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.
Regarding your recent post An Ontological Argument for Objective Reality, do you think your argument demonstrates that the correspondence theory of truth is inherent to our notion of objective reality, because we cannot meaningfully, without contradiction, even talk about truth in the absence of objective reality? If so, your argument also settles the case in favor of correspondence theory of truth.
Excellent question. I define 'ontological argument' in the earlier post, and note that 'ontological argument' and 'ontological argument for the existence of God' are not to be confused. Here is an ontological argument for the existence of at least one truth:
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.
This is a sound ontological argument for the existence of at least one truth using only the concept true proposition, the law of excluded middle, and the unproblematic principle that, for any proposition p, p entails that p is true. By 'proposition' here I simply mean whatever can be appropriately characterized as either true or false. That there are propositions in this innocuous sense cannot be reasonably denied.
Does it follow that the correspondence theory of truth is true? I don't think so. What the above argument shows is that there are truths. A truth is a true proposition, or, more generally, a true truth-bearer. But a truth-bearer is not the same as a truth-maker. A correspondence theory of truth, however, requires truth-makers. And so there is a logical gap between
1. There are truths
2. There are truth-makers of these truths.
My ontological argument establishes (1). It establishes the existence, indeed the necessity, of at least one truth 'outside the mind.' But truths outside the mind might just be true Fregean propositions. Such items are truth-bearers but not truth-makers. So (2) does not straightaway follow from (1).
To get to (2), we need to introduce a truth-maker principle as supplementary premise. Discussions of truth-maker principles can be found in the Truth category.
The proprietor of Beyond Necessity has a post on objective reality which is directed against some New Age mumbo-jumbo. One of the commenters remarks, "Your argument for the existence of objective reality sounds very much like the ontological argument for God, and about as plausible." Ed, the proprietor, responds, ". . . the argument in no way resembles the logical form of the ontological argument."
What I will now do is present a sound ontological argument for objective reality. In so doing I will show that both proprietor and commenter are wrong. The latter because the argument is plausible; the former because it is ontological in form.
Definition. An ontological argument from mere concepts (aus lauter Begriffen, in Kant's famous phrase) is a ratiocinative procedure whereby the being instantiated of a concept is proven by sheer analysis of the concept. It is thus an argument in which one attempts to infer the existence of X from the concept X. For example, the existence of God from the concept God; the existence of a golden mountain from the concept golden mountain; the existence of objective reality from the concept objective reality. Concepts are mental items by definition. So a sound ontological argument will take us from thought to (extramental) being, in a manner to please Parmenides.
To mention a concept I use italics. Thus a word in italics refers to a concept.
1. We have and understand the concept the (total) way things are. It doesn't matter how we acquired this concept. We have it and we understand it. The way things are includes every fact, every obtaining state of affairs. So the way things are is equivalent to the world in Wittgenstein's sense: "Die Welt ist die Gesamtheit der Tatsachen, nicht der Dinge." (Tractatus 1.1) It is also equivalent to objective reality.
2. Now let us entertain the possibility that nothing answers to the concept the way things are, that the concept is not instantiated. We are thus to entertain the possibility that there is the concept in our minds but nothing to which it applies. We can formulate this possibility using the proposition *There is no objective reality.* Call this proposition P.
3. Could P be true? If P is true, then P is true in objective reality: that is just what 'true' means. So if P is true, then it is true in objective reality that there is no objective reality. This is a contradiction. So we must conclude that If P is true, then P is false. And if P is false, then of course P is false. So, necessarily, P is false, which implies that its negation is not only true but necessarily true: it is necessarily true that there is objective reality. So by sheer analysis of the concept objective reality one can validly infer that there is objective reality. Here then is a case in which an ontological argument from mere concepts is sound.
4. Have I pulled a fast one? Not as far as I can see. I have merely analyzed the concept objective reality, teasing out an implication of the claim that the concept is not instantiated.
5. Response to the commenter. The commenter is right to appreciate that the above sort of reasoning is ontological and thus similar to the God proof found in Descartes' Meditation V and criticized famously by Kant. He is wrong, however, to think that the former reasoning is cogent if and only if the latter is.
6. Response to the proprietor. The proprietor is right, as against the commenter, when it comes to the cogency of the above sort of reasoning. But the commenter is wrong to fail to see that it is ontological reasoning in a clear sense of that term. It is a priori reasoning from thought to being, from concept to existence.
There are good reasons to introduce facts as truth-makers for contingently true atomic sentences. (Some supporting reasoning here.) But if there are facts, and they make-true contingent atomic sentences, then what is the semantic relation between these declarative sentences and their truth-makers? It seems we should say that such sentences name facts. But some remarks of Leo Mollica suggest that this will lead to trouble. Consider this aporetic triad:
1. 'Al is fat' is the name of the fact of Al's being fat. 2. 'Al is fat' has a referent only if it is true. 3. Names are essentially names: a name names whether or not it has a referent.
Each limb of the triad is very plausible, but they can't all be true. The conjunction of (1) and (3) entails the negation of (2). Which limb should we abandon? It cannot be (1) given the cogency of the Truth Maker Argument and the plausible assumption that the only semantic relation between a sentence and the corresponding fact is one of naming.
(2) also seems 'ungiveupable.' There are false sentences, and there may be false (Fregean) propositions: but a fact is not a truth-bearer but a truth-maker. It is very hard to swallow the notion that there are 'false' or nonobtaining facts. If 'Al is fat' is false it is because Al and fatness do not form a fact. The existence of a fact is the unity of its constituents. Where there is the unity of the right sort of constituents you have a fact; where there is not, you don't.
As for (3), suppose that names are only accidentally names, than a name names only on condition that it have a referent. We would then have to conclude that if the bearer of a name ceases to exist, that the name ceases to be a name. And that seems wrong. When Le Verrier put forth the hypothesis of an intra-Mercurial planent that came to be called 'Vulcan,' he did not know whether there was indeed such a planet, but he thought he had good evidence of its existence. When it was later decided that there was no good evidence of the planet in question, 'Vulcan' did not cease to be a name. If we now say, truly, that Vlucan does not exist we employ a name whose naming is not exhausted by its having a referent.
So it seems that names name essentially. This is the linguistic analog of intentionality: one cannot just think; if one thinks, then necessarily one thinks of something, something that may or may not exist. If I am thinking of something, and it ceases to exist, my thinking does not cease to be object-directed. Thinking is essentially object-directed. Analogously, names are essentially names.
So far, then, today's triad looks to be another addition the list of insolubilia. The limbs of the triad are more reasonably accepted than rejected, but they cannot all be true. A pretty pickle.
Prowling the Web for material on Nietzsche and the genetic fallacy, I stumbled across this passage from Merold Westphal, "Nietzsche as a Theological Resource," Modern Theology 13:2 (April 1997), p. 218: Perspectivism need not be presented as an absolute truth; it can be presented as an account of how reality looks from where one is situated. It does not thereby cease to be of value. The account of the game given by the winning coach cannot claim to be THE truth about the game: other accounts must be taken into account, including those from the losing coach, the players, the referees,.... But that does not mean that we do not listen with attention to what the winning coach has to say about the game. Perspectivism is the proposition P: All truths are perspectival. Either (P) applies to itself or it does not. If the former, then one must conclude that (P) is itself perspectivally true. Call this perspectivized perspectivism (PP). If the latter, if (P) is not taken to apply to itself, then (P) is nonperspectivally true. Westphal mentions, but does not take, this tack, so I shall ignore it here. His position appears to be perspectivized perspectivism. Unfortunately, his example shows that he does not understand it. He confuses (PP) with a quite different doctrine that could be called alethic partialism.
What the latter says is that the whole truth about a subject cannot be captured from any one perspective. Take a quart of 10 W 30 motor oil. From the perspective of a salesman at an auto parts store, it is a commodity from the sale of which he expects to make a profit. From the perspective of a motorist, it is a crankcase lubricant. From the perspective of a chemist, the oil's viscosity and other such attributes are salient. From the perspective of an eco-enthusiast, it is a potential pollutant of the ground water. And so on. But note that these partial truths add up to the whole truth about the oil. (By a 'partial truth' I do not mean a truth that is only partially true, but a truth that is wholly true, but captures only a part of the reality of what it is about.)
Alethic partialism sounds reasonable. But that is not what the perspectivized perspectivist is saying. What he is saying is that every truth is merely perspectivally true, and that this thesis itself is true only from his, and perhaps some (but not all) other, perspectives. Unfortunately, this allows a nonperspectivist such as your humble correspondent to say: "Fine! Truth is perspectival for you, Fritz, but for me it is absolute, and one of my absolute truths is that you are mistaken in your theory of truth." Clearly, the perspectivized perspectivist is in an uncomfortable position here. He wants to say something that is binding on all, but he cannot given the self-limiting nature of his position, a self-limitation demanded by logical consistency.
Pace Westphal, perspectivism is not "an account of how reality looks from where one is situated," but an account of the nature of truth, an account that implies that there is no reality. For truth is the truth of reality. A truth-bearer (a belief, say) is true just in case it corresponds to what is the case independently of anyone's beliefs, desires, or interests. To speak of truth as perspectival is to dissolve reality along with truth. From this one can see how obtuse Westphal's account of perspectivism his. He fails to grasp its radicality. And failing to grasp its radicality, he fails to appreciate its utter incoherence.
Nothing is true because it is consoling, but that does not preclude certain truths from being consoling. So one cannot refute a position by showing that some derive consolation from it. Equally, no support for a position is forthcoming from the fact that it thwarts our interests or dashes our hopes.
For Part I of this discussion, and the first six examples, see here. Recall that my concern is to show via a variety of examples that the eliminativist-reductivist distinction is useful and important and indeed indispensable for clear thinking about a number of topics.
7. Truth is warranted assertibility. Someone who makes this claim presumably intends to inform us about the nature of truth on the presupposition that there is truth. He is saying: there is truth all right; and what it is is warranted assertibility. But I say: if truth is warranted assertibility, then there is no truth. The italicized claim, no matter what the intentions of a person who makes it, amounts to a denial of truth. This example, as it seems to me, is 'on all fours' (as the Brits say) with the Feuerbach example and the 'properties are sets' example. Just as a property is not the sort of entity that could be identified with a set, truth is not the sort of property that could be identified with warranted assertibility (even at the Peircean ideal limit of inquiry.) These three claims are all of them eliminativist.
8. Truth is relative. Ditto. Truth is not the sort of property that could be relative: if you know what truth is then you know that truth is absolute. So if you say that truth is relative, then you are either confusing truth with some other property (e.g. the property of being believed by someone) or you are willy-nilly denying the very existence of truth. If you understand the concept of God, then you understand that God cannot be an anthropomorphic projection. And if you understand the concept of truth, then you understand that truth cannot be relative to anything, whatever your favorite index of relativization might be, whether individuals, social classes, historical epochs . . . .
9. The morally obligatory is that which God commands. In stark contrast to the two foregoing examples, this example cannot be given an eliminativist reading. The very concept of truth disallows truth's relativization. But there is nothing in the concept of moral obligation to disallow the identification of the morally obligatory with that which God commands. But here we need to make a distinction.
You will have noticed that identity is a symmetrical relation: if x = y, then y = x. But reduction is asymmetrical: if x reduces to y, then y does not reduce to x. Therefore, an identification is not the same as a reductive identification or reduction. 'Hesperus = Phosphorus' is an identity claim but not a reductive claim: the claim is not that Hesperus reduces to Phosphorus, as if Phosphorus were the fundamental reality and Hesperus the less fundamental, or perhaps a mere appearance of Phosphorus. But 'Table salt = NaCl' is a reduction of what is less fundamental to what is more fundamental.
Now what about our italicized claim? There are problems with reading it as a left-to-right reduction. The morally obligatory is what we morally ought to do; but what we ought to do cannot be reduced to what anyone commands, not even if the commander is morally perfect. The normative oughtness of an act or act-ommission cannot be reduced the mere fact that someone commands it, even if the commander always commands all and only what one ought to do. So one could argue that the italicized claim, if construed as a reduction of the morally obligatory to what God commands, collapses into an elimination of the morally obligatory. Be we needn't take it as a reduction; we can take it as a nonreductive identification. Accordingly, being morally obligatory and being commanded by God are the same property in reality even though they are conceptually distinct.
But even if you don't agree with the details of my analysis, I think you must agree to distinguish among eliminative claims, reductive identity claims, and nonreductive identity claims.
Peter and I were having lunch with a pretty lady yesterday. While recounting some paranormal experiences, he expressed doubt as to whether they were true. The lady, quite sympathetic to the experiences and their contents, but having come under the influence of the PoMo crowd, piped up, "There is no truth." Peter shot back, "So it is true that there is no truth?"
Peter's response was 'knee-jerk,' reflexive, not reflective. He didn''t need to reflect. His was a stock response, but none the worse for being stock or easily come by. It is a prepared line that you should all have at the ready when confronted with PoMo nonsense. Not that it will do you much good with the PoMo crowd.
The probative force of Peter's riposte is devastating. What's amazing, though, is that the Pomo types are not moved by it. I think this shows that truth is not their concern. Something else is, power perhaps. It is no surprise that leftism is alive and well within the precincts of PoMo. I'd have to think about it some more, but 'conservative post-modernist' smacks of being an oxymoron.
Let S be a declarative sentence. Then surely
E. 'S' is true iff S.
The equivalence schema (E) doesn't say much. But what it says suffices to refute the claim that there is no truth. For anyone who asserts 'There is no truth' makes an assertion which is equivalent to "'There is no truth' is true." And so truth comes back into the picture. Truth, she's a wily bitch. Drive her out of the front door, she comes in through the back. And I don't think it matters how minimalist is your theory of truth. My argument does not assume that truth is a metaphysically substantive property. Even if no property at all corresponds to the predicate ' is true,' that predicate has a sense. If it had no sense, then (E) would be gibberish, like
E*. 'S' is schmue iff S.
I'd have to think about it some more, but it looks as if the equivalence schema by itself suffices to refute the PoMo nonsense that there is no truth. For even if there is no property of truth, and truth is merely the sense of the predicate 'is true,' that sense cannot be denied. It's always and necessarily along for the ride.
1. From my survey of the literature, there are four main types of truth theory being discussed: substantive theories, nihilist (for want of a better label) theories, deflationary theories, and identity theories. Let me say just a little about the first two main types and then move on to deflationism. The Commenter (William Woking) will be sure to disagree with me about deflationism, which is good: by abrasion the pearl (of wisdom) is formed. Or as I read on a T-shirt at a road race recently: No pressure, no diamonds.
2. Substantive theories maintain that truth is (i) a metaphysically substantive item, presumably a property or relation, (ii) susceptible of non-trivial analysis or explication. Correspondence, coherence, and pragmatic theories count as substantive theories. Such theories purport to analyze truth in terms of other, presumably more basic, terms such as a relation of correspondence or adequation to 'reality' or to facts as in Veritas est adequatio intellectus ad rem. Or in terms of coherence of truth-bearers (beliefs, propositions, etc.) among themselves. Or in terms of conduciveness to human flourishing as in William James' "the true is the good by way of belief." Or in terms of broadly epistemic notions such as rational acceptability or warranted asseribility as in the Putnamian-Peircean 'Truth is rational acceptability at the ideal limit of inquiry.'
