Saturday, October 22, 2011

Truthbearers and truthmakers

According to my commenter Anthony, "reality exists". I assume this is a reference to Ayn Rand's principle that 'existence exists'.  His idea seems to be that when we assert anything, what we assert must exist. Therefore we cannot assert anything false, for there is no state of affairs corresponding to a false statement.  If I utter 'Anthony is sitting', and Anthony is standing, there can be no state of affairs corresponding to my utterance. Therefore I cannot state anything.  The utterance exists, but what it tries to state does not.

There are many problems with this idea.  For every true statement, there is a corresponding negation.  Assume that Anthony is standing, and so the sentence 'Anthony is standing' states something true.  What about 'Anthony is not standing'?  It cannot be true, for it cannot be true that Anthony is both standing and not standing. But it cannot be false, for if this 'objectivist' account is true, there are no false statements.  Yet it seems to be a statement for all that.  If I can meaningfully assert that Anthony is standing, why can I not equally deny that?

What about beliefs?  Can I believe that Anthony is not standing, when he is standing?  Apparently not, for the object of my belief is a state of affairs (Anthony-not-standing) that has no existence, and according to Rand, only existence exists.  So I believe nothing.  Only when Anthony sits down can I have such a belief.

What about questions?  I ask 'is Anthony standing?'.  The person who says 'yes' has agreed to something.  The one who says 'no' has disagreed with the same thing, and so disagreed with something that exists.  So you can say 'no' to a true statement, yet you cannot make the corresponding negation.  You can say 'no' to 'is Anthony standing?', but you cannot say that Anthony is not standing.  That is quite puzzling.

The Stoic philosophers resolved the problem by distinguishing between utterance (phone) which may be mere noise, e.g. 'arxas grexurgh', articulate speech (lexis) which may be meaningless, e.g. 'green is happy', and discourse (logos) which is meaningful speech.  They also gave the name lekton to that which is signified by meaningful speech.  Lekton is derived from the Greek verb legein, which signifies 'to mean' as well as 'to say' (somewhat like that Latin dico).

Sextus Empiricus* gives the most complete account of their theory:
The Stoics say that three things are linked together, that which is signified, that which signifies, and the existing thing. That which signifies is the utterance, e.g. 'Dion'. What is signified is the thing indicated by the utterance and which we apprehend as subsisting with our thought, but the barbarians [i.e. non-Greek speaking] do not understand, although they hear the utterance. The existing thing is that which exists outside, e.g. Dion himself. Of these, two are corporeal, i.e. utterance and the existing thing, while one is incorporeal, i.e. what is signified, i.e. the lekton, which is true or false.
Thus we can distinguish between the state of affairs asserted by 'Anthony is standing', which some modern philosophers call the truthmaker, and the lekton, which some modern philosophers call the truthbearer.  The truthmaker exists in reality, given that Anthony is standing.  No truthmaker exists for 'Anthony is not standing'.  The truthbearer, by contrast, is an immaterial, nonphysical entity, the meaning of 'Anthony is standing'.  This has the value true.  A truthbearer also exists for 'Anthony is not standing', but that has the value false.

There is nothing in Rand's theory that precludes the existence of such non-physical truthbearers or lekta. So long as such non-physical things exist, they are a form of reality (albeit a non-physical form).  I don't know, of course, whether Rand's theory does preclude non-physical things.  But if it does, it faces the difficulty of explaining statements which are false.

*Adv. Math. viii 11, 12.

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23 Comments:

Blogger Anthony said...

Wow. You got all of that from "In other news, reality exists."?

Here's another newsflash. You are the one who came up with a supposed definition of "false statement", not me. You are the one who came up with the (somewhat flawed) "proof" that such a thing as you defined, does not exist.

You then go on further to state that the Stoic philosophers resolved the problem. It sounds to me, then, that you also have resolved the problem. As I've said before, your supposed definitions are incorrect.

Finally, I never stated that any of this was "objectivist". To my knowledge Ayn Rand never wrote about "false statements", so, the Objectivist account is, to my knowledge, unknown. In fact, this conversation has been your account. I did not define the terms, you did. I did not present the "proof", you did. About all I've said was that "what does not agree with reality, does not exist" (in other words, reality does not contradict itself), and that "reality exists".

(As for whether or not Rand's theory precludes "non-physical" things, I think we've got the same problem as we do with "false statements". What are "non-physical" things? Rand's theory certainly did not preclude intangible things, but she did not accept that there was a dichotomy between the soul and the body.)

