Criteria of Truth and Error

Henry Sidgwick

in Essays on Ethics and Method

Published in print December 2000 | ISBN: 9780198250234
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598432 | DOI:

Series: British Moral Philosophers

 Criteria of Truth and Error

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In this chapter and the next, Sidgwick discusses in detail the problem of truth and falsehood. The ascertained erroneousness of some beliefs is apt to suggest to the philosopher (but not to the scientist) the possibility of the erroneousness of all beliefs, thus generating a central problem for epistemology and philosophy, which attempt to unify our common thought. To overcome this inclination towards scepticism, we require a criterion of truth that allows us to regard a given set of beliefs as invariably correct. Although he rejects Kant's sweeping argument against an empirical criterion of truth, Sidgwick maintains that this criterion alone is not sufficient to cover the whole ground for which verification is prima facie required. The empirical criterion, which verifies only particular premises, is somewhat more successful when conjoined with a modified version of the Cartesian criterion of clear and distinct appreciation by the pure understanding, which verifies universals. Even so, neither these nor a third option, the Universal Postulate, offered by Herbert Spencer (which he claims applies equally to universal and particular cognitions), provide an infallible criterion for the truth of our beliefs.

Keywords: belief; Cartesian criterion; Descartes; empiricism; epistemology; falsehood; Kant; scepticism; Sidgwick; Herbert Spencer; truth; Universal Postulate

Chapter.  7946 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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