Philosophical essays on truth

Truth, Language, and History: Philosophical Essays Volume 5

The notion of a fact as some sort of ontological entity was first stated explicitly in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Correspondence Theory does permit facts to be mind-dependent entities. McTaggart, and perhaps Kant, held such Correspondence Theories. The Correspondence theories of Russell , Wittgenstein and Austin all consider facts to be mind-independent. But regardless of their mind-dependence or mind-independence, the theory must provide answers to questions of the following sort.

A true proposition can't be a fact if it also states a fact, so what is the ontological standing of a fact?

Inquiries Into Truth and Interpretation: Philosophical Essays Volume 2

Is the fact that corresponds to "Brutus stabbed Caesar" the same fact that corresponds to "Caesar was stabbed by Brutus", or is it a different fact? It might be argued that they must be different facts because one expresses the relationship of stabbing but the other expresses the relationship of being stabbed, which is different. In addition to the specific fact that ball 1 is on the pool table and the specific fact that ball 2 is on the pool table, and so forth, is there the specific fact that there are fewer than 1,, balls on the table?

Is there the general fact that many balls are on the table? Does the existence of general facts require there to be the Forms of Plato or Aristotle? What about the negative proposition that there are no pink elephants on the table? Does it correspond to the same situation in the world that makes there be no green elephants on the table? The same pool table must involve a great many different facts.

These questions illustrate the difficulty in counting facts and distinguishing them. The difficulty is well recognized by advocates of the Correspondence Theory, but critics complain that characterizations of facts too often circle back ultimately to saying facts are whatever true propositions must correspond to in order to be true.

Davidson has criticized the notion of fact, arguing that "if true statements correspond to anything, they all correspond to the same thing" in "True to the Facts", Davidson []. Davidson also has argued that facts really are the true statements themselves; facts are not named by them, as the Correspondence Theory mistakenly supposes. Defenders of the Correspondence Theory have responded to these criticisms in a variety of ways. Sense can be made of the term "correspondence", some say, because speaking of propositions corresponding to facts is merely making the general claim that summarizes the remark that.

Therefore, the Correspondence theory must contain a theory of "means that" but otherwise is not at fault. Other defenders of the Correspondence Theory attack Davidson's identification of facts with true propositions. Snow is a constituent of the fact that snow is white, but snow is not a constituent of a linguistic entity, so facts and true statements are different kinds of entities.

Recent work in possible world semantics has identified facts with sets of possible worlds. The fact that the cat is on the mat contains the possible world in which the cat is on the mat and Adolf Hitler converted to Judaism while Chancellor of Germany. The motive for this identification is that, if sets of possible worlds are metaphysically legitimate and precisely describable, then so are facts.

To more rigorously describe what is involved in understanding truth and defining it, Alfred Tarski created his Semantic Theory of Truth. In Tarski's theory, however, talk of correspondence and of facts is eliminated. Although in early versions of his theory, Tarski did use the term "correspondence" in trying to explain his theory, he later regretted having done so, and dropped the term altogether since it plays no role within his theory. The Semantic Theory is the successor to the Correspondence Theory.

For an illustration of the theory, consider the German sentence "Schnee ist weiss" which means that snow is white. Tarski asks for the truth-conditions of the proposition expressed by that sentence: "Under what conditions is that proposition true? Line 1 is about truth. Line 3 is not about truth — it asserts a claim about the nature of the world. Thus T makes a substantive claim. Moreover, it avoids the main problems of the earlier Correspondence Theories in that the terms "fact" and "correspondence" play no role whatever.

A theory is a Tarskian truth theory for language L if and only if, for each sentence S of L , if S expresses the proposition that p, then the theory entails a true "T-proposition" of the bi-conditional form:. In the example we have been using, namely, "Schnee ist weiss", it is quite clear that the T-proposition consists of a containing or "outer" sentence in English, and a contained or "inner" or quoted sentence in German:. There are, we see, sentences in two distinct languages involved in this T-proposition.

If, however, we switch the inner, or quoted sentence, to an English sentence, e. In this latter case, it looks as if only one language English , not two, is involved in expressing the T-proposition.

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Including a new introduction by his widow, Marcia Cavell, this volume completes Donald Davidson's colossal intellectual legacy. Those who produce it certainly aren't honest, but neither are they liars, given that the liar and the honest man are linked in their common, if not identical, regard for the truth. There is neither a zoo nor a circus anywhere nearby. In addition, should they be regarded as being concrete entities, i. Let us take this as our neo-classical version of the coherence theory. But very roughly, the identification of facts with true propositions left them unable to see what a false proposition could be other than something which is just like a fact, though false.

But, according to Tarski's theory, there are still two languages involved: i the language one of whose sentences is being quoted and ii the language which attributes truth to the proposition expressed by that quoted sentence. The quoted sentence is said to be an element of the object language , and the outer or containing sentence which uses the predicate "true" is in the metalanguage. Tarski discovered that in order to avoid contradiction in his semantic theory of truth, he had to restrict the object language to a limited portion of the metalanguage.

Among other restrictions, it is the metalanguage alone that contains the truth-predicates, "true" and "false"; the object language does not contain truth-predicates.

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This latter claim is certainly true it is a tautology , but it is no significant part of the analysis of the concept of truth — indeed it does not even use the words "true" or "truth", nor does it involve an object language and a metalanguage. Tarski's T-condition does both. Tarski's complete theory is intended to work for just about all propositions, expressed by non-problematic declarative sentences, not just "Snow is white. Also, Tarski wants his truth theory to reveal the logical structure within propositions that permits valid reasoning to preserve truth.

