Re: Megill (was: A Preface to Transgression)

On Mon, 10 Mar 1997, Colin Wight wrote in part:

> Well see above. If there really is no author then we might well be justified
> in using F to cook up a storm in the kitchen. Furthermore, if the author
> really is dead why on earth do so many people continue to cite, say F on
> madness? seems to me you may as well cite my granny.
> Murray wrote:
> John ransom on truth:
> I totally disagree with John's reading of F's appraoch to truth. It trades
> on a neglect of the very clear way in which F distinguishes between truth
> and the thought of truth. Also it neglects F's claim that nothing is more
> dangerous that a political regime that proclaims truth. More important is
> that it is basically self erasing. For what we are being told is that the
> truth is that there is no such things as truth (with a capital T). Yes we
> have to reject a priori ethical formalism, but I think Doug is right that
> behind every moral choice made by the most concerned Foucaultian is an
> unthematised humanism. My point being that at least lets be honest about our
> humanism. Lets put it on the table and argue about it.

I don't see how the claim that there is no such thing as capital T
truth is self-erasing. The supposed persuasive power of this argument
relies too much on formal logic. Like this:

"It is true that there is no such thing as truth."

"Aha!", the critic of Foucault/Nietzsche wants to say, "but if there is no
such thing as truth, how can it be "true" that there is no such thing as
"truth"!! You can't escape! You've made a commitment to truth in
the very sentence that proclaims truth does not exist! Your claim is" (as
Colin Wight puts it above) "self-erasing."

The persuasive power of this logical argument has always struck me as
being absolutely zero. What such arguments try to get away with is
equating all senses of truth with one another. But in fact, two kinds of
truth are being referred to in the sentence indented above; call them
truth #1 and truth #2. Their respective positions in the sentence are
indicated below.

It is true (#1) that there is no such thing as truth (#2).

This only violates the law of contradiction if you assume--and as we'll
see, assume *wrongly*--that truth #1 and truth #2 are the same thing.
Surely, if we insist on reading all truth claims as necessarily subsumed
under the capital 'T' variety, then the sentence indented above is
logically contradictory. But it is not logically contradictory nor
self-erasing *at all* to say that it is "true" (#1) that there is no such
thing as "truth" (#2), where #2 refers to attempts to finalize our notions
of nature, of the human essence, of our relation with the cosmos, and so

Foucault talks about truth all the time. In that long section about
polemics that I reproduced for the list F talked about how polemics keep
us from getting closer to "difficult truths." In "An Aesthetics of
Existence" he writes (or says; it's an interview): "I believe too much in
truth not to suppose that there are different truths and different ways of
speaking the truth" (_Politics, Philosophy, Culture_, p. 51).

What do we want to do with a sentence like that? If we like, we can play
logical games: "It's true that there are different truths? But then if it
is true that there are different truths, is it not true that there is one
final truth, namely, that there are different truths? And doesn't the
claim that it is true that there are different truths ultimately erase
itself and point with ineluctable logic to the oneness of truth?" The
perversity of this kind of argumentation, I believe, rests on an
unwillingness to consider different senses of the words "true" and

A fun example from logic class is the sentence:

"It is true that I always lie."

A specifically and strictly logical examination of that sentence sends one
into a spiral and ends up producing a headache. But the inescapable
confusion about what is being said when the sentence is approached from a
strictly logical point of view disappears when it is uttered in an actual,
concrete circumstance. I was at court the other day, and the local Judge
was sentencing someone who had been convicted of a crime. "It says in your
sentencing report that you are an inveterate liar; that you are incapable
of telling the truth. What do you have to say to that?" In other words,
the Judge was asking him if it was true that he never told the truth. No
one in the courtroom said to themselves: "He's asking this convicted felon
an impossible question! For if it is true that the criminal always lies,
how can he be logically expected to answer the question!" And no one
thought it was strange, either, when the prisoner said "Yes, it's true, I
always lie; I am always misrepresenting myself; I am always telling people
I can do things that I can't and taking money from them that I never
repay; and I must reform myself." That's because the individual has the
capacity to step back from the acts that have made up his life and
*comment* on them, reflect on them. So too is it possible for us to look
over the unique and special and consequential role that Truth has played
in our societies and say: "It is true that there is no such thing as


  • True £1, truth £2
    • From: Alan C. Hudson
  • Re: Megill (was: A Preface to Transgression)
    • From: Murray K. Simpson
  • Replies
    Re: Megill (was: A Preface to Transgression), Colin Wight
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