The latter is not a good proposal for reasons I won't go into now, but it illustrates the project of giving a substantive theory of truth. One tries to analyze truth in more basic terms. One tries to give an informative, noncircular answer to the question, What is truth? The sunbstantive approach is in the Granbd Tradition deriving from Plato wherein one asks What is X? for many values of 'X.'
The substantive approach to truth can be summed up in three propositions:
A. The facts about truth are not exhausted by the substitution-instances of the equivalence schemata 'p' is true iff p and *p* is true iff p.
B. There is a substantive property of truth common to all and only truths.
C. This substantive property is analyzable.
3. The 'nihilist' as he is known in the truth literature rejects substantive theories, not because they are substantive, but because they are theories. He may grant that truth is a deep, substantial, metaphysically loaded, ontologically thick, topic. But he denies that one can have a theory about it, that one can account for it in more basic terms: truth is just too basic to be explained in more fundamental terms. The nihilist accepts (A) and (B) above but denies (C).
4. The deflationist, like the nihilist, rejects substantive theories of truth. The difference is that the deflationist holds that an account of truth is possible albeit in very 'thin' terms, while the nihilist denies that any account is possible thick or thin: truth is too basic to be accountable. Nihilism allows truth to be a thick (metaphysical) topic. Deflationism disallows this. Deflationists deny (A), (B), and (C).
5. The deflationist makes a big deal out of certain perfectly obvious equivalences and he tries to squeeze a lot of anti-metaphysical mileage out of them. Here are two examples, one involving a declarative sentence, the other involving a proposition. Note that asterisks around a sentence, or around a placeholder for a sentence, form a name of the proposition expressed by the sentence.
E1. 'Grass is green' is true iff grass is green.
E2. *Grass is green* is true iff grass is green.
Note that such biconditionals express logical, not material, equivalences: they are not just true but true across all metaphysically (broadly logically) possible worlds. With respect to such biconditionals, there is no possible situation in which the RHS is true and the LHS false, or vice versa. If asked for the ground of this necessity, I would say it resides in the mere logic of the truth predicate. Saying this, I do not concede that there is nothing more to truth than the merely syntactic role played by 'true ' in equivalences like the above.
Now let us assume something which, though false, will simplify our discussion. Let us assume that there is no other type of use of the truth predicate other than the uses illustrated in logical equivalences like the foregoing. (Thus I am proposing that we ignore such uses as the one illustrated by 'Everything Percy says is true.')
The deflationist thesis can now be formulated as follows: There is nothing more to truth than what is expressed by such truisms as the foregoing equivalences. Thus there is no metaphysically substantive property of truth that the LHS predicates of 'Grass is green' or of *Grass is green.* The content on both sides is exactly the same: 'is true' adds no new content. 'Is true' plays a merely syntactic role. In terms of Quine's disquotationalism (which is a version of the deflationary approach), 'is true' is merely a device of disquotation. 'Is true' has no semantic dimension: it neither expresses a substantive property, nor does it refer to anything. Truth drops out as a topic of philosophical inquiry. There is no such property susceptible of informative explication in terms of correspondence, coherence, rational acceptability, or whatnot. The question What is truth? gets answered by saying that there is no such 'thing' as truth: there are truths, and every such truth reduces via the equivalence schema to a sentence or proposition in which the truth predicate does not appear. Accordingly, there is nothing all truths have in common in virtue of which they are truths. There is only a multiplicity of disparate truths. But even this says too much since each 'truth' reduces to a sentence or proposition in which 'true' does not appear.
6. Now for my misgivings about deflationism. But first three preliminary points.
a. Equivalence is symmetrical (commutative); if p is equivalent to q, then q is equivalent to p. But explanation is asymmetrical: if p explains q, then q does not explain p. From ' p iff q' one cannot infer 'p because q' or 'q because p.' 'p iff q' is consistent with both. Connected with the asymmetry of explanation is that equivalences do not sanction reductions. Triangularity and trilaterality are logically equivalent properties, but it doesn't follow that either reduces to the other.
b. If two items are equivalent, then both are propositions or sentences. There cannot be equivalence between a sentence or proposition and something that is neither.
c. To define equivalence we need to recur to truth. To say that p, q are logically equivalent is to say that there is no possible situation in which p is true and q false, or q true, and p false.
Now what is the deflationist saying? His thesis is negative: there is nothing to truth except what is captured in the the equivalence schemata and their substitution-instances. Consider
E. *p* is true iff p.
First Misgiving: The truth of the biconditional is not in question. But equivalences don't sanction reductions. From (E) one cannot infer that the LHS reduces to the RHS, or vice versa. But the deflationist is saying that the LHS reduces to, and is explained by, the RHS. But what is his justification for saying this? Why not the other way around? Why not say that p because *p* is true?
Second Misgiving: For an equivalence to hold, both sides must be true (or false). Suppose both sides are true. Then, although the predicate 'true' does not appear on the RHS, the RHS must be true. So, far from dispensing with truth, the equivalence schemata and their instances presuppose it!
