University of Oulu

Kuukkanen, J-M. (2021). Truth : what is ‘truth’ for?. In C. van der Akker (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Historical Theory (pp. 316-331). London: Routledge.

Truth : what is ‘truth’ for?

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Author: Kuukkanen, Jouni-Matti1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.5 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Routledge, 2022
Publish Date: 2022-12-20


This contribution provides an overview of the main theories of truth: The correspondence, coherence, pragmatist, and deflationary theories of truth. An essential assumption of the traditional epistemological theories is that justification must be connected with truth so that high justification provides an incentive to believe that the theory is true. One problem regarding this idea is underdetermination: No amount of empirical evidence is enough to prove that the theory is true. Further, in historiography, the lower-level cognitive entities, such as singular statements and sentences, are separated from the higher-level cognitive entities, such as interpretations, narratives, and representations. Some theoretical traditions have maintained that the latter can be epistemologically justified and therefore taken as presumptively true, without an absolute warrant of their truth-fullness. More recently, this suggestion has been undermined by the realization that higher-level truth-bearers may not have truth-makers in the world and be not truth-apt at all. Some have suggested that the link between truth and justification can be severed so that higher-level entities can be rationally justified without being true. Another option along similar lines in the philosophy of history is to redefine truth as something like an ideally justified claim about the past. In the end, I argue for a pragmatist-deflationary theory of truth, inspired by Wilfrid Sellars’s philosophy, which says that truth is not any kind of substantial property in the world that makes theories true or false, but semantic assertibility. The pragmatist-deflationary theory is illustrated by reference to a historiographical debate aboutthe Russian revolution.

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ISBN: 978-0-367-82181-4
ISBN Print: 978-0-367-42108-3
Pages: 316 - 331
DOI: 10.4324/9780367821814-20
Host publication: The Routledge companion to historical theory
Host publication editor: van den Akker, Chiel
Type of Publication: A3 Book chapter
Field of Science: 611 Philosophy
615 History and archaeology
Copyright information: © 2022 Routledge. This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge/CRC Press in The Routledge Companion to Historical Theory on 16 November 2021, available online: