1 Introduction

It is a widely endorsed belief that the purpose of inquiry is to get our beliefs to correspond to reality. There is a possible interpretation of this aim that takes it to be a harmless platitude: to aim to correspond to reality is to aim to correspond to the way things are, to get things right. Aiming to get things right is the same as aiming for truth. Therefore, on this deflationary interpretation, to say that we aim to correspond to reality is just an elaborate and slightly fanciful way of saying that we aim for truth.

However, on a more inflationary reading, to aim for our beliefs to correspond to reality is to aim to meet a standard that is possibly evidence transcendent. The correspondence theory implies that there is a difference between a belief being indefeasibly justified, or maximally practically beneficial, and its being true. But if this is so, one would suspect that aiming for the former and aiming for the latter are two distinct activities. And pragmatists contend that, at the level of practice, they aren’t. Hence, the idea that the truth of a belief goes beyond the belief’s being indefeasibly justified or having impeccable practical credentials has no bearings in practice and is, thus, merely metaphysical.

I shall henceforth assume that the correspondence theory of truth is committed to this inflationary reading that takes truth to be an evidence-transcendent standard. It is this reading of correspondence that is rejected by virtually everyone belonging to the doctrine of pragmatism. In Sect. 2, I show why pragmatists take issue with the correspondence theory of truth. The short version is that the correspondence theory lacks practical bearings. The pragmatist presumes that it would make no difference to our practices if our inquiry aimed for indefeasibly justified beliefs instead of correspondence to reality.

The goal of this article is to show that this presumption is mistaken. The idea that truth is correspondence does have practical bearings. This article shows that it can be practically advantageous to aim for our beliefs to correspond to reality. It does so by first outlining, in Sect. 3, the practical role of the aim for truth, which is, as Huw Price (2003) argues, to facilitate the coordination of beliefs. It then argues that the aim for truth can only play this role if truth itself is seen as an evidence-transcendent standard.

My argument to this effect shall turn on the realization that this coordination of our beliefs is not practically advantageous for all of our inquiries. In Sect. 4, I distinguish between the kind of inquiry for which it is (shared inquiry) and the kind for which it is not (personal inquiry). I argue that only shared inquiry aims for truth. Section 5 defends this bifurcation against the arguments of Price, who believes that all assertoric discourse aims for truth.

Section 6 shows why the distinction between shared and personal inquiry poses a problem for deflationism about truth. If the truth norm does not range over all assertoric discourse, then the normativity of truth must be distinct from the normativity of assertibility. I argue that deflationism lacks the resources to make this distinction.

Section 7 examines alternative theories of truth, such as primitivism and epistemic theories of truth and it contends that the aim for truth could only be used as a coordination device if truth is an evidence-transcendent standard. Therefore, if truth is to play its coordinating role, it must be interpreted as correspondence. Section 8 concludes by giving a pragmatist interpretation of correspondence as a kind of regulative assumption for shared inquiry.

2 Pragmatism About Truth

While the pragmatist doctrine is closely related to particular conceptions of truth, I take it that the fundamentals of pragmatism are metaphilosophical; pragmatism is, first and foremost, a commitment to a philosophical methodology. It is a methodology marked by its acceptance of the Peircean Pragmatic Maxim, which is formulated as such:

Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object. (Peirce, 1878, 293)

When read outside of its context, this principle seems rather strong. Sure, a pragmatist must believe that conceptual distinctions without practical bearings are somehow deficient, underdeveloped, confused, inconsequential, empty, or otherwise lacking. Yet, this does not mean that if something has no practical bearings, we cannot conceive of it at all.

When the above quote is seen in its proper context, it becomes clear that Peirce himself does not really believe so either. Peirce argues that there are three grades of clarity. The first two grades he derives from Descartes’s criteria of clearness and distinctness: concepts seem clear to us if we have a firm unreflective grasp on them, and they are distinct if they “have nothing unclear about them” (Peirce, 1878, 287). Peirce argues that the Leibnizian ideal for the second grade of clarity is “the clear apprehension of everything contained in the definition” (Peirce, 1878, 288). The classical Cartesian and Leibnizian conception of philosophical analysis characterizes it as the project of gaining this second grade of clarity. Yet, Peirce argues there is a third, pragmatist, grade of clarity, and the quote above is the formulation of this grade. Thus, it is possible to grasp concepts without understanding their practical bearings, but it is the philosopher’s task to elevate this understanding; philosophical analysis is a pragmatic elucidation of our concepts.

I believe this thought is captured by the following formulation:

Pragmatism: To give a philosophical analysis of a concept is to show its practical bearings.

This article aims to give a pragmatist analysis of the correspondence conception of truth by exposing its practical bearings.

However, as Douglas McDermid notes in his book The Varieties of Pragmatism (2006), one of the few things that seems to bind pragmatists of all stripes is their animosity towards the correspondence theory of truth. Cheryl Misak also expresses this thought:

It should be clear that pragmatism, of any stripe, will be set against versions of the correspondence theory of truth, on which a statement is true if it gets right or mirrors the human-independent world. (Misak, 2018, 283)

One of the main concerns with truth as correspondence, shared by almost all pragmatists, is that it would be impossible to step outside of our own minds to compare our representations of the world to the world itself (McDermid, 2006, 11). While we are only able to judge whether our theories satisfy internal norms, such as practical efficacy, correspondence offers an external norm. What could the practical bearings of such an external norm possibly be? How could it ever be practically advantageous to aim for a target we can’t even see?

In this article, I try to face this challenge head on by exposing the practical bearings of the aim for an evidence-transcendent standard. But before I get into it, I must set up some ground rules by clarifying what I mean by a practical bearing. What is it for a concept to bear on our practices? In the absence of a clear definition, I suggest that we presuppose the most radical version of pragmatism so as to preemptively clear ourselves of the suspicion that we have stacked the deck against the pragmatist to obtain the results of this article. The radical form of pragmatism I have in mind is Jamesian pragmatism, according to which the stature of any philosophical concept is determined entirely by its practical advantages. With this in mind, the challenge this article concerns itself with is as follows: show why we are practically obliged to understand truth as correspondence. In other words, I intend to show why it pays to have truth be correspondence. Provided that this could be demonstrated, there should be no doubts as to whether the correspondence conception of truth bears on our practices.