You don't get it, do you? Let me try an analogy with existence. A deflationist about existence might offer this equivalence schema:
F. Fs exist iff something is an F. (E.g., 'Cats exist iff something is a cat.')
Squeezing this triviality hard, our deflationist announces that 'exist' plays a merely syntactic role and that there is no substantive property of existence. But is it not obvious that if something is an F, then that thing must exist? Are you quantifying over a domain of nonexistents? If yes, then the equivalence fails. But if you are quantifying over a domain of existents, then the existence of those existents is being presupposed. So, even though 'exist' does not occur on the RHS of (F), existence is along for the ride. Same with (E). Even though 'true' does not occur on the RHS of (E), truth is along for the ride. In both cases, existence and truth in meaty substantive senses are being presupposed.
Third Misgiving. 'Grass is green' and 'It is true that grass is green' have exactly the same content. That is perfectly obvious and denied by no one. 'Is true' adds no new content. But how is it supposed to follow that truth is not a substantive property? What follows is that truth is not a content property. How do our deflationist pals get from 'Truth is not a content property' to 'Truth is not a substantive property'? Isn't it obvious that truth refers us outside the content of the proposition or sentence?
Compare existence. A thing and the same thing existing have exactly the same quidditative content. The fastest runner and the existing fastest runner are numerically the same individual. Does it follow that existence is not a property? No, what follows it that existence is not a quidditative property. Same with truth. There is no difference in content between p and true p. But it makes a world of difference whether p is true or false just as it makes a world of difference whether an individual exists or not.
Fourth Misgiving. If p and q are equivalent, then both are propositions. The instances of (E) therefore do not get us outside the 'circle of propositions.' But isn't it obvious that whether or not a sentence or a proposition or a belief (or any truthbearer) is true or false depends on matters external to the truthbearer?
We are warming up to an examination of deflationary theories of truth according to which truth is either not a property or not a metaphysically substantive property. (I oppose deflationary theories of truth just as I oppose deflationary theories of existence.) But first some clarification of 'predicate' and 'property.'
1. I begin by resisting the traditional conflation of predicates and properties, a conflation in evidence when we hear a philosopher claim that "existence is not a predicate." That claim makes no sense unless a predicate is a property. After all, 'existence,' as an abstract substantive, is not grammattically tuited to occupy predicate position. If, however, a predicate is a bit of language used to express a property, then the claim should be that " '. . . exists' is not a predicate." That's in order, as is "Existence is not a property." As expressing properties, predicates are distinct from properties. Predicates are linguistic while properties are extralinguistic.
To be a bit more precise, predicates (whether types or tokens) are tied to particular languages whereas the properties they express are not so tied. Thus schwarz is tied to German in the way black is tied to English, but the property of being black is tied to neither. Equally, the property of being disyllabic is tied to no one language even though it is a property that only linguistic items can have. Thus 'Boston' but not Boston is disyllabic.
2. Some of you will question whether there are properties distinct from predicates. Question away. But just realize that in order to raise this very question you must first have distinguished predicates and properties. You must already have made the distinction 'at the level of intension' if not 'at the level of extension.' For you cannot maintain that there are no properties distinct from predicates unless you understand the term 'property' just as you cannot maintain that there are no unicorns distinct from horses unless you understand the term 'unicorn.'
3. By my lights, you are a very foolish philosopher if you deny properties, but not if you deny universals. If you deny universals you are merely mistaken. So let's be clear that 'property' and 'universal' are not to be used interchangeably. It is a substantive question whether properties are universals or particulars (as trope theorists maintain). Universals I define as repeatable entities, particulars as unrepeatable entities.
4. The predicate/property distinction under our belts, we need to note three views on their relation.
5. One view is that no predicate expresses a property. I rejected this view in #3. To put it bluntly, there is a real world out there, and the things in it have properties whether or not there are any languages and language-users. Some of our predicates succeed more or less in expressing some of these properties.
6. A second view is that every predicate expresses or denotes a property. The idea is that for every predicate 'P' there is a property P corresponding to 'P.' But then, given that 'exists' and 'true' are predicates, it would follow straightaway that existence and truth are properties. And that seems too easy. Deflationists, after all, deny for reasons that cannot simply be dismissed that truth is a property. They cannot be refuted by pointing out that 'true' is a predicate of English. The following equivalence is undeniable but also not formulable unless 'true' is a predicate:
'Grass is green' is true iff grass is green.
The deflationist will take an equivalence like this to show that 'true' is a dispensable predicate and therefore one that does not pick out a property. (On Quine's disquotationalism, for example, 'is true' is a device of disquotation: it merely undoes the semantic ascent displayed on the LHS of the biconditional.) We should therefore be uneasy about the view that every predicate expresses or denotes a property. The existence of a predicate does not show the existence of a corresponding property. A predicate need not predicate a property. It should not be a matter of terminological fallout that wherever there is a predicate there is a property.
7. Determined to maintain that every predicate expresses or denotes a property, a deflationist could of course hold that existence and truth are properties, but not metaphysically substantive properties. A deflationist could argue like this:
Every predicate expresses a property
'True' is a predicate
Ergo: Truth is a property, but not a substantive one.
