?"

There are at least two different ways to reply to this objection. The first way to reply is to actually offer a theory of what facts are. This is something that philosophers, this century, have actually tried to do. They say things like this: facts are basically combinations of objects together with their properties or relations; so the fact that Fido barks is the combination of an object (i.e., Fido) with one of Fido's properties (that he barks).

But of course that is only one kind of fact; there would be other kinds of facts, about all dogs; or about the relation between dogs and cats; and so on. But the idea is that it is possible, anyway, to specify and categorize all those different kinds of facts. And then you've got an answer to the question, "What are facts?" You say, "It's one of these sorts of things," (pointing to your theory of facts). And when it is asked, "What does it mean for a fact to exist?" you can answer, "Well, it's for each part of a fact to exist." So if Fido exists, and Fido's barking exists, then the fact that Fido barks exists. And that's what makes it true to say that Fido barks.Nike React Element 87