3 Why Aim for Truth?

This article defends the claim that it can be practically advantageous to aim for an evidence-transcendent notion of truth. However, before I can outline my statement of defense, I must first answer a much more basic question: why do we aim for truth at all? Given our newly adopted Jamesian framework, the answer we’re looking for is that it pays to seek out truth:

Our obligation to seek truth is part of our general obligation to do what pays. The payments true ideas bring are the sole why of our duty to follow them. (James, 1907, 230)

Yet, from such a pragmatist perspective, it seems that all that is needed for our inquiry to be successful is to gain beliefs that we do not have to doubt. If our beliefs work—if they aid us effectively in satisfying our desires—we would have no active reason for doubting them. Thus, why not merely aim for beliefs that work?

A very similar question is posed by Richard Rorty, who asks whether there is any significant practical difference between aiming for truth and aiming for justification (Rorty, 1995, 281). He contends that there isn’t. After all, the only way to aim for the former is by aiming for the latter; if we want to know whether our beliefs are true, we must find out whether they are justified, and this is all we could do. Rorty concludes that, as pragmatists, we must reject that truth is something we can aim for.

Huw Price responds to Rorty’s claims in “Truth as Convenient Friction” (2003). In this article, Price argues that Rorty has overlooked an important practical use of the aim for truth. He shows that the aim for truth is distinct from the aim for justification by exploring what would be lost if we were to merely aim for justification. Price calls an assertion that just aims for justification a “merely-opiniated assertion (MOA, for short)”, and he calls the counterfactual community whose assertoric practices are guided only by justification the “Mo’ans” (Price, 1998, 247).

The Mo’ans are still allowed to use a deflationary notion of truth to register agreement and disagreement, but truth for them has no normative force that is distinct from the normativity of justification. According to Price, the only norms the Mo’ans are guided by are those of “subjective assertibility” and “objective assertibility” (Price, 1998, 246). The former norm tells us that one should assert that p only if one believes that p, whereas the latter norm states that one should assert that p only if one has good evidence for p. Price maintains that the Mo’ans treat differences of belief in the same way as mere differences of preference:

Mo’ans use linguistic utterances to express their beliefs (as well as other psychological states, such as preferences and desires). Where they differ from us is in the fact that they do not take a disagreement between two speakers in this belief-expressing linguistic dimension to indicate that one or other speaker must be at fault. They recognise the possibility of fault consisting in failure to observe one of the two norms of subjective or objective assertibility, but lack the idea of the third norm, that of truth itself. This shows up in the fact that by default, disagreements tend to be of a no-fault kind (in the way that expression of different preferences often are for us). (Price, 1998, 250)

Price thus argues that the assertoric practices of the Mo’ans are quite distinct from ours, for they see no reason to engage in disagreement unless they suspect that someone is asserting insincerely or without justification.

By aiming for truth instead of justification, we treat truth as a norm distinct from the norms of sincerity and justification. What the truth norm does, according to Price, is that it adds a kind of a priori fault to disagreements:

[The truth norm] is a norm which speakers immediately assume to be breached by someone with whom they disagree, independently of any diagnosis of the source of the disagreement. Indeed, this is the very essence of the norm of truth, in my view. (Price, 2003, 164)

The fault added to disagreement by aiming for truth does not reduce to the violation of the norms of justification or sincerity because if it did, we would only take each other to be at fault once the source of our disagreement has been identified. Instead, the truth norm adds an a priori alethic fault to disagreement: one of us is in the wrong merely due to asserting a falsehood, even if one is fully justified in doing so.

Why would this additional fault be useful? Price argues that its utility lies in its coordinative role. He conceives of the truth norm as a coordination device and points out the prima facie utility of coordinating our opinions in light of reasoned argument:

Without the [truth] norm, difference of opinion would simply slide past one another. Differences of opinion would seem as inconsequential as differences of preference. […] The [truth] norm makes what would otherwise be no-fault disagreements into unstable social situations, whose instability is only resolved by argument and consequent agreement. […] If reasoned argument is generally beneficial—beneficial in some long-run sense — then a community […] who adopt this practice will tend to prosper, compared to a community who do not. (Price, 2003, 180–181)

It sounds intuitive that we end up with better beliefs if we think of our inquiry as a shared concern with finding the truth rather than an individual concern with finding justification.

However, as Price understands, which beliefs are better must not be measured in terms of representational accuracy, for then the motivation for aiming for truth would be circular. Sure enough, aiming for truth probably renders our opinions more accurate and, thus, more likely to be true, but whether our opinions are accurate (true) or not should be of no concern to us unless truth is what we aim for. Why should the Mo’ans adopt our practices, given that they, by postulation, do not value truth? The answer must be that aiming for truth makes their opinions better, not according to our standard (of truth), but according to their own standard. What needs to be shown is that aiming for truth indirectly makes our opinions stand up better to current or future evidence, and that the attempt to coordinate our opinions through argumentation generally leads to beliefs that have better practical qualifications.

Let me repeat the Jamesian motto:

Our obligation to seek truth is part of our general obligation to do what pays. The payments true ideas bring are the sole why of our duty to follow them. (James, 1907, 230)

Aiming for truth entails the activity of critically engaging with each other’s views in an attempt to reach agreement, and since this critical exercise pays, the aim for truth is a part of one’s obligation to do what pays. However, in what follows I argue that aiming for a well-reasoned convergence of beliefs doesn’t always pay.

4 Shared and Personal Inquiry

It might seem evident that reasoned argument and subsequent convergence lead to better beliefs. However, convergence is only preferable on the assumption that the beliefs that are best for me are generally those that are best for everyone. Of course, if the value of a belief is measured by the belief’s practical efficacy, it is bound to be contingent on the idiosyncrasies of one’s preferences, one’s goals. Hence, the utility of coordination depends on us having the same goals. If we postulate that truth is the goal of inquiry, we’ve ensured that we are all working toward the advancement of the same objective. But this posit is clearly circular in the current context since it is exactly this claim that requires vindication on practical grounds.