But he could also argue like this:
Every genuine predicate expresses a substantive property
Truth is not a substantive property
Ergo: 'True' is not a genuine predicate.
8. A third view about the predicate-property relation has it that some predicates pick out properties and some don't. I suggest this is how we should use 'predicate.' It then becomes a matter of investigation, not of terminology, whether or not there is a property for a given predicate.
I am using 'deflationism' as an umbrella term subsuming several different deflationary theories of truth, among them Ramsey's redundancy theory, Quine's disquotationalism, Horwich's minimalist theory, and others. Deflationary theories contrast with what might be called 'robust' or substantive' theories of truth. It is not easy to focus the issue that divides these two types of theory. One way to get a feel for the issue is by considering the traditional-sounding question, What is the nature of truth? This 'Platonic' question -- compare What is the nature of knowledge? (Theaetetus); What is the nature of justice? (Republic) -- presupposes that truth has a nature, a nature that can be analyzed or otherwise explicated in terms of correspondence, or coherence, or 'what conduces to human flourishing,' or what would be accepted at the Peircean limit of inquiry, or something else.
The deflationist questions the presupposition. He suspects that truth has no nature. He suspects that there is no one property that all truths have, a property the having of which constitutes them as truths. His project is to try to account for our truth-talk in ways that do not commit us to truth's having a nature, or to truth's being a genuine property. Of course, we English speakers have and use the word 'true.' But the mere fact that we have and use the predicate 'true' does not suffice to show that there is a property corresponding to the predicate. (Exercise for the reader: find predicates to which no properties correspond.)
So if we can analyze our various uses of 'true' in ways that do not commit us to a property of truth, then we will have succeeded in deflating the topic of truth and showing it to be metaphysically insubstantial or 'lightweight.' The most radical approach would be one that tries to dispense with the predicate 'true' by showing that everything we say with its help can be said without its help (and without the help of any obvious synonym such as 'correct.') The idea here is not merely that truth is not a genuine property, but that 'true' is not even a genuine predicate.
Consider two assertions. I first assert that snow is white, and then I assert that it is true that snow is white. The two assertions have the same content. They convey the same meaning to the audience. This suggests that the sentential operator 'It is true that ___' adds nothing to the content of what is asserted. And the same goes for the predicate '___ is true.' Whether we think of 'true' as an operator or as a predicate, it seems redundant, or logically superfluous. In "Facts and Propositions" (1927), Frank Ramsey sketches a redundancy or logical superfluity theory of truth. This may be the first such theory in the Anglosphere. (Is there an historian in the house?)
For Ramsey, "there really is no separate problem of truth but merely a linguistic muddle." Ramsey tells us that ". . . 'It is true that Caesar was murdered' means no more than that Caesar was murdered, and 'It is false that Caesar was murdered' means that Caesar was not murdered." (F. P. Ramsey, Philosophical Papers, Cambridge UP, 1990, ed. D. H. Mellor, p. 38) But what about a case in which a proposition is not explicitly given, but is merely described, as in 'He is always right'? In this example, 'right' has the sense of 'true.' 'He is always' right means that whatever he asserts is true. As a means of getting rid of 'true' in this sort of case, Ramsey suggests:
1. For all p, if he asserts p, then p is true.
But since "the propositional function p is true is the same as p, as e.g., its value 'Caesar was murdered is true' is the same as 'Caesar was murdered,'" Ramsey thinks he can move from (1) to
2. For all p, if he asserts p, then p.
If the move to (2) is kosher, then 'true' will have been eliminated. Unfortunately, (2) is unintelligible. To see this, try to apply Universal Instantiation to (2). If the variable 'p' ranges over sentences, we get
3. If he asserts 'Snow is white,' then 'Snow is white.'
This is nonsense, because "'Snow is white'" in both occurrences is a name, whence it follows that the consequent of the conditional is not a proposition, as it must be if the conditional is to be well-formed. If, on the other hand, the variable 'p' is taken to range over propositions, then we get the same result:
4. If he asserts the proposition that snow is white, then the proposition that snow is white
which is also nonsense. Unless I am missing something, it looks as if Ramsey's redundancy theory cannot succeed in eliminating 'true.' It looks as if 'true' is an indispensable predicate, and thus a genuine predicate. This does not, however, show that truth is a genuine property. It merely shows that we cannot get rid of 'true.'
Some sentences, whether or not they are about other things, are about themselves. They refer to themselves. Hence we say they are 'self-referential.' The phenomenon of sentential self-referentiality is sometimes benign. One example is 'This sentence is true.' Another is 'Every proposition is either true or false.' Of interest here are the more or less malignant forms of self-reference. One example is the so-called Liar sentence:
1. This sentence is false.
If (1) is true, then it is false, and if false, then true. This is an example of an antinomy. In pursuit of a taxonomy, we might call this Grade I of self-referential inconsistency. Grade I, then, is the class of self-referentially inconsistent sentences that issue in antinomies.
