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Monday, 29 December 2014

Truth-makers and truth-consortia

I think there is a lot to unpack in Latour's observations about truth. I think his thoughts here are in the right directions. For example, in Irréductions 2.4.8. he goes:

Une phrase ne tient pas parce qu'elle est vraie;
c'est parce qu'elle tient qu'on la dit vraie.
Elle tient à quoi? Mais, justement, à beaucoup de choses.

Truth is what is maintained - it supervenes on its truth-makers, on what contributes to it. I wonder whether I can understand truth in terms of supporters, of what holds a relation of instauration, of sponsoring the true proposition (or belief, or statement, or sentence). My model is that of an agreement, but not only with the human agents but between a sufficient number of relevant actants. If it is so, the truth-bearer is somehow a truth-maker, a contributor.

Truth could then be taken to be a report on the agreement between sponsors. Truth lies in the agreement between sponsors – but it is always subject to new tests of resistance, as Latour puts it (Irréductions, 1.1.5). The agreement is always up for grabs: any sponsor, including those who can state truths (and falsities), can affect it. Stating that the snow is white is endorsing that this is the case. Endorsement, in this case, is almost entirely irrelevant, but it is not always so. Truth could be therefore better presented as an agreement between truth-bearers and all its other truth-makers; “the snow is white” is true provided that all flocks of snow behave in coherence with it, implicit lightning conditions satisfy it etc.

The import of endorsement has to do with the fact that truth, for Latour, is produced. Latour talks about this production often when considering the activities of the scientists: the results are independent of the humans but scientists produce them at great cost . He analyses correspondence – what he broadly refers as an adequatio rei et intellectus – as a difficult construction that requires action taken on both sides, in the intellectus side and in the res side to which the former intends to correspond. He provides a detailed example of how a map of Mount Aiguille is maintained. The map is intended to convey something true and in order to do so its maintainers have to make sure some things hold together: the landmarks signed in the maps have to be preserved in the mount (houses, tracks, roads), the changes in the mount through season or the passing of (some) years have to be discarded by the representation of the map. Clearly, as he points out citing Borges famous claim about a useless map of scale 1, a complete isomorphism between the truth-bearer (the map) and the truth-maker (the mount) would amount to no more than a duplication of the mount. The map has to select some features of the mount to rely on and has to make sure these features are stable enough. Truth-bearing, as much as truth-making, is about maintaining. (It is perhaps even more graphically clear if we consider GPS navigation devices guided by bar and QR codes.) In order for the map to be kept updated, the mount has to be maintained in a certain way that enables the map to depict it. Latour writes in AIME, chapter 3:

[W]e can talk about correspondence [...], but this “co-response” is no longer the one between the “human mind” and the “world.” No, we now have a tense, difficult, rhythmic correspondence, full of surprises and suspense, between the risk taken by existents in order to repeat themselves throughout the series of their transformations on the one hand and the risk taken by the constants in order to maintain themselves throughout another no less dizzying series of transformations on the other. Do the two series sometimes respond to each other? Yes. Do they always do so? No. If it is true that it takes two to tango, it is equally true that it is meaningless to speak of co-responding unless there are two movements in the first place, each of which will respond to the other—often multiplying their missteps.

He changes the focus from something that corresponds to something else to a co-responding movement on both sides where truth is maintained. Truth, as he points out later in the same book, goes hand in hand, and not in opposition, with good constructions. Something that is well-constructed could be, precisely because it is well-constructed, true. Truth is not an episode of resemblance of something else, it is rather an engagement with things that enable the extraction of good constructs. Those are resilient if they display a low cost of maintenance. Truths require efforts of the same kind of those needed for a construction of anything resilient: good materials, reliable connections, responsive interlocutors, an amount of indifference to change and a capacity to neglect details. Some constructions are not true – but this is because they have not engaged with sponsors enough to make it hold together. It is somehow like a failed negotiation. It is a matter of how many sponsors are hired in the maintenance process - and how good, how relevant, how well-sponsored they are.

This emphasis on production could also help bridging the old gap between knowing that and knowing how. To know something, arguably, is to be part of a truth-consortium: to be part of a network that sponsors a truth. If I hold a truth-bearer that is part of a consortium of sponsors that is enough to make the truth-bearer true, I know it. It is a state in which I am, but also, it is a production, an action, the result of a practice of coming to terms with the world (calibrate my thinking - my beliefs - to what I endorse as strong enough to be hold up).

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