Consider a case in which our goals appear to be personal instead of shared: the case of matters of gustatory taste. A belief about a matter of taste is good for me, practically speaking, if it aids me in my pursuit to reliably seek out food I enjoy and avoid food I dislike. A belief about this same matter is good for you insofar as it aids you in your effort to seek out food you enjoy and avoid food you dislike. Given that we are likely to have disparate gustatory preferences, our goals are not expected to align. The belief that the Yellow Pigtail serves exquisite food might be very profitable for me, whereas the very same belief might prove to be an impediment to your gustatory endeavors. Given the rarity of sufficient overlap in appetites, the assumption that our goals align is not a generally productive attitude to have. Sustained deliberation about matters of taste is much likelier to reach a dissolution, in the form of a suspension of judgment, than a resolution. If we somehow do manage to create a lasting consensus — perhaps by some nefarious or despotic means — this consensus is likely to do a practical disservice to a great many people, and their palates. Therefore, it would be best not to aim for truth at all for matters of gustatory taste.

However, we mustn’t assume that the assumption of a shared goal is always counterproductive. There are many instances in which pooling our resources would be a fruitful exercise. In such cases, it is useful to assume that the goal of inquiry is shared despite the differences in our personal preferences. According to Price, theoretical inquiry is premised on the realization that we’re all, mostly, in the same boat and that, different preferences notwithstanding, it is generally beneficial for all to treat the activity of believing as a shared venture. Price argues that beliefs, as opposed to, perhaps, mere opinions, possess the ‘Same Boat Property’:

An utterance type is thus correlated with a class of mental states that share what I shall call the Same Boat Property (SBP). A class of mental states have the SBP if their typical behavioural consequences are such that their behavioural appropriateness, or utility, is predominately similar across a speech community. If a mental state has the SBP, then if it is appropriate for any one of us, it is appropriate for all – we are all in the same boat. (Price, 1988, 152)

Price’s idea is that inquiring, as the act of aiming for truth, is effectively a collaborative action that requires that we temporarily leave our own idiosyncratic goals at the door to pursue the common goal of truth. I say temporarily because we only pursue truth in the expectation that it will benefit our own practical goals in the long run. Our pursuit of truth is, thus, conditioned on the expected utility of pooling our resources in the formation of the doxastic attitudes that inform us in acting toward the advancement of our personal goals.

These sentiments toward beliefs and the role of truth are echoed by Robert Brandom:

Committing oneself to a claim is putting it forward as true, and this means as something that everyone in some sense ought to believe (even though some unfortunates will for various reasons not be in a position to do so and need not be blameworthy for that failure). [...] We come with different bodies, and that by itself ensures that we will have different desires; what is good for my digestion may not be good for yours; my reason to avoid peppers need be no reason for you to avoid peppers. Our different bodies give us different perceptual perspectives on the world as well, but belief as taking-true incorporates an implicit norm of commonality — that we should pool our resources, attempt to overcome the error and ignorance that distinguish our different sets of doxastic commitments, and aim at a common set of beliefs that are equally good for all. (Brandom, 1994, 239–240)

I’ve argued, however, that it would be futile — counterproductive even — to try to enforce a norm of commonality in the case of inquiry into matters of gustatory taste. Such an inquiry is not shared but personal. Gustatory beliefs are personal beliefs. In other words, they are opinions. When we inquire into matters of taste, we aim to obtain beliefs that would best serve ourselves, regardless of how well or poorly they would serve others. We could grant Price the point that, say, scientific inquiry profits from reasoned argumentation and a subsequent convergence of beliefs, which seems obvious enough, but instituting truth as a norm of commonality to this effect is not profitable at all when it comes to the inquiry into matters of gustatory taste.

Now we can finally answer the question, posed a while back, of why the Mo’ans should join us in aiming for truth, given that their concern is not with accurately representing reality but with gaining opinions that are practically serviceable. Yet, while they should join us in the case of science, in the case of taste, we should join them. In fact, in light of our predilection for remaining steadfast in disagreements on matters of taste, and our propensity to agree to disagree on such matters, I take it that, in the case of taste, we already belong to their clan.

I am by no means the first to employ the inquiry into matters of taste as a counterexample to the thesis that truth is uniformly normative. For example, Filippo Ferrari and Sebastiano Moruzzi (2019) use the case of taste to argue for a new kind of pluralism about truth that entails a normatively deflated truth property in addition to normatively robust truth properties.Footnote 1 Their argument operates at a slightly different level, though, since their concern is expressly with the nature of truth itself, whereas my focus is currently on how truth is used, and whether or not our inquiry aims for truth. Their target isn’t Price’s argument for truth as a shared norm, but Crispin Wright’s argument for truth’s normativity (Wright, 1992, Chapter 1). Wright argues that truth coincides with assertibility in normative force but that they potentially diverge in extension and that, therefore, the normativity of truth must be distinct, and cannot be inherited from the normativity of assertibility. However, Ferrari and Moruzzi show that this difference between these two norms subsides on a relativist account of the metaphysics and epistemology of discourse on taste. Even though this argument operates on a different level as my current discussion, and the results obtained by Ferrari and Moruzzi do not pertain directly to the question of whether or not an inquiry aims for truth, I interpret these findings as an allied demonstration of how the normative profile of truth might vary across different inquiries.

Price himself, in Facts and the Function of Truth (1988) also used the case of taste as an example of a discourse over which the truth norm seems to hold little sway. However, he has since rescinded this claim and argued that the truth norm presides in equal measure over all domains of discourse. In the next section, I shall illustrate some of the reasons that motivated Price to walk back his initial position. I shall also reveal the relevance of the distinction between personal and shared inquiry made above for my goal to expose the practical bearings of truth as correspondence.

5 The Phenomenology of Disagreement

Price believes that all assertoric discourse aims for truth since the whole point of the assertoric mode is that it allows for substantive disagreements (Price, 1983). By switching from the overtly subjective mode, e.g., “I like pistachio ice cream”, to the assertoric mode, “Pistachio ice cream is tasty”, we add the alethic fault that allows us to disagree solely on the basis of having a different opinion. What else would the point be of having the assertoric mode for matters of taste, in addition to the subjective mode, if it isn’t to subject these matters to the truth norm?