There are other self-referential sentences that are not antinomies, but imply their own necessary falsehood. These are such that, if true, then false, and if false, then false, and are therefore necessarily false. For example,
2. All generalizations are false.
If (2) is true, then, since (2) is itself a generalization, (2) is false. But its falsity does not imply its truth. So, if false, then false. Assuming Bivalence, it follows that (2) is necessarily false, whence it follows that its negation -- Some generalizations are true -- is necessarily true, and moreover an instance of itself. A second example might be
3. There are no truths.
If (3) is true, then it is false. And if false, then false. So, (3) is necessarily false, whence it follows that its negation -- There are truths -- is necessarily true.
Examples (2) and (3) belong to Grade II in my tentative taxonomy. These are self-referential sentences that entail their own necessary falsehood. Grade III comprises those self-referential sentences that are such that if true, then neither true nor false, and if false, then false. For example,
4. There are no truth-bearers.
If (4) is true, then, since (4) is a truth-bearer, (4) is neither true nor false. But if false, then false. If we define the cognitively meaningful as that which is either true or false, then (4) is either cognitively meaningless or false. A more interesting example that seems to belong in Grade III is the Verifiability Principle of the Logical Positivists:
5. Every cognitively meaningful sentence is either analytic or empirically verifiable in principle.
If (5) is supposed to be cognitively (as opposed to emotionally) meaningful, and thus not a mere linguistic recommendation or pure stipulation, then it applies to itself. So if (5) is true, then (5) -- which is clearly neither analytic nor verifiable -- is meaningless. So, if true, then meaningless, and if false, then false. Therefore, either meaningless or false. Not good!
Grade IV comprises those self-referential sentences that can be described as self-vitiating (self-weakening) though they are not strictly self-refuting. For example,
6. All truths are relative.
If (6) is true, then (6) is relative, i.e., relatively true. It is not the case that if (6) is true, then (6) is false. So (6) is not self-refuting. Nevertheless, (6) is self-vitiating in that it relativizes and thus weakens itself: if true, it cannot be absolutely true; it can only be relatively true. It is therefore a mistake, one often made, to say that he who affirms (6) contradicts himself. He does not. He would contradict himself only if he maintained that it is nonrelatively true that all truths are relative. But no sophisticated relativist would say such a thing. Other examples which seem to fall into the category of the self-vitiating:
7. Every statement is subject to revision. (Quine) 8. Every theory reflects class interests. (Marxism) 9. All theory is ideology. (Marxism) 10. Nothing can be known. 11. Nothing is known. 12. Nothing is certain. 13. All truth is historical. 14. All is opinion.
What is wrong with self-vitiating propositions? What does their weakness consist in? Consider (8). If (8) is true, then the theory that every theory reflects class interests itself reflects class interests. Suppose (8) reflects the class interests of the proletariat. Then what is that to me, who am not a proletarian? What is it to anyone who is not a proletarian? If (8) is true only for you and those with your interests, and your interests are not my interests, then I have been given no reason to modify my views. The trouble with (7)-(14) and their ilk is that they make a claim on our rational attention, on our common rational interest, while undercutting that very claim.
It seems we need a fifth category. The sentences of Grade V are such that, if they are true then they are, not false, and not self-vitiating, but non-assertible. Consider
15. No statement is negative.
(15) applies to itself and so at first appears to refute itself: if (15) is true, then it is false. And if false, then false; hence necessarily false. But consider a possible world W in which God destroys all negative statements and makes it impossible for anyone to make a negative statement. In W, (15) is true, but non-assertible. (15) does not prove itself to be false; it proves itself to be non-assertible.
This is subject to the retort that one who asserts (17) must rely on memory, and so must presuppose the reliability of the faculty whose reliability he questions by asserting (17). For if anyone is to be in a position responsibly to affirm (17), to affirm it with a chance of its being true, he must remember that on some occasions he has misremembered. He must remember and remember correctly that some of his memories were merely apparent. It seems obvious, then, that the truth of (17) is inconsistent with its correctly being affirmed as true. If true, it is unaffirmable as true. But this is different from saying that (17), if true, is false. Although (17) is unaffirmable or non-assertible if true, it seems that (17) could be true nonetheless.
There are sentences the uttering of which falsifies them, and sentences the uttering of which verifies them. An example of the former is 'I am not talking now.' The act of uttering this sentence falsifies it. By contrast, the act of uttering 'I am talking now' verifies it. If to falsify is to make false, then to verify is to make true.
But 'verify' (from L. veritas, truth) is ambiguous, and clarity will be served if we distinguish its two senses, one epistemological, the other ontological.
In the epistemological sense, to verify a claim is to ascertain whether or not it is true. In its ontological sense, to verify is to make true. My saying 'I am now talking' makes true the proposition expressed by the sentence; it is not part of any ascertaining of the truth of the proposition expressed. The utterance-event is the truth-maker of the proposition in question. It is the ontic ground of the proposition's truth. There is, therefore, a clear sense in which the truthmaker of a truthbearer is its verifier.
