Friday, April 07, 2006

Truthmakers vs Truth Conditions

I'm involved in a vigorous discussion with Ocham and Tom on a couple earlier posts (Link1, Link2) concerning presentism and causation and we've gotten onto the issue of the relation between truthmakers and truth conditions. Are they the same thing? If not, what's the difference?

For what it's worth, here's my take.

Most philosophers, myself included, hold to some version of the correspondence theory of truth, which basically says that some sort of 'truth-bearer' is "true" if and only if it represents reality in a manner that corresponds to how reality actually is. As Aristotle famously put it, "To say what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true" (Metaphysics 1011b25).

As for truth-bearers, pretty much everyone agrees that these can be things like beliefs, statements, and propositions. I take propositions to be the primary truthmakers, however. Beliefs are true in virtue of having as their content a true propositions. Statements (by which I mean declarative sentences) are true in virtue of expressing a true proposition. But true propositions are not true in virtue of the truth of anything else. Rather, they are true in virtue of corresponding with reality.

But what is it in reality in virtue of corresponding with it that "makes" a true proposition true? This is where 'truthmakers' come in. Truthmaking is a relation between some parcel of reality and a proposition. In general, a truthmaker T for a proposition P is any parcel of reality the existence of which is sufficient to necessitate and thereby ground the truth of P.

For example, the proposition expressed by "Canines exist" is made true by the existence my in-laws' dog Barkley. Even if no other dogs existed, that proposition would still be true just because of Barkley. But we don't need Barkley to do the job - any canine with do. Since there are in fact many dogs, each of which is sufficient to necessitate the truth of that proposition, there are many distinct truthmakers for that proposition (as many as the number of subsets of dogs). Here's the main point though, truthmakers are parcels of reality - in this case, ones that can bark, bite, and bury bones.

Not so with truth conditions. Truth conditions are semantic explications of the meaning of statements. They tell us in very precise terms what has to be true for a particular statement to be true. For example, a B-theorist like Nathan Oaklander will say that the truth conditions of the sentence "The 2006 Winter Olympics are over" is given by the sentence "The 2006 Winter Olympics end earlier than the date of this utterance". Thus truth conditions are meaning entities like statements that are used to spell out or analyze the meaning of other statements.

Here's a way to keep the distinction between truthmakers and truth conditions clear. Remember the saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me"? Well, sticks and stones can function as truthmakers (e.g., "This stone has a mass of 5 kg" is made true by the stone itself) but not as truth conditions. By contrast, truth conditions are just words; they can't hurt you (physically), but they can help you articulate yourself.


At 4/08/2006 8:37 AM, Blogger Tom said...

P: Alan and Heather are Salsa dancing at Sophia’s tonight

Truth Conditions--C
C1: The present existence of Alan
C2: The present existence of Heather
C3: The present existence of Salsa dancing
C4: Alan and Heather’s present competence at Salsa
C5: The present existence of Sophia’s restaurant
C6” The present location of Alan and Heather in Sophia’s
C7: Their being present in Sophia’s during today’s evening hours

M: That parcel, or slice, of reality expressed by the conjoined obtaining of all of the above conditions.

Now, I can see the need to separate out from the proposition P all its component parts, all the individually definable states of affairs that together comprise that parcel of reality that make the proposition true. It just looks to me as though C1-7 is semantically equivalent to P and ontologically equivalent to M, since M just is the conjoining of all of C1-7.

So to speak of truth-conditions is certainly helpful when doing this sort of in-depth examination of language and reality. But it doesn’t, indeed can’t, contribute anything unique to the correspondence relationship or theory of truth. In other words, correspondence obtains between two players--proposition (or language) and reality (or world)--not three players (propositions, conditions, and reality). That was my point. To speak of “conditions” is just to unpack the semantic complexity of some proposition, a complexity which is what it is because it reflects a corresponding complexity in the world. Would you agree? Or do you see truth-conditions are a third component, independent of both proposition and world, in the corresponding relation?


