Hillary Clinton we now know to be a liar beyond any shadow of a reasonable doubt. A liar is one who habitually makes false statements with the intention of deceiving her audience. This definition, however, presupposes the distinction between true and false statements. Aphoristically: no truth, no lies. Hillary cannot be a liar unless there is truth. But maybe there is no truth, only narratives. Here, perhaps, is a way to defend Hillary. Perhaps the outrageous things she says are merely parts of her narrative. So consider:
N. There is no truth; there are only narratives.
It follows that (N) itself is only a narrative, or part of one. For if there is no truth, then (N) cannot be true. Is this a problem? I should think so. Suppose you want to persuade me to accept (N). How will you proceed? You can't say I ought to accept (N) because it is true. Will you say that I ought to accept (N) because it is 'empowering'? But it cannot BE empowering unless it is TRUE that it is empowering. You cannot, however, invoke truth on pain of falling into inconsistency. No matter which predicate you substitute for 'empowering,' you will face the same difficulty. If you recommend (N) on the ground that it is F, then you must say that (N) IS F, which leads right back to truth.
Being and truth are systematically connected. The truth is the truth about what IS, and what IS is at least possibly such as to be the subject matter of truths. (A classical theist can go whole hog here and say: necessarily, whatever IS is the subject matter of truths, and every truth is about something that IS. But I am not assuming classical theism in this entry.)
So you can't say that (N) is empowering or conducive to winning the election or whatever; all you can say is that it is part of your narrative that (N) is empowering, or conducive . . . . In this way you box yourself in: there is nothing you say that can BE the case; everything is a narrative or part of a narrative. But you cannot even say that. You cannot say that everything you say IS a narrative, only that it is part of your narrative that everything you say is a narrative. You are sinking into some seriously deep crapola in your attempt to defend the indefensible, Hillary.
It follows from this that you cannot budge your sane opponent who holds that there is truth and that some narratives are true and others are false. I am one of these sane people. You cannot budge me because, according to MY narrative, there is truth and not all narratives are true. According to my narrative, my narrative is not just a narrative. It answers to a higher power, Truth. The only way you could budge me from my position is by appealing to truth transcendent of narrative. And that you cannot do.
So what is a poor leftist to do? Fall into inconsistency, which is in fact what they do. Everything is a mere narrative except when it suits them to appeal to what is the case.
It is of the essence of the contemporary Left to attempt the replacement of truth by narrative, a replacement they cannot pull off without inconsistency.
What if the lefty embraces inconsistency? Then, while resisting the temptation to release the safety on your 1911, you walk away, as from a block of wood. You can't argue with a block of wood or a shithead. While shit has form, it lacks form supportive of rational discourse.
Philosophy is magnificent in aspiration but miserable in execution.
Part of what makes philosophy a miserable subject is that none of its conclusions is conclusive. Herewith, a little example. But first some background.
A truthmaker maximalist is one who maintains that every truth has a truthmaker. So it doesn't matter whether a truth is necessary or contingent, universal or particular or singular, affirmative or negative, analytic or synthetic, etc.: it has a truth maker. There are no exceptions. The contrary of a truthmaker maximalist is a truthmaker nihilist: one who maintains that no truth has a truthmaker -- not because no truth is true, but because no truth needs something in the world to 'make' it true. I incline toward truthmaker optimalism: some but not all truths need truthmakers. But our topic is truthmaker maximalism.
Don't confuse maximalism with the thesis that every truth has its own unique, bespoke, truthmaker. The maximalist is not committed to a 1-1 correspondence between truths and truthmakers. Example. On a factualist approach to truthmakers, they are facts. So on factualism, the truthmaker of 'Al is fat' is the fact of Al's being fat. But this fact also makes true other truths such as 'Someone is fat' and its logical entailments such as 'Someone is fat or Fred is dead.'
Now let's consider a counterexample to truthmaker maximalism. This is from the excellent SEP entry Truthmakers by Fraser MacBride.
2.1.2 Could there be nothing rather than something?
Here's another shot across the bows, this time from [David] Lewis. Take the most encompassing negative existential of all: absolutely nothing exists. Surely this statement is possibly true. But if it were true then something would have to exist to make it true if the principle that every truth has a truth-maker is to be upheld. But then there would have to be something rather than nothing. So combining maximalism with the conviction that there could have been nothing rather than something leads to contradiction (Lewis 1998: 220, 2001: 611). So unless we already have reason to think there must be something rather than nothing—as both Armstrong (1989b: 24–5) and Lewis (1986: 73–4) think they do—maximalism is already in trouble.
Setting up the problem as an inconsistent triad:
A.It is necessarily true that: Every truth has a truthmaker.
B. It is possibly true that: Nothing exists
C. It is not possibly true that: Nothing exists and something exists.
Since (C) is non-negotiable, either (A) or (B) must be rejected. MacBride thinks that (B) is "surely" true, and that therefore (A) is "in trouble." But MacBride's "surely" is surely bluster.
It is impossible that nothing exist. For if that had been the case, then it would have been the case, which is to say that it would have been true that nothing exists, whence it follows that there would have been something after all, namely, the truth that nothing exists.
Or think of it this way. Had nothing at all existed, that would have been the way things are, a most definite way things are that excludes infinitely many other ways things might have been. This way things are, had nothing existed, is something, not nothing. So it is impossible that there might have been nothing at all.
Parmenides vindicatus est.
Is the argument I just gave compelling? No. Philosophy is a miserable subject.
The misery of philosophy is rooted in the misery of man and the infirmity of his reason. But we know our misery. Therein lies an indication of our greatness. The knowledge of our ignorance and of our misery elevates us above every other sentient being.
A. Some sentences are true in virtue of their correspondence with extralinguistic reality.
B. If so, then reality must have a sentence-like structure.
C. Reality does not have a sentence-like structure.
London Ed solves it by rejecting (A). But let me first say why I accept (A).
Consider a true contingent sentence such as 'Tom is sad,' or the proposition expressed by an assertive utterance in appropriate circumstances of such a sentence. I maintain that the sentence or proposition cannot just be true: if true it is true in virtue of something external to the sentence. The external something cannot be another sentence, or, more generally, another truthbearer. Nor can it be someone's say-so. So the external something has to be something 'in the world,' i.e., in the realm of primary reference, as opposed to the realm of sense. The basic idea here is that some truths need ontological grounds: there is a deep connection between truth and being. There is more to a true sentence than the sentence that is true. There is that in the world which makes it true. Call it the truthmaker of the truth. Some truthbearers need truthmakers. As far as I am concerned, this is about as clear as it gets in philosophy. Which type of entity is best suited to play the truthmaker role, however, is a further question.
Please note three things. First, the direction of the truthmaking relation is from the world to language. More broadly: from external concrete reality to the realm of representations, where Fregean propositions count as representations, despite their not being tied to specific languages, and despite their independence of minds. Second, correspondence is an umbrella notion that covers two quite different relations, naming, and making-true. Naming is a word --> world relation, whereas truthmaking goes in the opposite direction. I am tempted to say that truthmaking is the converse of naming. Third, I unpack 'correspondence' as it occurs in (A) in terms of truthmaking, not naming.
Here is what Ed says in rejection of (A):
The exam question is my argument against (A), namely that some sentences are true in virtue of their correspondence with extralinguistic reality. I shall also be taking on why my reasons are properly nominalistic, given that your version of nominalism is not mine.
1. Starting with nominalism. Classic nominalism is formulated by Ockham in Summa Part I, 51. “the root [of the error of the Realists] is to multiply entities according to the multiplicity of terms, and [to suppose] that to every term [or expression] whatsoever there corresponds a thing [quid rei].”
2. My target is a formulation of the correspondence theory that violates classic nominalism, as I have defined it. There may be other formulations of the theory that are OK.
3. My formulation of the correspondence theory is that an assertoric sentence is true in virtue of naming or referring to or signifying a fact. Let that naming relation be R. Then the correspondence theory says that a sentence S (e.g. ‘Socrates is sitting’) is true iff S stands in the relation R to some fact F (e.g. ‘that Socrates is sitting’).
4. Suppose ‘Socrates is sitting’ names the fact that Socrates is sitting, and assume that it always so names. Then that fact must always exist, assuming the name is always names the fact. So ‘Socrates is sitting’ must always be true, i.e. ‘Socrates is sitting’ always stands in the relation R to the fact that Socrates is sitting. But it is not always true, clearly.
5. We might get out of this in two ways. First, by supposing that ‘Socrates is sitting’ fails to be meaningful, namely when the fact it purports to names ceases to exist, such as when Socrates stands up, or runs. This is absurd, however. The purpose of a sentence is always to mean something.
6. The other way is to suppose that the sentence sometimes names a fact, and sometimes does not. I.e. it actually names something else – a proposition – and the proposition is a fact when the sentence is true, otherwise not a fact. However we have now failed to explain the ‘correspondence’. The sentence ‘Socrates is sitting’ always bears the naming relation R to the proposition that Socrates is sitting, even when Socrates is not sitting.
7. What we really need to name is not the proposition (which may be true or false), but the reality that corresponds when the proposition is a fact. Perhaps ‘the proposition that Socrates is sitting being a fact’ or ‘the actuality of Socrates’s sitting’ or something like that. But there we have the same problem. Either the name ceases to be meaningful when Socrates is not sitting, or it continues to name something. But the former we agreed was absurd, and the latter means that we have not fully captured the relation we want.
8. The problem in general is that if the object of the relation R is something we can talk about i.e. name at all, then we have to deal with the problem of the fixity of reference. The purpose of a name is always to name what it names. But reality is not thus fixed. Whatever supposedly corresponds to the truth of ‘Socrates is sitting’ comes into existence when Socrates sits and goes out of existence when he stands up. But if ‘Socrates is sitting’ is true in virtue of naming this thing, either the sentence becomes meaningless when Socrates stands up, which is absurd, or it names something that does not go out of existence, and so does not name what the correspondence theory purports to name.
9. Bringing this back to nominalism. The problem above arises from the supposition that ‘Socrates is sitting’ is the name of some fact, and thus from supposing that every expression (‘Socrates is sitting’) has a name or referent or whatever.
Ed does two things above. He confronts the truthmaker theorist with a certain (supposedly insoluble) problem, and then he explains how this problem arises by way of a false assumption. First, the problem. I will summarize it as I understand it.
Since Socrates is a past individual, but nothing in this discussion has to do with time, I will change the example to 'Tom is red.' Tom is a tomato of my present acquaintance. We assume that the sentence is true. And of course, if true, then contingently true. My type of TM-theorist holds that contingent true predications such as 'Tom is red' have worldly correspondents called facts. These concrete facts are the truthmakers of contingent predications. Note that the fact corresponds to the sentence as a whole. So not only does 'Tom' have a worldly correspondent, and presumably also the predicate 'red'; the sentence has a worldly correspondent as well.
Note also that the sentence is not about the fact; it is about Tom, or, if you insist, it is about Tom and the property of being red. Still, there is some relation R that connects the sentence and/or the proposition it expresses and the fact. Notice, I wrote 'and the fact,' not 'to the fact.' 'To the fact' suggests a direction from language to world, and not vice versa, whereas 'and the fact' leaves the directionality open. Is the truthmaking relation R naming? Ed thinks it is, but this is not clear. Indeed, I will argue in a moment that the truthmaking relation is not the naming relation. It is clear that 'Tom' names Tom. It is not clear that 'Tom is red' names anything. Suppose it doesn't. This doesn't exclude the possibility that the sentence has a truthmaker. Maybe it has a truthmaker, but that truthmakers cannot be named. Note also that what Ed says above is nothing like what any TM-theorist has ever said. Truthmaking is a relation that runs from the world to representations, whereas naming and referring and 'signifying' run from representations to the world. Truthmaking is more like the converse of the naming relation. We shall see.
But let us suppose arguendo that the truthmaking relation R is naming. On this supposition, Ed sets up a clever little dilemma. It is based on three plausible theses.
T1. If N is a name, then N cannot be vacuous: it must have a nominatum or referent.
T2. If N is a name, then it has an existing referent. That is, there is no naming of nonexistent objects, pace Meinong.
T3. If a name N names an object O, then at every time at which N names something, it names O. So the following is impossible: at some times at which 'Kripke' is in use as a name, it names Kripke, at other times Shkripke. I think this is what Ed means by "the fixity of reference."
The Dilemma. Either sentence S names fact F or it doesn't. On either alternative, trouble. Remember, Ed is assuming that the truthmaking relation is a naming relation and that declarative sentences name facts.
Horn One. If S names F, then, by the conjunction of the three plausible theses, F exists at every time at which S exists, which is plainly false. Clearly, 'Tom is red' both as type and as token can exist at times at which the fact of Tom's being red does not exist. (I might assertively utter 'Tom is red' while Tom is green, or after Tom has been dunked into molten chocolate.) If you say instead that S is meaningless when the fact does not exist, then truthmaking is not naming (by T1), which is all it can be on Ed's (mis)understanding of truthmaking.
Horn Two. If S does not name F, then there is no truthmaking. For truthmaking is a naming relation.
It is clear that Ed does not understand truthmaker theory. The key idea is not that sentences name facts, but that facts make sentences true. That truthmaking is different from naming is clear from the different directions of the relations, but also because truthmaking is a many-many relation whereas naming is a many-one relation. That truthmaking is many-many can be seen as follows. One and the same truth can have many different truthmakers. For example, 'Something is red' is made true by a's being red, b's being red, c's being red, etc. And one and the same truthmaker can make true many truths. For example, Tom's being red makes true 'Tom is red,' 'Tom is red or Shlomo is sad,' etc. (Cf. Armstrong 1997, pp. 129-130.)
Ed has an understanding of nominalism which contemporary analytic philosophers will find idiosyncratic and vacuous to boot. No philosopher today thinks that for every bit of language there is a corresponding bit of reality. So we are all nominalists in this vacuous sense. And no one is a realist if “the root [of the error of the Realists] is to multiply entities according to the multiplicity of terms, and [to suppose] that to every term [or expression] whatsoever there corresponds a thing [quid rei].” And surely it is a bad joke to claim or suggest that TM-theorists straightaway infer the existence of facts from the existence of declarative sentences.
I would be interested to see how you respond to the following dilemma (from Peter Geach, "Truth and God," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, : 84).
Say proposition P1 is true because it corresponds to fact F. Does the proposition "Proposition P1 is true" (call it proposition P2) have a truthmaker? It seems that it should. Not only that, it seems that the truthmaker of P2 should be the same as P1 (i.e. F). But it's not obvious how F could make P2 true, since it is not obvious that F shares P2's "propositional" or "language-like structure," as you put it.
You've already said that some propositions do not have truthmakers, so perhaps you could just deny that P2 has a truthmaker. Or perhaps there is a way that F could do the job of truthmaking with respect to P2? Or perhaps P2 could be analyzed in a way that shows it is not really different from P1?
Thanks for your high-quality blogging!
You're very welcome! Interesting puzzle. It seems obvious that P2 has a truthmaker and that it has the same truthmaker as P1. Note also that if P1 is contingent, then P2 will also be contingent. For example,
Tom is sad
'Tom is sad' is true
are both contingently true and have the same truthmaker, namely, the contingent fact of
Tom's being sad.
And the same holds for all further iterations such as
"'Tom is sad' is true" is true.
Iteration of the truth predicate preserves the modal status of the base proposition. The regress here is infinite but benign. Whatever makes the base proposition true makes true every member of the infinite series of truth predications.
Now the problem you raise is that, while there is a clear isomorphism between 'Tom is sad' and Tom's being sad, there is not the same isomorphism between "'Tom is sad' is true" and Tom's being sad. The predicate in P2 is the predicate 'true', not the predicate 'sad.' P1 is about a man and says of him that he is sad; P2 is about a proposition and says of it that it is true. You are making an assumption, perhaps this:
A. If two or more propositions have the same truthmaker, then they must predicate the same properties of the same subjects.
The truthmaker theorist, however, is not committed to (A). The singular 'Tom is sad' and the existentially general 'Someone is sad' have the same truthmaker, namely, Tom's being sad, but the two propositions differ in logical form, and the second is not about what the first is about. The singular proposition is about Tom while the general proposition is not.
My point, then, is that the puzzle arises only if we assume (A). But (A) is no part of truthmaker theory. Truthmaking is not a 1-1 correspondence. 'Someone is sad' has many different truthmakers, and Tom's being sad makes true many different propositions, indeed, infinitely many.
Our problem may be formulated as an antilogism, or aporetic triad:
A. Some sentences are true in virtue of their correspondence with extralinguistic reality.
B. If so, then reality must have a sentence-like structure.
C. Reality does not have a sentence-like structure.
This trio of propositions is inconsistent. And yet one can make a plausible case for each member of the trio.
Ad (A). Consider a true contingent sentence such as 'Tom is sad,' or the proposition expressed by an assertive utterance in appropriate circumstances of such a sentence. Surely, or rather arguably, the sentence or proposition cannot just be true: if true it is true in virtue of something external to the sentence. I should say that I reject all deflationary theories of truth, including Ramsey's redundancy theory, Quine's disquotationalism, and Paul Horwich's minimalism. The external something cannot be another sentence, or, more generally, another truthbearer. Nor can it be someone's say-so: no truth by fiat unless your name is YHWH. So the external something has to be something 'in the world,' i.e., in the realm of primary reference, as opposed to the realm of sense, to invoke a Fregean distinction. The basic idea here is that some truths need ontological grounds: there is a deep connection between truth and being. There is more to a true sentence than the sentence that is true. There is that in the world which makes it true. Call it the truthmaker of the truth. Some truthbearers need truthmakers. As far as I am concerned, this is about as clear as it gets in philosophy. Which type of entity is best suited to play the truthmaker role, however, is a further question.
Ad (B). At a bare minimum, external reality must include Tom, the subject of our sentence. Part of what must exist for 'Tom is sad' to be true is Tom himself. But Tom alone does not suffice since the sentence says, and says truly, that Tom is sad. So it would seem that external reality must also include properties including the property of being sad. How could something be F if there is no F-ness in the world? There are of course extreme nominalists who deny that there are properties. I consign these extremists to the outer darkness where there is much wailing and the gnashing of teeth. Theirs is a lunatic position barely worth discussing. It is a datum that there are properties. One cannot reasonably ask whether they are; the only reasonable question is what they are. Moderate nominalism, however, is a respectable position. The moderate nominalist admits properties, but denies that they are universals. In contemporary jargon, the moderate nominalist holds that properties are tropes. A trope is a property assayed as a particular, as an unrepeatable item. Accordingly, the sadness in Tom is not repeated elsewhere: it is unique to him. Nor is it transferable: it cannot migrate to some other concrete particular. I'll 'turn' back to tropes in a 'moment.' (Get the double pun?)
For now suppose properties are immanent universals and that reality includes Tom and the property of being sad. Could the sum Tom + sadness suffice as the ontological ground of the truth of 'Tom is sad'? I will argue that it cannot. A universal is a repeatable entity. Universals are either transcendent or immanent. An immanent universal is one that cannot exist unless instantiated. A transcendent universal is one that can. Suppose sadness is an immanent universal instantiated by Shlomo. Then sadness exists and Tom exists. But the mere(ological) sum of the two does not suffice to make true 'Tom is sad.' For if the property and the particular each exist, it does not follow that the particular has the property. A tertium quid is required: something that ties the property to the particular, sadness to Tom.
What this suggests is that the truthmaker of a contingent predication of the form a is F must be something that corresponds to the sentence or proposition as a whole. It cannot be a by itself, or F-ness by itself; it must be a's being F. It is the BEING F of Tom that needs accounting. You could call this the problem of copulative Being.
Enter facts or states of affairs. (These are roughly the states of affairs of Armstrong's middle period.) We now have the concrete particular Tom, the property sadness, and the fact of Tom's being sad. This third thing brings together the concrete particular and the property to form a truthmaking fact. Now this fact, though not a proposition or a sentence, is obviously proposition-like or sentence-like. Although it is a truthmaker, not a truthbearer, it is isomorphic with the truthbearer it makes true. Its structure is mirrored in the proposition. It is a unity of constituents that is not a mere mereological sum of parts any more than a sentence-in-use or a proposition is a mere mereological sum of parts. Plato was already in possession of the insight that a declarative sentence is not a list of words. 'Tom is sad' is not the list: 'Tom,' 'sad,' or the list: 'Tom,' 'is,' 'sad.'
This argument to facts as worldly items in addition to their constituents requires the assumption that properties are universals. For this assumption is what makes it possible for the sum Tom + sadness to exist without Tom being sad. To resist this argument for the sentence-like structure of external reality, therefore, one might try insisting that properties are not universals. And here we come to Arianna Betti's proposal which I have discussed in painful detail in a draft the final version of which will soon appear in the journal METAPHYSICA. She suggests that properties are bearer-specific and that relations are relata-specific.
Well, suppose sadness is bearer-specific, or more precisely, bearer-individuated. This means that it cannot exist unless its bearer, Tom, exists. We can depict the property as follows: ____(tom)Sadness. Tom can exist without this property because it is contingent that Tom is sad. But the property cannot exist or be instantiated without Tom. On this scheme there cannot be a difference between the sum Tom + ___(tom)Sadness and the fact of Tom's being sad. Given the particular and the property, the fact 'automatically' exists. Betti takes this to show that some mereological sums can serve as truthmakers. But, as she notes, the bearer-specific property by itself can serve as truthmaker. For if ___(tom)Sadness exists, it follows that 'Tom is sad' is true. This is because it cannot exist without being insdtantiated, and because it is the "nature" (Betti's word) of this property to be of Tom and Tom alone. So if it exists, then it is instantiated by Tom, by Tom alone, and without the services of a tertium quid.
Now the point I want to make is that whether we take properties to be universals or tropes, it seems we have to grant that reality has a proposition-like structure. Either way it has a proposition-like structure. We saw how this works if properties are universals. The mereological sum Tom + the universal sadness does not suffice as truthmaker for 'Tom is sad.' So we need the fact of Tom's being sad. But this fact has a proposition-like structure. To avoid Armstrongian facts, Betti suggests that we construe properties as monadic tropes. But these too have a proposition-like structure. Even if Betti has shown a way to avoid Armstrong's middle period facts or states of affairs, she has not shown that the world is just a collection of things bare of proposition-like or sentence-like structure.
How so? Well, ___(tom)Sadness obviously in some sense involves Tom, if not as a constituent, then in some other way. There has to be something about this property that makes it such that if it is instantiated, it is instantiated by Tom and Tom alone. It is very much like a Fregean proposition about Tom. Such a proposition does not have Tom himself, with skin and hair, as a constituent, but some appropriately abstract representative of him, his individual essence, say, or his Plantingian haecceity.
Ad (C). According to the third limb of our triad reality does not have a sentence-like structure. This will strike many as obvious. Are worldly items syntactically related to one another? Do this make any sense at all? Arianna Betti, Against Facts, MIT Press, 2015, p. 26, italics in original:
Only linguistic entities . . . can strictly speaking have syntax. Facts are neither linguistic nor languagelike, because they are that of which the world is made, and the world is not made of linguistic or languagelike entities at the lowest level of reference. Thus the articulation of a fact cannot be logical in the sense of being syntactical. It is a categorical mismatch to say that there is a syntactical articulation between a lizard and light green or an alto sax and its price.
So how do we solve this bad boy? I say we reject (C).
In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God, and the Logos ex-pressed itself LOG-ically as the world.
“We do not pay ransom. We didn’t here, and we won’t in the future.”
Barack Obama might like to have that one back this morning, to stick a pin in the moving finger that writes. But the finger done writ, and it won’t come back to cancel a single line of the president’s fatuous fib that the United States didn’t pay $400 million to ransom four hostages taken by the president’s friends in Tehran.
Perhaps the president can take some solace, thin as it is, in the fact that nobody believed him, anyway.
'Fatuous fib' is not quite the phrase. It is a brazen lie from a man who specializes in the brazen lie. And not just the lie, but every mode of mendacity.
A mere picture of the man would suffice to define homo mendax.
Vote for Hillary and you will get more of the same. The difference between her and Obama is that she is not a very good liar.
Why is this? Permit me a speculation. Hillary is much older than Obama. She grew up in a time when it was understood that there is such a thing as truth and that lying is wrong. So at some level she knows she is doing wrong when she lies. This dim awareness interferes with the efficacy of her lying. But Obama is the POMO-prez. Truth? What's that?
His brand of leftist replaces truth with narrative.
Comments appreciated if you are en rapport with the subject matter.
The Case Against Facts
Arianna Betti, Against Facts, The MIT Press, 2015, pp. 296 + xxvii
If Buridan's contribution to the bestiarum philosophorum was the ass, and David Armstrong's the ostrich, Arianna Betti's is the hedgehog bristling with spines. The hedgehog is an appropriate totemic animal inasmuch as her book too bristles with sharp distinctions and prickly arguments designed to inflict pain upon the friends of facts. In this penetrating and beautifully organized volume Professor Betti deploys her distinctions and arguments against two sorts of facts, compositional and propositional, as she calls them. The states of affairs of David Malet Armstrong's middle period (Armstrong 2007) are examples of the first kind of fact. These items are the main target of Betti's animadversions in the first part of her two-part book. She does not go so far as to claim that Armstrongian facts do not exist; her claim is the rather more modest one that we have no reason to posit them, since the work they do, if it needs doing at all, can be done just as well by a certain sort of mereological sum. (101) Betti ignores, however, Armstrong's very different later conception of states of affairs or facts. (Armstrong 2009; Armstrong 2010, 26-34; Vallicella 2016) This later conception also counts as compositional in her sense and ought to have been discussed for the sake of completeness, especially since it in some ways approximates to Betti's mereological position.
One might wonder how a fact could fail to be compositional. Facts are complex or composite items, after all, not simples. So they must all have some internal composition or other, whether they be truthmaking facts or facts of the Chisholmian-Plantingian sort. At a bare minimum, a's being F is composed of a and F-ness. Thus I find less than felicitous Betti's talk of propositional facts in contrast to compositional facts as “noncompositional objects at the level of reference.” (24) She makes it clear, however, that she is using 'compositional' in a narrow sense that implies that compositional facts and their constituents are “part[s] of the furniture of the world.” (37) We shall soon see that being in the world involves being real as opposed to being ideal. An example of a compositional fact is the fact of Guido's being hungry. This fact has Guido himself, all 200 lbs of him, as a constituent. An example of a propositional fact is the putative referent of the that-clause in a sentence like 'Guido sees that Francesca is serving spaghetti puttanesca.' This putative referent is the fact that Francesca is serving spaghetti puttanesca. This propositional fact is like a (Fregean) proposition, though it is not a proposition, in that it does not have Francesca herself as a constituent, but rather an abstract surrogate that represents her. (170) (This fact-of vs. fact-that terminology is mine, not Betti's. I got it from Milton Fisk.)
Betti describes in marvellous detail seven features of compositional facts (18) and five of propositional facts (170). I will speak of C-facts and P-facts. Here are some salient differences. C-facts are in the world, and thus suited to play the truthmaking role whereas P-facts are not in the world and hence not fit for truthmaking. To be in the world is to be real where to be real is to exist “through time and in time as causes or effects in a causal chain.” (22) So C-facts are real while P-facts are ideal. The ideality of P-facts, however, is not that of propositions since P-facts are not propositions. Betti is greatly and rightly exercised by the curious in-between status of these “ghostly critters” (114) that are neither truthbearers nor truthmakers and yet are championed by such distinguished philosophers as Roderick Chisholm, Alvin Plantinga, and Kit Fine. These “ghostly critters” are not truthbearers because they are neither true nor false. But while they are not bivalent in terms of truthvalue, they are 'bipolar' (my term): while all exist, some of them obtain while some do not. They are not truthmakers since truthmakers are real and 'monopolar': if they don't exist they are nothing. Thus the fact of Guido's being hungry does not exist at all if Guido is not hungry. Propositional facts are neither fish nor fowl. The conclusion Betti arrives at strikes me as correct: “Propositional facts collapse into true propositions.” (179) Propositional facts are thus not a distinctive category of entity. We need them, she thinks, as little as we need compositional facts. Actually, her position is far more radical than this since she denies that that-clauses are referential parts of speech. So her position is best expressed conditionally by the following quotation: “If there were nominal reference to facts, facts would be true propositions . . . . (113) Her view, if I understand it, is eliminativist not identitarian: she is not saying that there are propositional facts and that what they are are true propositions; she is saying that that there are no propositional facts.
Leaving propositional facts to languish in their ghostly realm, the rest of this article will take issue with Betti's critique of compositional facts, the ones dear to my heart, the facts involved in the flux and shove of the real order. On a personal note, I want to thank Professor Betti for her very close attention to my articles on the topic.
The Case Against Compositional Facts
A compositional fact, as opposed to a propositional fact, is an entity fit to play the role of truthmaker. The truthmaker role may be introduced as follows. Consider the assertive utterance of some such contingent sentence as 'Tom is sad.' If true, this assertively uttered sentence cannot just be true: if true, it is true because or in virtue of something external to it. This use of 'because' is not causal which is why philosophers reach for the weasel phrase 'in virtue of,' which, despite its slipperiness, may well be indispensable for metaphysics. I say it is indispensable. (Or do hedgehogs eat weasels?) Roughly, there has to be something that 'makes' the sentence true. This external something cannot be another declarative sentence, even if true. More generally, a truth is a true truthbearer (a Fregean proposition, say, or perhaps an Aristotelian proposition, see pp. 31-32 for Betti's helpful explanation of the difference) and no true truthbearer is made true by another such item in the specific sense of 'makes true' in play in truthmaker theory. Nor can someone's say-so be what makes true a true truthbearer. The truthmaker has to be something 'in the world,' something extralinguistic and mind-independent in the realm of reference as opposed to the realm of sense. The friends of truthmakers are realists about truth: they are convinced that at least some truths are in need of an ontological ground of their being true.1
Truthmaker maximalists hold that all truths need such grounds, but one needn't be a maximalist to be a truthmaker theorist. As for 'makes true,' this is neither entailment nor causation. Not entailment, because entailment is a relation between propositions, assuming that truthbearers are propositions, whereas truthmaking is a relation between extra-propositional reality and propositions. So if x makes true y, then y is a truthbearer, but x is not. If someone says that the proposition expressed by 'Snow is white' makes true the proposition expressed by 'Something is white,' then that person, while talking sense, is not using 'makes true' in the specific way in which the phrase is used in truthmaker theory. Truthmaking is not causation for a similar reason: causation does not connect the extra-propositional to the propositional whereas truthmaking does. As Armstrong says, truthmaking is “cross-categorial.” (Armstrong 2004b, 5) It links the extra-propositional to the propositional.
It is important to note, however, that while truthmakers cannot be Fregean or Aristotelian propositions, and thus must be extra-propositional, they must also be proposition-like on Armstrong's approach. This is a point I think Betti misses. Speaking of compositional facts, she tells us that “facts are neither linguistic nor languagelike entities at the lowest level of reference. (28, emphasis in original) But this is certainly not Armstrong's view, the view that is supposed to be the target of Betti's critique of compositional facts. His view is that the world is a world of states of affairs, a “totality of facts not of things” (Wittgenstein) and “sentence-like rather than list-like.” (Armstrong 2010, 34) If the world is sentence-like, then, pace Betti, it is language-like. Armstrong was profoundly influenced by his teacher in Sydney, the Scots philosopher John Anderson, who held that “reality, while independent of the mind that knows it, has a 'propositional' structure.” (Armstrong 1997, 3) Armstrong goes on to say that “the propositional view of reality which he [Anderson] championed is the facts or states of affairs view of reality.” (Armstrong 1997, 3-4) That Armstrongian facts are proposition-like and thus language-like is fairly obvious when we consider the truthmakers of contingent predications of the form 'a is F.' The truthmaker cannot be a by itself, or F-ness by itself, or the mereological sum a + F-ness. It must be a-instantiating F-ness, which has a proposition-like structure. Armstrongian facts have a logos-like and thus logical articulation contrary to what Betti says in opposition to Kit Fine. (28) But now I am getting ahead of myself.
Suppose you accept the legitimacy of the truthmaker role and the need for some type of entity to play it. It doesn't follow straightaway that the entities needed to play the role must be what Betti calls compositional facts or what David Armstrong calls states of affairs. This is so even if we confine ourselves to the really clear examples of truthbearers in need of truthmakers, namely, synthetic, contingent predications such as 'Guido is hungry' or the propositions expressed by assertive utterances of such sentences. Nevertheless, a powerful argument can be mounted for compositional facts as truthmakers. The argument Armstrong and I consider powerful, however, Betti calls “unsound.” (106) Surprise!
Although she is skeptical of the need for truthmakers, she is willing to grant the need arguendo, insisting only that if we need truthmakers, a certain type of mereological complex can do the job thus rendering Armstrong's facts, as unmereological complexes, unnecessary. (102) This is why she thinks the truthmaker argument for Armstrongian facts is unsound. As she sees it, compositional facts are not givens, but theoretical posits, and unnecessary ones at that. They were invented to solve a problem, the unity problem, that arises only because of certain optional assumptions about relations and properties that one is not bound to make. (94-95) Compositional facts are an ad hoc, indeed a “maximally ad hoc,” solution to a pseudo-problem. (64)
Now let me say something in exposition of Armstrong's argument for facts or states of affairs as truthmakers on the assumption that the truthmaker role is legitimate and needs to be filled by some category of entity or other. I will then consider Betti's counter-proposal.
If it is true that Tom is sad, could the truthmaker of this truth be the item that Betti calls (8) the sentence-subject of 'Tom is sad,' namely, Tom? No, since Tom needn't be sad. So Tom by himself cannot be what makes true 'Tom is sad.' The same goes for the property of being sad. By itself the property cannot be the truthmaker of the sentence in question. (I am assuming, with Armstrong, that properties are immanent universals. Immanent, in that they cannot exist uninstantiated; universal, in that they are repeatable.) Now if Tom exists and sadness exists, then so does the mereological sum Tom + sadness. But this sum cannot be the truthmaker either. For the sum exists whether or not Tom is sad. How so?
Suppose that Tom is not sad, but Shlomo is. If properties are immanent universals, then sadness cannot exist uninstantiated; suppose it exists in virtue of being instantiated by Shlomo. So Tom exists, sadness exists, and their sum exists. But this does not suffice for Tom's being sad. There is a missing ontological ingredient: something to connect sadness to Tom. You might think that the missing ingredient would have to be the worldly correlate of the 'is' of predication. But if you take this correlate to be an exemplification/instantiation relation then you ignite Bradley's relation regress which is unfortunately vicious. Other moves invoking Strawsonian nonrelational ties, Bergmannian nexus, Fregean unsaturated concepts, and benign fact-internal infinite regresses (see Vallicella 2010), are equally unavailing. The unifier of a fact's constituents cannot be a further constituent or anything internal to the fact. This leaves two possibilities: (i) the unifier is external to the fact, which Betti rejects, and (ii) Armstrong's middle-period suggestion that facts are entities in addition to their consituents and it is they who hold fact-appropriate constituents together so that they can exercise the truthmaking function. Betti has mastered the dialectic and considers the least bad solution to be Armstrong's: facts hold their constituents together. Although she doesn't say so, she considers my solution in terms of an external unifier to be the worst. The extant putative solutions to the unity problem of course presuppose that it is a genuine problem. Betti thinks it isn't.
Betti's Dissolution of the Unity Problem
After rejecting the extant putative solutions to the unity problem, Betti proposes to dissolve it by collapsing the distinction between “relations that relate relata and relations that do not: all relations relate relata and carry out their own unifying work.” (95) She means this to apply to properties as well. All properties qualify their bearers and carry out their own qualifying work. Thus there needn't be anything to hold the constituents of a relational or as monadic fact together: nothing internal to the fact, nothing external, and not the fact itself. Betti's point is that there is no need for Armstrongian facts, facts as entities in addition to their constituents. (Cf. Armstrong 1997, 117) Her point is not that there are no facts. There may well be facts; it is just that if there are, they are a special sort of mereological sum. Perhaps we can say that she is an identitarian about compositional facts, not an eliminativist, whereas she is an eliminativist about propositional facts, not an identitarian. More on this in a moment.
What Betti has to do is block a possibility like the following. In the actual world, call it Charley, Tim loves Tina. In a merely possible world w in which Tim and Tina both exist, Tim does not love Tina, but Tim loves Toni. In Charley we have both the relational fact of Tim's loving Tina and the mereological sum Tim + loves + Tina. In w, we have the sum Tim + loves + Tina but not the corresponding fact. This implies that there is more to the fact than the sum of its constituents: the sum can exist without constituting a fact. The something more is that which makes of the constituents a real truthmaking unity. Call it the unifier. Betti thinks that the least bad of the extant proposals as to what the unifier is is Armstrong's: facts hold their constituents together; facts are unmereological complexes over and above their constituents. In short, what Betti needs to do is counter the seductive thought that in an actual relational situation such as that of Tom's loving Tina, the constituents can exist without forming a real truthmaking unity. What she needs to maintain is that, necessarily, if all the constituents exist, then the relatedness exists. If the mere existence of the constituents ensures their connectedness, then there is no need for Armstrongian facts. You would then have real unity on the cheap, real truthmaking unity from mereology alone, or rather from mereology operating upon the right sorts of constituents. The mereological principle of the extensionality of parthood would hold for all complexes. Nice work if you can get it!
Betti can achieve her end if she holds that relations are relata-specific where “A relation is relata-specific if and only if it is in its nature to relate specific relata.” (89) Suppose that the relation loves as it figures in the sum Tom + loves + Tina is necessarily such that, if it exists, then it relates Tom and Tina. Then there would be no distinction in reality between loves as a relating relation and loves as an inert relation that is merely a constituent but not also a unifier of the complex into which it enters.
Betti's contention, then, is that all relations, just in virtue of existing, are relating relations, active ontological ingredients if you will, and none are inert ingredients. A relation cannot exist without actually relating its relata. If so, there cannot be a difference between the mereological sum a + R+ b and the fact of a's standing in R to b. Given the constituents, the fact is given: it is not an ontological extra, something over and above the constituents. There is no possibility of the constituents existing without the fact existing. It follows that there is no need for facts as unmereological compositions, facts as “additions to being,” in a phrase from Armstrong. If a fact just is a mereological complex, then it is an “ontological free lunch,” to employ yet another signature phrase of the late Australian. Of course, not just any old mereological sum is a fact; only those with the right constituents.
And the same goes for properties: all properties, just in virtue of existing, qualify their bearers. There is no need for a tertium quid such as an instantiation relation to tie a property to its bearer. Nor is there any need for monadic facts as entities in addition to their constituents to do this unifying work. There is no difference between the sum a + F-ness and the fact of a's being F. For this to work, all properties have to be “bearer-specific.” “A property is bearer-specific if and only if it is in its nature to be had by specific bearers.” (90) Suppose it is true that Hargle is happy, and that being happy is “bearer-specific.” We can display the property as follows: __(H) being happy. '__' indicates that the property is unsaturated or incomplete or gappy in something like Frege's sense: if it is had by an individual it is had directly without the need of a connector such as an instantiation relation or Strawsonian nonrelational tie or a Bergmannian nexus. '(H)' indicates that the property is bearer-specific or rather bearer-individuated: if the property is had, it is had by Hargle and nothing else. That the property is had follows from its existence: necessarily, if the property exists, then it is had, had by Hargle and nothing else, and had directly without the service of a tertium quid. What this all implies is that the mereological sum Hargle + __(H) being happy suffices as truthmaker of 'Hargle is happy.' There is no need for a fact over and above this sum. Indeed, as Betti points out, the property alone suffices as truthmaker since it cannot exist unless Hargle exists. (101)
Questions and Objections
1. Why is Betti's proposal superior to Armstrong's?
Betti presents us with an alternative way of thinking about truthmaking facts, namely, as mereological sums whose parts include relata-specific relations and bearer-specific properties. Betti's main point is that “mereological complexes are viable as truthmakers; facts are not needed for the role.” (101) When she says that facts are not needed, she means Armstrongian, middle-period facts. She is not denying that there are truthmakers. Nor is she is denying the existence of facts as long as they are assayed as mereological complexes. If a fact is a complex entity that functions as a truthmaker, then her mereological complexes containing relata-specific relations and bearer-dependent properties are facts, though not in Armstrong 's robust sense. She is denying, or rather refusing to countenance on grounds of theoretical economy, facts as unmereological complexes. Her claim is that there is no explanatory need for facts as the middle-period Armstrong conceives of them, namely, as “additions to being.” Betti may bristle at my use of 'facts' in describing her position but surely there is an innocuous and nearly datanic, as opposed to theoretical, use of 'fact' according to which an individual's having a property, or two or more things standing in a relation, is a fact. Indeed, she needs this use of 'fact' just to state her theory, according to which the fact aRb is identical to the sum a + R + b, when R is relata-specific. On her view facts are a proper subset of mereological sums. That is not a denial of facts, but an acceptance of them. Unfortunately, Betti sometimes expresses herself in a misleading way. She tells us, for example, that “the thought that the world is a world without facts – one in which there is no difference between facts and sums – is shown to be perfectly sensible.” (88) This formulation equivocates on 'fact.' What she wants to say is that the world is without Armstrongian facts, not that the world is without truthmaking facts. It is the latter that are no different from sums, namely those sums whose constituents include relata-specific relations and object-dependent properties.
Betti thinks her theory is preferable to Armstrong's. I question whether she is justified in this preference. We face a tough choice. Armstrong's theory violates the extensionality of parthood and countenances unmereological complexes. This is a strike against it. Betti's theory avoids unmereological complexes, thereby upholding the extensionality of parthood, but accepts relata-specific relations and bearer-dependent properties. How plausible is it that all relations are relata- specific and all properties bearer-dependent? Are these notions even coherent? Let's consider the coherence question.
2. Against Relata-Specific Relations and Bearer-Dependent Properties
Suppose Argle is two feet from Bargle. There is nothing in the nature of either relatum to necessitate their standing in this external relation. Each can exist apart from the relation. And as I see it, there cannot be anything in the nature of the relation itself to necessitate that it be precisely these two critters that the relation relates. So on my view a relational situation such as Argle's being two feet from Bargle involves a double externality: there is nothing in the nature of the terms to dictate their standing in the external relation in question, and there is nothing in the nature of the external relation to dictate the terms. But as Betti sees it, it is the nature of this relation to relate Argle and Bargle and nothing else: the relation cannot exist/be instantiated without relating precisely these two. This implies that “as soon as” (105) the relation exists, it relates Argle and Bargle. If this conception is coherent, it has the desired consequence of undercutting Bertrand Russell's distinction between actually relating relations and those same relations as inert, and with it the distinction between a fact as a real unity of fact-appropriate constituents and the 'mere' mereological sum of those very same constituents. If this works, it puts paid to Armstrong's commitment to unmereological complexes: mereology suffices for truthmakers provided the parts of the sums include relata-specific relations or bearer-dependent properties.
It seems to me, however, that the notion of relata-specificity reduces to absurdity by way of the following argument in which R is any relata-specific dyadic external relation, and a and b are its individual relata. (See also my critique of D. W. Mertz in Vallicella 2004.) Generalization beyond the dyadic case is straightforward but unnecessary. Betti's definition of 'external relation' is standard and perfectly serviceable: “A relation is external if and only if it is not grounded in corresponding properties of its relata, that is, is an entity over and above its relata.” (89) An internal relation is then one that is grounded in corresponding properties and is not an entity in addition to its relata. Now to the argument:
P1. R is entirely dependent for its existence on both a and b. (Betti's theory of relata-specificity)
This is because (i) R cannot exist without being instantiated and thus cannot exist without actually relating some pair of individuals or other, and (ii) R cannot, as relata-specific, relate any pair of individuals other than a, b. If dyadic R were an immanent universal, then it could not exist without relating some pair or other; but it would not necessarily have to relate the precise pair, a, b. R's existence would then not depend on its relating a and b. But as it is, R is a particular (an unrepeatable), not a universal (a repeatable); it is a non-transferable relational trope. It is as particular as the particulars it relates. Its being or existence is exhausted by its particular occurrence, unlike an immanent universal the being or existence of which is not exhausted by its instantiation in a particular case. So R, as a relational trope, is entirely dependent for its existence on the exact relata it has: its being or existence is exhausted by its relating of those exact relata, the individuals a and b. Therefore,
C1. R is not distinct in reality from the particular relatedness aRb: R = aRb.
