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“[‘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
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”
for example …
the Logical Atomist correspondence
theories of Wittgenstein and Russell
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)
then there was
J. L. Austin’s version,
with correspondence
as a coincidence of
demonstrative and
conventions – but this
applies only to
indexical statements
many still find “correspondence”
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
2. The Semantic Theory
Alfred Tarski
has been
influential, thanks in
part to the support of
Popper, Quine, and
Davidson – but not
always wellunderstood
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
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 metalanguage
because of the Formal Adequacy
conditions, Tarski can define truth only for
syntactically characterizable formal
& can define only “true-in-L,” not “true”
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)
the Material Adequacy Condition
is not a definition of truth (but a condition
on acceptable definitions)
& (according to Tarski) cannot simply be
so his definition takes an indirect route
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”
this is not, as Popper suggests, a version
of the correspondence theory – Tarski
wants to articulate Aristotle’s Insight
WITHOUT relying on “correspondence” or
nor is it a “disquotationalist” theory, as
Quine suggests – if it were, Tarski could
simply drop his last 100 pages!
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
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”
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
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
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” (!!!)
the failure of the
“Davidson Program”
confirms that Tarski was
right in thinking his
methods apply to formal,
but not natural,
Donald Davidson
… 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
I am inclined to conclude
that Tarski’s work, though a very
impressive technical achievement
is not, in the end, fully satisfying
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
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
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 citystate, Sparta
to call something “spartan” (in English)
means that it is austere, simple
laconicism seems to capture the core
meaning of “true”
& to conform precisely to the Aristotelian
still, as Ramsey is aware
the theory is incomplete, requiring
an account of propositional quantifiers
(which may not itself use the concept of
to explain, e.g.: “Plato said some true
things” -- “(Ep) (Plato said that p, and p)”
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]
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, MaríaJosé Frápolli) might work
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
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.
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”
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.
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)
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
“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
“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.)
as, of course, it is,
and he did!
Watson (L) &
Crick (R) with
their model of
DNA, 1952 –
a model
described as
“too pretty not
to be true.”
“this scientific theory works because it is
means: “this theory works because it says
that p – and (in fact!) p”
for example …
why does the plane not burst at the
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
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
Rorty suggests he is following Ramsey
when he identifies truth with here-and-now
but this is a big muddle
“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”
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”
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
but for now, I’d
like to hear what
you think …