12:23 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

Two more things. First, one certainly can say "Anthony is not standing", even when I am not standing. Furthermore, the sentence "Anthony is not standing" is something. It is, at the very least, a sentence. The question is whether or not it makes sense to say that such a thing constitutes a "false statement". For that we would need, among other things, a definition of "statement", and a definition of what it means for a "statement" to be "false". (Incidentally, your question as to whether or not one can deny a fact might be a step in the right direction. Non-reality need not exist for one to be able to deny reality. However, "false statement" is your term, not mine, so I am not going to step on your toes by imposing a definition upon you. I remain open to a demonstration that "false statements exist".)

Secondly, I'd like to quote Bertrand Russell, not because I agree with his argument, or even that his argument is about the exact same topic (he's talking about false "propositions", not false "statements"), but merely to point out that this question is not so simple as you're making it out to be (see next post):

12:45 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

[quote]
When I say 'Obviously propositions are nothing' it is not perhaps quite obvious. Time was when I thought there were propositions, but it does not seem to me very plausible to say that in addition to facts there are also these curious shadowy things going about such as 'That to-day is Wednesday' when in fact it is Tuesday. I cannot believe they go about the real world. It is more than one can manage to believe, and I do think no person with a vivid sense of reality can imagine it. One of the difficulties of the study of logic is that it is an exceedingly abstract study dealing with the most abstract things imaginable, and yet you cannot pursue it properly unless you have a vivid instinct as to what is real. You must have that instinct rather well developed in logic. I think otherwise you will get into fantastic things. I think Meinong is rather deficient in just that instict for reality. Meinong maintains that there is such an object as the round square only it does not exist, and it does not even subsist, but nevertheless there is such an object, and when you say “The round square is a fiction,” he take it that there is an object “the round square” and there is a predicate “fiction.” No one with a sense of reality would so analyze that proposition. He would see that the proposition wants analyzing in such a way that you won't have to regard the round square as a constituent of that proposition. To suppose that in the actual world of nature there is a whole set of false propositions going about is to my mind monstrous. I cannot bring myself to suppose it. I cannot believe that they are there in the sense in which facts are there.
[/quote]

12:46 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>To suppose that in the actual world of nature there is a whole set of false propositions going about is to my mind monstrous. I cannot bring myself to suppose it. I cannot believe that they are there in the sense in which facts are there.
<<

Actually I agree with you on that one. I thought you were denying the truth or meaning of perfectly ordinary English claims like "his statement was false". For example in "Making a false statement to obtain a passport: Forgery: Sentencing Manual: Legal Guidance produced by The Crown Prosecution Service."

That seems perfectly ordinary and understandable. Someone might be prosecuted for 'making a false statement' to the police, or to the tax authorities, or to customs.

You came across as denying the truth of such ordinary claims, and this seemed eccentric and strange. So perhaps you are saying something more reasonable?

1:42 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

I'm not sure that ordinary English claims like "his statement was false" are supposed to be taken literally as meaning "there exists a false statement which he uttered". I also don't think that's a very common phrase compared to "he lied" or "he was wrong".

As for the legal meaning, I'm not sure what exactly it is (or indeed whether or not it is in the actual law as opposed to the non-binding headings). But I am fairly sure that it is *not* anything remotely close to what you were purporting the meaning to be.

What I've said, in a nutshell, is that I don't understand what you are saying when you say that "false statements exist". I believe I attempted to clarify, whether or not you mean that false statements exist in the same way that the Easter Bunny exists, and you said no, that you meant they exist in the same way that Obama exists.

I still haven't figured out what you mean by that. And so far, your attempts to define "false statement" have failed.

8:26 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>whether or not you mean that false statements exist in the same way that the Easter Bunny exists, and you said no, that you meant they exist in the same way that Obama exists.
<<

That's simple. The Easter Bunny doesn't exist, and Obama does.

I'm going to post again on this whole subject. Meanwhile, on definition of 'false statement' etc, let's go with defining 'statement' as 'meaningful declarative sentence', to deal with cases where the sentence is declarative, or at least has the form of one, but which are meaningless.

As for 'false statement', define that as a statement that is not true. Thus declarative sentences can be true or not true. Of those which are not true, the meaningful ones are false, the remainder are meaningless.

On the 'proof' we discussed earlier. It depends first on the assumption that one or the other of 'some statement is false' or 'it is not the case that some statement is false' is true. That's excluded middle. Do you accept excluded middle?

If you accept that, then it follows that either 'some statement is false' is true, in which case habeo propositum.

Or 'it is not the case that some statement is false' is true.

But then, by PNC, it cannot be that 'some statement is false' is true. Excluded middle says that one must be true, PNC says they both can't. So 'some statement is false' is not true. Then, by our definition of 'false', as a meaningful non-true declarative sentence, it follows that at least one sentence, namely 'some statement is false' is false.