Price argues that it can be useful to engage in disagreement, even in the case of taste, but that this utility is defeasible, which is why we can so easily transition from the objective to the subjective mode. Price (2022a, b) maintains that the overtly subjective claim serves as an “escape hatch” to get out from under the normative weight of truth. He contends that the “phenomenology of subjectivity” of discourse on taste is due to the frequency and ease with which we use these escape hatches in conversation (Price, 2022b, 43). For example, when I say “This pie is delicious!” and my assertion is met with a lot of resistance, it wouldn’t raise many eyebrows if I trade my initial claim for something overtly subjective, like “Well, I like it at any rate”.

However, I argue that the contrast between the initial assertion and its escape hatch can be explained without invoking truth, by appealing to Price’s own distinction between subjective and objective assertibility. A claim such as “I like pistachio ice cream” must be made sincerely, but usually, that is all that is required of it. We are allowed to like what we like even if we cannot think of good reasons for doing so. This is not so for beliefs. If I say “Pistachio ice cream is tasty” I invite you to ask for reasons for this claim and to disagree with me by challenging the adequacy of my reasons. According to Brandom (1994), the essential feature of the assertion is that it is a move in the game of giving and asking for reasons. Suppose I say “Pistachio ice cream is tasty” and you respond by saying “No, it isn’t; it’s not sweet enough for ice cream; it has a weird off-putting green color; and it usually doesn’t taste remotely like real pistachios”. I might be at a loss for words, unable to back my claim up with reasons of my own, but instead of saying “You’re right, it is disgusting”, I would be more likely to say “Well, I still like it”. I thereby use the escape hatch not to cancel the normativity of truth but to cancel the normativity of objective assertibility. That is, I mitigate my justificatory burdens.

Price argues that truth must be our common goal, and it thereby plays its coordinative role, even for discourse on taste. Yet, this idea of a common goal makes no sense for matters of taste, either conceptually or practically. I have already discussed the practical side. Conceptually, there is also a difference between, for instance, scientific inquiry and inquiry about taste. In the case of science, when confronted with disagreement, the proper response seems to be to realize that our beliefs can be improved upon and that we must continue our inquiry and keep testing our hypotheses. We do so because we believe that we must coordinate our beliefs if we are to get to the truth. This is precisely how the truth norm operates, as Price notes:

Unless individual speakers recognize such a norm, the idea that they might improve their views by consultation with the wider community is simply incoherent to them. (It would be as if we gave a student full marks in an exam, and then told him that he would have done better if his answers had agreed with those of other students.) (Price, 2003, 174)

Yet, the parallel story for disagreement about taste sounds quite ridiculous: learning that you disagree with me about whether pistachio ice cream is tasty should not make me think that something is amiss and that my belief can be improved upon. The idea that our opinions would ultimately come together as long as we just carry on with our inquiry, by eating more and more pistachio ice cream, thereby testing our hypotheses, seems entirely misguided. To exploit Price’s own words, once we have sufficient justification for our basic tastes, “the idea that [we] might improve [our] views by consultation with the wider community is [indeed] simply incoherent” (Price, 2003, 174).

Price argues that, without the aim for truth, disagreement would never get off the ground because we would have no reason to convince each other of anything. However, I argue that disagreement still serves a practical purpose. As mentioned above, Brandom (1994) conceives of our assertoric practices as games of giving and asking for reasons.Disagreement is an integral part of such games. Therefore, when asking about the function of disagreement, we must ask what the practical advantages are of engaging in these games of giving and asking for reasons. Price would presumably say that the coordination of our opinions is the only purpose of this engagement. Yet, I think there is a more fundamental practical advantage to entering into games of giving and asking for reasons.

When we give reasons for our opinions, we get the chance to critically examine our own opinions and to find a structure that holds them together from which we could extrapolate. This, in turn, makes us better at predicting our tastes in unexplored territories. What we also do by expressing our opinions in dialogue and drawing up reasons for them, is subjugating ourselves to a set of rules and allowing our interlocutor to hold us accountable if we violate these rules. Thus, by asking for reasons we can get a grip on someone’s behavior.

This shows that there are practical advantages to engaging with each other’s opinions that have nothing to do with coordination. We should accept that, when it comes to taste, we are all differently inclined. Yet, this does not mean that we cannot enter into disagreement, thereby employing the mechanism of giving and asking for reasons to try to critically examine our different inclinations and understand how these differences affect the ways in which we are disposed to act.

The following sections show the profound effect the bifurcation between shared and personal inquiry has on the question of which theory of truth to endorse. I first argue that deflationism about truth is incompatible with this bifurcation and I proceed by showing how some other pragmatist theories of truth fail to aptly capture truth for shared inquiry, and that a faithful portrayal of the aim for truth requires that we understand truth as an evidence-transcendent standard.

6 Deflationism and the Normativity of Truth

Deflationists about truth argue that truth is metaphysically deflated, and that the nature of truth is captured, in full, by the equivalence schema: < p > is true if and only if p. However, many of them, such as Paul Horwich (2006), but also Price (2003), argue that the normativity of truth is not incompatible with truth being metaphysically deflated. They contend that using truth as the aim of inquiry does not require it to be metaphysically substantive.

The purpose of the present section is to show that the distinction between shared and personal inquiry makes deflationism an untenable view. Before I do so, though, I must briefly describe what it is to take truth to be normative in the first place. The normative profile of truth contains four elements: (1) a deontic, (2) criterial, (3) teleological, and (4) an axiological element (Ferrari, 2021, 4). What it is to take truth to be normative is to believe that (1) truth is what ought to be believed, (2) a belief is correct if and only if it is true, (3) truth is the aim of inquiry and (4) truth is valuable. I have ordered these elements in the way I take it that they should be explained. Truth is what ought to be believed because a belief is correct iff it is true. A belief is correct iff it is true because truth is the aim of inquiry. Truth is the aim of inquiry because the pursuit of truth is valuable. To show why truth should be taken to be normative is to show why the pursuit of truth is valuable. Within the pragmatist framework, this means showing that the pursuit of truth is practically valuable.

Horwich argues that deflationism about truth has the resources to account for the value of truth. He uses the following principle as an example: “It is desirable that: one believe the proposition that e = mc2 just in case e = mc2” (Horwich, 2006, 356). This normative attitude cannot be generalized straightforwardly without it being grammatically awkward, but it can be generalized indirectly by making use of the equivalence schema. Given that p is equivalent to < p > is true, we can say the following:

It is desirable that: one believe the proposition that e = mc2 just in case the proposition that e = mc2 is true

This can be generalized as follows:

It is desirable that: one believe x just in case x is true.