Of course, R can be thought of in abstraction from aRb. But R in reality is identical to aRb. You cannot say that they are different because aRb has constituents a, b while R does not. For R exists when and only when it is relating a and b. Apart from them it is nothing at all.
P2. The particular relatedness or relational fact aRb is identical to the mereological sum a + R + b, given that R is relata-specific. (Betti's theory) Therefore,
C2. R is identical to the sum a + R + b. (from C1 and P2 by Transitivity of Identity)
P3. No proper part of a mereological sum having two or more members is identical to the sum of which it is a proper part. (Principle of mereology) Therefore,
C3. R is not identical to the sum a + R + b. (from P3) Therefore,
C4. R is and is not identical to the sum a + R + b. (from C2, C3) Contradiction! Therefore,
C5. Either P1 or P2 is false; either way, Betti's theory fails.
Betti will presumably reject (C1). But how? She tells us that it is the nature of R to relate exactly a and b. Now if it is the nature of R to relate exactly these relata, then it is intrinsic to R that it do so. But then R is intrinsically relational, relational in and of itself. If this is neither contradictory nor magical, then it involves importing mind (intentionality) into the bowels of R. For if it is intrinsic to R that it relate exactly a and b, then R, quite apart from actually relating a and b, 'pre-selects' a and b as its relata. But this is what mind in its intentional states does. Such states are intrinsically relational: it is their nature to be of or about items that need not exist for the states to be of or about them. But surely there is no intentionality within the non-transferable relational trope R!
But what is the alternative? Will we be told that a and b are constituents of R? But then R is identical to aRb, when it cannot be given that aRb is a + R + b.
Now let's consider bearer-dependent properties. Suppose we grant, along with Armstrong (2004, 49), that some mereological complexes are truthmakers. Is it not also the case that some are not? Suppose that Gargle is lachrymose but Hargle is not. Then the following sum exists: Hargle + __(G)being lachrymose. The sum exists because its two parts exist. But the parts are not connected to form a truthmaker. This implies that on Betti's account there are two sorts of mereological sum: those that are truthmakers and those that are not. It also implies that what makes a mereological sum a truthmaker is not its being a mereological sum. What makes a sum a truthmaker is the nature of its members. Thus what makes Hargle + __(H)being happy a truthmaking sum is its second member.
But this second member has a rather intricate and puzzling structure. It is a bearer-individuated property, a property that exists only if instantiated by Hargle. Hargle can exist without being happy, but the property in question cannot exist unless Hargle exists. It is in the nature of the property to qualify precisely Hargle “as soon as it exists,” (105) i.e., as soon as the property exists. But when does it exist? When Hargle instantiates it. So it is not as if the property has its individuated nature apart from its being instantiated; rather, it receives its individuated nature by being instantiated by Hargle. It is only the existing Hargle that can make the property individuative of precisely Hargle and nothing else. So Hargle supplies the nature that makes the property Hargle-specific, or rather Hargle-individuated.
Does this not smack of absurdity? The nature of an entity is intrinsic to it; it cannot consist in a relation to an item external to it. So it cannot be instantiation by Hargle that gives the property its nature. If, on the other hand, Hargle were a constituent of the property in question, namely, __(H)being happy, then it would make sense to say that it is the nature of the property to be instantiated by Hargle. But Hargle is not a constituent of the property; otherwise the property would not be a property but the fact of Hargle's being happy.
Betti seems to face a dilemma. Either Hargle is not a constituent of the property or he is. If Hargle is not a constituent of the property, then the property has no nature that makes it dependent on precisely Hargle and nothing else. But if Hargle is a constituent of the property, then the property is a fact.
If Betti's account is incoherent, as I have just argued that it is, then it cannot be superior to Armstrong's even if Armstrong's is also incoherent. I should make it clear that I am not defending Armstrong; I admit that his view of facts is problematic. In fact, I argue that it is incoherent in Vallicella 2016. My point is that Betti's theory is not an acceptable replacement for it. Even if her theory is not incoherent, it is problematic as I will now further demonstrate.
3. Digging Deeper: Further Questions about Betti's Theory of Relations
Betti faults me (92-93) for failing to distinguish between externality and relata-unspecificity. A relation is external just in case it is not “grounded in corresponding properties of its relata . . . .” (89) “A rela tion is relata-unspecific if and only if it is not in its nature to relate specific relata.” (90) I fail to distinguish externality from relata-unspecificity in that I hold that, in Betti's words, “A relation is external if and only if it could have related another pair (or triple, quadruple, etc.) of relata.” (93, citing Vallicella 2002, 14-15, 31; 2004, 164). As I see it, no external relation has a nature that dictates that it relate only a particular pair, triple, quadruple, etc. of relata. As against this, Betti envisages the following possibility: an external relation such as being two feet from that holds, if it holds at all, between Argle and Bargle but cannot hold between any other pair of relata. The relation is external in that there is nothing in the natures of the relata that dictates that they stand in the relation in question; the relation is relata-specific in that there is something in the nature of the relation to dictate that, if it holds, it holds only between Argle and Bargle.
Now if Betti's scenario is possible, then I have blundered by conflating externality and relata-unspecificity. But while I grant that Betti's 'possibility' is combinatorially possible given her definitions, it is not metaphysically possible. I gave an argument above. So my conflation of externality and relata-unspecificity strikes me as justified.
I found Betti's theory of relata-specific relations (which draws on the work of her student Jan Willem Wieland) obscure and in need of further development. One intriguing suggestion is that “relata-specific relations can still be universals.” (91) Now there is a wholly uncontroversial sense of 'relata-specific universal' which Betti does not intend. Consider the universal taller than. This is a dyadic relation that is instantiated by ordered pairs of objects, but not just by any old pair. The pairs must be pairs of things having height. Taller than is thus specific to all and only such pairs and not to pairs of numbers or pairs of sets or pairs of propositions or pairs of angels or pairs of acts of thinking. But Betti means something different. She is apparently envisaging the possibility of a relation that is universal but that, say, relates only Guido, Francesca, Giacomo, and Maria in respect of height. Unfortunately, she gives no exemples and I am not sure what she is driving at. She brings this up because she thinks that her solution to the unity problem works whether or not one assays properties as universals or as tropes. (91) But this is all very obscure and here is a lacuna that needs filling.
My interim verdict with respect to compositional facts is that Betti has not provided a viable mereological alternative to the admittedly untenable facts or states of affairs of Armstrong's middle period.
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1It is an interesting question whether one could be an idealist and also a truthmaker theorist. Consider a Kantian who holds that phenomenal objects and events are “empirically real but transcendentally ideal” to employ a signature Kantian phrase. It seems to me that such a philosopher could maintain a need for truthmakers for some truthbearers, namely those synthetic aposteriori, and thus contingent, judgments about empirical objects and events. It seems one could combine realism about empirical truth with transcendental idealism.
As I said last Friday, the last time I read anything by John D. Caputo was at the end of the '70s. His articles and books struck me as worth reading at the time. His recent work, however, appears to be incompetent rubbish. One could say of the latter-day Caputo what Searle of Derrida: he gives bullshit a bad name. The following from a review by Alan Worsnip:
This confusion recurs again and again. For example, Caputo treats the question of whether there is one god or many (or none) as a version of the question of whether there is “one truth or many.” But it is not. If there were to be two mayors of London instead of one, that would require a political rethinking but not a rethinking of the theory of truth. Likewise, if there were to be two gods instead of one, that would require a religious rethinking but not a rethinking of the theory of truth. Sometimes it feels like Truth is just Caputo’s vehicle to discuss the subject that really animates him—religion, and his own expansive, almost nontheistic account of it.
Caputo also persistently runs together the questions of truth with questions of knowledge of truth. For example, he complains that absolutism—the view that there are absolute truths—“confuses us [i.e. human beings] with God,” a being that can know every truth. Yet the claim that there is an (absolute) truth about some matter is entirely compatible with the claim that we may often be deeply ignorant about it. Presumably there is a true fact of the matter as to whether the number of blades of grass in the UK was either odd or even at the moment of New Year in 1972. But we will never know which it is. Indeed, it is precisely the areas in which it is appropriate to speak of ignorance that it is least plausible to claim that truth is relative to us or our perspective: being ignorant of a truth involves the capacity to be wrong about it, which means that there is some fact about it independently of what one thinks.
If the Left would cease to exist without its double standards, contemporary Continental philosophy would cease to exist without its trademark confusion of the ontological with the epistemological. I am exaggerating, of course, but in the direction of a truth which I will leave my astute readers to reformulate in more temperate terms if they care to.
I have gone over this ground many times, but apparently one cannot say it too often. The claim that truth is absolute, and cannot be relative to individuals or groups or historical epochs or races, or anything else, is a claim about the nature of truth. It is a claim about what truth is. One who insists on this obvious point is not laying claim to any absolute or god-like knowledge. I can know that truth is absolute without knowing which propositions are true. It is not polite to say it, but say it we must: the failure to grasp such a simple point is a mark of stupidity in someone like Caputo who has had plenty of time and opportunity to learn something about philosophy. He's committing a rookie blunder, a sophomoric mistake.
What is the difference between analytic and Continental philosophy?
In the standard story about academic philosophy—a story which nearly everyone acknowledges to be overly reductive, yet nearly everyone continues to repeat—there are two kinds of philosophy. On one hand there is “analytic philosophy”—according to its opponents, a kind of pedantic bean-counting that alienates philosophy from its project of understanding the deep questions of life, existence and the human condition, replacing them with self-satisfied distinctions such as that between three different uses of the word “so.” On the other hand, there is “continental philosophy”—according to its opponents, a vague and pretentious approach, expressed in unclear prose which conceals a mixture of banalities and blatant falsehoods. Think of it this way: whilst continental philosophy gets better as you get drunker, analytic philosophy gets worse.
It is important not to confuse the question of the fallibility of our cognitive faculties, including reason in us, with the question whether there is truth. A fallibilist is not a truth-denier. One can be -- it is logically consistent to be -- both a fallibilist and an upholder of (objective) truth. What's more, one ought to be both a fallibilist about some (not all) classes of propositions, and an upholder of the existence of (objective) truth. Indeed, if one is a fallibilist, one who admits that we sometimes go wrong in matters of knowledge and belief, then then one must also admit that we sometimes go right, which is to say that fallibilism presupposes the objectivity of truth.
Just as a fallibilist is not a truth-denier, a truth-affirmer is not an infallibilist or 'dogmatist' in one sense of this word. To maintain that there is objective truth is not to maintain that one is in possession of it. One of the sources of the view that truth is subjective or relative is aversion to dogmatic people and dogmatic claims.
But if you reject the objectivity of truth on the basis of an aversion to dogmatic people and claims, then you are not thinking clearly.
John D. Caputo has recently made the fashionably outlandish claim that "what modern philosophers call 'pure' reason . . . is a white male Euro-Christian construction." Making this claim, Caputo purports to be saying something that is true. Moreover, his making of the claim in public is presumably for the purpose of convincing us that it is true. If so, he presupposes truth, in which case truth cannot be a social construct, as I said in my critique. A commenter responded:
To say that Caputo "presupposes truth" is not to say that he presupposes some sort of absolutist notion of truth. Why is the latter a necessary condition for the activity of "trying to convince"?
The short answer is that there is no notion of truth other than the absolutist notion. Truth is absolute by its very nature. The phrase 'relative truth' names a confusion. I won't go over this ground again, having trod it before. But there is a wrinkle, and that is what I want to explore in this entry. Is absolute truth the same as objective truth? Perhaps not. It might be like this. If there is truth, then it is the same for all cognizers: it is intersubjectively binding on all. It is in this sense objective. It does not vary from person to person, social class to social class, historical epoch to historical epoch, race to race, etc. But how can we be sure that truth in this objective sense is not a mere transcendental presupposition of intelligible discourse and rational debate? If truth is a mere transcendental presupposition, then it is not absolute. For what 'absolute' means is: not relative to or dependent on anything at all. Of course, if truth is absolute, it follows that it is objective in the sense of intersubjectively binding on all. But there is a logical gap in the converse. If truth is objective, it does not straightaway follow that it is absolute. For it might be transcendentally relative: relative to beings like us who cannot think or judge or speak intelligibly without presupposing truth. It might be transcendentally realtive while remaining the same for all in such a way as to exclude as meaningless such phrases as 'proletarian truth,' bourgeois truth,' 'Protestant truth,' 'Catholic truth,' 'White man's truth,' 'black female's truth,' and other similalry nonsensical constructions.
I will return to the objective-absolute distinction near the end of this entry.
While there may be a problem in showing that truth is more than a transcendental presupposition, and thus absolute, it is fairly easy to show that truth is objective. And so it is easy to show that Caputo presupposes objective truth when he makes his fashionably outlandish PoMo claims.
But what do I mean when I say that truth is objective? I mean that there is a total way things are, and that this total way things are does not depend on the beliefs, desires, wishes, hopes, etc. of finite rational beings like ourselves, whether human or extraterrestrial or angelic. So what I mean by 'Truth is objective' is close to what John Searle means by external realism.
According to John Searle, "external realism [ER] is the thesis that there is a way that things are that is independent of all representations of how things are." (The Construction of Social Reality, p. 182) Is it possible to prove this attractive thesis? And how would the proof go?
We will recall G. E. Moore's attempt to prove the external world by waving his hands. His idea was that it is a plain fact, as anyone can see, that his hands exist, and so it straightaway follows that external objects in space exist. This sounds more like a joke than a philosophical argument. Or if not a joke, then clear proof, not of the external world, but that Moore did not understand the issue. But let's leave Moore to one side for the space of this post. See my aptly entitled Moore category for more on Moore.
The realism issue really has nothing to do with spatially external objects. There unproblematically are such objects whatever their ultimate ontological status. Note also that ER can be true even if there are no spatially external objects. ER is simply the claim that there is a way things are independent of us: it says nothing specifically about spatial individuals.
As Searle interprets it, ER sets forth a condition on the intelligibility of discourse and thought rather than a truth condition of discourse and thought:
There are conditions on the intelligibility of discourse . . . that are not like paradigmatic cases of truth conditions. In the normal understanding of discourse we take these conditions for granted; and unless we took them for granted, we could not understand utterances the way we do . . . . (181)
Among these conditions on intelligibility is ER. It is a necessary presupposition of a large chunk of thought and discourse. What Searle is doing is giving a transcendental argument for ER. He takes it as given that a sentence like 'Mt Everest has ice and snow near the summit' is intelligible. He then inquires into what must be presupposed for it to be intelligible. For the sentence to be true, Mt. Everest must exist, and it must have ice and snow near the summit. But for the sentence to be intelligible, it is not necessary that Mt. Everest exist, or if it does exist that it have ice and snow near the summit. What is necessary is that ER be true: that there be a way things are independent of human representations. If the mountain exists, then that is (part of) the way things are, and if it does not exist, that too is (part of) the way things are. The way things are, then, is not a truth condition of any such statement as 'Mt Everest has ice and snow near the summit.' It is a condition of the intelligibility of such statements and their negations. So even if every statement asserting or implying the existence of a physical object is false, and there is no spatially external world, it is still the case that ER is true. For it is still the case that there is a way things are independent of human representations. The way things are would include the nonexistence of a spatially external world.
For Searle, then, external realism (ER) is a transcendental condition of the intelligibility of large portions of public discourse. He is aware that to have shown this is not to have shown that ER is true. (194) Speaking as we do, we are committed to its being true, but that is not to say that it is true. That there is a way things are independent of human representations is presupposed by the intelligibility of much of what we think or say, but it doesn't follow that it is true.
Why not? Because its truth is conditional upon the fact that our thought and speech is intelligible. If ER is true, then it is true whether or not human representations and their intelligibility exist. But if ER is argued to transcendentally as a condition of intelligibility, then ER's truth is conditional upon the existence of human beings and their representations. So we cannot say that ER is true, but only that we must presuppose it to be true. This is not to say that without us it would be false, but what without us it would be neither true nor false.
Is Searle's position satisfactory? I'm not sure. I want to be able to say that ER is true simpliciter, or true unconditionally (i.e., not conditional upon the fact of the intelligibility of our discourse.)
But does my desire to be able to say that ER is true unconditionally make sense? Maybe not. We cannot not presuppose that there is a way things are assuming that we continue to think and talk as before. But is there a way things are? Yes, it might be said, in the only sense in which it would make sense to assert it, namely, as a presupposition of our thought and talk. That is, what we as rational beings must presuppose as being the case IS the case. The 'possibility' that it not be the case is unmeaning. No sort of wedge can be driven between the presupposing and the being. But this seems to land us in a form of transcendental idealism.
A fascinating labyrinth, this. Collateral reading: Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, section 44 (c), Die Seinsart der Wahrheit und die Wahrheitsvoraussetzung.
The main thing, however, is that Caputo presupposes objective truth when he makes his ridiculous PeeCee assertions.
Here in The Chronicle of Higher Education. You know you are dealing with a lefty when he gets off the phrase, "climate-change denial." Memo to Peter Lupu: I would like to hear your opinion of this article. You might subject it to a Facebook fisking. It should turn your crank, especially the benighted comments. I read a few of them and they reinforce me in my view that, to put it with aphoristic exaggeration,
British (Catholic) historian Paul Johnson in his wonderful Modern Times attributes relativism's rise to Einstein! So does Einstein's latest biographer.
There are two questions that must be distinguished. The first is whether Einstein's Theory of Relativity entails either moral or cognitive (alethic) relativism. The second question is whether Einstein's revolutionary contributions to physics, via their misinterpretation by journalists and other shallow people (am I being unfair?), contributed to an atmosphere in which people would be more likely to embrace moral and cognitive relativism. The first question belongs to the philosophy of science, the second to the sociology of belief. The questions are plainly distinct.
The answer to the first question is a resounding No. Since physics has nothing to do with moral questions — which is not to say that moral questions do not arise in the technological application of physical knowledge or in its dissemination or in the construction of experiments, etc. — it is quite clear that neither STR nor GTR nor any physical theory has any logical consequences in respect of meta-ethical doctrines such as moral relativism. And as for cognitive or alethic relativism, far from its being entailed by the Theory of Relativity, I should think that the latter presupposes the absoluteness of truth.
Take the Galilean principle of the additivity of velocities. Suppose I'm on a train moving with velocity v1. I fire my gun in the direction of the train's travel. The projectile's muzzle velocity is v2. The projectile's total velocity is v1 + v2. But STR implies that the additivity of velocities breaks down at relativistic speeds, speeds approaching the speed of light. Now the proposition that the principle of the additivity of velocities fails at relativistic speeds is not merely true relative to STR, but true absolutely. And the same goes for any number of other propositions of STR and GTR such as the one bearing upon the conversion of mass and energy, E=mc^2, or that the speed of light remains a constant 186, 282 mi/sec. Or consider the proposition that motion and rest are relative to reference-frames. That proposition's truth is not relative to any reference-frame or to any conceptual framework either.
In short, Einstein's Theory of Relativity, far from entailing relativism about truth, presupposes, and thus entails the absoluteness of truth. But I don't need to make that strong a claim to refute the thesis that the Theory of Relativity entails the relativity of truth. It suffices to point out that the theory is logically consistent with the absoluteness of truth.
As for the sociological question, I suppose one would have to grant that misinterpretations and shallow expositions of the Theory of Relativity did contribute to the spread of moral and cognitive relativism. But of course that is not the responsibility of Einstein or modern physics but the responsibility of those shallow-pates we call journalists. (Am I being unfair a second time?)
Professor of Government Charles Kesler in the Spring 2015Claremont Review of Books laments that "The culture of free discussion and debate is declining, and with it liberty, on and off the campus." He is right to be offended by the new culture of 'trigger warnings' and 'microaggressions,' but I wonder if his analysis is quite right.
What’s behind the decline? There are many factors, but among the most influential is that dead-end of modern philosophy called postmodernism, which has had two baneful effects. By teaching that reason is impotent—that it can’t arrive at any objective knowledge of truth, beauty, and justice because there is nothing “out there” to be known—postmodernism turns the university into an arena for will to power. All values are relative, so there is no point in discussing whether the most powerful values are true, just, or good. The crucial thing is that they are the most powerful, and can be played as trumps: do not offend me, or you will be in trouble. If we say it’s racist, then it’s racist. Don’t waste our time trying to ask, But what is racism?
Second, postmodernism devotes itself to what Richard Rorty called “language games.” For professors, especially, this is the most exquisite form of will to power, “a royal road to social change,” as Todd Gitlin (the rare lefty professor at Columbia who defends free speech) observes. So freshman girls became “women,” slaves turned into “enslaved persons,” “marriage” had to be opened to “same-sex” spouses, and so forth. Naming or renaming bespeaks power, and for decades we have seen this power rippling through American society. Now even sexual assault and rape are whatever the dogmatic leftists on and off campus say they are.
No truth, then no way things are; power decides
Kesler's analysis is largely correct, but it could use a bit of nuancing and as I like to say exfoliation (unwrapping). First of all, if there is no truth, then there is nothing to be known. And if there is neither knowledge nor truth, then there is no one 'way things are.' There is no cosmos in the Greek sense. Nothing (e.g., marriage) has a nature or essence. That paves the way for the Nietzschean view that, at ontological bottom, "The world is the Will to Power and nothing besides!" We too, as parts of the world, are then nothing more than competing centers of power-acquisition and power-maintenance. Power rules!
This is incoherent of course, but it won't stop it from being believed by leftists. It should be obvious that logical consistency cannot be a value for someone for whom truth is not a value. This is because logical consistency is defined in terms of truth: a set of propositions is consistent if and only if its members can all be true, and inconsistent otherwise.
Don't confuse the epistemological and the ontological
To think clearly about this, however, one must not confuse the epistemological and the ontological. If Nietzsche is right in his ontological claim, and there is no determinate and knowable reality, then there is nothing for us, or anyone, to know. But if we are incapable of knowing anything, or limited in what we can know, it does not follow that there is no determinate and knowable reality. Of course, we are capable of knowing some things, and not just such 'Cartesian' deliverances as that I seem to see a coyote now; we know that there are coyotes and that we sometimes see them and that they will eat damn near anything, etc. (These are evident truths, albeit not self-evident in the manner of a 'Cartesian' deliverance.) Although we know some things, we are fallible and reason in us is weak and limited. We make mistakes, become confused, and to make it worse our cognitive faculties are regularly suborned by base desires, wishful thinking, and what-not.