At 4/08/2006 12:29 PM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Tom: To speak of “conditions” is just to unpack the semantic complexity of some proposition, a complexity which is what it is because it reflects a corresponding complexity in the world. Would you agree?

Alan: I think so, though you seem to me to be conflating semantic and metaphysical categories in the paragraph before that quote.

In your example, if C1-7 are construed as simply descriptive articulations of the meaning of P, then they might be said to be truth conditions. But if we take C1-C7 to be referring expressions denoting actual states of affairs, then the mereological fusion of those states of affairs might be said to be the truthmaker for P. You're right that correspondence is a two-term relation between a proposition and the world. The giving of truth conditions doesn't add a third term. It just unpacks the proposition side of that two-term relation.

Consider a set of truth conditions for "S knows that p": "S knows that p" is true iff S believes that p, S is justified in believing that p, and p is true. Whether this is the right analysis or not, all the giving of truth conditions purports to do is unpack the meaning of a statement or part of a statement (in this case the term "knows") by spelling out a set of presumably necessary and sufficient conditions for it. But in doing so we're staying at the semantic level. Once we start asking about truthmakers we move out of semantics and language analysis and into metaphysics. The truthmaker for "S knows that p" has got to, at the very least, include S himself, live and kicking. But you can analyze language all you want and never get a person to drop out.

At 4/15/2006 2:32 PM, Blogger Ocham said...

And I too hold a correspondence theory! To say what was that it was, and of what was not that it was not, is true.

But there seemed to be something going on here that suggested, from the fact that there were dinosaurs, we could somehow get that there is something of some kind, that exists now.

Sorry to be brief. Just back from a very nice spring break in Catalonia. Dali was overrated.

At 4/20/2006 12:18 AM, Blogger Ocham said...

Alan, there's something I found in Aquinas that you might like. He asks (Q16 a8) whether truth is mutable. It is and it isn't, he says. The proposition 'Socrates sits' is true when he is sitting, both with the 'truth of the thing' and with the 'truth of signification'. When Socrates rises, 'the first truth remains, but the second remains'.

Could the first truth which remains, presumably the fact of Socrates sitting at that particular time, be close to the idea of a truth maker?

I'm going to write some more on this at some point.


At 4/21/2006 12:00 AM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Thanks for the Aquinas reference, Ocham. I looked it up and what confuses me is this.

On the one hand, in his reply to objection 4, Aquinas says "The sitting of Socrates ... is the cause of the truth of the proposition, Socrates sits. And, in the reply to objection 3 he says, as you noted, that Socrates sits is true as long as he is sitting. All that sounds right to me - the state of affairs consisting of Socrates' sitting "causes" or makes true the proposition Socrates sits. And that proposition is true only as long as that state of affairs obtains to make it true - when Socrates stands us, it becomes false.

On the other hand, Aquinas states that "the truth of the divine intellect is immutable" such that in it "there can be no alteration of opinions". But if what is true is changing as reality is changing, then how can God remain omniscient and have no alteration of opinions? Seems to me that if what's true is really changing (hence an A-theory of time is correct) then the content of God's knowledge would have to change along with it so as to track the truth. And if the content of God's knowledge is immutable yet God remains omniscient, then it seems to me that this requires denying that what's true really changes (hence the B-theory of time is correct). Aquinas seems to me to want to have it both ways - an absolutely immutable God and a genuinely changing reality - and I don't think that's possible.

Or am I just misunderstanding him?

At 4/21/2006 1:09 AM, Blogger Ocham said...

Well I'm far from understanding him! Have you also looked at article 7, which discusses whether a something can be eternally true? Look at reply to obj 3: "That which now is, was future, before it (actually) was; because it was in its cause that it would be ... hence it does not follow that it was always true that what now is would be, except in so far as its future being was the sempiternal cause, and God alone is such a cause". I'm not sure that it helps. But it seems this is connected to some things you have been saying.


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