This is a statement of the value of truth, and as Horwich shows, it seems perfectly compatible with deflationism about truth. The same move can be made with respect to the other forms of the normativity of truth. Take, for instance, the criterial norm, which I shall take to be the most neutral expression of the Truth Norm:

(Truth Norm) For all x, it is correct to assert that x if and only if x is true.

Deflationists need not reject this norm, for they can say that it is equivalent to the infinite conjunction of the instances of the follow schema:

(Assertion Norm) It is correct to assert that p if and only if p.

I know this schema looks grammatically awkward, but the particular instances of the schema do not, e.g., ‘It is correct to assert that e = mc2 if and only if e = mc2’. One can derive the Truth Norm from the Assertion Norm by applying the equivalence schema to the latter right-hand side of the biconditional and by subsequently introducing the universal generalization.

In the previous sections, I argued that an assertion like “Pistachio ice cream is tasty” is not governed by the truth norm. If the truth norm is a coordination device, then assertions that belong to personal inquiry should be exempt from it. Nevertheless, it is correct to assert that pistachio ice cream is tasty if and only if pistachio ice cream is tasty. This is platitudinous. The assertion that pistachio ice cream is tasty is a move in a language game. Whether it is correct depends on the standards of this language game, i.e., the norms that govern the assertion. These norms won’t add up unless they corroborate the platitude that it is correct to assert that pistachio ice cream is tasty if and only if pistachio ice cream is tasty. Yet, the equivalence schema can be applied to this biconditional to get the following claim: it is correct to assert that pistachio ice cream is tasty if and only if < Pistachio ice cream is tasty > is true. The Assertion Norm applies to all assertions, also the ones that belong to personal inquiry, and therefore the Truth Norm, insofar as it is equivalent to the infinity conjunction of the schema expressed by the Assertion Norm, applies to all assertions as well.

One could, of course, try to deny that claims belonging to personal inquiry are assertoric. However, on what grounds would this denial be based? It would be inconsistent with the deflationist or pragmatist methodology to try to argue for a metaphysical requirement that personal inquiry violates, such as factuality or representationality. In that case, one would have to explain assertoric content in terms of its relation to worldly entities. This is exactly the kind of explanatory order that pragmatists would hope to eschew by adopting deflationism.

The most obvious way forward, and the one that Price endorses, is to say that all assertions aim for truth. Yet, I have argued that this view does not align with some of our assertoric practices. We should maintain that personal inquiry does not aim for truth. This means that the aim for truth must be restricted to shared inquiry and that, thus, the range of applicability of the Truth Norm must be restricted to shared inquiry. This could only be done by driving a wedge between the Assertion Norm and the Truth Norm. There are two ways of doing so but both are at odds with deflationism about truth.

The first way of getting around the problem is by playing up a potential difference in the explanatory direction between the Assertion Norm and the Truth Norm. The argument would be that, in the case of taste, the Truth Norm is derived from the norms of assertibility, whereas this relation is inverted in the case of shared inquiry. Hence, truth offers no genuine standard to aim for in the former case; it merely reflects the standards of assertibility, it doesn’t inform these standards.

Price is wary of this strategy, and rightly so. His defense of deflationism rests on the premise that truth is merely a label for the normative pressure to coordinate beliefs through argumentation that is intrinsic to the act of asserting (Price, 2003, 186). Hence, Price maintains, the metaphysics of the truth property couldn’t explain or justify the normative role of truth in our assertoric practices. This role is explained instead by the nature of asserting. The present suggestion is to invert this explanatory direction. But if it isn’t the nature of asserting that explains the normativity of truth, the explanation must be found in the nature of truth itself. Price’s explanation would still demonstrate why we subjugate our assertoric practices to the truth norm, but it wouldn’t elucidate the normativity of truth itself, which would be explanatorily prior to the activity of asserting. Therefore, our practical considerations must make way for metaphysical ones. This is, at least, the conclusion Michael Lynch (2004) draws when he argues against Horwich’s deflationary account of truth’s normativity by insisting that the Truth Norm explains the Assertion Norm.

A more promising way of distinguishing the normativity of truth from the normativity of asserting is by rejecting that the Truth Norm above aptly depicts truth’s normative role. It reflects the norms of asserting but doesn’t add to them. This is exactly as it should be for the case of taste; truth’s normative profile is entirely inherited; truth doesn’t generate any normativity by itself. But what, then, would express the “real” normativity of truth? There must be some other expression of the Truth Norm, let’s call it Truth Norm*, such that it doesn’t apply to the case of taste. The Truth Norm* would look like this:

(Truth Norm*) For all x, it is correct to assert that x if and only if x is α.

The Greek letter α denotes the special feature that, say, a correct scientific assertion possesses but that a correct assertion on a matter of taste lacks. Since the Truth Norm* informs assertoric correctness for shared but not for personal inquiry, α acts as a local truth predicate.

The reason why this solution is incompatible with deflationism about truth should be clear, for how could a deflationist distinguish between the normatively deflated truth for matters of taste and α? To restrict the applicability of the Truth Norm* to shared inquiry, α must amount to more than the deflationist could account for. Hence, the fact that the coordinative role of truth is limited to shared inquiry defeats the possibility Price envisages, of pairing an inflated view of truth’s normative role with a deflated account of truth itself.

Having thus disposed of the most popular pragmatist conception of truth, deflationism, I shall evaluate whether some alternative views congenial to pragmatism might give a more apt expression to truth’s role in shared inquiry, whereupon I shall argue that this role commits to the kind of evidence-transcendent standard most pragmatists eschew.

7 Friction as a Regulative Assumption

Price maintains that we need not look into the nature of truth to explain its role (Price, 2003, 179). To a certain extent, I agree with him. The truth norm is merely an expression of something already there: the pressure to coordinate our opinions. Yet, as argued above, in failing to distinguish the truth norm from the assertion norm, deflationism lacks the resources for the truth norm to be an expression of the pressure to coordinate our opinions. For truth to be used as a shared norm, it needs to be something more than what the deflationist could account for.