Fallibilism and objectivism
It is important not to confuse the question of the fallibility of our cognitive faculties, including reason in us, with the question whether there is truth. A fallibilist is not a truth-denier. One can be -- it is logically consistent to be -- both a fallibilist and an upholder of (objective) truth. What's more, one ought to be both a fallibilist about some (not all) classes of propositions, and an upholder of the existence of (objective) truth. Indeed, if one is a fallibilist, one who admits that we sometimes go wrong in matters of knowledge and belief, then then one must also admit that we sometimes go right, which is to say that fallibilism presupposes the objectivity of truth.
Just as a fallibilist is not a truth-denier, a truth-affirmer is not an infallibilist or 'dogmatist' in one sense of this word. To maintain that there is objective truth is not to maintain that one is in possession of it. One of the sources of the view that truth is subjective or relative is aversion to dogmatic people and dogmatic claims.
One cannot be a liberal (in the good old sense!) without being tolerant, and thus a fallibilist, and if the latter, then an absolutist about truth, and hence not a PC-whipped leftist!
And now we notice a very interesting and important point. To be a liberal in the old sense (a paleo-liberal) is, first and foremost, to value toleration. Toleration is the touchstone of classical liberalism. (Morris Raphael Cohen) But why should we be tolerant of (some of) the beliefs and (some of) the behaviors of others? Because we cannot responsibly claim to know, with respect to certain topics, what is true and what ought to be done/left undone. Liberalism (in the good old sense!) requires toleration, and toleration requires fallibilism. But if we can go wrong, we can go right, and so fallibilism presupposes and thus entails the existence of objective truth. A good old liberal must be an absolutist about truth and hence cannot be a PC-whipped lefty.
Examples. Why tolerate atheists? Because we don't know that God exists. Why tolerate theists? Because we don't know that God does not exist. And so on through the entire range of Big Questions. But toleration has limits. Should we tolerate Muslim fanatics such as the Taliban or ISIS terrorists? Of course not. For they reject the very principle of toleration. That's an easy case. More difficult: should we tolerate public Holocaust denial via speeches and publications? Why should we? Why should we tolerate people who lie, blatantly, about matters of known fact and in so doing contribute to a climate in which Jews are more likely to be oppressed and murdered? Isn't the whole purpose of free speech to help us discover and disseminate the truth? How can the right to free speech be twisted into a right to lie? But there is a counter-argument to this, which is why this is not an easy case. I haven't the space to make the case.
Getting back to the radical Muslims who reject the very principle of toleration, they have a reason to reject it: they think they know the answers to the Big Questions that we in the West usually have the intellectual honesty to admit we do not know the answers to. Suppose Islam, or their interpretation thereof, really does provide all the correct answers to the Big Questions. They would then be justified in imposing their doctrine and way of life on us, and for our own eternal good. But they are epistemological primitives who are unaware of their own fallibility and the fallibility of their prophet and their Book and all the rest. The dogmatic and fanatical tendencies of religion in the West were chastened by the Greek philosophers and later by the philosophers of the Enlightenment. First Athens took Jerusalem to task, and then Koenigsberg did the same. Unfortunately, there has never been anything like an Enlightenment in the Islamic world; hence they know no check on their dogmatism and fanaticism.
Defending the university against leftists and Islamists
The university rests on two main pillars. One has inscribed on it these propositions: There is truth; we can know some of it; knowing truth contributes to human flourishing and is thus a value. The other pillar bears witness to the truth that we are fallible in our judgements. Two pillars, then: Absolute truth and Fallibilism. No liberal (good sense!) education without both.
The commitment to the existence of absolute truth is common to both pillars, and it is this common commitment that is attacked by both leftists and Islamists. It is clear how leftists attack it by trying to eliminate truth in favor of power. That this eliminativism is utterly incoherent and self-refuting doesn't bother these power freaks because they do not believe in or value truth, which is implied by any commitment to logical consistency, as argued above. (Of course, some are just unaware that they are inconsistent, and others are just evil.)
But how is it that Islamists attack objective truth? Aren't they theists? Don't they believe in an absolute source and ground of being and truth? Yes indeed. But their God is unlimited Power. Their God is all-powerful to the max: there are no truths of logic, nor any necessary truths, that limit his power. The Muslim God is pure, omnipotent will. (See Pope Benedict's Regensurg Speech and Muslim Oversensitivity.)
The subterranean link
Here is perhaps the deepest connection between the decidedly strange bedfellows, leftism and Islamism: both deny the absoluteness of truth and both make it subservient to power.
Nietzsche is culturally important, but philosophically dubious in the extreme. Some of our current cultural woes can be ascribed to the influence of his ideas. Suppose we take a look at Will to Power #534:
Das Kriterium der Wahrheit liegt in der Steigerung des Machtgefühls.
The criterion of truth resides in the heightening of the feeling of power.
A criterion of X is (i) a property or feature that all and only Xs possess which (ii) allows us to identify, detect, pick out, Xs. 'Criterion' is a term of epistemology. So one could read Nietzsche as saying that the test whereby we know that a belief is true is that it increases or enhances the feeling of power of the person who holds the belief. To employ some politically correct jargon that arguably can be traced back to Nietzsche, if a belief is 'empowering,' then it is true; and if a belief is true, then it is 'empowering.'
A second way to read the Nietzschean dictum is to take it not as offering a criterion (in the epistemological sense) of truth, but as stating what the nature of truth is. Accordingly, truth just is the property of increasing the feeling of power: to say that a belief (statement, representation, etc.) is true is just to say that it increases the feeling of power in the one who holds the belief.
Now suppose we ask a simple question. Is it true that the criterion of truth is the heightening of the feeling of power? If it is, then every truth empowers, and every belief that empowers is true. But surely not every truth empowers. You find out that you have some medical condition, hypertension, say. The truth that you have hypertension does not increase your sense of power; if anything it diminishes it. Or the report comes in that you have pancreatic cancer and will be dead in six months. I should think such news would have a depressing effect on one's vitality. And yet it is true. So some truths do not enhance the feeling of power. Nor do they enhance one's power if you care to distinguish power from the feeling of power.
On the other hand, there are empowering beliefs that are not true. Hitler's belief in his invincibility was surely empowering, but it was false as events showed. Believing that he was invincible, he undertook to do what Napoleon failed to do, subjugate the Russians. Like Napoleon, he failed, and it was all down hill from there.
One can multiply such counterexamples ad libitum. Of course, in constructing such counterexamples, I am relying on the ordinary notion of truth, as old as Aristotle, that truth implies correspondence with reality, correspondence with the way things are independently of our beliefs, desires, and feelings.
Do I beg the question against Nietzsche by recurring to the old understanding of truth? If I do, then so does Nietzsche. For what is he doing with his dictum if not telling us how it is with truth? Is he not purporting to tell us the truth (in the old sense) about truth?
What Nietzsche wants to say is that there is no truth 'in itself'; there are only various interpretations from the varying perspectives of power-hungry individuals, interpretations that serve to enhance the power of these individuals. At bottom, the world is a vast constellation of ever-changing power-centers vying with each other for dominance, and what a particular power-center calls 'true' are merely those interpretations that enhance and preserve its power. For the essence of the world is not reason or order, but blind will, will to power.
But if that is the way it is, then there is an absolute truth after all. Nietzsche never extricates himself from this contradiction. And where he fails, his followers do not succeed. We are now, as a culture, living and dying in the shadow of this contradiction, reaping the consequences of the death of God and the death of truth.
Thus the Dustin Hoffman character in Hero. "There ain't no truth; all there is, is bullshit." (HT: Vlastimil V.) This very short video clip would be a good way to get your intro to phil students thinking about truth. Some questions/issues:
1. Is it true that there is no truth? If yes, there there is at least one truth. If no, then there is at least one truth. Therefore, necessarily, there is at least one truth. This simple reflection may seem boring and 'old hat' to you, but it can come as a revelation to a student.
2. What exactly is bullshit? Is a bullshit statement one that is false? Presumably every bullshit statement is a false statement, but not conversely. There are plenty of false statements that are not bullshit. So the property of being bullshit is not the property of being false. Nor is it the property of being meaningless, or the property of being self-contradictory.
3. In ordinary English, 'bullshit' is often used to describe a statement that is plainly false, or a statement that one believes is plainly false, or one that either is or is believed to be a lie. But none of these uses get at the 'essence' of bullshit.
. . . grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth — this indifference to how things really are — that I regard as of the essence of bullshit." (emphasis added)
Professor Frankfurt has a fine nose for the essence of bullshit. The bullshitter is one who 'doesn't give a shit' about the truth value of what he is saying. He doesn't care how things stand with reality. The liar, by contrast, must care: he must know (or at least attempt to know) how things are if he is to have any chance of deceiving his audience. Think of it this way: the bullshitter doesn't care whether he gets things right or gets them wrong; the liar cares to get them right so he can deceive you about them.
Now if the bullshitter does not care about truth, what does he care about? He cares about himself, about making a certain impression. His aim is to (mis)represent himself as knowing what he does not know or more than he actually knows. Frankfurt again:
. . . bullshitting involves a kind of bluff. It is closer to bluffing, surely than to telling a lie. But what is implied concerning its nature by the fact that it is more like the former than it is like the latter? Just what is the relevant difference here between a bluff and a lie? Lying and bluffing are both modes of misrepresentation or deception. Now the concept most central to the distinctive nature of a lie is that of falsity: the liar is essentially someone who deliberately promulgates a falsehood. Bluffing too is typically devoted to conveying something false. Unlike plain lying, however, it is more especially a matter not of falsity but of fakery. This is what accounts for its nearness to bullshit. For the essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony. In order to appreciate this distinction, one must recognize that a fake or a phony need not be in any respect (apart from authenticity itself) inferior to the real thing. What is not genuine need not also be defective in some other way. It may be, after all, an exact copy. What is wrong with a counterfeit is not what it is like, but how it was made. This points to a similar and fundamental aspect of the essential nature of bullshit: although it is produced without concern with the truth, it need not be false. The bullshitter is faking things. But this does not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong. (emphasis added)
If you are tempted by the thought that truth is relative you may want to consider whether it could be relatively true that there are beliefs, that different people have different beliefs about the same topic, that some hold that truth is non-relative, that others hold that being-true and being-believed-by-someone are one and the same property, and so on.
Here is a white cube. Call it 'Carl.' 'Carl is white' is true. But Carl, though white, might not have been white. (He would not have been white had I painted him red.) So 'Carl is white' is contingently true. There is no necessity that Carl be white. By contrast, 'Carl is three-dimensional' is necessarily true. It is metaphysically necessary that he be three-dimensional. Of course, the necessity here is conditional: given that Carl exists, he cannot fail to be three-dimensional. But Carl might not have existed. So Carl is subject to a two-fold contingency, one of existence and one of property-possession. It is contingent that Carl exists at all -- he is not a necessary being -- and with respect to some of his properties it is contingent that he has them. He exists contingently and he is white contingently. Or, using 'essence' and 'accident,' we can say: Carl is a contingent being that is accidentally white but essentially three-dimensional. By contrast, the number 7 is a necessary being that accidentally enjoys the distinction of being Poindexter's favorite number, but is essentially prime.
Some truths need truth-makers. 'Carl is white' is one of them. Grant me that some truths need truth-makers. My question is this: Can a trope do the truth-making job in a case like this or do we need a concrete fact?
Carl is white. That is given. Some say that (at least some of) the properties of particulars are themselves particulars (unrepeatables). Suppose you think along those lines. You accept that things have properties -- Carl, after all, is white extralinguistically -- and therefore that there are properties, but you deny that properties are universals. Your nominalism is moderate, not extreme. Suppose you think of Carl's whiteness as a trope or as an Husserlian moment or as an Aristotelian accident. (Don't worry about the differences among these items.) That is, you take the phrase 'Carl's whiteness' to refer, not to the fact of Carl's being white, which is a complex having Carl himself as a constituent, but to a simple item: a bit of whiteness. This item depends for its existence on Carl: it cannot exist unless Carl exists, and, being particular, it cannot exist in or at any other thing such as Max the white billiard ball. Nor is it transferrable: the whiteness of Carl cannot migrate to Max.
The truth-maker of a truth is an existing thing in virtue of whose existence the truth is true. Why can't Carl's whiteness trope be the truth-maker of 'Carl is white'? That very trope cannot exist unless it exists 'in' Carl as characterizing Carl. So the mere existence of that simple item suffices to make true the sentence 'Carl is white.' Or so it seems to some distinguished philosophers.
If this is right, then there is no need that the truth-maker of a truth have a sentence-like or proposition-like structure. (For if a proposition-like truth-maker is not needed in a case like that of Carl the cube, then presumably there is no case in which it is needed.) A simple unrepeatable bit of whiteness has no internal structure whatsoever, hence no internal proposition-like structure. A concrete fact or state of affairs, however, does: Carl's being white, for example, has at a bare minimum a subject constituent and a property constituent with the former instantiating the second.
My thesis is not that all truth-makers are proposition-like, but that some are. Presumably, the truth-maker of 'Carl is Carl' and 'Carl exists' is just Carl. But it seems to me that the truth-maker of 'Carl is white' cannot be the particular whiteness of Carl. In cases like this a simple item will not do the job. Why not?
1. If it is legitimate to demand an ontological ground of the truth of a truth-bearer, whether it be a sentence or a proposition or a judgment or whatever, then it is legitimate to demand an ontological ground of the contingency of the truth of a truth-bearer. If we have a right to ask: what makes 'Carl is white' true, then we also have a right to ask: What makes 'Carl is white' contingently or accidentally true as opposed to essentially true? Truth and contingent truth are not the same. And it is contingent truth that needs explaining. If a truth-bearer is necessarily true, it may be such in virtue of its logical form, or because it is true ex vi terminorum; in either case it is not clear that the is any need for a truth-maker. Does 'Bachelors are male' need a truth-maker? Not as far as I can see. But 'Tom is a bachelor' does. Unlike David Armstrong, I am not a truth-maker maximalist. See Truthmaker Maximalism Questioned.
2. The trope Carl's whiteness can perhaps explain why the sentence 'Carl is white' is true, but it cannot explain why it is accidentally true as opposed to essentially true. For the existence of the trope is consistent both with Carl's being essentially white and Carl's being accidentally white. If F is a trope, and F exists, then F is necessarily tied to a concrete individual (this is the case whether one is a trope bundle theorist or a trope substratum theorist like C. B. Martin), and so the concrete indiviual exists and is characterized by F. But this is so whether the concrete individual is essentially F or accidentally F.
3. To explain the contingency of a contingent truth it is not enough that the truth-maker be contingent; there must also be contingency within the truth-maker. Or so it seems to me. The fact theory can accommodate this requirement. For in the fact of Carl's being white, the fact itself is contingent, but so also is the connection between Carl and whiteness. Carl and whiteness can exist without the fact existing. (This assumes that whiteness is a universal) The contingency of the connection of the constituents within the fact accounts for the contingency of the truth of 'Carl is white.' But no trope is contingently connected to any concrete individual of which it is the trope.
Rioters, looters, and their enablers on the Left love to chant, "No justice, no peace!" In one sense of these words, I completely agree. There can be no durable and genuine peace without justice. But there can be no administration of justice without respect for truth. In the Ferguson affair, did justice demand the indictment of Officer Darren Wilson? No, because the evidence presented to the grand jury, which is as close as we are likely to come to the truth of what happened in the altercation between Wilson and Michael Brown, did not warrant Wilson's indictment.
But leftists, true to form, have chosen to ignore the truth. They value truth only if it fits their 'narrative.' According to the 'narrative,' white cops driven by racial animus routinely gun down unarmed blacks. That's a lie and a slander, and leftists know it. But playing the race card works for them politically which is why they play it. So their calls for justice are hollow and indeed absurd. There can be no justice without truth.
Mainstream media accounts of Michael Brown of Ferguson fame repeatedly refer to him as an "unarmed teenager." You may recall Rodney King and the repeated press references to him as a "motorist." Trayvon Martin, we were often told, was a "child." Was Brown an unarmed teenager, King a motorist, and Martin a child? Yes, but by the same token Hitler was a head of state and in that one respect no different from Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.
Here then is one of the more interesting modes of mendacity. One implements one's intention to deceive, not by stating a falsehood as is typical with lying, but by stating a truth, one that diverts attention from more important contextualizing truths. One exploits the belief that unarmed teenagers, motorists, and children are typically harmless in order to distract one's audience from such uncomfortable realities as that Brown attacked a police officer and tried to wrest his weapon away from him; King violated intersections at a high rate of speed, endangered his passenger, tried to outrun the police, and resisted a lawful arrest; Martin launched a vicious deadly attack on a man he believed to be unarmed after threatening him with death.
The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We need to hold journalists to that standard.
Here are four combinatorially possible ways truth and God could be related.
1. There is truth, but there is no God.
2. There is truth, and there is God, but God is not the ontological ground of truth.
3. There is truth, there is God, and truth ultimately depends on the existence of God.
4. There is no truth, and there is no God.
(4) is suggested by Nietzsche's perspectivism in tandem with his notion that the death of God brings in its train the death of truth. (4) is easily refuted. I will say no more about it in this entry. The other three (epistemic) possibilities are live options. My atheist friend Peter Lupu, at a conference at Glendale CC yesterday, espoused (1). He thinks, as I do, and as any intelligent person must, that truth is objective and absolute. We also agree on what we mean by 'God': roughly, the omniqualified supreme personal being of the Abrahamic religions.
Peter and I also agree that, in one sense of 'there is truth,' it means that there are truths, where a truth is a true truth-bearer. For Peter, and this is surely very plausible, truth-bearers are Fregean propositions. So for Peter there is a realm of objective truths, and one of the truths in this realm is that God does not exist. It obviously follows that for Peter what truth is, whether it is, and which truths there are, have nothing to do with God, with the sole exception of the truth that God does not exist and whatever it entails. There is a realm of Wahrheiten an sich, and they subsist in splendid Platonic independence of minds, their contents, and other concreta. Obviously, if there is no God, then he can play no role with respect to the existence of truth, the nature of truth, or which truths there are apart from the truth that he doesn't exist and its entailments.
As for (2), consider a theist who agrees with most of the foregoing but affirms that God exists. Then the dispute between this theist and Peter boils down to the question whether the Fregean proposition *God exists* -- which both admit exists in Frege's Third Reich (realm)-- is true or false. For a theist of this stripe, the existence of God has no bearing on whether truths exist or what the nature of truth is, but it does have a bearing on which truths there are. For example, given that God exists, then *God exists* is true, and if God creates a physical universe, then the truth of *A physical universe exists* depends on God and his free decisions.
I incline to position (3). The position I would defend is that if, per impossibile, God did not exist, then truth would not exist either. Why do I say per impossibile?
God has the Anselmian property: if he exists in one possible world, then he exists in all. Contrapositively, if God does not exist in all worlds, then he exists in no world and is thus impossible. So if God exists, then he exists necessarily. It is also easy to show that if some truths exist, then necessarily some truths exist. But despite the broadly logical equivalence of the existence of God and the existence of truths, despite the fact that in every possible world in which the one exists the other does too, and vice versa, there is an asymmetrical dependence relation of ontological grounding: the existence of truths depends on the existence of God, but not vice versa.
The theist above is committed to
A. Necessarily, truths exist if and only if God exists.
I affirm (A) but take it a step further:
B. Necessarily, truths exist because God exists.
The 'because' in (B) is not the causal 'because'; it expresses the asymmetrical relation of ontological (metaphysical) grounding. Anyone who balks at that relation does not understand what metaphysics is. (Some defense of the relation here.)
Peter must reject both of (A) and (B).
Now what reason might one have to think that (B) is true? Different arguments can be given. Here is one by Anderson and Welty together with my additions and criticism. The gist of the argument is as follows. There are necessary truths, among them, the laws of logic. A truth is a true proposition, a proposition that has the property of being true. But nothing can have a property without existing, and nothing can have a property (in this instance, being-true) necessarily unless the thing in question exists necessarily. Now propositions are intrinsically intentional. But only thoughts are intrinsically intentional. So propositions are thoughts. (Here is where one can reasonably object.) Necessarily true propositions are necessarily true and necessarily existent thoughts. Thoughts, however, are necessarily thoughts of a thinker (subjective genitive). No thinker, no thoughts. The thinker of necessarily existent thoughts must be a necessarily existent thinker. "And this all men call God." This is but a sloppy sketch; bang on the above link for a more rigorous treatment.
In my critical comments on the Anderson-Welty argument, I claim that the argument is rationally acceptable, but not rationally compelling. But then no argument for any substantive metaphysical thesis is rationally compelling. And this extends to all the arguments of atheists.
Where does this leave us? The discussion will continue through a ramifying series of arguments and counterarguments, but I won't be able rationally to compel Peter to abandon his atheism, nor will he be able rationally to compel me to abandon my theism. There will be no progress toward the ultimate resolution of the question, but there will be progress in the elaboration and clarification of our respective positions.
In the end one must decide what one will believe and how one will live. And we must tolerate those with opposing views -- but only if they requite tolerance with tolerance.
If you accept truthmakers, and two further principles, then you can maintain that a deductive argument is valid just in case the truthmakers of its premises suffice to make true its conclusion. Or as David Armstrong puts it in Sketch of a Systematic Metaphysics (Oxford UP, 2010), p. 66,
In a valid argument the truthmaker for the conclusion is contained in the truthmaker for the premises. The conclusion needs no extra truthmakers.
For this account of validity to work, two further principles are needed, Truthmaker Maximalism and the Entailment Principle.Truthmaker Maximalism is the thesis that every truth has a truthmaker. Although I find the basic truthmaker intuition well-nigh irresistible, I have difficulty with the notion that every truth has a truthmaker. Thus I question Truthmaker Maximalism. (The hyperlinked entry sports a fine photo of Peter L.)
Armstrong, on the other hand, thinks that "Maximalism flows from the idea of correspondence and I am not willing to give up on the idea that correspondence with reality is necessary for any truth." (63) Well, every cygnet is a swan. Must there be something extramental and extralinguistic to make this analytic truth true? And let's not forget that Armstrong has no truck with so-called abstract objects. His brand of naturalism excludes them. So he can't say that there are the quasi-Platonic properties being a cygnet and being a swan with the first entailing the second, and that this entailment relation is the truthmaker of 'Every cygnet is a swan.'
