concepts section: copyright Robert Ellis 2011

Truth on the edge

'Truth on the edge' is the central concept which opens my presentation of Middle Way philosophy in the book of that name, written in 2009-10. It provides clarification of the treatment of truth in earlier writings such as the Ph.D. thesis.

To make any definite (rather than provisional) claims about a certain state of affairs being true is to make a metaphysical claim, and the avoidance of metaphysics is a central part of Middle Way philosophy. To avoid metaphysics, our claims need to be provisional and incremental and to avoid positive assertions about truth. The concept of justification replaces that of truth as the basis of our provisional assertions.

However, it is equally important not to dismiss or relativise the concept of truth. Truth is not just what we choose to make it, nor what our society conditions us into believing.We tend to appeal to the concept of truth because of the experience of objective demands in our lives - that there is something going on beyond our current assumptions at any given moment, that we keep knocking up against. We need to bear truth in mind without making definite claims about it - which is where the concept of 'truth on the edge' comes in.

More formally, 'Truth on the edge' asserts that truth, like all metaphysical claims, is meaningful but not a justified object of belief. If one takes a pragmatic rather than representationalist view of meaning, we can have an understanding of the meaning of a symbol, and it might be very important to us, without us being able to specify its "truth conditions" (as the jargon of analytic philosophy puts it). Nevertheless, our poetic, artistic and religious openness to the symbolism of metaphysical language should not stray into assertions about its truth. Truth remains "on the edge", in the sense of something we are dimly aware of as a potential on the horizon: but as we think we approach that horizon, it always recedes further. In a finite human existence (as shown conclusively by sceptical arguments) we should not expect access to truth. Nevertheless the directionality provided by the meaningfulness of truth is essential to the cultivation of objectivity

Links to related discussion

Relativism (introductory page)

Truth on the Edge


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