A natural suggestion would be primitivism, the thesis that truth is substantive but unanalyzable. Primitivism is a foundationalist theory of truth, which treats truth as a conceptual atom. According to this theory, inquiry is to be explained in terms of truth, and the role of truth in inquiry is fundamental, meaning that it cannot be explained, non-circularly, in terms of any other concept (Asay, 2013, 81). Yet these thoughts conflict with the theory proposed here. First of all, this primitivist theory would not hold for personal inquiry since, for this kind of inquiry, truth is normatively deflated. It seems that primitivism about truth presupposes that the conceptual role of truth is uniform across all assertoric domains of discourse. Given that it isn’t uniform, it becomes very hard to maintain that “that’s just what truth is like”, so to speak, and that we shouldn’t look to explain the differences.

Even if we were to maintain a kind of primitivism about truth only for the case of shared inquiry, this would be in conflict with the kind of theory I am hoping to develop. The difference between truth for personal inquiry and truth for shared inquiry is a difference in the normative character of truth. It is this normative role truth plays in shared inquiry, by imparting a shared aim on the inquiry, that we would be primitivists about. However, I have adhered to the Jamesian principle that we aim for truth only insofar as we aim to do what pays. Thus, the normativity of truth is not primitive; it is explained by our obligation to do what pays.

This does not yet show that truth has to be correspondence, though. Could it not be an epistemic notion, like superassertibility? The definition of superassertibility is as follows:

A statement is superassertible […] if and only if it is, or can be, warranted and some warrant for it would survive arbitrarily close scrutiny of its pedigree and arbitrarily extensive increments to or other forms of improvement of our information. (Wright, 1992, 48)

Crispin Wright’s notion of superassertibility is similar to Hilary Putnam’s conception of truth (Putnam, 1981, 49). Putnam makes a distinction between justification, which is potentially unstable, and truth, which is stable. He aims to combine these two notions by defining truth as what one would be justified in believing under ideal epistemic circumstances. I prefer Wright’s account of truth because it does not rely on an idealization of our epistemic abilities. On both accounts, however, truth just is a kind of sustainable justification, i.e., justification that would survive closer scrutiny.

The problem with truth as superassertibility is that it is perfectly imaginable, due to the underdetermination of theory by data, that all the available evidence will support multiple theories in equal measure, even if these theories aren’t compatible. We could furthermore suppose that it is possible that our theoretical virtues cannot conclusively single out one of these multiple theories as the best theory. In this case, there would be a proposition p propounded by one theory and rejected by another, and we could increase scrutiny ad infinitum without coming up with an answer as to whether p or ¬p is warranted. Maybe they are both warranted. It is likelier that neither are. But this means one of two things: either they are both superassertible or neither are. If truth is superassertibility, p and ¬p would both be true, which would be contradictory, or they would be neither true nor false. To say that one of them is true and the other false would be to endorse an evidence-transcendent standard of correctness. Regardless of whether they are both true or neither true nor false, there wouldn’t be an alethic fault in any disagreement that arises from the endorsement of these propositions or of the theories that they are entailed by.

From a practical point of view, this does not seem to matter much. The attribution of an alethic fault to disagreements is driven by the usefulness of the kind of communicative conduct it generates, but it is only useful insofar as it helps us to gain beliefs that are practically better. If both theories will never be defeated by the evidence, they are both maximally practically beneficial — since any practical failing would count as evidence against the theory. This means that the attribution of fault ceases to be useful in this scenario. Once we have reached the end of inquiry, and our beliefs work as well as they possibly could, we could treat disagreements as mere differences of preference, as a mere matter of taste.

Instead of saying that disagreement always implies an alethic fault, we can say that it implies such a fault unless inquiry has been carried out impeccably. Thus, the proposal is that if two inquirers carry out their inquiry impeccably, taking all the relevant evidence into consideration, and they end up with optimally beneficial beliefs that are nevertheless (interpersonally) incompatible, their disagreement carries no alethic fault. In this case, the alethic fault would be a kind of stand-in for a yet-to-be-discovered procedural fault — e.g., the fault of having based one’s belief on inconclusive evidence — and it would only apply to ordinary cases of disagreement, not to those rare cases in which the opposing views are both optimally conducive to one’s practices. As argued, this fits well into our pragmatist framework: coordination isn’t a goal an sich, the aim for coordination is in service of the aim to find beliefs that would serve us best. If the beliefs involved in the disagreement are both maximally beneficial to our practices, it no longer matters which of them we choose to endorse, nor would it matter that we end up with the same beliefs, so the disagreement would merely turn on personal preference.

Sadly, though, the rule “attribute faults to your disagreements unless you’ve reached the end of inquiry” is not a rule we could actually follow since we can’t possibly know when the end of inquiry has been reached; we cannot know if there aren’t further beliefs out there that might serve us even better, or if our current beliefs that work so well for us today might fail to work for us tomorrow. There might be many instances in which we find that our peers endorse theories that are incompatible with our own theories, but in which case all theories on offer seem internally coherent. In such instances, the temptation might arise to believe that the end of our inquiry has been reached, thereby treating the disagreement as alethically faultless and sticking with one’s preferred hypotheses. Of course, we may never know for certain that our views cannot be improved upon. However, as I’ve argued in a previous paper (2022, 7), the belief that truth is epistemically constrained has the adverse practical effect of giving overconfident scientists — the ones so convinced of the strengths of their theory that they lack the ability to imagine that it could ever be shown to be incorrect — a reason for discounting disagreement even if they cannot find a fault in the opposing side’s views.

This kind of conduct would rarely be useful. We normally think of such conduct as evincing the vice of intellectual immodesty. It would be more virtuous to believe that there will always be things left to discover and that there will always be more that is unknown to us than known. It is generally better to inquire too far than not far enough. Therefore, the rule couldn’t be “attribute faults to disagreements unless you’ve reached the end of inquiry”, the rule should be that we always attribute faults to disagreements.

Whenever an inquirer encounters disagreement — not in the form of a challenge of the internal consistency and strength of their own theory but in the form of another theory that is also internally consistent and that appears equally strong — we would want our inquirer to think: ‘Well, only one of them could be true, and since I have no reason for believing that my theory is likelier to be true than my opponent’s, I must believe that my theory is possibly at fault, so back to the drawing board!’ But how do we promote this kind of thinking?