This is an addendum to our earlier discussion which I hope will advance it a step or two. We heard Alan Rhoda claim that the following sentence is false: 'If nothing exists, then it is true that nothing exists.' Let's think further about this. We first note that 'If nothing exists, then it is true that nothing exists' can be parsed in two ways:
1. If nothing exists, then it is true that (nothing exists).
2. If nothing exists, then it is true (that nothing exists).
Call (1) the operator construal. 'It is true that ( )' is a sentential operator the operand of which is a sentence. The result of the operation is itself a sentence. If the operand is true, then the resulting sentence is true. If the operand is false, then the resulting sentence is false. Please note that prefixing 'It is true that' to a sentence cannot change the truth-value of the sentence. In this respect, the truth operator 'It is true that ( )' is unlike the negation operator 'It is not the case that ( ).' Assuming Bivalence -- as I have been doing throughout -- if you negate a true sentence you get a false one, and vice versa.
Call (2) the predicate construal. The consequent of (2) is of course a sentence, but it is not the result or product of a sentential operator operating upon a sentence. For what is within the parentheses is not a sentence. 'That nothing exists' is not a sentence. It does not have a truth-value. If I assertively utter it I do not convey a complete thought to my audience. 'That nothing exists' is the name of a proposition. It follows that 'it is true' in the consequent of (2) functions as a predicate as one can more clearly see from the equivalent
3. If nothing exists, then that nothing exists is true.
In (2) and (3) a predicate is attached to a name, whereas in (1) this is not the case: a sentential operator is attached to a sentence.
Not only are the parsings different, the ontological commitments are as well. (2) commits us to propositions while (1) doesn't. And (1) seems to commit us to operators while (2) doesn't.
Here is the place to comment on my asterisks convention. Putting asterisks around a declarative sentence forms a name of the proposition expressed by the sentence. 'The Moon is uninhabited' is a declarative sentence. '*The Moon is uninhabited*' is not a sentence but a name. It names an entity that has a truth-value, but it itself does not have a truth-value. (2) and (3) can also be rendered as
4. If nothing exists, then *Nothing exists* is true.
With the operator/predicate distinction under our belts we may be in a position to see how one philosopher (Alan) could reasonably reject 'If nothing exists, then it is true that nothing exists' while another accepts it. The one philosopher gives the original sentence the predicate construal which is committed to propositions. This philosopher then reasons that, if nothing exists, then no propositions exist either, and are therefore not available to instantiate the property of being true. The other philosopher gives the original sentence the operator construal and finds it impossible to understand how anyone could reject the original sentence so construed. This philosopher insists that if nothing exists, then it is true that nothing exists; that this truth is not nothing, and that therefore it is something, which implies that it cannot be the case that nothing exists.
The objector is inviting us to consider the possible situation in which beings like us do not exist and no truths either. The claim that this situation is possible, however, is equivalent to the claim that it is true that this situation is possible.
I think there's a mistake here. In general, p does not entail it is true that p. The envisioned scenario is a case in point. The sense in which the situation is admitted to be possible is purely negative in that absent truths, no contradiction results. To say, however, that it is true that the situation is possible, where truths are supposed to depend on cognizers, requires that the situation be possible in a positive sense, i.e., it requires that something be the case, not merely that contradictions not be the case.
Thanks, Alan. Let's rehearse the dialectic. I argued in a standard self-referential way that *There are truths* is not just true, but necessarily true. (For *There are no truths,* if true is false, and if false is false, hence is necessarily false, so its negation is necessarily true.) I then asked whether the necessity of its truth is unconditional or rests on a condition such as the existence of thinking beings. (In other words: is the necessity of truth merely a transcendental presupposition without which we cannot operate as thinking beings, or is the necessity of there being truths metaphysically grounded in rerum natura?) If the existence of truths is merely a transcendental presupposition, then it would seem that the following scenario is possible: there are no thinking beings and no truths either. If this scenario is possible, then the necessity of *There are truths* would be conditional. I then tried to show that the scenario is not possible by invoking the principle Necessarily, for any p, p --> it is true that p. My thought was that if it is possible that there be no thinking beings and no truths either, then it is true that this is possible. But if it is true that this is possible, then it is true independently of what anyone thinks. But then truth as something more than a transcendental presupposition is being presupposed.
I am afraid I don't understand your criticism of the reasoning. The principle p --> it is true that p strikes me as self-evident. Its 'intellectual luminosity,' if you will, will trump any putative counterexample. If snow is white, then it is true that snow is white; if grass is green, then it is true that grass is green; if it is possible that no thinkers and no truths exist, then it is true that it is possible that no truths and no thnkers exist. Now the point is that this last truth says how things are in a situation in which no thinkers exist; therefore it is a truth that cannot exist only if thinkers exist. It exists whether or not thinkers exist.
You write, "The sense in which the situation is admitted to be possible is purely negative in that absent truths, no contradiction results." I don't follow you. The situation is possible assuming that truth is a mere transcendental presupposition. Now suppose the possibility is actual. Then it will be true both that it is possible and that it is actual. So once again truth cannot be a mere transcendental presupposition.
You then say, " To say, however, that it is true that the situation is possible, where truths are supposed to depend on cognizers, requires that the situation be possible in a positive sense, i.e., it requires that something be the case, not merely that contradictions not be the case." But I am not claiming that truths are dependent on cognizers; I am refuting that view. If the existence of truths depends on cognizers, and cognizers exist contingently, then it is possible that there be no truths. But this is not possible since if, per impossibile, it were the case that there are no truths, then this would be the case, i.e., would be true.
The ComBox is open if you want to discuss this further.