To do all this, the theory must work for more complex propositions by showing how the truth-values of these complex propositions depend on their parts, such as the truth-values of their constituent propositions. Truth tables show how this is done for the simple language of Propositional Logic e. Tarski's goal is to define truth for even more complex languages.

Tarski's theory does not explain analyze when a name denotes an object or when an object falls under a predicate; his theory begins with these as given.

He wants what we today call a model theory for quantified predicate logic. His actual theory is very technical. The idea of using satisfaction treats the truth of a simple proposition such as expressed by "Socrates is mortal" by saying:. If "Socrates" is a name and "is mortal" is a predicate, then "Socrates is mortal" expresses a true proposition if and only if there exists an object x such that "Socrates" refers to x and "is mortal" is satisfied by x.

If "a" is a name and "Q" is a predicate, then "a is Q" expresses a true proposition if and only if there exists an object x such that "a" refers to x and "Q" is satisfied by x. The idea is to define the predicate "is true" when it is applied to the simplest that is, the non-complex or atomic sentences in the object language a language, see above, which does not, itself, contain the truth-predicate "is true". The predicate "is true" is a predicate that occurs only in the metalanguage, i.

At the second stage, his theory shows how the truth predicate, when it has been defined for propositions expressed by sentences of a certain degree of grammatical complexity, can be defined for propositions of the next greater degree of complexity. According to Tarski, his theory applies only to artificial languages — in particular, the classical formal languages of symbolic logic — because our natural languages are vague and unsystematic.

Other philosophers — for example, Donald Davidson — have not been as pessimistic as Tarski about analyzing truth for natural languages. Davidson has made progress in extending Tarski's work to any natural language. Doing so, he says, provides at the same time the central ingredient of a theory of meaning for the language. Davidson develops the original idea Frege stated in his Basic Laws of Arithmetic that the meaning of a declarative sentence is given by certain conditions under which it is true—that meaning is given by truth conditions.

Truth, Meaning, Experience: Philosophical Essays

As part of the larger program of research begun by Tarski and Davidson, many logicians, linguists, philosophers, and cognitive scientists, often collaboratively, pursue research programs trying to elucidate the truth-conditions that is, the "logics" or semantics for the propositions expressed by such complex sentences as:. Each of these research areas contains its own intriguing problems.

All must overcome the difficulties involved with ambiguity, tenses, and indexical phrases. Many philosophers divide the class of propositions into two mutually exclusive and exhaustive subclasses: namely, propositions that are contingent that is, those that are neither necessarily-true nor necessarily-false and those that are noncontingent that is, those that are necessarily-true or necessarily-false.

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On the Semantic Theory of Truth, contingent propositions are those that are true or false because of some specific way the world happens to be. For example all of the following propositions are contingent :. The contrasting class of propositions comprises those whose truth or falsehood, as the case may be is dependent, according to the Semantic Theory, not on some specific way the world happens to be, but on any way the world happens to be.

Imagine the world changed however you like provided, of course, that its description remains logically consistent [i. Even under those conditions, the truth-values of the following noncontingent propositions will remain unchanged:. However, some philosophers who accept the Semantic Theory of Truth for contingent propositions, reject it for noncontingent ones.

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They have argued that the truth of noncontingent propositions has a different basis from the truth of contingent ones. The truth of noncontingent propositions comes about, they say — not through their correctly describing the way the world is — but as a matter of the definitions of terms occurring in the sentences expressing those propositions. Noncontingent truths, on this account, are said to be true by definition , or — as it is sometimes said, in a variation of this theme — as a matter of conceptual relationships between the concepts at play within the propositions, or — yet another kindred way — as a matter of the meanings of the sentences expressing the propositions.

It is apparent, in this competing account, that one is invoking a kind of theory of linguistic truth. In this alternative theory, truth for a certain class of propositions, namely the class of noncontingent propositions, is to be accounted for — not in their describing the way the world is, but rather — because of certain features of our human linguistic constructs.

Truth (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Does the Semantic Theory need to be supplemented in this manner? If one were to adopt the Semantic Theory of Truth, would one also need to adopt a complementary theory of truth, namely, a theory of linguistic truth for noncontingent propositions?

Or, can the Semantic Theory of Truth be used to explain the truth-values of all propositions, the contingent and noncontingent alike? If so, how? To see how one can argue that the Semantic Theory of Truth can be used to explicate the truth of noncontingent propositions, consider the following series of propositions, the first four of which are contingent, the fifth of which is noncontingent:. Each of these propositions, as we move from the second to the fifth, is slightly less specific than its predecessor.

Each can be regarded as being true under a greater range of variation or circumstances than its predecessor. When we reach the fifth member of the series we have a proposition that is true under any and all sets of circumstances. Some philosophers — a few in the seventeenth century, a very great many more after the mid-twentieth century — use the idiom of "possible worlds", saying that noncontingent truths are true in all possible worlds [i. On this view, what distinguishes noncontingent truths from contingent ones is not that their truth arises as a consequence of facts about our language or of meanings, etc.

Contingent propositions are true in some, but not all, possible circumstances or possible worlds. Noncontingent propositions, in contrast, are true in all possible circumstances or in none. There is no difference as to the nature of truth for the two classes of propositions, only in the ranges of possibilities in which the propositions are true.