We might hope that our inquirer realizes that they will never reach the end of inquiry, that future evidence could always overturn current beliefs. Yet, if truth is superassertibility, then believing one’s theory to be true would amount to believing that it will survive all future scrutiny. Hence, our inquirer would have to be a skeptic and wouldn’t be allowed to ever believe any of their current theories. This is not how inquirers ordinarily operate. Instead, they commonly believe their theories until they encounter the abovementioned disagreement. But this means that it must be the disagreement itself that defeats the inquirer’s belief in their theory. How does it do so? The most straightforward way of understanding this role of disagreement is by supposing, as Price does, that it contains an a priori alethic fault. Yet, this would be opposed to an epistemic account of truth such as superassertibility.

There is an alternative, which is to say that disagreement is itself an indication that we haven’t reached the end of inquiry. However, this presupposes that there simply couldn’t be any disagreements once all the evidence is in, that the evidence, and our theoretical virtues, will unequivocally corroborate a single theory. This would be the strategy of denying the presupposition that two inquirers who carry out their inquiry impeccably, taking all the evidence into account, could end up with incompatible beliefs. Instead, one could assume inquiry to be such that all disagreements will be resolved as we go along. But what would substantiate this assumption?

Peirce argues that it is a regulative assumption of scientific inquiry (as opposed to inquiry into matters of taste) that it will converge toward a single final opinion and that, thus, all disagreements will ultimately be resolved one way or another (Misak, 2004, 126). According to Peirce, the purpose of inquiry is the cessation of doubt, and persistent disagreement gets in the way of this purpose. Therefore, it would only be worth it to engage in inquiry if we assume that all disagreements will ultimately be resolved and that we will slowly converge toward a single final opinion.

However, this argument would only work if we assume that disagreement bothers us, i.e., that we take disagreement to be indicative of some kind of fault. This would not be the case for our opinions on pistachio ice cream, on which we may happily agree to disagree. So why would scientific inquiry be any different?

I have argued that the difference lies in the latter being guided by the truth norm, which the former lacks. However, Diana Heney shows in her article “Reality as Necessary Friction” that, for Peirce, it is not the concept of truth but that of reality that does the heavy lifting (Heney, 2015).

Disagreement need not cast doubt on my opinion unless I would believe that our opinions cannot both be correct. If we take the norm of correctness to be epistemic, then this means that I must be convinced that, in the long run, one of our beliefs will turn out to be more justifiable than the others. Why would I believe this? Why must I preclude the possibility that both beliefs remain equally justifiable? Well, if Peirce is right, this belief is warranted by a conception of reality that shows that we are destined to converge toward a single opinion. He says:

[A]ll the followers of science are fully persuaded that the processes of investigation, if only pushed far enough, will give one certain solution to every question to which they can be applied […] Different minds may set out with the most antagonistic views, but the progress of investigation carries them by a force outside of themselves to one and the same conclusion. This activity of thought by which we are carried, not where we wish, but to a foreordained goal, is like the operation of destiny. No modification of the point of view taken, no selection of other facts for study, no natural bent of mind even, can enable a man to escape the predestinate opinion. This great law is embodied in the conception of truth and reality. The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real. That is the way I would explain reality. (Peirce, 1878, 299–300 emphasis added)

This quote shows that Peirce’s regulative assumption that disagreements will be resolved is a regulative assumption about reality: we must assume that reality is such that it carries our inquiry “to a foreordained goal” and to “one and the same conclusion”.

In short, according to Peirce, reality must be such that whichever opinion will be believed by all in the long run (at the hypothetical end of inquiry) will correspond to it. It is not because an opinion is indefeasible that we think it is the one true opinion to be had, but because we assume that our indefeasibly justified opinions correspond to reality. In a roundabout way, then, we have ended up with a version of the correspondence theory. In fact, there are some contemporary pragmatists, such as Robert Lane (2018) and Andrew Howat (2020), who argue that Peirce can be read as a correspondence theorist.

However, this kind of correspondence theory would not take truth to be evidence transcendent. Therefore, one could perhaps argue that this epistemically constrained version of correspondence “isn’t the real thing”. In any case, I think this epistemic version of the correspondence theory is decidedly worse than a conception of correspondence that takes it to be an evidence-transcendent notion of correctness. In trying to keep truth from being evidence transcendent, we would have to make the very controversial move of denying the existence of lost facts; we would have to commit ourselves to the assumption that inquiry could ultimately resolve disagreements about the most minute facts of the distant past, even when it seems intuitively possible that these facts are no longer discoverable.

Perhaps it would be useful for some of our inquiries to believe that reality will convey itself to us and lead us to some final conclusion. Yet, to believe this of all shared inquiries is to risk going off on wild goose chases, trying to solve puzzles that have already been shown to be unsolvable. This conception of reality either shrinks the world down to a size small enough for it to be consumed wholly by the human intellect, or it blows up this intellect to astronomical proportions just to ensure that no stone will be left unturned. I think neither of these moves is particularly helpful to our practices.

We could also opt for the exact opposite of this picture. We could think of the attribution of an alethic fault to disagreements not as a commitment to a yet-to-be-discovered procedural fault but as an act of intellectual humility, an expression of the conviction that no matter how much we know there will always be much more we can never know. Given this ignorance, your guess is as good as mine, so to speak, and holding on to our own beliefs in the face of disagreement with our peers is mere stubbornness, a sin of intellectual immodesty.

Both strategies express the conviction that disagreements imply an alethic fault. Yet, the Peircean strategy takes disagreement as a sign that we haven’t yet reached the end of inquiry and that we must dig deeper, whereas this strategy takes disagreement as a sign that the correct answer might be out of reach altogether. I think that it has fewer drawbacks. On a theoretical level, it avoids the controversial move of denying the existence of lost facts, while on the practical level, it safeguards against unproductive inquiries into intractable issues.

For both strategies, what it is for a belief to be true is for it to correspond to reality in some sense. For the Peircean strategy, it is the concept of reality that does the heavy lifting, whereas for my preferred strategy, it is correspondence itself, interpreted as an evidence-transcendent standard, that tells us that at most one of us can be right and that thereby adds the alethic fault needed for truth to be used as a coordination device.

