9/29/2008

Help

I've looked at something so long that I have confused myself, and am now hoping to get a little help. Paul Boghossian makes the following charge against analyticity (and smart people quote this approvingly):

What could it possibly mean to say that the truth of a statement is fixed exclusively by its meaning and not by the facts? Isn't it in general true--indeed, isn't it a truism--that for any statement S

S is true iff for some p, S means that p and p?

How could the mere fact that S means that p make it the case that S is true? Doesn't it also have to be the case that p? (Nous 1996, p.364)

Now my question: Is it fair to impute to Boghossian the view that there are no S, p such that S means that p is a sufficient condition for S is true?

(The upshot: if this is fair, then I think any case where S expresses a logical truth p is a counterexample. I still the the 'truism' is true; I just don't think it establishes the claim I'm imputing to Boghossian.)

7 Comments:

At 29/9/08, Blogger Daniel Lindquist said...

That's how I read it. The idea seems to be that the truism shows that there's something in addition to meaning which makes a statement true, for all statements. That is, the last P in the truism.

So, Boghossian denies that "S means that p" can be sufficient to make S true. For the truism clearly says that for S to be true, it has to mean that p and [other thing].

I'm not sure that logical truths are counterexamples here. For Boghossian can say that the sentence S which expresses a logical truth P is true because S means that P, and P. That P, in this case, happens to be a logical truth isn't relevant. That S means that P isn't enough to make S true -- it has to be the case that P. (For P=a logical truth, this will be the case a priori or necessarily or something like that, perhaps, but the distinction between meaning and truth still remains.)

(I suspect there is question-begging against defenders of analyticity here, somewhere. But saying that logical truths are true in virtue of their meaning seems to beg the question the other direction.)

 
At 29/9/08, Anonymous P.D. said...

I agree with Daniel, I think.

Suppose S expresses a logical truth p. As the truism goes: S's being true depends on S's meaning p and on p being true.

Whether S's meaning p is sufficient for S's truth in this case depends on what sense of sufficiency you have in mind. If p's being a logical truth means that p's being true is never a fact that has to be mentioned, then it would be a kind of inferential sufficiency-- but some logical truths are not obvious and do need to be mentioned. It might be a kind of metaphysical sufficiency-- but then S is true because it expresses a necessary truth and not just in virtue of its meaning.

 
At 29/9/08, Blogger Greg said...

Hi Daniel and P.D. --

Thanks for your input. Perhaps I should've just left the 'upshot' out of the post, since I didn't argue for it at all -- I just wanted to mention my motivation.

But now that you've called me on it, I'll spell out the argument a little. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that being H2O is a (necessary and) sufficient condition for being water. But if that's true, then so is

[x is H2O and (If p then p)] suffices for x is water.

If you just look at the surface grammar of that sentence, you might think there are 2 distinct conditions that must be met for something to be water. But that's absurd. The moral: Logical truths have to be 'factored out' of statements of necessary and sufficient conditions. And the same goes for Boghossian's truism.

And re: P.D.'s 'metaphysical sufficiency,' it should be noted that some folks who think about 'truthmakers' think necessary truths have no truthmakers (Mellor, Ross Cameron). I don't need to go that far (I think), but it certainly helps my cause.

 
At 30/9/08, Blogger Kenny said...

I tried to leave this comment before, but ran into some troubles, so delete it if there's a double-post (or quadruple-post).

Gillian Russell is probably the one to talk to about this. I think this is the subject of her dissertation, which has now been turned into a book. And she basically agrees with you. Although meanings and the world together determine the truth-value of a sentence, there can be sentences such that the contribution the world makes is basically irrelevant.

 
At 30/9/08, Blogger Greg said...

Hi Kenny --

Sorry posting comments is such a pain! I'll see if I can figure something out about that.

Thanks for the pointer. I have looked through Russell's Truth in Virtue of Meaning ('read' would be too strong a word) and while she certainly comes to a conclusion pretty close (if not identical) to the one I suggest in the post, there is a difference that seems important to me. She says (p.32) that she does not want to defend a notion of truth in virtue of meaning in which "determines is interpreted to mean that the meaning wholly determines the truth-value" of a sentence. I think I may be defending that view.

But I definitely should read Truth in Virtue of Meaning more closely.

 
At 2/10/08, Anonymous Stefan said...

Consider a simple language in which we can express the tautologies of sentential logic. Suppose we lay down rules of truth which determine the concept of truth for that language recursively (e.g. 'p' is T iff p; 'p&q' is T iff p is T and q is T...). In such a language there is absolutely no possibility for sentences such as '~(p&~p)' not to be true (in L, of course). Suppose now this language were a fragment of our natural language. It would be conceptually impossible then for us to find out that, there are facts IN ADDITION to the meaning of '~', '&' AND, of course, the meaning of 'true' that do or do not make it the case that ~(p&~p). I do not know what those supposed facts could add to the justification of our holding sentences like '~(p&~p)' true. In short: I do not know if one can even understand Boghossians supposition, that the "mere" facts which constitute the meaning of some of our word could NOT already suffice as truthmakers for analytic truths. (( A Quinean could still argue that this talk about meaning is obscure in the first place, but that would be an entirely different argument. ))

 
At 16/10/08, Blogger Greg said...

Hi Stefan --
I completely agree with you (I think). And for that reason I asked for help from the blogosphere to understand Boghossian's argument -- I was having a hard time finding a good argument to attribute to him.
Thanks,
Greg

 

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