Either way, some statement is false. If the same thing (i.e. 'some statement is false') follows from both sides of a disjunction, then it follows. QED.

Now this is still not satisfactory, for reasons I will post about later, but it is not unsatisfactory for the reasons you have mentioned.

12:59 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

It's still not clear to me how one is supposed to distinguish between meaningless declarative sentences and false ones.

1:16 am  
Blogger Anthony said...

As for excluded middle, I accept excluded middle for propositions, I do not accept excluded middle for all declarative sentences.

1:19 am  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

Ah, so you do accept propositions? Define 'proposition'.

5:35 am  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>I do not accept excluded middle for all declarative sentences.

You don't have to. Simply for the declarative sentence "some statement is false".

>>It's still not clear to me how one is supposed to distinguish between meaningless declarative sentences and false ones.

Well a false sentence is meaningful but not true. A meaningless sentence is meaningless. I'm taking the term 'meaningful' as basic, indefinable.

7:52 am  
Blogger Anthony said...

A proposition is a declarative sentence for which the excluded middle holds, I guess.

>> You don't have to [accept the excluded middle for all declarative sentences]. Simply for the declarative sentence "some statement is false".

That presupposes that "false statement" is properly defined, which I still don't think you've done. Otherwise, "Some statement is false." is equivalent to "No unicorns are irrevocable."

>> I'm taking the term 'meaningful' as basic, indefinable.

Well, that's a major error, then. I can't perceive "meaningful", so I need a definition for it. Specifically, I need a definition for "meaningful and yet impossible". I don't see how something impossible can be meaningful.

11:36 am  
Blogger Anthony said...

Thinking about it some more, I suppose a proposition is better defined as a belief for which the laws of logic (including the principle of the excluded middle) hold.

12:25 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>A proposition is a declarative sentence for which the excluded middle holds, I guess.
<<

Well then, if you agree that there are such things, then you must agree there are false propositions. Given that at least one proposition exists, it follows that its negation exists. Exactly one of these is true (EM) and no more than one (PC). Therefore one of them is not true.

So this whole argument was not about whether there are false statements or propositions or beliefs or thoughts or whatever, but about the definition of 'statement' which is not very interesting.

2:32 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> Given that at least one proposition exists, it follows that its negation exists.

Well, "that at least one proposition exists" has not yet been proven.

To assume it has begs the question.

>> So this whole argument was not about whether there are false statements or propositions or beliefs or thoughts or whatever, but about the definition of 'statement' which is not very interesting.

I'm sorry you didn't find it interesting. Personally I find that definitions and statements of existence tend to go hand in hand.

2:45 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>Well, "that at least one proposition exists" has not yet been proven. To assume it has begs the question.
<<

What was that you said? Did you say something there?

4:22 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> What was that you said? Did you say something there?

Yes, I said something.

9:53 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>Yes, I said something.

So, for some p, Anthony said p.

And I might reply, "what you said was correct/incorrect". No?

1:16 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

Yes, for some P, Anthony said P. However, P is not a proposition.

As for your other question, what I said was correct.

3:08 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>Yes, for some P, Anthony said P. However, P is not a proposition.

Well it doesn't matter what we call it. It is something of which we could say it is correct or not.

>>As for your other question, what I said was correct.

Well there you go. Something someone said is correct.

4:08 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

And presumably you agree that (1) what you said is either correct or not correct (2) what you said cannot both be correct and not correct.

4:09 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> It is something of which we could say it is correct or not.

You can say whatever you want about anything.

>> Something someone said is correct.

I never doubted that true statements exist.

>> And presumably you agree that (1) what you said is either correct or not correct (2) what you said cannot both be correct and not correct.

What I said was correct, and what I said cannot be incorrect.

7:11 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

Anyway, given my definition of proposition as "a belief for which the laws of logic (including the principle of the excluded middle) hold [within the context of knowledge of the person holding the belief]", and the fact that I have had the experience of holding a belief for which the laws of logic held (within my context of knowledge), and yet which later turned out to be false, I now can say that I believe that false propositions exist.

However, I have also come to the conclusion that contradictions, as in a pair of contradictory beliefs for which the laws of logic (including the principle of the excluded middle) hold [within the context of knowledge of the person holding the belief], do not exist. One cannot hold two contradictory beliefs for which the laws of logic hold, as the principle of non-contradiction is one of those laws of logic.

7:39 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

"which later turned out to be false" - that should say "which I later discovered to be be false", of course. For example, I have in the past believed that I had locked a car door, and later discovered that I hadn't.

7:45 pm  

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