The Entailment Principle runs as follows:
Suppose that a true proposition p entails a proposition q. By truthmaker Maximalism p has a truthmaker. According to the Entailment Principle, it follows that this truthmaker for p is also a truthmaker for q. [. . .] Note that this must be an entailment. If all that is true is that p --> q, the so-called material conditional, then this result does not follow.
I would accept a restricted Entailment Prinicple that does not presuppose Maximalism. To wit, if a proposition p has a truthmaker T, and p entails a proposition q, then T is also a truthmaker for q. For example, if Achilles' running is the truthmaker of 'Achilles is running,' then, given that the proposition expressed by this sentence entails the proposition expressed by 'Achilles is on his feet,' Achilles' running is also the truthmaker of the proposition expressed by 'Achilles is on his feet.'
Cognitive Dissonance Theory, developed by Leon Festinger (1957), is concerned with the relationships among cognitions. A cognition, for the purpose of this theory, may be thought of as a ³piece of knowledge.² The knowledge may be about an attitude, an emotion, a behavior, a value, and so on. For example, the knowledge that you like the color red is a cognition; the knowledge that you caught a touchdown pass is a cognition; the knowledge that the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation is a cognition. People hold a multitude of cognitions simultaneously, and these cognitions form irrelevant, consonant or dissonant relationships with one another.
[. . .]
Two cognitions are said to be dissonant if one cognition follows from the opposite of another. What happens to people when they discover dissonant cognitions? The answer to this question forms the basic postulate of Festinger¹s theory. A person who has dissonant or discrepant cognitions is said to be in a state of psychological dissonance, which is experienced as unpleasant psychological tension. This tension state has drivelike properties that are much like those of hunger and thirst. When a person has been deprived of food for several hours, he/she experiences unpleasant tension and is driven to reduce the unpleasant tension state that results. Reducing the psychological sate of dissonance is not as simple as eating or drinking however.
The above, taken strictly and literally, is incoherent. We are first told that a cognition is a bit of knowledge, and then in the second quoted paragraph that (in effect) some cognitions are dissonant, and that if one cognition follows from the opposite of another, then the two are dissonant. But surely it is logically impossible that any two bits of knowledge, K1 and K2, be such that K1 entails the negation of K2, or vice versa. Why? Because every cognition is true -- there cannot be false knowledge -- and no two truths are such that one follows from the opposite of the other.
The author is embracing an inconsistent pentad:
1. Every cognition is a bit of knowledge.
2. Every bit of knowledge is true.
3. Some, at least two, cognitions are dissonant.
4. If one cognition follows from the opposite (the negation) of another, then the two are dissonant.
5. It is logically impossible that two truths be such that one follows from the negation of the other: if a cognition is true, then its negation is false, and no falsehood follows from a truth.
The point, obviously, is that while beliefs can be dissonant, cognitions cannot be. There simply is no such thing as cognitive dissonance. What there is is doxastic dissonance.
"What a pedant you are! Surely what the psychologists mean is what you call doxastic dissonance."
Then they should say what they mean. Language matters. Confusing belief and knowledge and truth and related notions can lead to serious and indeed pernicious errors. A good deal of contemporary relativism is sired by a failure to make such distinctions.
I am on the hunt for a deductive argument that is valid in point of logical form and that takes us from a premise set all of whose members are purely factual to a categorically (as opposed to hypothetically or conditionally) normative conclusion. Tully ( = Cicero?) the Commenter offered an argument that I make explicit as follows:
1. It is snowing 2. For any proposition p, if p, then it is true that p. Therefore 3. If it is snowing, then it is true that it is snowing. (2, UI) Therefore 4. It is true that it is snowing. (1, 3 MP) 5. For any p, if p is true, then one ought to believe that p. Therefore 6. If it is true that it is snowing, then one ought to believe that it is snowing. (5, UI) Therefore 7. One ought to believe that it is snowing. (4, 6 MP)
Does this argument do the trick? Well, it is plainly valid. I rigged it that way! Is the conclusion categorically normative? Yes indeed. Are all of the premises purely factual? Here is the rub. (5) is a normative proposition. And so the argument begs the question at line (5). Indeed, if one antecedently accepts (5), one can spare oneself the rest of the pedantic rigmarole.
But I have a second objection. Even if the move from 'is' to 'ought' internal to (5) is logically kosher, (5) is false. (5) says that whatever is true is such that one ought to believe it. But surely no finite agent stands under an obligation to believe every true proposition. There are just too many of them.
If one ought to do X, then (i) it is possible that one do X, and (ii) one is free both to do X and to refrain from doing X. But it is not possible that I believe or accept every true proposition. Therefore, it is not the case that I (or anyone) ought to believe every true proposition. (One can of course question whether believings are voluntary doings under the control of the will, and (surprise!) one can question that questioning. See my Against William Alston Against Doxastic Voluntarism.)
Still and all, truth does seem to be a normative notion. (5) doesn't capture the notion. What about:
5*. For any p, if p is true, then p ought to be believed by anyone who considers it.
The idea here is that, whether or not there are any finite minds on the scene, every true proposition qua true has the intrinsic deontic property of being such that it ought to be believed. I say 'intrinsic' because true propositions have the deontic property in question whether or not they stand in relation to actual finite minds.
But of course plugging (5*) into the above argument does not diminish the argument's circularity.
Here is a possible view, and it may be what Tully is getting at. Truth is indissolubly both factual and normative. To say of a proposition that it is true is to describe how it stands in relation to reality: it represents a chunk of reality as it is. But it is also to say that the proposition qua true functions as a norm relative to our belief states. The truth is something we ought to pursue. It is something we ought doxastically to align ourselves with.
This is murky, but if something like this is the case, then one can validly move from
p is true
p ought to be believed by anyone who considers it.
The move, however, would not be from a purely factual premise to a categorically normative conclusion. My demand for a valid instance of such a move might be rejected as an impossible demand. I might be told that there are no purely factual premises and that if, per impossible, there were some, then of course nothing normative could be extracted from them.
The discussion of lying a few weeks ago proved fruitful. But lying is only one way to be untruthful. A full understanding of lying is possible only by comparison with, and contrast to, other forms of untruthfulness or mendacity. How many different forms are there? This post takes a stab at cataloging the forms. Some are special cases of others. The members of my elite commentariat will no doubt spot one or more of the following: incompleteness, redundancy, infelicity, ignorance of extant literature on the topic, and perhaps even utter wongheadedness, In which case I invite them to help me think better and deeper about this cluster of topics.
1. Lying proper. A paradigm case of a lie is a false statement made by a person with the intention of deceiving his audience, in the case of a spoken lie, or his readers in the case of a written lie. This is essentially the dictionary definition. I don't deny that there are reasonable objections one can make to it, some of which we have canvassed. We will come back to lying, but first let's get some other related phenonena under our logical microscopes.
2. Fibs. These are lies about inconsequential matters. Obama's recent brazen lies cannot therefore be correctly described as fibs. Every fib is a lie, but not every lie is a fib. Suppose you are a very wealthy, very absent-minded, and a very generous fellow. Suppose you loaned Tom $100 a few weeks ago but then couldn't remember whether it was $100 you loaned or $10. Tom gives $10 to Phil to give to you. Tom states to Phil, falsely, that $10 is what he (Tom) owes you. Tom's lie to Phil is a fib because rooking you out of $90 is an inconsequential matter, moneybags that you are.
3. White lies. A white lie might be defined as a false statement made with the intention to deceive, but without the intention to harm. A white lie would then be an innocuously deceptive false statement. Suppose I know Jane to be 70 years old, but she does not know that I know this. She asks me how old I think she is. I say , "60." I have made statement that I know to be false with the intention to deceive, but far from harming the addressee, I have made her feel good.
On this analysis, white lies are a species of lies, as are 'black' or malicious lies, and 'white' is a specifying adjective. But suppose you believe, not implausibly, that lying is analytically wrong, i.e., that moral wrongness is included in the concept of lying in the way moral wrongness is included in the concept of murder. If you believe this, then a white lie is not a lie, and 'white' is an alienans adjective. For then lying is necessarily wrong and white lies are impossible.
If a white lie is not a lie, it is still a form of untruthfulness.
3. Subornation of lying. It is one thing to lie, quite another to persuade another to lie. One can persuade another to lie without lying oneself. But if one does this one adds to the untruthfulness in the world. So subornation of lying is a type of untruthfulness.
4. Slander. I should think that every slanderous statement, whether oral or written, is a lie, but not conversely. So slandering is a species of lying. To slander a person is to make one or more false statements about the person with (i) the intention of deceiving the audience, and (ii) the intention of damaging the person's reputation or credibility.
One can lie about nonpersons. Obama's recent brazen lies are about the content of the so-called Affordable Care Act. But it seems that it is built into the concept of slander that if a person slanders x, then x is a person. But this is not perfectly obvious. Liberals slander conservatives when they call us racists, but do they slander our country when that call it institutionally racist?
Monokroussos and Lupu argued that a statement needn't be false to be a lie; it suffices for a statement to be a lie that it be believed by its maker to be false (and made with the intention to deceive). Well, what should we say about damaging statements that are true?
Suppose I find out that a neighbor is a registered sex offender. If I pass on this information with the intention of damaging the reputation of my neighbor, I have not slandered him. I have spoken the truth. In Catholic moral theology this is called detraction. The distinction between slander or calumny and detraction is an important one, but we needn't go further into this because detraction, though it is a form of maliciousness, is not a form of untruthfulness.
5. Malicious gossip. This may be distinct from both slander and detraction. Slander is false and damaging while detraction is true and damaging. Malicious gossip is the repetition of statements damaging to a person's reputation when the person who repeats them does not know or have good reason to believe that they are either true or false.
There is also a distinction among (i) originating a damaging statement, (ii) repeating a damaging statement, and (iii) originating a damaging statement while pretending to be merely repeating it.
6. Insincere promises. An insincere or false promise is one made by a person who has no intention of keeping it. As I have already argued in detail, promises, insincere or not, are not lies. Obama made no false promises; he lied about the extant content of the Obamacare legislation. But insincere promising is a form of untruthfulness insofar as it involves deceiving the addressee of the promise as to one's intentions with respect to one's future actions.
7. Bullshitting. Professor Frankfurt has expatiated rather fully on this topic. The bullshitter is one who 'doesn't give a shit' about the truth value of what he is saying. He doesn't care how things stand with reality. The liar, by contrast, must care: he must know (or at least attempt to know) how things are if he is to have any chance of deceiving his audience. Think of it this way: the bullshitter doesn't care whether he gets things right or gets them wrong; the liar cares to get them right so he can deceive you about them. More here.
8. Mixing untruths with truths. This is the sort of untruthfulness that results from failing to tell nothing but the truth.
9. Evasion. Refusing to answer questions because one doesn not want the whole truth known. Evasion is a form of untruthfulness that does not involve the making of false statements, but rather the failing to make true statements.
10. Linguistic hijacking and verbal obfuscation. A specialty of liberals. For example, the coining of question-begging epithets such as 'homophobia' and 'Islamophobia.' Orwellianisms: bigger government is smaller government; welfare dependency is self-reliance. More examples in Language Matters category.
11. Hypocrisy. Roughly, the duplicity of saying one thing and doing another. See Hypocrisy category for details.
13. Exaggeration. Suppose I want to emphasize the primacy of practice over doctrine in religion. I say, "Religion is practice, not doctrine." What I say is false, and in certain sense irresponsible, but not a lie. Here are posts on exaggeration.
14. Understatement. "Thousands of Jews were gassed at Auschwitz." This is not false, but by understating the number murdered by the Nazis it aids and abets untruthfulness.
I dedicate this, and all subsequent posts on lying and the several senses of 'is,' to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama who, by their brazen mendacity, have inadvertently fueled the fires of logico-linguistic inquiry.
Tony Hanson e-mails and I comment in blue:
I hope things are well for you. Sorry for the haste of this message but time is a commodity of which lowly adjuncts have little.
Your posts on lying are interesting. You hint at this in one of your posts but I have not seen anyone raise questions about whether a falsehood is a necessary condition for lying. Further evidence perhaps of the family resemblance approach:
Shady, Bonnie and Clyde rob a bank. They stash the loot under the wood pile at the hideout. A few days later Clyde notices the money is gone. Shady and Bonnie, in a conspiracy to take the loot for themselves, bury it under the oak tree at the cemetery. Clyde drags Shady out of the house and demands to know where the money is. In an attempt to deceive Clyde, he says the money is buried under the bridge by the river. Clyde drags Shady down to the bridge and to Shady's chagrin there is the loot. (Bonnie had moved the loot from the oak tree to the bridge in attempt to have it for herself).
So Shady's statement that the loot was at the bridge was true, though he did attempt to deceive. Did Shady lie or not?
Is a false statement necessary [for a lie] or just the belief that a statement is false?
BV: Counterexamples to the dictionary definition similar to Hanson's were proposed by Monokroussos and Lupu in the discussion threads and are familiar from the literature. Here is the dictionary definition (that I was defending):
D1. To lie =df to make a false statement with the intention to deceive.
Given the Shady example, I think we have three options:
A. Take it as a clear case of lying and reject or revise the dictionary definition. B. Hold fast to (D1) and maintain that Shady did not lie. C. Maintain that there is no one univocal sense of 'lie' in English but rather a family of related senses at the center of which is the paradigmatic sense, a sense captured by (D1).
Here is a revision:
D2. To lie =df to make an untruthful statement with the intention to deceive.
An untruthful statement is one that is believed to be false by the maker of the statement and hence can be either true or false.
Here is a problem with (D2). Jones is under audit by the IRS. The high number of personal exemptions he claimed flagged him for audit. Jones, who has no children, say to an IRS agent, intending to deceive him, "All of my children live at home." Since Jones has no children, he does not believe it to be false or true that they live at home. And yet Jones is presumably lying to the IRS agent. (Example via Chisholm ia SEP article.)
But back to our metaphilosophical quandary. I suspect that each of (A)-(C) leads to trouble, but (C) leads to less trouble. Philosophers have proposed a number of definitions, see the SEP article on lying and deception, but no consensus has been reached. This does not prove that no consensus can be reached or that the quest for a definition must end in failure. But it is pretty good evidence for this conclusion.
As for the (B) approach, I could just insist that (D1) captures the essence of lying. But lacking as I do special access to Plato's topos ouranos, that insistence would smack of arbitrarity.
So what exactly is wrong with the (C) approach? Peter Lupu in conversation suggested that this leads to the abandoning of the ancient Platonic project of seeking the natures of justice, knowledge, virtue, and so on. But maybe not. If some concepts are family-resemblance concepts, it doesn't follow that all are. It could be that there are incorrect and correct (literal) uses of 'lies' and cognates, but that the correct uses are not unified by one univocal sense, but form a resemblance class. Thus there would be no strict One to their Many. But it would not follow that there are no strict ones-in-manys or ones-over-manys.
Consider this list:
lie lie lie.
How many words? One or three? Can't be both. Make a distinction. There are three tokens of the same type. The type is a one-in-many. We could also say that if each token is used in the (D1)-sense, there is exactly one sense common to all three uses.
You host my favorite blog on the internet. I can’t believe I didn’t find out about it until just a few months ago. May you blog forever.
Here’s a counterexample to your latest definition which still includes an “intention to deceive”, i.e. here is a case of a lie where there is no intention to deceive:
Larry is on trial for felonious assault (he punched his grandma in the face repeatedly because she turned the channel when Chris Matthews came on). His whole family was there. There was blood found on him when the cops arrived that was his grandma’s, and there was no blood found on anyone else. His grandma and his own mother testify in court against him, weeping because Larry has been such a disappointment. There is no evidence presented for the side that he did not do it. His lawyer has presented absolutely no evidence in his favor. EVERYONE in the courtroom knows that he did it. Moreover (and more importantly), he KNOWS that they know that he did it (the jurors repeatedly shake their heads in disgust every time he looks at them).
But Larry is corrupt to the core, lacking any remorse. In the sentencing phase, as a last act in defiance of his family, the court, and his hometown, he coldly looks the jurors square in the eyes and says, “I did not do it.”
Very interesting case. It puts me in mind of O. J. Simpson and Bill Clinton. When Clinton told his famous lie, (almost) everybody knew he was lying, and Bubba knew that (almost) everybody knew he was lying. So when he made his false statement ("I did not have sex with that woman") he knew that hardly anyone would be deceived by what he said. I think Borland would say about this actual case what he said about his hypothetical one, namely, that the agent lied shamelessly but without any intention to deceive. If so, then any definition of lying that includes as a necessary condition the intention to deceive is mistaken.
There are at least thee ways of responding to this putative counterexample.
A. Run the argument in reverse. Borland's argument is that Larry lied but had no intention to deceive his audience; therefore, an intention to deceive is not a necessary condition of a statement's being a lie. But the argument can be run in reverse with no breach of logical propriety: An intention to deceive is a necessary condition of a statement's being a lie; Larry had no intention to deceive; ergo, Larry did not lie.
Or as we say in the trade, "One man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens."
On this approach, Tully's example is not a counterexample to my definition but merely an illustration of a phenomenon like lying but distinct from it.
B. A second approach is to question Tully's assumption that there is no intention to deceive where there is no possibility of deception. Is the belief that it is possible for me to deceive you a necessary condition of my intending to deceive you? Or can I intend to deceive you while knowing that it is not possible to deceive you?
It seems to me that, necessarily, if an an agent A intends to do X, then A believes that it is possible for A to do X. The following, though not narrowly-logically contradictory, strikes me as broadly-logically contradictory: I fully intend to complete the 2014 Lost Dutchman marathon in under three hours but I know that this is impossible for me.
Therefore, necessarily, if a person intends to deceive his audience about his or that , then he believes that it is possible for him to deceive his audience about this or that.
The (B) response to Borland's putative counterexample, therefore, does not look promising.
C. On a third approach we abandon the attempt to capture in a definition the essence of lying. We treat lying as a family-resemblance concept in roughly Wittgenstein's sense. Accordingly, there is no one essence specifiable by the laying down of necessary and sufficient conditions that all and only lies have in common.
Or perhaps I should put the point like this. There are correct uses of 'lie' and cognates in English and incorrect uses. But there is no one univocal sense shared by all the correct uses. So if a person uses 'lie' interchangeably with 'false statement,' then he uses 'lie' incorrectly. But a use of 'lie' that does not involve the intention to deceive is correct as well as a use that does involve the intention to deceive. And there is a correct use that requires that a lie be a false statement and a correct use that allows a lie to be a true statement.
But I should think that the paradigm cases of lying all involve the intention to deceive and the notion that a lie is a false statement and not merely a statement believed to be false by its producer.
I think the best response to Tully's counterexample is (C). What he has shown is that there is a correct use of 'lie' in situations in which there is no intention to deceive, and no deception either. But this use of 'lie' is non-paradigmatic and peripheral to the main way 'lie' is used in English which (dare I say it?) is my way.
A lie is a false statement made with the intention to deceive.
I wonder if more should be said about what counts as a statement. You leave open the possibility that there are other ways of tokening statement-types than uttering them when you say a statement type isn’t a lie until someone “utters or otherwise tokens the type.” Do you have in mind other ways to token statements that aren’t utterances?
BV: Well, there are written statements in addition to spoken statements. A written statement is not an utterance but it tokens a statement type. Obama has been caught numerous times lying via speech acts about the content of the PPACA. But suppose he publishes a written statement that includes the sentence, "After the PPACA passes, you will be able to keep your health plan and your doctor if you so desire." That sentence is a token of a statement type. It too would be a lie. Every lie is a statement, i.e., a stating, but not every statement is a spoken statement.
If so, we need to see if they, too, count as lies on your proposal (i.e., are there forms of deception that token statements without uttering them?). If a businessman leaves his home porch light on as he leaves for vacation, is he tokening the statement “someone is home”? Or does a football player token the statement “I’m going right” when he jukes right but goes left? If so, we have false statements being made with the intention to deceive. But it would be counterintuitive to say the business man and the football player here are lying.
BV: The question Chad is raising now is whether a statement type can be tokened by a non-sentential entity. Can one make a statement without speaking or writing or displaying (as on a sign) a declarative sentence? I would say no. A statement type is a linguistic entity the tokens of which must themselves be linguistic entities. The statement type *Obama is a liar* is tokened by my stating that he is a liar, i.e., by my assertive utterance of the sentence 'Obama is a liar.' But it can also be tokened by my writing the sentence, 'Obama is a liar.'
Note that not every utterance of a sentence is an assertive utterance. I might utter the sentence 'Obama is a liar' in oratio obliqua, or in a language class to illustrate a sentence in the indicative mood. And the same holds for writing a sentence. If you ask me for an example of an English sentence, I might write on the black board, 'Obama is a liar.' But I haven't thereby made a statement.
Or here’s a possible counterexample that avoids the non-utterance category. Suppose the CIA discovers that Al-Qaida has tapped the phone line on which the president’s whereabouts are discussed in an effort to plan an attack on his life. Knowing this, a CIA agent says over the line, knowing the terrorists are listening, that the president will be at the Washington Memorial at 4pm, when in fact he will be safe at camp David at that time. Has the CIA agent lied to the terrorists? It doesn’t seem to me that he has; not just because the deception here is not wrong, but because it just doesn’t seem like a lie period.
BV: This is an interesting example that Chad intends as a counterexample to my above definition. I utter a sentence that I know to be false with the intention of deceiving any terrorists who might be listening, without knowing whether any terrorists are listening. According to Chad, I have made a false statement with the intention to deceive, but I have not lied. Chad's point, I take it, is that a lie necessarily involves an interpersonal transaction in which the maker of the false statement knows that the adressee is in receipt of it. If that is Chad's point, then I can accommodate it by modifying my definition:
A lie is a false statement made by a person P and addressed to another person Q or a group of other persons Q1, Q2, . . . Qn, Qn+1, . . . such that (i) Q or some of the Qs are in receipt of P's statement and are known by P to be in receipt of it, and (ii) P's statement is made with the intention to deceive Q or some of the Qs.
But I should say that I do think all lies are morally blameworthy. I see here a distinction similar to that between murder and killing. All murder is morally blameworthy and also killing, but not all killing is murder. Similarly, all lies are morally blameworthy and deceptive, but not all deceptions are lies. So I’m inclined to see your definition as capturing only a necessary condition of lies. I have some ideas about what sufficient conditions are needed to get a better definition, but I’ve said enough for now. What do you think?
