This post takes up where Butchvarov Against Facts left off. See the latter post for bibliographical data concerning the essay "Facts" which I presently have under my logical microscope. And if you are a fan of Butch's work, all of my Butchvarov posts are collected in the aptly entitled Butchvarov category.
(The following is also highly relevant to the discussion currently in progress with the Londonistas, David Brightly and Edward the Ockhamist in the combox to this post.)
Butch's position is a nuanced one as one would expect. He appreciates the strengths and weaknesses of both realism and anti-realism. For the realist, there are facts. For the anti-realist, there are no facts. Let us briefly review why both positions are both attractive yet problematic. We will then turn to semi-realism as to a via media between Scylla and Charybdis.
1. Take some such contingently true affirmative singular sentence as 'Al is fat.' Surely with respect to such sentences there is more to truth than the sentences that are true. There must be something external to the sentence that contributes to its being true, and this external something is not plausibly taken to be another sentence or the say-so of some person, or anything like that. 'Al is fat' is true because there is something in extralinguistic and extramental reality that 'makes' it true. There is this short slacker dude, Al, and the guy weighs 250 lbs. There is nothing linguistic or mental about that. Here is the sound core of correspondence theories of truth. Our sample sentence is not just true; it is true because of the way the world outside the mind and outside the sentence is configured. The 'because' is not a causal 'because.' The question is not the empirical-causal one as to why Al is fat. He is fat because he eats too much. The question concerns the ontological ground of the truth of the sentential representation, 'Al is fat.' Since it is obvious that the sentence cannot just be true -- given that it is not true in virtue of its logical form or ex vi terminorum -- we must posit something external to the sentence that 'makes' it true. I don't see how this can be avoided even though I admit that 'makes true' is not perfectly clear.
2. Now what is the nature of this external truth-maker? It can't be Al by himself, and it can't be fatness by itself. Nor can it be the pair of the two. For it could be that Al exists and fatness exists, but the first does not instantiate the second. What's needed, apparently, is the fact of Al's being fat. So it seems we must add the category of fact to our ontology, to our categorial inventory. Veritas sequitur esse is not enough. It is not enough that 'Al' and 'Fat' have worldly referents; the sentence as a whole needs a worldly referent. Truth-makers cannot be 'things' or collections of same, but must be entities of a different categorial sort. (Or at least this is so for the simple predications we are now considering.)
3. The argument I have just sketched, the truth-maker argument for facts, is very powerful, but it gives rises to puzzles and protests. There is the Strawsonian protest that facts are merely hypostatized sentences, shadows genuine sentences cast upon the world. Butchvarov quotes Strawson's seminal 1950 discussion: "If you prise the sentences off the world, you prise the facts off it too. . . ." ("Facts," 73-74) Strawson again: "The only plausible candidate for what (in the world) makes a sentence true is the fact it states; but the fact it states is not something in the world."
Why aren't facts in the world? Consider the putative fact of my table's being two inches from the wall. Obviously, this fact is not itself two inches from the wall or in any spatial position. The table and the wall are in space; the fact is not. One can drive a nail into the table or into the wall, but not into the fact, etc. Considerations such as these suggest to the anti-realist that facts are not in the world and that they are but sentences reified. After all, to distinguish a fact from a non-fact (whether a particular or a universal) we must have recourse to a sentence: a fact is introduced as the worldly correlate of a true sentence. If there is no access to facts except via sentences, as the correlates of true sentences, then this will suggest to those of an anti-realist bent that facts are hypostatizations of true declarative sentences.
One might also cite the unperceivability of facts as a reason to deny their existence. I see the table, and I see the wall. It may also be granted that I see that the desk is about two inches from the wall. But does it follow that I see a relational fact? Not obviously. If I see a relational fact, then presumably I see the relation two inches from. But I don't see this relation. And so, Butchvarov argues (84-85), one does not see the relational fact either. Their invisibility is a strike against them. A careful examination of this argument would make a nice separate post. And indeed it did.
Another of the puzzles about facts concerns how a fact is related to its constituents. Obviously a fact is not identical to its constituents. This is because the constituents can exist without the fact existing. Nor can a fact be an entity in addition to its constituents, something over and above them, for the simple reason that it is composed of them. We can put this by saying that no fact is wholly distinct from its constituents. The fact is more than its constituents, but apart from them it is nothing. A third possibility is that a fact is the togetherness of its constituents, where this togetherness is grounded in a a special unifying constituent. Thus the fact of a's being F consists of a, F-ness, and a nexus of exemplification. But this leads to Bradley's regress.
