Truth as Conformation in Herbert of Cherbury
The theory of truth as 'conformation' in the writings of Edward Herbert is not put forward as an epistemological theory, nor as a theory of representation. Indeed, one could hazard that it possesses features which anticipate postmodern critique, though it is necessarily rooted in a pre-modern and Renaissance sensibility. This essay explores the way in which, in De Veritate, Herbert is not arguing that the mind must ‘conform’ to things in their given evidence, and be constrained by this. Nor is he saying that the evidence which one receives through one’s senses must be ‘conformed’ to the way in which one’s mind works, or to its a priori categories of understanding. Rather, by conformation he is referring to a phenomenon of the Platonic metaxu, or of what William Desmond calls ‘the between’. Truthful understanding is possible because there is a natural relation, analogy or harmony between things and mind, a kind of occult or sympathetic echo or affinity. One’s understanding is an instance of the general analogy which pertains between one thing and another, of their inherent connectedness which cannot be understood in terms of mechanism, but rather of secret ‘affinities’, ‘emanations’, foreshadowings, and the construals of the ‘signature’ of one thing by another.