BV: Murder, by definition, is wrongful killing, whereas killings (of human beings) are some of them morally permissible, some of them morally impermissible, and some of them -- I would argue -- moral obligatory. It seems that Chad wants to pack moral wrongness into the concept of lying, so that the following is an analytic proposition: *Lying is wrongful intentional deception.* That would give him a reason to deny that the terrorist example is an example of lying. For while there is deception, and it is intentional, it is not wrongful intentional deception.
Suppose the SS are at my door looking for Jews. I state falsely that there are no Jews in my house. On Chad's analysis I have not lied because my action is morally praiseworthy, or at least not morally wrong. On my view, I have lied, but my lie is morally justifiable. But then moral wrongness cannot be packed into the concept of lying. I agree that lying, in most cases, is wrong. But I don't see the connection between lying and wrongness as analytic.
Suppose once again that the SS are at my door looking for Jews. I state what I believe to be false, namely, that there are no Jews present. But it turns out that, unbeknownst to me, what I state is true. So I make a true statement with the intention to deceive. Monokroussos in an earlier thread took this to show that a lie need not be a false statement. What's necessary is only that the statement be believed to be false by its utterer. I wonder what Chad would say about this case.
. . . the terms "calculated lie," "purposeful lie," "intentional lie," and "knowing
lie" (while referring to Barack Obama's claim that Americans could, if they so
chose, keep their insurance policy and their doctor). Calculation, purpose,
intention, and knowledge are built into the concept of a lie, so qualifying the
term "lie" in these ways is redundant and has the unfortunate effect of draining
the word "lie" of its meaning. Limbaugh uses "lie" as though it meant
"falsehood." It means far more than "falsehood." A lie is a very special
Right. I will now take the ball and run with it.
Every lie is a false statement, but not every false statement is a lie. A lie is a false statement made with the intention to deceive. Since intention to deceive is included within the concept lie, 'intentional lie' and its cousins are pleonastic. Someone who speaks of an intentional lie is treating the species as if it were a genus. 'Intentional lie' is like 'true fact.' Use of these pleonasms marks one as uneducated or worse.
There are two related mistakes one must avoid. The first is the redundancy mistake just mentioned. The other is the use of 'lie' to mean a false statement. The temptation to do so is strong indeed. Many of us are inclined to think our opponents not just wrong, but culpably wrong: you lied! Michael Medved speaks irresponsibly of ten big lies about America. But none of his ten falsehoods -- and I agree with him that they are all of them falsehoods -- is properly describable as a lie.
Here is one: "The two-party system is broken, and we urgently need a viable third party."
Like Medved, I consider that to be false. But is it a lie? Do the people who believe the quoted sentence know the truth but are out to deceive us? Of course not. I met a woman once who claimed that the moon was its own source of light. Was she lying? She uttered a falsehood, which is not the same as lying. Once I jokingly said to my wife that she was lying when she said that the room was cold. "You lie!" First of all, there is no fact of the matter as to whether or not the room is cold. Her cold is my hot. So what's to lie about? The only fact of the matter in the vicinity is wifey's feeling cold.
Jethro claims that the bottle is half-empty while Earl maintains that it is half-full. Is one of these yahoos lying? Here there is a fact of the matter but one describable in two equivalent ways.
If a person affirms (denies) the existence of God is the person lying? Here there is a fact of the matter but one hard to make out. It is rational to be a theist, but also rational to be an atheist. So perhaps my definition needs augmenting:
A lie is a false statement made with the intention to deceive about a definite matter of fact about which knowledge is possible.
To lie is to misrepresent willfully the way things are when the way things are is ascertainable with a fairly high degree of certainty. For example, the way things are with respect to the content of PPACA is easily ascertained: you just read the law. There is a matter of fact as to what is stated in the law and that fact is easily established.
Suppose you and I are discussing some very difficult question in mathematics or metaphysics or cosmology. I assert that p while you assert that not-p. It follows that one of us is wrong. But it does not follow that one of us is lying.
Suppose that A and B each have the intention to deceive the other. A asserts that p, while B asserts its negation. It is a very interesting question whether both are lying. One of them is lying, for at least one of them is saying something false with the intention to deceive. But are both lying? Is the intention to deceive sufficient for lying, or must the content asserted also be false?
Here is a further nuance that will bore some of you. The type-token distinction comes into play. "The two-party system is broken, and we urgently need a viable third party" is not a statement but a statement type. You don't get a statement until some definite person utters or otherwise tokens the type. (To token a type is to produce a token of the type.) But no statement-type can be a lie. For statement-types float free of language users, and to have a statement, an occurrent stating, a particular speaker must use the statement-type -- must token the type -- on a particular occasion. This is another reason to deny that Medved's ten big falsehoods are lies. Note that a falsehood is false whether or not anyone utters or otherwise tokens a sentence that expresses it. But a lie is not a lie whether or not anyone utters or otherwise tokens the sentence that expresses it.
It is also worth observing that the concept lie as I have defined it is not a normative concept. The definition merely tells us what a lie is. A lie is a statement made with the intention to deceive. But it is a further question whether deception is morally impermissible. And if it is, is it so in all cases or only in some?
Is a liar one who lies? No. One can lie without being a liar just as one can get drunk without being a drunkard. A liar is one who habitually lies. Does it suffice for a person to be a liar that he lie habitually about just one topic, or must he lie habitually about more than one topic? Interesting question.
Obama lied repeatedly when he said that under his collectivist scheme every one would get to keep his health plan if he so desired. May we infer that Obama is a liar? Or to judge him to be a liar must we also adduce his other (repeated) lies?
And then there is the epistemology of the situation. How do I know that Obama lied when he made his now-famous asseveration? I didn't peer into his soul. I know, or at least I have good reasons for believing that he lied, because he knows the subject-matter of his false statement and he had a very powerful motive for misrepresenting said subject-matter. Had he spoken the truth, it is a very good bet that the PPACA would not have passed and become law.
So plenty of evidence points in the direction of his being a damned liar.
Addendum 3 November
Dennis Monokroussos comments:
Apropos your post “On Misusing the Word ‘Lie’”, it would be better to say that a lie is (among other things) a statement its utterer believes to be false. Also, similarly, your augmented definition seems to require the same qualification; to wit, that it’s about something believed to be “a definite matter of fact about which knowledge is possible”.
My initial definition was this
1. A lie is a false statement made with the intention to deceive. (That is to be understood as a biconditional: for any x, x is a lie iff x is a statement made with the intention to deceive.)
2. A lie is a statement believed by its utterer to be false that is made with the intention to deceive.
(2), however, allows for the possibility of a true lie. For suppose a statement is made with the intention to deceive but is falsely believed by the utterer to be false. In such a situation the utterer says something true with the intention to deceive. Has he lied?
Well, what are we trying to do here? If we are trying to capture the ordinary language meaning of 'lie' and cognates, then I am inclined to say that (2) fails. For in ordinary English, a lie is a falsehood, though not every falsehood is a lie. I am making an empirical claim about English as she is spoken by people like me and Monokroussos (educated white male Americans not too far apart in age). People like us do not use 'lie' in such a way that it is sufficient for x to be a lie that x be made with the intention to deceive.
Having made an empirical claim, I am open to empirical refutation by a linguist.
If, on the other hand, we are trying to elaborate a systematic theory of lying, bullshitting and related truth-sensitive phenomena, a project that involves replacing the ordinary language concept with a supposedly better one, then perhaps (2) is acceptable.
But now we are headed for the metaphilosophical stratosphere. What is the role of ordinary language analysis in philosophical theorizing? Ought philosophy be theoretical and explanatory at all? Should it perhaps content itself with description? What is analysis anyway? And what about the paradox of analysis? And so on and so forth.
Not content to say what is true, people exaggerate thereby turning the true into the false. This post analyzes a particular type of exaggeration which is illustrated by something Dennis Prager said on his radio show one morning: "Happiness is a moral obligation, not a psychological state." Since I agree that we have a moral obligation to try to be happy, I won't say anything more about the first half of Prager's assertion. What I object to is the second half. Why does he say something that is plainly false? What we have here is a form of exaggeration. Prager wants to convey to us something that he, rightly, believes is important, namely, that we ought to strive to be happy, both for our own benefit and for the benefit of others. In order to emphasize the point, to throw it into relief as it were, he follows it up with another assertion whch is false, namely, that happiness is not a psychological state. Obviously, if I am happy, I am in a psychological state. What interests me is the pattern or form of this type of exaggeration which is this:
To emphasize that a is F, say 'a is F but not G' even though a is G.
Three examples from sober philosophers.
Martin Buber, who is certainly no Frenchman, writes that "a melody is not composed of tones, nor a verse of words. . ." (I and Thou, p. 59) His point is that a melody cannot be reduced to its individual notes, nor a verse to its constituent words. But he expresses this truth in a way that makes it absurdly false. A melody without tones would be no melody at all. The litterateur exaggerates for literary effect, but Buber is no mere litterateur. So what is going on?
For a second example, consider Martin Heidegger. Somewhere in Sein und Zeit he writes that Das Dasein ist nie vorhanden. The human being is never present-at-hand. This is obviously false in that the human being has a body which is present-at-hand in nature as surely as any animal or stone. What he is driving at is the truth -- or at least the plausibility -- that the human being enjoys a special mode of Being, Existenz, that is radically unlike the Vorhandenheit of the mere thing in nature and the Zuhandenheit of the tool. So why doesn't he speak the truth, and nothing but the truth, without exaggerating?
And then there is Ludwig Wittgenstein, who, according to J. N. Findlay, "took every wrong turn a philosopher can take." (Personal communication) Wittgenstein's fideism involves such absurd exaggerations as that religions imply no theoretical views. But when a Christian, reciting the Apostle's Creed, says "I believe in God the Father, almighty creator of heaven and earth . . ." he commits himself thereby to the metaphysical view that heaven and earth have a certain ontological status, namely, that of being creatures.
Of course, the Christian is doing more than this: his 'I believe' expresses trust in God as a person and not mere belief that certain propositions are true. But to deny that there is any propositional content to his belief would be ludicrous. And yet that appears to be what Wittgenstein is doing.
While listening the other day to Barack Obama shuck and jive about fiscal responsiblity, shamelessly posturing as if he and not his Republican opponents is the fiscally responsible one, when he is in truth the apotheosis or, if you prefer, the Platonic Form of fiscal irresponsibility, I realized just how uncommonly good our POMO Prez is at bullshitting. He is indeed a consummate bullshitter. But what is it to bullshit, exactly? When is a statement bullshit?
. . . grounded neither in a
belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true.
It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth — this
indifference to how things really are — that I regard as of the essence of
bullshit." (emphasis added)
Professor Frankfurt has a fine nose for the essence of bullshit. The bullshitter is one who 'doesn't give a shit' about the truth
value of what he is saying. He doesn't care how things stand with reality. The
liar, by contrast, must care: he must know (or at least attempt to know) how
things are if he is to have any chance of deceiving his audience. Think of it
this way: the bullshitter doesn't care whether he gets things right or gets them
wrong; the liar cares to get them right so he can deceive you about
the bullshitter does not care about truth, what does he care about? He care
about himself, about making a certain impression. His aim is to (mis)represent
himself as knowing what he does not know or more than he actually knows.
. . . bullshitting involves a
kind of bluff. It is closer to bluffing, surely than to telling a lie. But what
is implied concerning its nature by the fact that it is more like the former
than it is like the latter? Just what is the relevant difference here between a
bluff and a lie? Lying and bluffing are both modes of misrepresentation or
deception. Now the concept most central to the distinctive nature of a lie is
that of falsity: the liar is essentially someone who deliberately promulgates a
falsehood. Bluffing too is typically devoted to conveying something false.
Unlike plain lying, however, it is more especially a matter not of falsity but
of fakery. This is what accounts for its nearness to bullshit. For the
essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony. In
order to appreciate this distinction, one must recognize that a fake or a phony
need not be in any respect (apart from authenticity itself) inferior to the real
thing. What is not genuine need not also be defective in some other way. It may
be, after all, an exact copy. What is wrong with a counterfeit is not what it is
like, but how it was made. This points to a similar and fundamental aspect of
the essential nature of bullshit: although it is produced without concern with
the truth, it need not be false. The bullshitter is faking things. But this does
not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong. (emphasis
Now what does this have to do with Obama? As Frankfurt points out, the essence of bullshit is a lack of concern for truth. But truth and consistency are closely related notions. Two statements are consistent (inconsistent) just in case they can (cannot) both be true. Now I do not know if there are any cases of Obama contradicting himself synchronically (at a time), but there are plenty of examples of him contradicting himself diachronically. He said things as a senator the opposite of which he says now. Victor Davis Hanson supplies numerous examples in Obama as Chaos:
. . . when the president takes up a line of argument against his opponents, it cannot really be taken seriously — not just because it is usually not factual, but also because it always contradicts positions that Obama himself has taken earlier or things he has previously asserted. Whom to believe — Obama 1.0, Obama 2.0, or Obama 3.0?
When the president derides the idea of shutting down the government over the debt ceiling, we almost automatically assume that he himself tried to do just that when as a senator he voted against the Bush administration request in 2006, when the debt was about $6 trillion less than it is now.
The problem here is not merely logical; it is also ethical: the man is not truthful. Truth, falsity, consistency, inconsistency pertain to propositions, not persons. Truthfulness, deceitfulness, lack of concern for truth and consistency -- these are ethical attributes, properties of persons. Obama the bullshitter is an ethically defective president. When Nixon lied, he could be shamed by calling him on it. That is because he was brought up properly, to value truth and truthfulness. But the POMO Obama, like that "first black president" Bill Clinton, apparently can't be shamed. It's all bullshit and fakery and shuckin' and jivin'. There is no gravitas in these two 'black' presidents, the one wholly white, the other half-white. Everything's a 'narrative' -- good POMO word, that -- and the only question is whether the narrative works in the moment for political advantage. A narrative needn't be true to be a narrative, which is why the POMO types like it. Hanson has Obama's number:
But a third explanation is more likely. Obama simply couldn’t care less about what he says at any given moment, whether it is weighing in on the football name “Redskins” or the Travyon Martin trial. He is detached and unconcerned about the history of an issue, about which he is usually poorly informed. Raising the debt ceiling is an abstraction; all that matters is that when he is president it is a good thing and when he is opposing a president it is a bad one. Let aides sort out the chaos. Obamacare will lower premiums, not affect existing medical plans, and not require increased taxes; that all of the above are untrue matters nothing. Who could sort out the chaos?
[. . .]
The media, of course, accepts that what Obama says on any given day will contradict what he has said or done earlier, or will be an exaggeration or caricature of his opponents’ position, or simply be detached from reality. But in their daily calculus, that resulting chaos is minor in comparison to the symbolic meaning of Obama. He is, after all, both the nation’s first African-American president and our first left-wing progressive since Franklin Roosevelt.
In comparison with those two facts, no others really matter.
The Left is dangerous for a number of reasons with its disregard for truth being high on the list. For the Left it is the 'narrative' that counts, the 'script,' the 'story,' whether true of false, that supports their agenda. An agenda is a list of things to do, and for an activist, Lenin's question, What is to be done? trumps the question, What is the case? Paraphrasing Karl Marx's 11th Thesis on Feuerbach, the point for a leftist is to change the world, not understand it. See here: "Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert, es kömmt drauf an, sie zu verändern." "The philosophers have only variously interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it." (my trans.)
The leftist's aim is the realization of 'progressive' ideals, and if the truth stands in the way, then so much the worse for it. Inconvenient truths are not confronted and subjected to examination; their messengers are attacked and denounced.
So when Larry Summers, then the president of Harvard University, speculated in 2005 that women might be naturally less gifted in math and science, the intense backlash contributed to his ouster.
Two years later, when famed scientist James Watson noted the low average IQ scores of sub-Saharan Africans, he was forced to resign from his lab, taking his Nobel Prize with him.
When a Harvard law student was discovered in 2010 to have suggestedin a private email that the black-white IQ gap might have a genetic component, the dean publicly condemned her amid a campus-wide outcry. Only profuse apologies seem to have saved her career.
When a leftist looks at the world, he does not see it as it is, but as he wants it to be. He sees it through the distorting lenses of his ideals. A central ideal for leftists is equality. And not in any such merely formal sense as equality under the law or equality of opportunity. The leftist aims at material equality: equality of outcome both socially and economically, equality in point of power and pelf. But the leftist goes beyond even this. He thinks that no inequalities are natural, and therefore that any inequalities that manifest themselves must be due to some form of oppression or 'racism.' But because this is demonstrably false, the leftist must demonize the messengers of such politically incorrect messages or even suggestions as that the black-white IQ gap might have a genetic component.
This truth-indifferent and reality-denying attitude of the leftist leaves the conservative dumbfounded. For he stands on the terra firma of a reality logically and ontologically and epistemologically antecedent to anyone's wishes and hopes and dreams. For the conservative, it is self-evident that first we have to get the world right, understand it, before any truly ameliorative praxis can commence. It is not that the conservative lacks ideals; it is rather that he believes, rightly, that they must be grounded in what is possible, where the really possible, in turn, is grounded in what is actual. (See Can What is Impossible for Us to Achieve be an Ideal for Us?) And so the conservative might reply to the activist, parodying Marx, as follows:
You lefties have only variously screwed up the world; the point, however, is to understand it so that you don't screw it up any further.
There is a paradox at the heart of the radically egalitarian position of the leftist. He wants equality, and will do anything to enforce it, including denying the truth (and in consequence reality) and violating the liberties of individuals. But to enforce equality he must possess and retain power vastly unequal to the power of those he would 'equalize.' He must go totalitarian. But then the quest for liberation ends in enslavement. This paradox is explained in Money, Power, and Equality.
This may well be the best column Victor Davis Hanson has written. He meticulously documents the widespread lying, prevarication, and other offenses against truth among our elites, offers a diagnosis, and then addresses the question, Why not lie? Here is his beautiful answer:
I end with three reasons to tell the truth. The majority has to tell the truth — to the IRS, to the police, to the DA, to the census — if a consensual society is to work. You readers tell the truth so that the society can survive an Eric Holder or Mike Barnicle. Average people must speak honestly or our elites’ lies will overwhelm, even destroy us. If 100 million tell the IRS lies during audits or take the 5th Amendment, our voluntary tax system collapses. We can take only so many Lois Lerners.
Two, this often sordid, sometimes beautiful world is not the end. There is transcendence. Lies damage our soul. Selling out in the here and now has consequences later on. If you are religious, your immortal soul is lost. If you are not, at least consider that your legacy, heritage, and remembrance are forever ruined. Ask the ghost of Stephen Ambrose. What good was all that money, all those interviews if based on a lie? All the insight and delight that he brought millions of readers was tarnished. And for what, exactly?
Third, we must strive to be tragic heroes, perhaps not as dramatic as Ajax, not as cool as Shane. Would you rather have been Ethan Edwards or Will Kane or have run Lehman Brothers in 2008? Sometimes, in less dramatic fashion, the choices are that Manichean.
We must try to tell the truth, not doctor films, edit tapes, erase talking points, or lie before Congress, fabricate heroic war records, or invent false sources. Again, why? Because we seek to do the right thing with the full resignation that in the here and now we will often still lose and will lose often and gladly telling the truth.
“We always lose,” says Chris at the end of the The Magnificent Seven after he did the right thing. Or to paraphrase the cinematic T.E. Lawrence about Auda Abu Tayi, we will not lie, as do our elites, because it is simply “our pleasure” not to.
The second reason is the best, though I would add that legacy counts for little: the vast majority of us will be forgotten and our works with us. We will be lucky to end up footnotes in unread archives, archives themselves slated for eventual deletion. This world is a vanishing quantity and we who for a time strut its stage even more so.
Care of the soul is the solid reason to love and honor truth.
I heard Paula Deen's son say that some statements made about his mother were not accurate. But I think what he should have said, and perhaps wanted to say, is that they were not true.
What is the difference between truth and accuracy as properties of statements and such cognate items as declarative sentences, propositions, beliefs, judgments, etc. ? I don't know, therefore I blog. Nescio ergo 'blogo.'
It seems obvious that 'false' and 'inaccurate' do not have the same meaning as is indicated by their differential usage by competent speakers of English. To say that JFK finished his first term in office in good health is to say something false, not inaccurate, while to say that he was assassinated on 23 November 1963 is to say something inaccurate (and also false). Suppose someone says that there are people now living on the Moon. No one competent in English would say, 'That's inaccurate!'
Intuitively, an inaccurate statement is near the truth (whatever exactly that means!). Kennedy was shot by Oswald on the 22nd of November, 1963. If I state that, then I make a statement that is both true and accurate. If I say he was shot on the 23rd, then I say something very near the truth but inaccurate. Similarly if I said that he was shot on the 22nd in Fort Worth rather than in Dallas. Inaccurate but near the truth.
If I simply say that Kennedy was assassinated, then I say something true. But is it also accurate? If every inaccurate statement is false, then, by contraposition, every true statement is accurate.
If I say that Kennedy was not assassinated, then I say something false. But is it also inaccurate?
Perhaps we should say the following. While every statement is either true or false, only some statements are either accurate or inaccurate. Which statements? Those that feature terms that admit of degrees or somehow imply numerical values. 'Tom is a smoker' would then be either true or false but not either accurate or inaccurate. But 'Tom is a pack-a-day smoker' would be either true or false and either accurate or inaccurate. Of course, if it is accurate, then it is true, and if it is inaccurate, then it is false.
It is plausible to maintain, though not self-evident, that while accuracy admits of degrees, truth does not. A statement is either true or not true. If bivalence holds and there are only two truth values, then, if a statement is not true, it is false. It does not seem to make sense to say that one statement is truer than another. But it does make sense to say that one statement is more accurate than another. 'The value of pi is 3.14159' is more accurate than 'the value of pi is 3.1415.' Neither statement is entirely accurate, and indeed no such statement is entirely accurate given the irrationality of pi. But I suggest that the following is both entirely true and entirely accurate: 'Pi is the mathematical constant whose value is equal to the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter.'
Here is something bordering on a paradox. Given its irrationality, pi is such that every statement that can be made in a finite time about its value is inaccurate. But if every inaccurate statement is false, then every statement that can be made in a finite time about the value of pi is false.
The blood libel is an outright lie perpetrated by many Muslims. It would be absurd to speak of it as 'inaccurate.'
