Truth

Philosophical analysis of the concept of truth has been mostly confined to western thinkers who have falsely believed that their intellectual capacity transcends their native languages but this has unnecessarily marginalised the question of whether we may learn something new about the concept through investigations of it in other non-Western languages. This research cluster seeks to deconlonise the study of truth.

truth-166853_1920.jpg

Overview

The first set of experiments pertains to intuitions about truth among ordinary speakers of various languages—in particular, English, Korean, (Mandarin and Cantonese) Chinese, Japanese, Polish, and Italian.  With Nikolaj Pedersen (Yonsei), Ulatowski and Wyatt have designed the base questionnaire for these experiments, which is in English, and this questionnaire has been translated into Korean by Hwan Ryu (Miami).  During the project, we will work with small research clusters within the consortium to develop and administer the remaining translations of the base questionnaire:

 

  • Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese: Jing Zhu (Xiamen), Jiamen Xu (Xiamen), Su Wu (Sun Yat-sen)

  • Japanese: Masaharu Mizumoto (JAIST)

  • Polish: Katarzyna Paprzycka-Hausman (Warsaw), Katarzyna Kuś (Warsaw), Bartosz Maćkiewicz (Warsaw), Marta Zaręba (Warsaw)

  • Italian: Sebastiano Moruzzi (Bologna/COGITO), Filippo Ferrari (Padua)


Based on our preliminary investigations and based on findings from cognitive psychology (cf. Nisbett 2004), our main hypothesis is that Westerners (including Western and Eastern Europeans) and East Asians think in importantly different ways about the nature of truth.  This hypothesis comports well with the recent finding by Mizumoto (ms) that Japanese speakers’ use of the Japanese truth predicates ‘shin’ and ‘hontou’ is more fine-grained than English speakers’ use of ‘true.’ Using questionnaires designed to elicit intuitive responses among study participants, we expect to determine whether there are statistically significant, cross-linguistic differences in the ways that people use expressions like 'is true,’ 'is correct,’ and ‘is right’ and their counterparts in the other target languages.  In investigating this issue, we will use vignettes that pertain to a wide range of topics with the aim of determining whether speakers of the target languages use these expressions differently when speaking about different subject matters.  Our central question in this study has yet to be empirically investigated, so we anticipate that a robust set of cross-linguistic findings on the topic will be of great interest to researchers in philosophy, linguistics, and the social sciences.

Relevant Background

Our experiments on truth are motivated by the recent findings of Mizumoto (ms) in his comparative study on the Japanese truth predicates ‘shin’ and ‘hontou’ and the English ‘is true.’  It is also based on informal findings from numerous conversations with philosophers and non-philosophers who are native speakers of the languages that we will investigate in this experiment.

Prior to Mizumoto’s study, Alfred Tarski (1944), one of the most influential theorists of truth, called for the systematic empirical investigation of people's intuitions about truth.  Around the same time, the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (1938a, 1938b, 1953) published his own findings on how non-philosophers think about truth (cf. Barnard and Ulatowski 2016; Ulatowski 2016; 2017; 2018). Joseph Ulatowski, along with his collaborator Robert Barnard (Mississippi), has recently published results on contextual sensitivity and individual differences in non-philosophers’ thought about the correspondence theory of truth (2013). He and Barnard have also published findings that reveal complexities in the way that non-philosophers think about the objectivity of truth (2017; 2021). And, finally, Barnard and Ulatowski linked up with Jonathan Weinberg (Arizona) to study non-philosophers views on the liar paradox.

Additional relevant proposals concerning systematic differences in truth-talk across various languages have been advanced by co-PI Jeremy Wyatt (2018), Alexus McLeod (2016), James Maffie (2001), and Bo Mou (2009). Lastly, this project will complement and attempt to extend a more general hypothesis that members of Western and East Asian countries have different intuitions about philosophically significant issues (see Weinberg, et al. 2001 on intuitions about knowledge and Machery, et al. 2004 on intuitions about reference).