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Presentation on theme: "THE MEANING OF TRUTH SUSAN HAACK"— Presentation transcript:


2 “[‘True’] is a word we all understand, but if we try to explain it, we can easily get involved in a maze of confusion.” – Frank Ramsey


4 1. Correspondence Theories some correspondence theories are toothless, saying no more than: “it is true that p if and only if really, in fact, p” more serious correspondence theories turn those emphatic adverbs into serious metaphysics/philosophy of language – giving them real “bite”

5 for example … the Logical Atomist correspondence theories of Wittgenstein and Russell

6 these require … heavy metaphysical apparatus of facts (atomic & molecular, positive & negative) propositions with a specific logical form & a relation of structural isomorphism (which proved very difficult to spell out)

7 then there was J. L. Austin’s version, with correspondence as a coincidence of demonstrative and descriptive conventions – but this applies only to indexical statements

8 many still find “correspondence” attractive but it has (I believe) never been spelled out in a way that gets beyond the toothless correspondence idea, and doesn’t lead to excessive metaphysical commitments, or restricted applicability

9 2. The Semantic Theory has been enormously influential, thanks in part to the support of Popper, Quine, and Davidson – but not always well- understood Alfred Tarski

10 Tarski proposes Formal Adequacy Conditions  the definition must not be circular  should not use semantic primitives  can be given only for a language that is formally specifiable &  semantically open

11 the last formal requirement is imposed to avoid the Liar Paradox This sentence is false by requiring truth-in-O (the object language) to be defined in a meta- language

12 because of the Formal Adequacy conditions, Tarski can define truth only for syntactically characterizable formal languages & can define only “true-in-L,” not “true”

13 more famous is Tarski’s Material Adequacy Condition – any acceptable definition of truth must have as consequence all instances of (T): S is true iff p (where S is the name of the sentence on the right)

14 the Material Adequacy Condition is not a definition of truth (but a condition on acceptable definitions) & (according to Tarski) cannot simply be generalized so his definition takes an indirect route

15 Tarski defines satisfaction of atomic open formulae (a relation to infinite sequences of objects) -- enumeratively then satisfaction of molecular open sentences -- recursively & then truth of closed sentences: “satisfied by all infinite sequences”

16 misunderstandings this is not, as Popper suggests, a version of the correspondence theory – Tarski wants to articulate Aristotle’s Insight WITHOUT relying on “correspondence” or “facts” nor is it a “disquotationalist” theory, as Quine suggests – if it were, Tarski could simply drop his last 100 pages!

17 for, according to Tarski … the quotation-mark name of an expression is a new word, of which the contained expression is not semantically a part you can’t quantify into quotation marks “(p) (‘p’ is true iff p)” makes no sense; the T-schema can’t be generalized in this way

18 ironically enough this is the “logical block” view of quotation -- which Quine himself once accepted! when he wrote that a word in quotation marks is not semantically a part of the whole expression – any more than “rat” is of “Socrates”

19 moreover Tarski’s is not, as Soames suggests, a theory of the truth of propositions propositions don’t have syntactic structure (the same proposition can be expressed by sentences with different structures) but T’s definition relies on structure of wffs

20 Tarski’s approach has real limitations it stratifies the truth-concept (treated not as one concept, but many) its application is limited to formally specifiable & semantically open languages which is why Tarski says truth cannot be defined for natural languages

21 Tarski himself is ambivalent he says he doesn’t claim to have captured the “real meaning” of “true” – he would be willing to use the word “frue” instead! and yet goes on to say BOTH that he doesn’t say the semantic theory is “right,” AND that he can’t imagine what it would mean to say it is “wrong” (!!!)

