Review of 'What is Truth?' by Peter Vardy
Todman (Theo)
Source: Vardy (Peter) - What is Truth?
Paper - Abstract

Paper SummaryLink to Latest Write-Up NoteText Colour-Conventions


  1. I – along with other members of my cohort – was asked by the author to read this book and write a review as part of the Philosophy_of_Religion1 module at Heythrop.
  2. The end-result appears here2.
  3. What follows here is basically a selection of text-extracts, and otherwise section-headings. Sometimes I have created a bullet-list myself.
  4. See my usual colour-conventions for an indication of provenance.


  1. In the first part, three ways of underpinning truth and the nature of the debate between realists and anti-realists will be outlined.
  2. Anti-realism will be shown to be highly persuasive and its conclusions to have some parallels with those of post-modernism.
  3. This part will also look at constructivism in psychology and the parallels this has with anti-realism.

1. The implications of a denial of truth — or the claim to have it – 3
Text Extracts4
Setting out the problem

2. Realism and anti-realism – 12
3. Foundations without indubitability – 29
4. Anti-realism in religion and morality – 38
5. Constructivism in psychology – 49
6. The scene is set – 61
7. Ontology and epistemology – 65
8. Hegel and Marx – 74
  1. Georg Hegel
    • Geist
    • Thesis, antithesis, synthesis
  2. Karl Marx
    • Adopted Hegel’s approach to hstory
    • Atheistic

9. Nietzsche and Ivan Karamazov – 79
  1. Nietzsche
    • Influence of Schopenhauer
      … but Nietzsche not a pessimist
    • God is dead
    • The evils of Christian weakness
    • The Will to Power
    • The Superman
    • A visionary rather than a philosopher – no “proofs”
  2. Ivan Karamazov
    • Stories from the Russian press
    • Nothing is worth the suffering of innocent children
    • Elie Weisel and Night
    • Camus and The Plague

10. The denial of a real world – 89
11. Post-modernism – 95
12. Post-modernism and self-identity – 105
13. Interim conclusion – 117
  1. Where we started8
    • We started with Kant and saw a tension present in his thought between wishing to give first place to reason and to science but at the same time to leave space for God, and wanting to maintain that there is a real world, one that is completely unknowable. After Kant, two possibilities lay open:
      … 1. to reject all ideas of a God who creates and sustains the universe, as well as all idea of a noumenal, real world; or
      … 2. to affirm the idea of God and a real world.
    • After Kant, Hegel and Marx started the progress down one path by effectively rejecting God and making the real world lying behind the world we know irrelevant. Nietzsche took this further and rejected God entirely and with God any claim to truth at all. Nevertheless, he was not a total relativist and still saw truth in the claim that history led to the emergence of the Superman and to the understanding of the danger of Christianity and Christian morality. Dostoyevsky's Ivan Karamazov rebels against God in the name of humanity and, as he says, after rejecting God 'everything is permitted'.
    • Many modern philosophers tend to dismiss all ideas of a real world, with truth being radically perspectival. Some versions of post-modernism takes this trend further and we are left floating on a sea of meaninglessness, where truth is a dirty word or anyone's truth is as good as anyone else's.
  2. The journey
    • In the first two sections of this book, a picture has been painted which leaves us intellectually vulnerable. God and metaphysics have been rendered irrelevant. Science is increasingly successful in explaining human beings in terms of the double helix that is their genetic pattern but leaving little or no room for meaning or value other than those meanings we create for ourselves. Anti-realism persuasive in portraying religious truth claims as being true simply within the form of life that different religious believers inhabit.
    • This poses a real challenge for the way human beings see themselves. Although not directly aware of post-modern culture and deconstructionism, many young, and not so young, people implicitly share many of the assumptions of these movements and are affected by feelings of despair and futility that go to the heart or their lives. Yet few other alternatives present themselves.
  3. Where to now?9
    • Where do we go from here? What alternatives are there, if any? It is this challenge to which the third section will attempt a response.
    • The divide in the road after Kant can be sketched as follows:-
      … Kant to Hegel / Marx … to … Nietzsche / Ivan Karamazov
      … Denial of a real world … to … Post-modernism
  4. Where:-
    • Kant: affirmed the distinction between the phenomenal and noumenal worlds. The phenomenal is the only knowable world while the noumenal is unknowable. God was needed as the guarantor of the fairness of the universe and to overcome evil within human beings.
    • Hegel: Hegel still left a role for 'God' or Absolute Spirit which emerged in history and was dependent on human reason. He rejected Kant's noumenal world and substituted a study of history for theology
    • Marx: Marx rejected God entirely and saw the triumph of working people as being inevitable through the onward march of history
    • Denial of a real world: The denial of Kant's noumenal, real world is taken further with the denial of any reality beyond that which humans construct. Language is a cage which constitutes the reality in which human beings live.
    • Nietzsche and Ivan Karamazov: Nietzsche rejected God and Ivan rejected the world God made. 'Everything becomes permitted', and with the death of God also dies all meaning, value and purpose. Christian values such as love, compassion, pity and humility are denied in favour of the values of the strong.
    • Post-modernism: Post-modernism is difficult to characterise but, broadly, there are two possible versions, both of which reject metanarratives. One view holds that human beings are afloat on a constantly changing sea where perspective is all. Culture, gender, sexuality, social station and other factors determine what is real, and truth is finally abandoned. According to the other view (Derrida, Levinas and others), texts and claims to truth must always be viewed with suspicion, but there is also strong a commitment to 'justice' and 'the other'. Post-modern culture leads to a denial of any absolutes and truth becoming a word of oppression. Every perspective is equally valid.


14. The path to truth11 – 123
15. The Kotzker – 126

16. Soren Kierkegaard and subjectivity – 132
17. Wittgenstein and perspicuity – 141
18. The Sufis – 151
19. Vaclav Havel and living the Truth13 – 156
20. Fear and freedom – 164
21. Bringing the threads together15 – 182

My review of this book is filed in "Various - Heythrop Essays & Supporting Material (Boxes)".

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 3: Taken from Chapter 1 (p. 6).

Footnote 4: Basically, the whole of pp. 3-11.

Footnote 5: Taken from p. 63.

Footnote 6: Taken from Chapter 1 (p. 6).

Footnote 7: Taken from pp. 115-6.

Footnote 8: Taken from pp. 117-8.

Footnote 9: Taken from p. 119 (and the end of p 118).

Footnote 10: Taken from p. 121.

Footnote 11: Taken from pp. 123-5.

Footnote 12: Brief extract from p. 137.

Footnote 13: The quoted extract below is from pp. 161-3.

Footnote 14: Not a typo! Taken from p. 179.

Footnote 15: This is the whole of Chapter 21; pp. 182-9.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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