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The Douglas Test

July 16, 2009

How can you tell if an analytic philosopher is worth reading, or whether his or her theory of truth is of any use? I’m proposing what I call the Douglas Test, named after Mary Douglas.

Douglas spends a lot of time talking about dirt. Did you ever notice that a drop of soup in your bowl is soup, but on the floor it’s dirt? A hair on my head is just a hair, but if it falls off and lands on the floor, it’s dirt. What makes it dirt is, necessarily, its involvement in a set of human relations.

So, to find out if an analytic theory of truth is of any use, ask yourself what the theory makes of a claim like “The hair on the floor is dirt.”

Note, for instance, that correspondence theories of truth in the realist tradition are pretty useless when it comes to making sense of something like this. They would not pass the test. Nominalists and social constructionists would fare much better.

So, spread the word! Have you tried the Douglas Test yet?!


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