The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
Inquire about purchasing the book | Table of Contents | Annotated Bibliography | Class on Nature of Mind

These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Functionalist Truth

Ludwig Wittgenstein proposed a common-sense theory of truth: different statements can all be true without being true in the same way. This idea led him to "alethic pluralism", i.e. to accept that truth is a multi-faceted concept.

Likewise, the US philosopher Michael Lynch takes issue with the idea that there is "one" theory of truth. Lynch argues that there is a plurality of "truths", rather than a single all-encompassing theory of truth. For example, truth in ethics and truth in justice and truth in mathematics obey different laws. The nature of truth is difficult to find because truth doesn’t have only one nature. One needs a different theory of truth for each domain, and that is precisely what ordinary humans employ in their daily lives.

Just like functionalism believes in "multiple realizations" of the same mental phenomenon, i.e. that the same mental state can be "realized" by different physical states (what matters being the function, not the "stuff"), Lynch believes that "truth" (a uniform concept across domains) can be realized by different theories in different domains.

For example, pain is a mental state that is causally related to some inputs (e.g., a sore finger), outputs (e.g., facial expression and sounds), and other mental states (e.g., unhappiness). Any state that realizes this causal role is called "pain", even if the pain due to a blister and the pain due to a cold are very different in nature.

Lynch claims that "truth" names a functional role, and that we all understand what that role is, regardless of what realizes it. Lynch compares this with the concept of "head of state": both the president of the United States, the king of Jordan, Fidel Castro and the chancellor of Germany are heads of state, although the way they got the job and the way they administer it vary greatly. The "function" of head of state, though, is understood the same way in the US, France and Cuba.

(A possible objection is that equality is sometimes merely a form of fuzziness: the closer you look, the less similar Castro and the king of Jordan are, and the less clear the term "head of state" is. One can suspect that "functional role" is a synonym for "vague definition". Relax the definition and just about anything in this universe will have the same "functional role" as anything else).

If truth is merely a functional role, if "to be true" is to play the “alethic” role, what exactly is that role?

Lynch thinks that truth is defined by an "alethic network", a set of interdependent definitions that, jointly, define each other: a proposition is whatever is true or false, a fact is what makes a proposition true or false, etc. Lynch claims that each "alethic concept" in the alethic network is defined by the role it plays in the network. One cannot grasp an alethic concept (truth, proposition, fact) without grasping them all. Each alethic concept depends on all of the others. Truth cannot be defined as "stand alone", but only as part of the broader definition of all alethic entities.

Truth is the property of playing the truth role in an alethic network.

There is one and only one concept of truth, but it can be realized in multiple ways.

 


Back to the beginning of the chapter "Meaning: Journey to the Center of the Mind" | Back to the index of all chapters