The final aspect of truth is pragmatic: that which is true is that which ‘works’ for us, in the broadest possible sense of the word. In the case of certain beliefs which are not accessible to empirical testing – for example, religious beliefs or secular ideologies – ‘truth’ is almost entirely assimilated to what the William James called pragmatic ‘cash value’, and which evolutionary theorists would call ‘survival value’. We cannot, however, reduce the difference between all truths and all falsehoods simply to the difference between what works and what doesn’t. If we did, we would still have to explain why some things do and some things don’t work. While beliefs may feel true because they ‘work’, ultimately, most of our beliefs that work do so because they are true. And ultimately that means corresponding to a state of affairs, or a range or pattern of states of affairs.
In short, truth is far from empty, as Davidson claimed; and the theory of truth is not “a set of truisms,” as J.L. Austin said scornfully. Truth is rich, and the theory of truth complex. This is precisely what we might expect, as the nature of truth touches on what is most distinctive about us. Of all the creatures in the universe who experience what is the case, we are the only ones who make explicit what is the case, and assert that it is the case. We are explicit, or truth-bearing and falsehood-bearing animals, and to see truth truly is to see ourselves truly.
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