The bathroom scale doesn't lie, but it doesn't tell the truth either. It is either accurate or inaccurate. Only a spiritual being can be either deceptive or truthful.
I cannot lie by simply saying something false. I must have the intention to deceive. That is perfectly clear. Rather less obvious is that to tell the truth it does not suffice to say something true: I must also have the intention to be truthful.
"He told the truth but he wasn't being truthful" is not a contradiction. This is no more a contradiction than "He said something false but he wasn't intending to deceive." But how could one tell the truth without being truthful? One way is by saying something that happens to be true while intending to deceive. Another way is by saying something true to distract the hearer from the salient issue. A third way is by saying something true but omitting other truths relevant to the contextualization and understanding of the first.
Suppose the following sentence is true: "Jane shot Sam several times in the chest with a .45 caliber pistol after he came at her with a knife threatening to rape her." Someone who assertively utters the first independent clause while omitting to utter the second has said something true without being truthful.
In sum, one can say what is false without being untruthful and one can say what is true without being truthful.
Persons, not propositions, are truthful or the opposite. Propositions, not persons, are true or the opposite.
And yet there is some connection between truth and truthfulness.
Here is a mere outline of an argument. In a world without mind there could be no truth. For truth is some sort of correspondence or adequation of mind and world. There are no free-floating truths, no Wahrheiten an sich. Truth is moored in mind. But truth is absolute: it transcends the contents and powers of finite minds. The true is not what you or I believe or what all of us believe. Nor is the true the believable. The true is not the rationally acceptable, not even the rationally at the ideal limit of inquiry. The true is not the warrantedly assertible. There no viable epistemic/doxastic analysis of the truth predicate. And yet truth involves mind. Enter divine mind. The truth is grounded in the divine truthfulness. In God, truth and truthfulness colaesce.
Well, I warned you that it was a mere outline. Brevity is the soul of blog.
But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.
— Umberto Eco
The world is a play of phenomena, an enigmatic play of appearances beneath which there is no reality. Harmless in itself, the world is made terrible by us when we make the mad attempt to lay bare an underlying truth it fails to possess. Part of Eco's thought, I take it, is that those who seek the world's underlying truth fool themselves into thinking that they have found it, and having convinced themselves that they are now in possession of it, feel entitled and perhaps even obligated to impose it on others for their own good. But these others, naturally, resist the imposition and react violently. Hence the pursuit of the truth leads to contention and bloodshed. Better to live and let live and admit that there is a variety of perspectives, a diversity of interpretations, but no God's Eye perspective and no final interpretation, let alone an uninterpreted reality in itself, a true world hidden by the world of appearances. The world is interpretation all the way down. Being has no bottom.
The line of thought is seductive but incoherent. If the world is an enigma, then it is true that it is an enigma. If it is harmless, then it is true that it harmless. If it is made terrible by our attempt to interpret it, then it is true that it is made terrible by our attempt to interpret it. If our attempt is mad, then it is true that our attempt is mad. And if it has no underlying truth, then it is true that it has no underlying truth.
If that is the truth, then there is after all an underlying truth and the world cannot be a play of relativities, of shifting perspectives, of mere interpretations. If the world is such-and-such, then it is, and doesn't merely seem.
(Note to Peter L: This begins our discussion of metaphysical grounding and metaphysical explanation, topics of common interest. We need, over a series of posts, to uncover and discuss as many examples as we can find. My aim, and perhaps yours as well, is to demonstrate that metaphysical grounding and metaphysical explanation are legitimate topics, and that metaphysics is not a going enterprise unless they are legitimate topics. This is connected with our presumably common opposition to scientism and our presumably common defense of the autonomy of philosophy.)
Let 'Tom' name a particular tomato. Let us agree that if a predicate applies to a particular, then the predicate is true of the particular. Predicates are linguistic items. If Tom is red, then 'red' is true of Tom, and if 'red' is true of Tom, then Tom is red. This yields the material biconditional
1. Tom is red iff 'red' is true of Tom.
Now it seems to me that the following question is intelligible: Is Tom red because 'red' is true of Tom, or is 'red' true of Tom because Tom is red? 'Because' here does not have a causal sense. So the question is not whether Tom's being red causes 'red' to be true of Tom, or vice versa. So I won't speak of causation in this context. I will speak of metaphysical/ontological grounding. The question then is what grounds what, not what causes what. Does Tom's being red ground the application (the being-applied) of 'red' to Tom, or does the appplication (the being-applied) of 'red' to Tom ground Tom's being red?
I am not primarily concerned with the correct answer to this question, but with meaningfulness of the question.
Grounding is asymmetrical: if x grounds y, then y does not ground x. (It is also irreflexive and transitive.) Now if there is such a relation as grounding, then there will be a distinctive form of explanation we can call metaphysical/ontological explanation. (Grounding, though not causation, is analogous to c ausation, and metaphysical explanation, though distinct from causal explanation, is analogous to causal explanation.)
Explaining is something we do: in worlds without minds there is no explaining and there are no explanations, including metaphysical explanations. But I assume that, if there are any metaphysical grounding relations, then in every world metaphysical grounding relations obtain. (Of course, there is no grounding of the application of predicates in a world without languages and predicates, but there are other grounding relations.)
Grounding is not causation. It is not a relation between event tokens such as Jack's touching a live wire and Jack's death by electrocution. Grounding is also not a relation between propositions. It is not the relation of material implication, nor is it entailment (the necessitation of material implication), nor any other semantic relation wholly situated at the level of propositions. Propositions, let us assume, are the primary truth-bearers.
In our example, grounding is not a relation between propositions -- it is not a logical relation -- since neither Tom nor 'red' are propositions.
I want to say the following. Tom's being red grounds the correctness of the application of 'red' to Tom. 'Red' is true of Tom because (metaphysically, not causally or logically) Tom is red, and not vice versa. 'Red' is true of Tom in virtue of Tom's being red. Tom's being red is metaphysically prior to the truth of 'Tom is red' where this metaphysical priority cannot be reduced to some ordinary type of priority, whether logical, causal, temporal, or what have you. Tom's being red metaphysically accounts for the truth of 'Tom is red.'
I conclude that there is at least one type of metaphysical grounding relation, and at least one form of irreducibly metaphysical explanation.
Earlier, I presented the following, which looks to be an antilogism. An antilogism, by definition, is an inconsistent triad. This post considers whether the triad really is logically inconsistent, and so really is an antilogism.
1. Temporally Unrestricted Excluded Middle: The principle that every declarative sentence is either true, or if not true, then false applies unrestrictedly to all declarative sentences, whatever their tense. 2. Presentism: Only what exists at present exists. 3. Temporally Unrestricted Truth-Maker Principle: Every contingent truth has a truth-maker.
Edward objects: "First, I don't see why the three statements are logically inconsistent. Why can't the truthmaker for a future tense statement exist now, in the present?"
Objection sustained. The triad as it stands is not logically inconsistent.
'Miss Creant will die by lethal injection in five minutes.' Let this be our example. It is a future-tensed contingent declarative. By (1) it is either true or, if not true, then false. By (3), our sample sentence has a truth-maker, an existing truth-maker obviously, if it is true. By (2), the truth-maker exists only at present. Edward is right: there is no inconsistency unless we add something like:
4. If a sentence predicts a contingent event which lies wholly in the future, and the sentence is true, then the truth-maker of the sentence, if it has one, cannot exist at any time prior to the time of the event.
(4) is extremely plausible. Suppose it is true now that Miss Creant will die in five minutes. The only item that could make this true is the event of her dying. But this event does not now exist and cannot exist at any time prior to her dying.
So our antilogism, under Edwardian pummeling, transmogrifies into an aporetic tetrad which, he will agree, is logically inconsistent.
The solution, for Edward, is obvious: Deny the Temporally Unrestricted Truth-Maker Principle as stated in (3). Of course, that is a solution. But can Edward show that it must be preferred to the other three solutions? After all, one could deny Presentism, and many distinguished philosophers do. I would hazard the observation that the majority of the heavy-hitters in the 20th century Anglosphere were B-theorists, and thus deniers of Presentism. Or one could deny Unrestricted LEM, or even (4).
Although I said that (4) is extremely plausible, one could conceivably deny it by maintaining that the truth-makers of future-tensed sentences are tendencies in the present. For example, I say to wifey, "Watch it! The pot is going to boil over!" Assuming that that's a true prediction, one might claim that it is the present tendencies of the agitated pasta-rich water that is the truth-maker.
Please note also that I too could solve the tetrad by denying Unrestricted T-maker. Not by rejecting T-makers tout court in the Edwardian manner, but by restricting T-makers to contingent past- and present-tensed declaratives. I hope Edward appreciates that the above problem does not give aid and comfort to his wholesale rejection of T-makers.
One can always solve an aporetic polyad by denying one of its limbs. Sure. But then you face other daunting tasks. One is to show in a compelling way that your preferred solution should be preferred by all competent practitioners. You have to show that your solution is THE solution and not merely a solution relative to your background assumptions and cognitive values. A school-immanent solution is no final and absolute solution. Another task is to show that your solution can be embedded in a theory that does not itself give rise to insoluble problems.
Do you remember the prediction, made in 1999, that the DOW would reach 36,000 in a few years? Since that didn't happen, I am inclined to say that Glassman and Hasset's prediction was wrong and was wrong at the time the prediction was made. I take that to mean that the content of their prediction was false at the time the prediction was made. Subsequent events merely made it evident that the content of the prediction was false; said events did not first bring it about that the content of the prediction have a truth-value.
And so I am not inclined to say that the content of their irrationally exuberant prediction was neither true nor false at the time of the prediction. It had a truth-value at the time of the prediction; it was simply not evident at that time what that truth-value was. By 'the content of the prediction' I mean the proposition expressed by 'The DOW will reach 36,000 in a few years.'
I am also inclined to say that the contents of some predictions are true at the time the predictions are made, and thus true in advance of the events predicted. I am not inclined to say that these predictions were neither true nor false at the time they were made. Suppose I predict some event E and E comes to pass. You might say to me, "You were right to predict the occurrence of E." You would not say to me, "Although the content of your prediction was neither true nor false at the time of your prediction, said content has now acquired the truth-value, true."
It is worth noting that the expression 'come true' is ambiguous. It could mean 'come to be known to be true' or it could mean 'come to have the truth-value, true.' I am inclined to read it the first way. Accordingly, when a prediction 'comes true,' what that means is that the prediction which all along was true, and thus true in advance of the contingent event predicted, is now known to be true.
So far, then, I am inclined to say that the Law of Excluded Middle applies to future-tensed sentences. If we assume Bivalence (that there are exactly two truth-values), then the Law of Excluded Middle (LEM)can be formulated as follows. For any proposition p, either p is true or p is false. Now consider a future-tensed sentence that refers to some event that is neither impossible nor necessary. An example is the DOW sentence above or 'Tom will get tenure in 2014.' Someone who assertively utters a sentence such as this makes a prediction. What I am currently puzzling over is whether any predictions, at the time that they are made, have a truth-value, i.e., (assuming Bivalence), are either true or false.
Why should I be puzzling over this? Well, despite the strong linguistic inclinations recorded above, there is something strange in regarding a contingent proposition about a future event as either true or false in advance of the event's occurrence or nonoccurrence. How could a contingent proposition be true before the event occurs that alone could make it true?
Our problem can be set forth as an antilogism or aporetic triad:
1. U-LEM: LEM applies unrestrictedly to all declarative sentences, whatever their tense. 2. Presentism: Only what exists at present exists. 3. Truth-Maker Principle: Every contingent truth has a truth-maker.
Each limb of the triad is plausible. But they can't all be true. The conjunction of any two entails the negation of the third. Corresponding to our (inconsistent) antilogism there are three (valid) syllogisms each of which is an argument to the negation of one of the limbs from the other two limbs.
If there is no compelling reason to adopt one ofthese syllogisms over the other two, then I would say that the problem is a genuine aporia, an insoluble problem.
People don't like to admit that there are insolubilia. That may merely reflect their dogmatism and overpowering need for doxastic security. Man is a proud critter loathe to confess the infirmity of reason.
In a post the point of which was merely to underscore the difference between absolute and necessary truth, I wrote, somewhat incautiously:
Let our example be the proposition p expressed by 'Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 44 B.C.' Given that p is true, it is true in all actual circumstances. That is, its truth-value does not vary from time to time, place to place, person to person, or relative to any other parameter in the actual world. P is true now, was true yesterday, and will be true tomorrow. P is true in Los Angeles, in Bangkok, and on Alpha Centauri. It is true whether Joe Blow affirms it, denies it, or has never even thought about it. And what goes for Blow goes for Jane Schmoe.
As a couple of astute readers have pointed out, the usual date given for Caesar's crossing of the river Rubicon is January 10, 49 B.C. and not 44 B. C. as stated above. If only the detection and correction of philosophical erors were as easy as this!
The erudite proprietor of Finem Respicem, who calls herself 'Equity Private' and describes herself as a "Armchair Philosophy Fangirl and Failed Theoretical Physicist Turned Finance Troublemaker," writes, "Caesar crossed the Rubicon on January 10, 49 B.C., reportedly (though perhaps fancifully) prompting Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus to comment Alea iacta est ('The die is cast.')" And Philoponus the Erudite has this to say:
I'm not sure whether you are deliberately testing the faithful readers of The Maverick, but the accepted date for Caesar and Legio XIII Gem. wading across fl. Rubico is 49 BCE, on or about Jan 10th. That's what is inferred from Suetonius' acct of Divus Caesar at the beginning of De Vita Caesarum (written 160 years after the fact) and some other latter sources like Plutarch.
So I stand corrected on the factual point. Both correspondents go on to raise philosophical points. I have space to respond to only one of them.
Equity Private asks, concerning the proposition expressed by 'Caesar crosses the Rubicon in 49 B.C.,' "But is it true in 50 BC? In a deterministic universe, I think it is. In a non-deterministic universe I think it isn't. Are you a determinist?"
To discuss this properly we need to back up a bit. I distinguish declarative sentences from the propositions they are used to express, and in the post in question I was construing propositions along the lines of Gottlob Frege's Gedanken. Accordingly, a proposition is the sense of a context-free declarative sentence. A context-free sentence is one from which all indexical elements have been extruded, including verb tenses. Propositions so construed are a species of abstract object. This will elicit howls of outrage from some, but it is a view that is quite defensible. If you accept this (and if you don't I will ask what your theory of the proposition is), then the proposition expressed by 'Caesar crosses the Rubicon in 49 B.C.' exists at all times and is true at all times. (Bear in mind that, given the extrusion of all indexical elements, including verb tenses, the occurrence of 'crosses' is not present-tensed but tenseless.) From this it follows that the truth-value of the proposition does not vary with one's temporal perspective. So, to answer my correspondent's question, the proposition is true in 50 B.C. and is thus true before the fateful crossing occurred!
I am assuming both Bivalence and Excluded Middle. Bivalence says that there are exactly two truth-values, true and false, as opposed to three or more. If Bivalence holds, then 'not true' is logically equivalent to 'false.' Excluded Middle says that, for every proposition p, either p is true or it is not the case that p is true. Note that Bivalence and Excluded Middle are not the same. Suppose that Bivalence is false and that there are three truth-values. It could still be the case that every proposition is either true or not true. (In a 3-valued logic, 'not true' is not the same as 'false.') So Excluded Middle does not entail Bivalence. Therefore Excluded Middle is not the same as Bivalence. Bivalence does, however, entail Excluded Middle.
Here is a simpler and more direct way to answer my correspondent's question. Suppose some prescient Roman utters in 50 B.C. the Latin equivalent of 'Julius Caesar will cross the Rubicon next year.' Given Bivalence and Excluded Middle, what the Roman says is either true, or if not true, then false. Given that Caesar did cross in 49 B.C., what the prescient Roman said was true. Hence it was true before the crossing occurred.
Let's now consider how this relates to the determinism question. Determinism is the view that whatever happens in nature is determined by antecedent causal conditions under the aegis of the laws of nature. Equivalently, past facts, together with the laws of nature, entail all future facts. It follows that facts before one's birth, via the laws of nature, necessitate what one does now. The necessitation here is conditional, not absolute. It is conditional upon the laws of nature (which might have been otherwise) and the prior causal conditions (which might have been otherwise).
If determinism is true, then Caesar could not have done otherwise than cross the Rubicon when he did given the (logically contingent) laws of nature and the (logically contingent) conditions antecedent to his crossing. If determinism is not true, then the laws plus the prior causal conditions did not necessitate his crossing. Equity Private says that the Caesar proposition is not true in 50 B.C. in a non-deterministic universe. But I don't think this is right. For there are at least two other ways the proposition might be true before the crossing occurred, two other ways which reflect two other forms of determination. Besides causal determination (determination via the laws of nature and the antecedent causal conditions), there is also theological determination (determination via divine foreknowledge) and logical determination (determination via the law of excluded middle in conjunction with a certain view of propositions). Logical determinism is called fatalism. (See the earlier post on the difference between determinism and fatalism.)
Someone who is both a fatalist and an indeterminist could easily hold that the Caesar proposition is true at times before the crossing. Equity Private asked whether I am a determinist. She should have asked me whether I am a fatalist. For it looks as if I have supplied the materials for a fatalist argument. Here is a quick and dirty version of an ancient argument known as 'the idle argument' or 'the lazy argument':
1. Either I will be killed tomorrow or I will not. 2. If I will be killed, I will be killed no matter what precautions I take. 3. If I will not be killed, then I will be killed no matter what precautions I neglect. Therefore 4. It is pointless to take precautions.
This certainly smacks of sophistry! But where exactly does the argument go wrong? The first premise is an instance of LEM on the assumption of Bivalence. (2) looks to be a tautology of the form p --> (q -->p), and (3) appears to be a tautology of the form ~p -->(q -->~p). Or think of it this way. If it is true that I will killed tomorrow, then this is true regardless of what other propositions are true. And similarly for (3).
Some will say that the mistake is to think that LEM applies to propositions about future events: in advance of an event's occurrence it is neither true nor not true that it will occur. This way out is problematic, however. 'JFK was assassinated in 1963' is true now. How then can the prediction, made in 1962, 'JFK will be assassinated in 1963,' lack a truth-value? Had someone made that prediction in 1962, he would have made a true prediction, not a prediction lacking a truth-value. Indeed, the past-tensed and the future tensed sentences express the same proposition, a proposition that could be put using the tenseless sentence 'JFK is assassinated in 1963.' Of course, no one could know in 1962 the truth-value of this proposition, but that is not to say that it did not have a truth-value in 1962. Don't confuse the knowledge of truth with truth.
Suppose I predict today that such-and-such will happen next year, and what I predict comes to pass. You would say to me, "You were right!" You would not say to me, "What you predicted has acquired the truth-value, true." I can be proven right in my prediction only if I was right, i.e., only if my prediction was true in advance of the event's occurrence.
So the facile restriction of LEM to present and past is a dubious move. And yet the 'lazy argument' is surely invalid!
Absolute truth and necessary truth are not the same.
Let our example be the proposition p expressed by 'Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 44 B.C.' Given that p is true, it is true in all actual circumstances. That is, its truth-value does not vary from time to time, place to place, person to person, or relative to any other parameter in the actual world. P is true now, was true yesterday, and will be true tomorrow. P is true in Los Angeles, in Bangkok, and on Alpha Centauri. It is true whether Joe Blow affirms it, denies it, or has never even thought about it. And what goes for Blow goes for Jane Schmoe.
In this sense, p is absolutely or nonrelatively true. But that is not to say that p is necessarily true. A proposition q is necessarily true if and only if q is true in all possible worlds, to use a Leibnizian expression. To avoid 'world' I can say: in all possible circumstances. (A world could be thought of as a maximal circumstance.) A proposition q is contingently true iff (i) q is true in the actual circumstances, but (ii) not true in all possible circumstances. Now our proposition p concerning Caesar is obviously only contingently true: there is no broadly logical or metaphysical necessity that he cross the Rubicon in 44 BC. He might have crossed it earlier or later, or not at all. Or said river might never have existed for him to cross.
Note that contingent is not the same as contingently true. If a proposition is contingently true, then it is actually true. But if a proposition is contingent it may or may not be actually true. I was born by Caesarean section but I might not have been. So the proposition *BV was not born by Caesarean section* though false is contingent: it is true in some but not all possible worlds and false in the actual world.
Here are some theses I am fairly sure of:
1. There are no relative truths: every truth is absolute. 2. An absolute truth need not be a necessary truth: some absolute truths are contingent. 3. Every truth, whether necessary or contingent, is true in all actual circumstances. 4. The ontological property of absoluteness is not to be confused with any epistemological property such as that of being known with certainty.
Ed continues to repeat his regress argument against truth-makers, despite my hurling invective at it. I think I called it "breathtakingly rotten" or something equally offensive, all in good fun of course:
I have argued (e.g. here and here that the notion of a ‘truthmaker’ leads to an infinite regress. If there is such a truthmaker, an entity that makes a proposition like ‘Socrates sits’ true - let it be A - then it comes into existence when Socrates sits down, and ceases to exist when he stands up. But then there would have to be a further truthmaker for A existing. I.e. the sentence “A exists” can be true or false, and so requires a further truthmaker B, that makes it true when B exists. But then “B exists” requires yet another truthmaker, and so on ad infinitum.
Now what is the regress supposed to be? There is an entity A and it makes-true sentence s. A is not a sentence, or any other type of representation. Since we can talk about A, we can say 'A exists.' 'A exists' is contingently true, so it too needs a truth-maker. So far, so good.
Ed assumes that the truth-maker for "A exists' must be distinct from the truth-maker for s. Without this assumption, the regress can't get started. Therefore, to show that his regress argument is bogus, it suffices to show that one and the same entity A can serve as the truth-maker for both s and 'A exists.'
Suppose the truth-maker of 'Tom is tired' is the fact, Tom's being tired. Now consider the sentence 'Tom's being tired exists.' I claim that the truth-maker of both sentences is Tom's being tired. I conclude that there is no regress.
To appreciate this you must note that while 'Tom is tired' is a predication, 'Tom's being tired exists' is not. It is an existential sentence like 'Tom exists.' So while the predication requires a fact for its truth-maker, the existential sentence does not. It does not need a fact as a truth-maker any more than 'Tom exists' does. The truth-maker of the latter is just Tom. The truth-maker of 'Tom's being tired' is not the fact, Tom'sbeing tired's existence, but just Tom's being tired.
