Truth or Dare

Zizek on Charlie Rose

Here.  Most of my fellow philosophers will undoubtedly frown upon my paying attention to Zizek, let alone linking to him. But talk to me when you merit an invitation to share your ideas on Charlie Rose (or any other show), and then acquit yourself so well (physical tics and all).



Let’s begin again with what I will certainly not deny: reality is nothing more than what you believe, unless of course you believe that it is more.  No doubt most of us do.  We believe that reality exists beyond our beliefs, independent of them and all too often opposed.  Reality is the measure of our beliefs, their tribunal, and what all good beliefs aim to appease through that sincerest form of flattery.  And yet our belief in a reality beyond belief is rather coy in terms of its content: we can never say just how reality differs from our beliefs; not, anyhow, without thereby bringing that reality and those beliefs into perfect alignment.  We cannot shake the suspicion that reality is something more, something other than what we take it to be, but to demonstrate the case is to render it the same.

The two would appear tethered together by truth.  When our beliefs are true they ‘correspond’ to reality, when they are false they don’t.  But can any of you deny that this tether is so short – each in one’s own case, at any rate – as to be barely noticeable?  Every occurrent belief corresponds with reality as we understand it (and how else can ‘reality’ be meaningful?) as a matter of course.  The measure of our beliefs reality might well be, but that does not preclude it from being their resulting (and ever shifting) totality.  To identify a proposition that does not jibe with reality is to identify a proposition one does not believe. We may always harbor doubts, of course, that any or all of our beliefs do indeed track reality, but our inescapable reality, qua believers, is that our realties always track our beliefs.

I assume the thought is familiar enough, for you’ve heard it from Davidson,

If meanings are given by objective truth conditions, there is a question of how we can know that the conditions are satisfied, for this would appear to require a confrontation between what we believe and reality; and the idea of such a confrontation is absurd.

and you’ve heard it from Nietzsche,

The true world—we have abolished.  What world remains?  The apparent one perhaps?  But no!  With the true world we have also abolished the apparent one.

We trouble and triumph within the reality of our own confinement.  That is our inescapable starting point.  Our hopes for the future are satisfied, not when the relevant states of affairs obtain, but when we believe them to be; our anger arises in relation to believed offense and recedes in the face of believed reparation.  And we believe in something beyond our beliefs when we believe there is something beyond them to believe.

And believe in a beyond, to say it again, most of us do.  Mostly we can do no less.  From the very beginning our ever expanding belief set has been subject to unremitting revision, breeding that distrust of belief we call doubt and the learning of the words ‘mere‘ and ‘mistaken.‘  From this visceral seedbed of memory and expectation, recrimination and regret, we cultivate in hope the really real.  We bring forth the normative order and we see that it is good.


Imagine you are the only person on earth, without anyone with whom to share your thoughts.   More significantly, you have no one with whom to compare your thoughts and find them at odds.   Imagine further that you either never need to revise your beliefs or that you would have no memory of the revision if you did.   In such circumstances, what need would you have of a truth-predicate?   What function would it serve?   To what, and on what basis, would the predicate apply?   What would constitute the contrast-class?   These questions would remain were you to imagine yourself not alone but rather a member of a community for which believing in sympathy were assured.   Without (relatively persistent) intra- and/or inter-personal doxastic discrepancy, truth would never be.

The lives we lead are replete with such counterpoised believing and means to distinguish, effectively and easily, such beliefs have developed.   Those means essentially involve–indeed, are undoubtedly founded on–the introduction of the truth-predicate: the contents of one’s own (current) beliefs–what immediately constitutes, for each believer, ‘reality’–can always be identified by appending ‘is true’ to their (sincere) assertion.   Believing, as the saying goes, is believing true.

Tracking doxastic conflicts is not the only service a truth-predicate might be called upon to perform. The truth-predicate is invaluable in enabling both indirect (i.e., ‘blind’) and compendious reference to belief-contents.  Indeed, it might well be that the truth-predicate is essential for such endorsements, there being no other device in natural language adequate to the purpose.  Yet these latter uses seemingly become pressing only in a context where doxastic conflict is possible.  No speaker (or community) would need to make any endorsement, indirect or otherwise, if there were guaranteed uniformity of belief.

The truth-predicate, and so that notorious nominal, ‘truth’, are psychic solutions to an ongoing and insistent psychic difficulty: we have to settle the reality within which we each must act.