How Realists can Place Epistemic Constraints on Truth: Brentano’s Model

12. November 2015 von Johannes Brandl

Vortrag am 10.Kongress der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Philosophie, Innsbruck 2015.

In the current debate between realism and anti-realism, the bone of contention has beenthe idea of placing an epistemic constraint on truth. Anti-realists argue that good reasonsexist to accept such a constraint – e.g. a constraint of verifiability on the domain of sentences that are capable of being true or false. Realists deny this and take the domain of truthsto be fixed by an epistemically unconstrained relation between sentences and reality, e.g. acorrespondence relation. In the background of this debate lies the traditional contrast between realism and idealism, which concerns the question whether reality is in an importantsense mind-independent. Yet these are two different debates. Therefore the question ariseswhether a realist about truth is also committed to realism in the traditional sense, andwhether an anti-realist about truth must implicitly accept a form of idealism. In addressingthese issues, it may be helpful to revisit Brentano’s views on this matter. Brentano is strictlyopposed to any form of idealism, yet he places an epistemic constraint on the concept oftruth. Is this a consistent position? In order to answer that question, I will first considerhow Brentano forges a link between the concepts of truth and the concept of existence inhis theory of judgment. In order to do so, it is not necessary to show – as Brentano tried todo – that all judgments are either positive or negative existential judgements. The assumption that underlies my reconstruction of Brentano’s view is the much weaker claim thatsimple existential judgments can be analysed in such a way that the concepts of existenceand nonexistence merely express the quality of the judgement and not part of its content.I will next explain what the epistemic constraint is that Brentano places on the concept oftruth. One way to understand his constraint is to start from the idea that one should judgetruly and also in accordance with one’s evidence. While an epistemic constraint may besupported by this normative consideration, it is not the best way to understand Brentano’sview. His model becomes clearer when one considers Brentano’s concept empiricism. Itmotivates his claim that our concept of truth is derived from the concept of judging withcomplete evidence. I will explain what this derivation involves. Finally, I will explain howBrentano can still remain a realist about the nature of reality. He takes reality to consist ofconcrete things that exist mind-independently. This implies, I will argue, that there canbe things that we do not know how to form a correct judgment about. Hence no suchjudgment could be true or false. In this way, Brentano provides us with a model of how toremain a traditional realist without subscribing to realism about truth.

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