There is a second reason why the regress cannot arise. Ed is a nominalist. He eschews propositions and believes only in sentences. Well, there is no need for there to be the sentence 'A exists'! If no one says that A exists, then there is no sentence 'A exists.' And of course nonexistent sentences do not need truth-makers. And if someone does say that A exists, there is no need that he, or anyone else, say that the truth-maker of 'A exists' exists. So for this reason too the regress can't get started.
Ed ends his post on this strange note: "If we buy the idea of a ‘truthbearer’ (a proposition, a thought, whatever), the idea of a ‘truthmaker’ comes with it." That's plainly false. That there are truth-bearers is self-evident; that there are truth-makers is not. Must I dilate further on this self-evident point? Second, if the quoted sentence is true, and Ed's regress argument is sound, the upshot is that there are no truth-bearers, which is absurd. In effect, Ed has provided a reductio ad absurdum of his own claim that there are no truth-makers!
What Ed says about representation and the representation of the faithfulness of a representation would require a separate post to discuss. But I sense the conflation of epistemological questions with ontological ones.
Let us confine ourselves to true affirmative contingent nonrelational predications. If you deny that there is any extralinguistic fact or state of affairs that makes it true that Tom is smoking, then what is your positive theory? Here are some possible views, 'possible' in the sense that they are possibly such as to be held by someone whether fool or sage or someone in between.
1. A contingently true sentence like 'Tom is smoking' is just true; there is nothing external to the sentence, nothing at all, that plays any role in making it true. There is no more to a true sentence than the sentence. Thus no part of the sentence has a worldly correlate, not even the subject term. On this view there is no extralinguistic reality -- or at least no extralinguistic reality that bears upon the truth or falsity of our sentences -- and thus no ontological ground of any kind for the truth of true contingent representations, whether declarative sentences, propositions, judgments, beliefs, whatever the truth-bearers are taken to be.
2. A rather less crazy view is that our sample sentence does have something corresponding to it in reality, and that that item is Tom, but nothing else. On this view 'Tom is smoking' has a truth-maker, but the truth-maker is just Tom. On this view the truth-maker role is a legitimate one, and something plays it, but there are no facts, and so no fact is a truth-maker. Note carefully that the question whether there are facts is not the same as the question whether there are truth-makers. It could be that the truth-making riole is played by non-facts, and it itr could be that there are facts but they have no role to play in truth-making.
3. On a variant of (2) it is admitted that besides Tom there is also an entity corresponding to the predicate, and the truth-maker of 'Tom is smoking' is the set or the mereological sum, or the ordered pair consting of Tom and the entity corresponding to the predicate.
4. A more radical view is that the truth-maker role is not a legitimate role, hence does not need filling by the members of any category of entity. On this view there are no truth-makers becsuae the very notion of a truth-maker is incoherent. One who takes this line could even admit that there are facts, but he would deny that they play a truth-making role.
5. On a still more radical view, there is an extralinguistic reality, but we cannot say what categories of entity it contains. On this view one abandons the notion that language mirrors reality, that there is any correspondence or matching between parts of speech and categories of entity. Thus one would abandon the notion that truth is correspondence, that the 'Al is fat' is true just in case the referent of 'Al' exemplifies the property denoted by 'fat.' One would be abandoning the notion that language is any guide at all to ontology.
First Question: Are there other options? What are they?
Second Question: Which option do you embrace if you deny that 'Tom is smoking' has a fact as its truth-maker?
Frege makes the point that the being of a proposition cannot be identical to its being true. This I find obvious. There are true propositions and there are false propositions. Therefore, for propositions (the senses of context-free declarative sentences) it cannot be the case that to be = to be true. Furthermore, a given proposition that is contingently true is possibly such as not to be true, whence it follows that its being and its being true cannot be identical. (Whether Frege does or would give the second argument, I don't know; but I think it is correct.)
As Frege puts its, "The being of a thought [Gedanke, proposition] thus does not consist in its being true." (Near the beginning of his essay, "Negation.") One can grasp a proposition without knowing whether or not it is true. To grasp a proposition is not to accept it as true, to reject it as false, or to suspend judgment as to its truth-value. To grasp a proposition is merely to have it before one's mind, to understand it. A Fregean proposition is a sense, and no such propositional sense has as part of its sense its being true. That's Frege's point and it strikes me as rock-solid.
I wonder if a ‘truthmaker’ as understood by the advocates of truthmaking is the same sort of thing as Frege’s marvelous but impossible thought. Something that if we perceived it for what it was, would simultaneously communicate to us the truth of what it includes.
Ed is obviously confusing truth-bearers such as Fregean propositions with truth-makers. Truth-bearers are representations; truth-makers are not. That's one difference. Truth-bearers are either true or false; truth-makers are not since, not being representations, they cannot be said to be true, nor can they be said to be false. That's a second difference. Truth-bearers are 'bipolar,' either true or false; truth-makers are 'unipolar': all of them obtain. That's a third difference. Truth-bearers are such that their being or existence does not entail their being true; truth-makers are such that their being or existence does entail their obtaining. I am assuming that truth-makers are facts. If a fact obtains then it exists; there are no non-obtaining facts. That's a fourth difference.
There is no point in criticizing a doctrine one misrepresents. First represent it fairly, then lodge objections. And as I have said, there are reasonable objections one can bring.
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.
The truth-maker of 'Tom sits' cannot be Tom. Otherwise it would also be the truth-maker of 'Tom stands' which is the logical contrary of the first sentence. And that won't do, as London Ed appreciates. But now what about 'Tom exists'? This too is a contingent sentence, and so it too needs a truth-maker. I say the truth-maker is Tom. The truth-maker of 'Tom sits' is a fact, the fact of Tom's being seated. This fact is a complex having Tom himself and the property of being seated as constitutents. (Let's not worry about what holds these constituents together!) The truth-maker of 'Tom exists,' however, is not a fact having Tom and the property of existence as constituents.
Why the asymmetry? Because existence is not a property in the same sense of 'property' in which being-seated is a property. I won't repeat the many arguments I have given on this blog and in my articles and book.
But suppose you, like Ed, see symmetry where I see asymmetry. You think that the truth-maker of 'Tom exists' is the fact of Tom's existence, or the fact of Tom's existing. Call this truth-making fact T. Since T exists, and exists contingently, 'T exists' needs a truth-maker. I am willing to concede that a vicious infinite regress then arises, though the matter is not entirely clear.
But what does this show? I say it shows that the assumption that existence is a property is mistaken.
The dialectical situation is this. There are plenty of arguments why existence cannot be a property. And we have good reason to admit truth-makers for contingent truths. So in the case of contingent existential truths like 'Tom exists' we should say that it is the referent of the subject term itself that is the truth-maker.
Some of us of a realist persuasion hold that at least some truths have need of worldly correlates that 'make them true.' This notion that (some) truths need truthmakers is a variation on the ancient theme that truth implies a correspondence of what-is said or what-is-thought with what-is. You all know the passages in Aristotle where this theme is sounded.
Example. Having just finished my drink, the thought expressed by an assertive utterance of 'My glass is empty' is true. But the thought is not just true; it is true because of the way things are 'outside' my mind. The glass (in reality) is (in reality) empty. So the realist says something like this: the thought (proposition, judgmental content, etc.) is true in virtue of the obtaining of a truthmaking state of affairs or fact. The thought is true because the fact obtains or exists, where 'because' does not have a causal sense but expresses the asymmetrical relation of truthmaking. The fact is the ontological ground (not the cause) of the thought's being true.
One might wonder whether this realist theory of truth leads to an infinite regress, and if it does, whether the regress is vicious. Some cryptic remarks in Gottlob Frege's seminal article, "The Thought: A Logical Inquiry," suggest a regress argument against the correspondence theory of truth.
For Frege, a thought (Gedanke) or proposition is the sense (Sinn) of a context-free declarative sentence. 'Snow is white' and its German translation Schnee ist weiss are examples of context-free declarative sentences. 'Context-free' means that all indexical elements have been extruded including verb tenses. When we say that a sentence such as 'Snow is white' is true, what we are really saying is that the sense of this sentence is true. The primary truth-vehicles are propositions, sentences being truth-bearers only insofar as they express true propositions.
Now could the being-true of a sentential sense consist in its correspondence to something else? Frege rejects this notion: "In any case, being true does not consist in the correspondence of this sense with something else, for otherwise the question of truth would reiterate itself to infinity." (Philosophical Logic, ed. Strawson, p. 19) A little earlier, Frege writes,
For what would we then have to do to decide whether something were true? We should have to enquire whether it were true that an idea and a reality, perhaps, corresponded in the laid-down respect. And then we should be confronted by a question of the same kind and the game could begin again. So the attempt to explain truth as correspondence collapses. And every other attempt to define truth collapses too. (Ibid.)
What exactly is Frege's argument here? We begin by noting that
1. Necessarily, for any proposition p, it is true that p iff p.
This equivalence, which I hope nobody will deny, gives rise to an infinite regress, call it the truth regress. For from (1) we can infer that if snow is white, then it is true that snow is white, and iterating the operation, if it is true that snow is white, then it is true that it is true that snow is white, and so on without end. This is an infinite regress all right, but it is obviously benign. For if we establish the base proposition, Snow is white, then we ipso facto establish all the iterations. Our establishing that snow is white does not depend on a prior establishing that it is true that snow is white. In general, our establishing of any proposition in the infinite series does not depend on having first established the next proposition in the series. The truth regress, though infinite, is benign.
Note that if the truth-regress were vicious, then the notion of truth itself would have been shown to be incoherent. For the truth-regress is a logical consequence of the equivalence principle (1) above, a principle that simply unpacks our understanding of 'true.' So if the truth-regress were vicious, then (1) would not be unproblematic, as it surely is.
It follows that if Frege's Regress is to amount to a valid objection to the definition of truth as correspondence, "and [to] every other attempt to define truth," then Frege's Regress must be different from the truth regress. In particular, it must be a vicious regress. Only vicious infinite regresses have the force of philosophical refutations. But then what is Frege's Regress? Consider
2. Necessarily, for any p, it is true that p iff *p* corresponds to reality.
One can think up counterexamples to (2), but the precise question before us is whether (2) issues in a vicious infinite regress. Now what would this regress (progress?) look like? Let 'T(p)' abbreviate 'it is true that p.' And let 'C*p*' abbreviate '*p* corresponds to reality.' (The asterisks function like Quine's corners.) The regress, then, looks like this:
3. p iff T(p) iff C*p* iff T(C*p*) iff C(T(C*p*)) iff T(C(T(C*p*) iff C(T(C(T(C*p*)) . . . Is (3) a vicious regress? It would be vicious if one could establish T(p) only by first establishing C*p* and so on. But if these two terms have the same sense, in the way that the first and second terms have the same sense, then (3) will be as benign as the truth regress. Suppose that 'It is true that p' and '*p* corresponds to reality' have the same sense. Suppose in other words that the correspondence theory of truth is the theory that the sense or meaning of these distinct sentences is the same. It would then follow that to establish that it is true that p and to establish that *p* corresponds to reality would come to the same thing, whence it would follow that the regress is benign.
For the regress to be vicious, the second and third terms must differ in sense. For again, if the second and third terms do not differ in sense, then to establish one is to establish the other, and it would not be case that to establish that it is true that p one would first have to establish that *p* corresponds to reality or to some chunk of reality. But if the second and third terms do not differ in sense, then it appears that the regress doesn't get started at all. For the move from the second term to the third to be valid, the entailment must be grounded in the sense of the second term: the third term must merely unpack the sense of the second term. If, however, the two terms are not sense-connected, then no infinite regress is ignited.
My interim conclusion is that it is not at all clear that Frege's Regress is either benign, or not a regress at all, and therefore not at all clear that it constitutes a valid objection to theories of truth, in particular to the theory that truth resides in correspondence.
REFERENCE: Peter Carruthers, "Frege's Regress," Proc. Arist. Soc., vol. LXXXII, 1981/1982, pp. 17-32.
Edward, the proprietor of Beyond Necessity, presents an infinite regress argument against truth-makers. Here it is:
. . . I reject the idea of a truthmaker altogether. If there is such a truthmaker, let it be A, it comes into existence when Socrates sits down, and ceases to exist when he stands up. If it were something real – let’s say a candle flame, which comes into existence when we light the candle, and ceases to exist when we blow it out – then there would have to be a further truthmaker for A existing. I.e. the sentence “A exists” can be true or false, and so requires a further truthmaker B, that makes it true when B exists. But then “B exists” requires yet another truthmaker, and so on ad infinitum. That is absurd. Therefore, there are no truthmakers.
I am not sure Ed understands what a truth-maker is. Here is a Philosophy 101 explanation. Suppose we have some true contingent declarative sentence such as 'Tom is tired.' The truth-maker theorist maintains that for contingent true sentences, there is more to the sentence than its being true. There must be something external to the sentence, something that is not a sentence, that 'makes it true.' If you deny this, then you are saying that the sentence is just true and that there is no explanation of its being true in terms of anything extralinguistic. And surely that is absurd, assuming you are not some sort of linguistic idealist. 'Tom is tired' cannot just be true; it is true because there exists a man to whom 'Tom' refers and this man is in a certain state.
Could Tom by himself be the truth-maker of 'Tom is tired'? No. For if he were, then he would also be the truth-maker of 'Tom is manic' -- which is absurd. This is why truth-maker theorists (not all but most) introduce facts or states of affairs as truth-makers. David Armstrong is a prominent contemporary example.
Now what are we to make of Edward's argument? The argument seems to be that if sentence s has a truthmaker t, then the sentence 't exists' must also have a truth-maker, call it t*. But then the sentence 't* exists' must itself have a truth-maker, t**, and so on ad infinitum.
Now this is a terrible, a thoroughly and breath-takingly rotten, argument which is why no one in the literature (to the best of my knowledge) has ever made it. Suppose that 'Tom is tired' is made-true by the fact of Tom's being tired. Call this fact F. If 'Tom is tired' is true, then F exists, whence it follows that 'F exists' is true. (This of course assumes that there is the sentence 'F exists,' an assumption I will grant arguendo.) Since 'F exists' is contingent, we can apply the truth-maker principle and ask for its truth-maker. But surely its truth-maker is just F. So there is no regress at all, let alone an infinite regress, let alone a vicious infinite regress. (Please note that only vicious infinite regresses have the force of refutations.) 'Tom is tired' has F as its truth-maker, and 'F exists' has the very same F as its truth-maker. Tom's being tired makes true both 'Tom is tired' and 'Tom's being tired exists.' No regress.
So Ed's argument is a complete non-starter. There are, however, plausible arguments against facts as truth-makers. See my Facts category.
Having had my say about what is known in the trade as Occam's Razor, and having secured some welcome agreement with the proprietor of Beyond Necessity in the combox of the aforelinked post, I am now ready to address the meat of Richard Hennessey's response to my three-post critique of what I took to be his theory of accidental predication.
There is no need to stray from our hoary example of accidental predication: 'Socrates is seated.' I took Hennessey to be saying that in a true accidental predication of this simple form subject and predicate refer to exactly the same thing. If they didn't, the sentence could not be true. Here is how Hennessey puts it:
Let us take the proposition “Socrates is sitting” or the strictly equivalent “Socrates is a sitting being.” The referent of the subject term here is the sitting Socrates and that of the predicate term is one and the same sitting Socrates. . . . only if the referent of the “Socrates” and that of the “sitting” of “Socrates is sitting” are identical can it be true that Socrates is actually the one sitting.
Since Hennessey uses the word 'identity' we can call this an identity theory of accidental predication: in true predications of this sort, the referent of the subject term and the referent of the predicate term are identical, and this identty is what insures that the predication is true. If so, then the same goes for all other true predications which are about Socrates. So consider 'Socrates is standing' which is the logical contrary (not contradictory) of 'Socrates is sitting.' These sentences cannot both be true at the same time, but they can be true at different times. Suppose we ask what the truth-maker is in each case. Given that subject and predicate terms refer to exactly the same thing, namely, Socrates, it follows that in each case it is Socrates and Socrates alone that is the truth-maker of both sentences. When he is sitting, Socrates makes-true 'Socrates is sitting' and when he is standing Socrates makes-true 'Socrates is standing.'
What I do not understand, however, is how these obviously different sentences, which differ in their truth-conditions, can have one and the same entity as truth-maker. The same problem does not seem to arise for such essential predications as 'Socrates is human.' For there is no time when he is not human, and (this is a distinct modal point), at every time at which he is human he is not possibly such as to be nonhuman. In the case of essential predications an identity theory may be workable. Perhaps we can say that Socrates himself is the truth-maker of 'Socrates is human,' 'Socrates is rational,' and Socrates is animal.'
In the case of accidental predications, however, it seems definitely unworkable. This is because different accidental predications about Socrates need different truth-makers. It is not Socrates, but Socrates' being seated that is the truth-maker of 'Socrates is seated' and it is not Socrates, but Socrates' standing that is the truth-maker of 'Socrates is standing.'
Without worrying about what exactly the italicized phrases pick out (facts? states of affairs? tropes?), one thing seems crystal clear: there cannot be a strict identity of, e.g., the referent of 'Socrates' and the referent of 'seated.' And since there cannot be a strict identity, there must be some difference between the referents of the subject and predicate terms. Hennessey seems to show an appreciation of this in his response (second hyperlink above):
If we tweak the [B.V.] passage a bit, we can, it strikes me, improve the thesis about the referencing at work in the sentence “Socrates is sitting” so that it offers a more satisfactory support of the neo-Aristotelian thesis of anti-realism in the theory of universals, one indeed getting along “without invoking universals.” First, let us speak of “particular property” instead of “particularized property,” for the latter expression suggests, at least to me, that the property would be, prior to some act of particularization, a universal and not a particular. Let us then accept, but with a precision, Bill’s statement that “‘sitting’ refers to a particularized property (a trope),” saying instead that while the “Socrates” in our statement refers to Socrates, the person at present sitting, the “sitting” primarily refers to Socrates, the person at present sitting, and also co-refers to the particular property of sitting that inheres in Socrates. (An alternative terminology might have it that the “Socrates” in our statement denotes Socrates and the “sitting” primarily denotes Socrates, still the person sitting, and also connotesthe property of sitting that inheres in Socrates; come to think of it, I believe I recall having read, long ago, a similar distinction in the Petite logique of Jacques Maritain, a book which I no longer have, thanks to a flooded basement.)
This is definitely an improvement. It is an improvement because it tries to accommodate the perfectly obvious point that there must be some difference or other between the worldly referents of the subject and predicate terms in accidental predications. Hennessey is now telling us that 'Socrates' in our example refers to exactly one item, Socrates, while 'sitting' refers to two items, Socrates and the particular property (trope, accident) seatedness which inheres in Socrates.
But Hennessey is not yet in the clear. For I will now ask him what the copula 'is' expresses. It seems he must say that it expresses inherence. He must say that it is because seatedness inheres in Socrates that 'Socrates is seated' is true. Now inherence is an asymmetrical relation: if x inheres in y, then it is not the case that y inheres in x. But there is no sameness relation (whether strict identity, contingent identity, accidental sameness, Castaneda's consubstantiaton, etc) that is not symmetrical. Thus if x is in any sense the same as y, then y is (in the same sense) the same as x. Therefore, Hennessey's bringing of inherence into the picture is at odds with his claims of identity. Inherence, being asymmetrical, is not a type of identity or sameness. So why the talk of identity in the first passage quoted above?
Why does Hennessey say that 'seated' refers primarily to Socrates but also to the particular property seatedness? Why not just say this: 'Socrates' refers to the primary substance (prote ousia) Socrates and nothing else; 'is' refers to the inherence relation or nexus and nothing else; 'seated/sitting' refers to the particular property (trope, accident) seatedness and nothing else. This would give him what he wants, a theory of predication free of universals.
But this is not what Hennessey says. He is putting forth some sort of identity theory of predication. He thinks that in some sense the subject and predicate terms refer to the very same thing. He tells us that 'seated' refers both to a substance and to an accident. The upshot is that Hennessey has given birth to a hybrid theory which I for one do not find intelligible.
Here is the question he needs to confront directly: what, in the world, makes it true that 'Socrates is seated' (assuming of course that the sentence is true)? Here is a clear answer: the sentence is true because seatedness inheres in Socrates. But then of course there can be no talk of the identity of Socrates and seatedness. They are obviously not identical: one is a substance and the other an accident. The relation between them, being asymmetrical, cannot be any sort of sameness relation.
The other clear answer which, though clear, is absurd is this: the sentence is true because 'Socrates' and 'seated' refer to the very same thing with the result that the copula expresses identity. Now this is absurd for the reasons given over several posts. This was his original theory which he has wisely moved away from.
Instead of plumping for one of these clear theories, Hennessey gives us an unintelligible hybrid, a monster if you will, as we approach Halloween.
We have the concept true proposition. This concept is either instantiated, or it is not. If it is not instantiated, then it is true that it is not instantiated, which implies that the concept true proposition is instantiated. If, on the other hand, the concept in question is instantiated, then of course it is instantiated. Therefore, necessarily, the concept true proposition is instantiated, and there necessarily exists at least one truth, namely, the truth that the concept true proposition is instantiated.
A reader asks: Does not your argument presuppose that "to be instantiated" means "to exist extra-mentally"? What if someone believed that esse est percipi? If your argument was based on the aforementioned assumption, then would not it beg the question because it presupposes what needs to be demonstrated?
Let us first note that it cannot be coherently maintained that to be is to be perceived without qualification. To be perceived is to be perceived by someone or something. For Bishop Berkeley, the someone in question is God whose being is precisely not identical to his being perceived. The slogan therefore does not apply to God. If absolutely everything were such that its being were its being perceived, then a vicious infinite regress would arise. To put it figuratively, the world cannot be mere percepts 'all the way down.' You have to come eventually to something whose being is in excess of its being perceived.
Perhaps what the reader is getting at is that any true proposition that instantiates the concept true proposition is true only for a mind, and not true absolutely. But this too leads to an infinite regress which appears to be vicious. For consider the proposition *Every truth is true-for some mind or other; no truth is true absolutely.* Call this proposition 'P.' Is P true? No, it is true-for some mind or other. Call that proposition P*. Is it true? No, it is true-for some mind or other. An infinite regress arises, and it appears to be vicious.