22 furthermore the failure of the “Davidson Program” confirms that Tarski was right in thinking his methods apply to formal, but not natural, languages Donald Davidson

23 … not to mention the failure of Popper’s theory of verisimilitude, or the casualness of his assumption that Tarski’s theory applies to “the consistent parts” of natural language Sir Karl Popper

24 I am inclined to conclude that Tarski’s work, though a very impressive technical achievement is not, in the end, fully satisfying philosophically

25 3. The Laconicist Theory “laconicist” is a better name for what is usually called the “Redundancy Theory” “[A] belief is true if it is a belief that p, and p. …. A belief that Smith is either a liar or a fool is true if Smith is either a liar or a fool, and not otherwise.” – Frank Ramsey

26 Ramsey is well aware that while “it is true that” can be eliminated from (is redundant in), e.g., “It is true that Hannibal crossed the Alps” it cannot be eliminated form, e.g., “Plato said some true things and some false things”

27 the new name coined by Dr. Kiriake Xerohemona derives from the English word “laconic,” which means “short, terse” & itself derives from the Greek word “Laconia,” the name for the ancient city- state, Sparta

28 to call something “spartan” (in English) means that it is austere, simple

29 laconicism seems to capture the core meaning of “true” & to conform precisely to the Aristotelian Insight

30 still, as Ramsey is aware the theory is incomplete, requiring an account of propositional quantifiers (which may not itself use the concept of truth) an account of propositional quantifiers (which may not itself use the concept of truth) to explain, e.g.: “Plato said some true things” -- “(Ep) (Plato said that p, and p)”

31 & an account of representation & an understanding of reality which Ramsey takes to be involved in saying that this is the belief that p [representation], and p [reality]

32 on propositional quantifiers neither an objectual nor a substitutional account will do because both involve the concept of truth, explicitly or implicitly the “inference-ticket” approach (suggested by Arthur Prior, C. J. F. Williams, María- José Frápolli) might work

33 on reality laconicism is entirely compatible with my Innocent Realism (itself fairly laconic!) according to which there is one real world largely but not wholly independent of us

34 a real world that includes  natural things, events, etc.  human artifacts  social institutions, roles, and rules  mental states, processes, events  imaginative creations such as novels, plays, cartoons, etc.

35 4. Consequences of Laconicism that when we say that it is true that p, what we say about p is the same, whatever kind of proposition p is (scientific, historical, literary, legal, etc.) this is one way to put what I mean by speaking of the “unity of truth”

36 & that truth is objective i.e. (normally), whether or not it is true that p does not depend on whether you, or I, or anyone believes it is true that p or on whether we agree that p, or know that p, etc.

37 & that truth is not relative for (just as there is no reference in the account of truth to what anyone believes, etc.), there is no relativization to culture, community, theory, or even (as in Tarski) language

38 moreover laconicism suggests a plausible understanding of observations like: a genuine inquirer seeks the truth a scientific theory is successful (in prediction, technology) because it is true

39 “a genuine inquirer seeks the truth” means, not that there is a kind of Holy Grail,The Truth, that every genuine inquirer seeks but that someone who is genuinely inquiring into whether p wants to end up believing that p if p, & that not-p if not-p

40 e.g. “James Watson really wanted to discover the truth about the structure of DNA” means: “Watson wanted to end his investigation believing that DNA is a double-helical, backbone-out macromolecule with like-with-unlike base pairs iff DNA is a double-helical,..., macromolecule” (etc.)

41 as, of course, it is, and he did!

42 Watson (L) & Crick (R) with their model of DNA, 1952 – a model Watson described as “too pretty not to be true.”

43 again “this scientific theory works because it is true” means: “this theory works because it says that p – and (in fact!) p”

44 for example … why does the plane not burst at the seams? because it is built using the assumption that metal m can withstand pressure p, and this assumption is true i.e.: because m can withstand pressure p

45 furthermore laconicism can readily explain why “true” plays the pragmatic roles it does e.g., the use of “that’s true” to express agreement is just a short way to say yourself what the other person just said

46 Rorty suggests he is following Ramsey when he identifies truth with here-and-now agreement but this is a big muddle

47 “that’s true” often has the force of “I agree” but (of course) we can agree that p when p is not true & (of course) we may not agree that p when p is true so “it is true that p” doesn’t mean “we agree that p” so “it is true that p” doesn’t mean “we agree that p”

48 laconicism can also explain the concessive use of “true” A says: “The price of gold will probably rise”; B replies: “True, but later it will fall” = “yes, the price of gold will probably rise, but after that it will fall”

49 next time, I will explore the many different kinds of true proposition (the “plurality of truths”) specifically, how truths in science differ from truths in history, in law, & in literature

50 but for now, I’d like to hear what you think …


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