Facts are the logical objects corresponding to whole declarative sentences, or rather to some of them. When it comes to facts, Butchvarov 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 attractive yet problematic. We will then turn to semirealism as to a via media between Scylla and Charybdis.
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 man, Al, and the guy weighs 250 lbs. There is nothing linguistic or mental about the man or his weight. 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 either of its logical form or ex vi terminorum -- we must posit something external to the sentence that 'makes' it true. I myself, a realist, don't see how this can be avoided even though I admit that 'makes true' is not perfectly clear.
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.)
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 P. F. Strawson's seminal 1950 discussion: “If you prise the sentences off the world, you prise the facts off it too. . . .” (Anthropocentrism, 174) 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.” (174)
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 (175), one does not see the relational fact either. The invisibility of relations and facts is a strike against them. 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. So if a fact has a unifier, that unifier must be external to the fact. But what in the world could that be? Presumably nothing in the world. It would have to be something outside the (phenomenal) world. 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.
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 how exactly Butchvarov's semi-realism achieves the desired synthesis. Butchvarov:
Semirealism regarding facts differs from realism regarding facts by denying that true sentences stand for special entities, additional to and categorially different from the entities mentioned in the sentences, that can be referred to, described, and analyzed independently of the sentences. [. . .] But semirealism regarding facts also differs from antirealism regarding facts by acknowledging that there is more to truth than the sentences . . . that are true. (180)
In terms of my simple example, semirealism about facts holds that there is no special entity that the sentence 'Al is fat' stands for that is distinct from what 'Al and 'fat' each stand for. In reality, what we have at the very most are Al and fatness, but not Al's being fat. Semirealism about facts also holds, however, that a sentence like 'Al is fat' cannot just be true: if it is true there must be something that 'makes' it true, where this truth-maker cannot be another sentence (proposition, belief, judgment, etc.) or somebody's say-so, or something merely cultural or institutional or otherwise conventional. And let's not forget: the truth-maker cannot be Al by himself or fatness by itself or even the pair of the two. For that pair (ordered pair, set, mereological sum . . .) could exist even if Al is not fat. (Suppose Al exists and fatness exists in virtue of being instantiated by Harry but not by Al.)
How can semirealism avoid the contradiction: There are facts and there are no facts? 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” (178) so that both asserting it and denying it are improper. In explaining the impropriety, Butchvarov relies crucially on Wittgenstein's distinction between formal and material concepts and his related distinction between saying and showing. Obscurum per obscurius? Let's see.
The idea seems to be that while one can show that there are facts by using declarative sentences, one cannot say or state that there are facts by using declarative sentences, or refer to any particular fact by using a declarative sentence. If there are facts, then we should be able to give an example of one. 'This page is white is a fact,' won't do because it is ill-formed. (179) We can of course say, in correct English, 'That this page is white is a fact.' But 'that this page is white' is not a sentence, but a noun phrase. Not being a sentence, it cannot be either true or false. And since it cannot be either true or false, it cannot refer to a proposition-like item that either obtains or does not obtain. So 'that this page is white' does not refer to a fact. 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 a structure 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.
On one reading, Butchvarov's semirealism about facts is the claim that there are facts but they cannot be named. They cannot be named because the only device that could name them would be a sentence and sentences are not names. On this reading, Butchvarov is close to Frege. Frege held that there are concepts, but they cannot be named. Only objects can be named, and concepts are not objects. If you try to name a concept, you will not succeed, for what is characteristic of concepts, and indeed all functions, is that they are unsaturated (ungesaettigt). And so we cannot say either
The concept horse is a concept
The concept horse is not a concept.
The first, though it looks like a tautology, is actually false because 'The concept horse' picks out an object. The second, though it looks like a contradiction, is actually true for the same reason. Similarly, we cannot say either
The fact that snow is white is a fact
The fact that snow is white is not a fact.
The first, though it looks like a tautology, is actually false because 'The concept horse' picks out an object. The second, though it looks like a contradiction, is actually true for the same reason.
It is the unsaturatedness of Fregean concepts that makes them unnameable, and it is the proposition-like character of facts that makes them unnameable.
Semirealism about facts, then, seems to be the view that there are facts, but that we cannot say that there are: they have a nature which prevents us from referring to them without distorting them. But then the position is realistic, and 'semirealism' is not a good name for it: the 'semirealism' is more epistemological/referential than ontological.
Other things Butchvarov says suggest that he has something else in mind with 'semirealism about facts.' If he agrees with Strawson that facts are hypostatized declarative sentences, and argues against them on the ground of their unperceivability, then he cannot be saying that there are facts but we cannot say that there are. He must be denying that there are facts. But then why isn't he a flat-out antirealist?
Can you help me, Butch? What am I not understanding? What exactly do you mean by 'semirealism about facts'?