I understand that pragmatists might instinctively resist an evidence-transcendent standard at all costs because they have been told time and again that such a standard has no bearing on our practices. However, I have now shown that it does have such bearings. After all, aiming for an evidence-transcendent notion of correctness does alter our practice; doing so adds friction to our disagreements, and it thereby makes us more inclined to coordinate our opinions.

8 A Pragmatist Interpretation of Correspondence

There have been others who draw the connection between the attribution of an a priori alethic fault to disagreement and a realist attitude toward truth. For instance, Matthew Shields argues that a commitment to an evidence-transcendent notion of truth follows directly from Price’s description of the truth norm. Shields believes that the alethic fault in disagreement is reflected in the “assumption that there is something that outstrips any inquirer’s language or thought to which inquirers are all accountable” (Shields, 2022, 18).

However, I think Price would argue for the inverse of this explanatory relation: this intuition that the correctness of our assertions depends on how things stand independently of us is explained by the practice of taking disagreements to contain an alethic fault. Our aim to coordinate our beliefs is not explained by our supposed aim to correspond to reality. Rather, it is because we aim to coordinate our beliefs that we get this sense that our beliefs must respond to a standard that is external to us.

I agree with this thought. It is not enough to merely appeal to some metaphysical story to explain why we take disagreements to imply alethic faults. If anything, it is our practice of taking disagreements to imply these faults that gives rise to this metaphysical story. Yet, what I have appealed to in this article is not a metaphysical story but a practical difference, namely the difference between personal and shared inquiry. It is this difference that, I have argued, makes deflationism an untenable view. If the truth norm is to work as a coordination device for shared but not personal inquiry, there must be something to this norm that is not conveyed by the assertion norm. As it turns out, the truth norm consists of realist substance, and this realism must somehow be accounted for.

I have shown in the previous section that Peirce introduces his metaphysical beliefs not as an explanation of why inquiry must lead to convergence but as a regulative assumption: in order to engage with our inquiry in the way we think we should, we must believe that reality is such that it will guide us to a “foreordained goal” and a “predestinate opinion” (Peirce, 1878, 300). The realism implied by the aim for truth could be interpreted in the same fashion: to engage with our inquiry in the way we think we should, we must assume that we aim for our beliefs to correspond to reality.

It might almost sound like correspondence has become nothing more than a useful fiction: for us to carry out inquiry in the way we think we ought to, we should just pretend that our assertions aim to correspond to reality. However, pragmatists cannot actually endorse this kind of response when it comes to truth; their commitment to pragmatism bars them from doing so. Let me briefly explain why.

There are two reasons for calling a belief a useful fiction: (1) it is useful to act on the belief, but it is actually nonsense, or (2) it is useful to act on the belief even though it is actually false. Pragmatists would want to go for the first option by arguing that the correspondence theory is “empty metaphysics”. Their argument for this view is that aiming for correspondence, as opposed to justification or an epistemic notion of truth — i.e., having an external instead of an internal standard — has no bearing on our practices. However, this article has shown why this argument fails and why the aim for correspondence is practically significant. Therefore, the pragmatist argument to the effect that the correspondence conception of truth is nonsensical or empty does not work.

The only option left is to say that, though it would be useful to pretend that truth is correspondence, this is not actually the case. Yet, as I’ve shown in a previous paper (2022, 10), this response would be self-undermining. The idea that truth is correspondence helps us to properly conduct our shared inquiry. This idea is practically beneficial. In what way would it be false, then? In order to insist that it is false, we would have to rely on a notion of truth that goes beyond our practices, that goes beyond our internal standards. This means that we would end up presupposing what we are trying to reject: an external standard of correctness.

Therefore, pragmatists cannot treat correspondence as a useful fiction, and nor should they. As long as they interpret the aim for correspondence as the practical commitment to taking disagreements to contain a priori alethic faults, and as long as they maintain that its metaphysical implications are explained by this practical commitment, the idea that truth is correspondence, even in the inflated sense, has clear practical bearings, and it thereby satisfies the Pragmatic Maxim.

9 Concluding Remarks

The aim of this article was to expose the practical bearings of the correspondence theory of truth. This theory is more than just the platitude that our beliefs are true insofar as they correspond to the way things are. Instead, it interprets truth as an evidence-transcendent standard; when we aim for truth, we aim for our beliefs to correspond to reality. Pragmatists have always ridiculed this theory by suggesting that it has us aim for a target we cannot even see and by assuming that it must therefore lack practical bearings.

I have argued, following Price, that the practical advantage of aiming for truth is that of cooperation. The aim for truth gives us a common goal and it thereby facilitates the coordination of our beliefs by putting pressure on us to resolve our disagreements rather than to simply agree to disagree. However, this common goal is only practically advantageous insofar as the coordination of beliefs through argumentation is advantageous. I have introduced a distinction between inquiries for which it is and inquiries for which it is not. This bifurcation of our discursive practices made deflationism about truth untenable. I then argued that if truth is to play its coordinative role it must be an evidence-transcendent standard. Hence, the view that truth is correspondence does have practical bearings, even when interpreted as an evidence-transcendent standard.

Yet, what are we left with? It seems that truth could not simply be correspondence since I have only shown it to be an evidence-transcendent standard for shared inquiry. I have argued that, for personal inquiry, truth should be seen as merely a device for expressing agreement. At first, this distinction in truth might seem to entail alethic pluralism. Perhaps it does, but if so, it would only be a pluralist view at the level of use. I have actually developed this pluralist theory at the level of use in much greater detail in my article “Truth and Its Uses” (2023). I show, in that article, why we could still embrace the idea that truth consists in correspondence across the board, for both shared and personal inquiry. Though, I do grant the deflationist that at the conceptual level, truth is little more than a device for the expression of agreement. All the differences between shared and personal inquiry are explained by how this device is used.

I must stress, however, that my argument for the practical bearings of correspondence, as developed in this article, can be appreciated independently of the particularities of my theory defended in Kaspers (2023). No matter how (un)likely the reader finds my own theory of truth, the point still stands that pragmatists, throughout the history of their doctrine, have unduly and wrongly denounced or depreciated the idea that truth is correspondence.