A fact is not something over and above its constituents but their contingent unity. This unity, however, cannot be explained by positing a special unifying constituent, on pain of Bradley's regress. which is, pace Richard Gaskin, vicious. So if a fact has a unifier, that unifier must be external to the fact. But what could that be? It would have to be something like Kant's transcendental unity of apperception. I push this notion in an onto-theological direction in my book, A Paradigm Theory of Existence: Onto-Theology Vindicated. But by taking this line, I move away from the realism that the positing of facts was supposed to secure. Facts are supposed to be ontological grounds, extramental and extralinguistic. If mind or Mind is brought in in any form to secure the unity of a truth-making fact, then we end up with some form of idealism, whether transcendental or onto-theological, or what have you.
4. So we are in an aporetic pickle. We have good reason to be realists and we have good reason to be anti-realists. (The arguments above on both sides were mere sketches; they are stronger than they might appear. ) Since we cannot be both realists and anti-realists, we might try to mediate the positions and achieve a synthesis. My book was one attempt at a synthesis. Butchvarov's semi-realism is another. I am having a hard time, though, understanding what exactly Butchvarov's semi-realism is supposed to be.
If the realist says that there are facts, and that anti-realist says that there aren't, the semi-realist maintains that 'There are facts' is an "Improper proposition" (87) so that both asserting it and denying it are improper.
Butchvarov relies crucially on Wittgenstein's distinction between formal and material concepts and his related distinction between saying and showing. Object is an example of a formal concept, while book is an example of a material concept. That there are books can be said. That there are objects cannot be said. Instead, it is shown by the use of names.
'This is an object,' unlike 'This is white,' is a pseudo-proposition. This is because it attempts to say what can only be shown. 'This is an object' does not say anything. "It shows the logical category to which the item belongs." (75)
Fact, like object, is a formal concept. It follows that 'There are facts' and 'A sentence expresses a fact' are pseudo-propositions. They are pseudo because they attempt to say what can only be shown. But why , exactly, does 'A sentence expresses a fact' not say or state anything? Presumably because ". . . it presupposes what it purports to say because 'fact' is the philosophical term for what sentences express." (76)
The following cannot be said: 'This page is white is a fact.' It cannot be said because it is ill-formed. (88) We can of course say, 'That this page is white is a fact.' But 'that this page is white' is not a sentence, but a noun phrase. We cannot use this noun phrase to refer to the fact because what we end up referring to is an object, not a fact. Though a fact is not a sentence or a proposition, it is proposition-like: it has astructure that mirrors the structure of a proposition. No object, however, is proposition-like. To express the fact we must use the sentence. Using the sentence, we show what cannot be said.
Butchvarov's discussion from p. 88 to the end of his article is extremely murky and unsatisfactory. His semi-realism is not a clear alternative to realism and anti-realism. Butch sees the problem with crystal clarity, but I cannot see what exactly his solution is.
He tells us that semi-realism with respect to facts differs from anti-realism by acknowledging that there is more to the truth of true sentences than the sentences that are true. (88) Excellent! This is a non-negotiable 'datanic' point. If it is true that Jack loves Jill, then there must be something in the world that makes this true, and it cannot be Jack, or Jill, or loves, or the set or sum of all three. If these three items are what the sentence 'Jack loves Jill' are about, then the truth-maker has to be distinct from each and from the set or sum of all. (88)
But Butch also tells us that semi-realism about facts differs from realism by refusing to countenance a special category of entity, the category of fact, the members of which are the referents of declarative sentences. What bothers Butchvarov is that "facts cannot be referred to or described independently of the sentences expressing them" (88) a consideration which renders antirealim about facts plausible and the correspondence theory of truth implausible. (88)
So what is Butch's third way? How does he get between realism and anti-realism. He seems to be saying that there are facts but that they cannot be said, only shown. But of course this cannot be what he is saying if one cannot say that there are facts!
If there is something that cannot be said but only shown, and what is shown are the referents of sentences, then he is saying that there are the referents of sentences in which case he is saying that there is what he says can only be shown.
This is highly unsatisfactory and barely coherent if coherent at all. I am tempted to say to Butch, "Look, either there are facts or there aren't. Which is it? Bringing in Wittgenstein's saying v. showing distinction only muddies already troubled waters."
So I don't see that semi-realism about facts is a viable position. I suggest we admit that we are stuck with a genuine aporia.