So, what is it that makes something true? (Trust me, this ties in with this post’s title.) If I say that “X is the case,” and it, indeed, turns out that X IS the case, then my saying so was true. Or, rather, the thing I said was true, and my saying it was said truly. (Actually, my saying it was said truly, because I truly said it, regardless of whether what I said was actually true.) But what establishes the connection(s) between my saying it is the case, and its actually being the case? Well, presumably it is reality that makes that establishment; but how is that reality, how is that establishment, established in experience such that the truth-saying and the truth-being converge in a truth making?
Because even as (and insofar) as “the truth is out there,” our having, getting, finding, or whatever, that truth involves a substantial amount of making. If you take the idea of truth seriously, then you must take seriously the fact that we have to go out and make that truth apparent through significant and substantive inquiry. Where this is going (and it will go fast) is that the maker that connects the truth as said with the truth as found, looks a lot like a successful “strategy” in a “game.” This is a formal, logical concept, which brings scientific inquiry into a dirty-dance with that part of formal logic known as model-theory. (Somewhere, somebody has sheet music on this stuff … )
The idea of “truth making” will likely sound suspiciously like some kind of “relativism” to many people. The sense in which such people will be understanding relativism is, however, what might be more appropriately called “subjectivism” – what is true is whatever I subjectively hold to be the case, out of personal advantage, ideological inclination, or some such logically vacuous excuse. This is not how I’m using the term “truth making” here. On the other hand, objectively valid conclusions of logically robust inquiries need not, for all of that, align themselves in a single, mutually supportive, and maximally coherent array of All True Things. For example, Charles Sanders Peirce variously argued that “the Truth” was essentially an idealized end point of all inquiry, in the infinitely distant (hence, unactualizable) future, at which point all rational inquirers have finalized all of the conclusions from all logically valid inquiries. As comparatively modest as this might sound, the metaphysical commitments are still notable, as the ideal reality of the above mentioned “single, mutually supportive, and maximally coherent array of All True Things” is simply taken for granted. But what if such an ultimate, coherent array is not even possible in the ideal case? That still leaves a tremendous amount of room for the development of individual inquiries, and the idealized endpoint can still serve as a guiding heuristic until such time as the hypothesis is shown to be untenable, or interferes with some aspects of the finite inquiries we actually engage in.
Which brings us back to the earlier comment about model-theory. While a model in formal logic is a very different beast from a model in an empirical science, there is still a sufficiently strong analogy between the two, that model-theory theory in logic is a far stronger instrument for characterizing model building in the sciences than is, say, proof theory. (Also note that model-theory is a different creature altogether from the “model centrism” I frequently criticize.) Now, as a matter of personal experience, I can confirm that there are philosophers who look upon the preceding statement as the most outrageous sort of nonsense on stilts imaginable, even when exposed to a much more detailed and carefully argued presentation than what I will present here, in a mere blog post. On the other hand, there are luminaries in the fields of both logic and philosophy of science – specifically, Bas Van Fraassen and Jaakko Hintikkai – who hold this position, and from whom I (indirectly) learned it myself.
A model – whether in formal logic or in empirical science – consists of a universe of discourse applied to a domain being modeled by a structure called a theory, which then determines which statements and propositions then qualify as “true” within the model (the context of inquiry.) This is the strong analogy (denied by some) that I mentioned above. But whence cometh the model in the first place? How does this “truth maker” come to be made? The answer, I suggest (under the authoritative aegis of Jaakko Hintikka (see endnote i) and others), is to be found in “the games people play.”
The games I have in mind are not those like chess or poker, although they are not altogether unlike those games, either. Rather, I am thinking of the “game of inquiry”, or, more precisely, inquiry understood formally in a game-theoretic sense. We begin by treating the universe of discourse on the one hand, and the structure to be modeled on the other, as “players” in a “game.” “Discourse” makes a “move” by offering up a possibility that might serve as a component in a model, while “Structure’s” moves are attempts to show that Discourse’s move has failed. (By the way, calling the “players” “Discourse” and “Structure” is simply my choice, because it fits with how I am characterizing things here. There are many different ways of naming the “players.”) Logical syntax (along with additional rules in the case of an empirical, rather than purely formal, model) serve as the “rules” of the game, “strategies” form the semantic basis, and the existence of a winning strategy for Discourse is the “definition” of truth. The vital difference between rules and strategies cannot be over stated: one might now the rules for the movement of the knight in a chess game, but that knowledge won’t tell you if you should move that knight, or where among the allowable spaces the knight should be moved to. (Notice also how that “should” in the strategic end of things makes that part of the logic inherently modal in nature. The short form explanation for that last statement is that the logic of the strategic aspect is vastly more complex than the rules by themselves.)
Having mentioned Peirce above, it is worth noting that, according to Hintikka (see, again, endnote “i”), Peirce nearly had this game-theoretic idea of logic and inquiry some 50+ years before it began to float to the surface of the scholarly literature. But what Peirce lacked was the idea of a strategy, and hence of a winning strategy. A winning strategy is a systematized collection of “plays” that always lead Discourse to a victory against Structure. As a definition of truth, it means that inquiry has a shot at “winning.” But notice that this sort of truth is not just lying around out there waiting to be “seen.” This kind of truth, this winning strategy, is made out of the stuff of inquiry. Think of it this way: a winning strategy in chess will not be a winning strategy in go, because there is simply no basis of comparison between the games beyond the vapidly generic – and hopelessly ungeneralizable – notions of “territory” and “control.” Yet within each game, those notions are concrete and will manifest themselves in strategic decisions. Perhaps within those games, there is a perfect, a winning, strategy that defeats all comers. Such a strategy would, in a very real sense, be “The Truth” – of that game.
So let us come back around to empirical science. As hinted at above, one player is going to be the scientist – no, scratch that, that’s wrong. One “player” is going to be the community of inquirers, the entire sub-discipline of scientists and investigators involved in a generically defined inquiry: this will be the “Discourse” team. The “other side,” the “Structure” player will be Nature itself. A science that “zeros in” on the Truth will be one that progressively develops strategies for building models that are indefeasible by any “move” that Structure (Nature) might make.
Finally, let us remind ourselves that models are not bad things, only model–centrism. Triumphalist model-centrists like Brian Greene or Stephen Hawking offend me because they have stopped “playing the game.” Rather, they legislate, ex cathedra, that any and every move they make is a “winning” one. Catastrophic empirical falsifications are simply brushed aside by the addition of new parameters to their models – they change the rules. Trying to find real science in their mathematical cleverness is like playing chess with a pigeon. All they do is strut around, knock over the pieces, crap on the board, then puff themselves up and coo as though they were victorious.
iProviding citations for Hintikka here would not be very useful for most folks, as the articles are behind paywalls for journals few people will have access to, or collected in books that no one can afford. So unless you’ve access to a library at a research institution, you might as well take my word here. If you do have such access, drop a note and I’ll provide some citations that will get you started.