Among the many conversations I have had with Great Books students over the years, none is more lively than when we discuss various theories of truth. It seems to always come up when we are reading and talking about Thomas Aquinas’s Summa. In order to make immediate connection with them, I tell the story about three umpires in a bar after a game. These officials are discussing what really happens when they call balls and strikes. What they are really doing is discussing the relationship between reality and human apprehension of said reality.
The umpires are discussing the relationship between the pitching of the ball and the calling of said pitch by the umpire. It goes like this:
1) When it comes to making calls behind the home plate, I call it the way it is….
2) When it comes to making calls behind home plate, I call it the way I see it….
3) When it comes to making calls behind home plate, it ain’t nothing until I call it….
Those of us who have played or enjoyed the game of baseball get the import of this conversation. The truth is that it is easy to hear what each is saying and recognize the legitimacy of their respective claim. Additionally, it is also relatively easy to extrapolate from their statements and expand them to the point of seeing how wrong they are in their claim.
1) Is it possible that this umpire would ever admit to being wrong?
2) Is the reality of the ball and strike rooted in the perception of the umpire?
3) What if the pitcher threw the ball twenty feet over the catcher’s head and it struck the press box and the umpire called it a strike, it would be, but he would be fired–why?
In steps Etienne Gilson as the “umpire” I would want calling the game. The recent re-publication of his short masterpiece, Methodical Realism is must reading for all baseball and softball officials, and it should be for all thinking people. If you have ever wondered about the chasm that separates most old school Humanists and most modern Social Scientists, here is the debate between the coherentists theory of truth and the correspondence theory of truth. Gilson does a spectacular job of showing that we are all correspondence theorists, but we do not all know it.
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.