Friday, 11 July 2014

Frank Ramsey’s Redundancy Theory of Truth

F.P. Ramsey claimed that

p is true

is logically equivalent to, well, p.

They both have the same truth-value. However, if that were true, we wouldn't even require the concept of truth at all. The predicate ‘is true’ is a useless or meaningless appendage to p. In fact, "we can say everything we want to say without it" (108).

What is lost when we say p rather than ‘p is true’ besides the linguistic predicate itself? Does the ‘is true’ actually add anything to that is already there? Though if it were already there, then perhaps we haven't done away with truth after all. We can say that contained within p is the fact or meaning that p is actually true. Alternatively, perhaps the predicate ‘is true’ is simply a ‘reaffirmation’ of the p which comes before it.

We can ask: What makes p true? Is it its truth-condition? Then we can pair the proposition with its truth-condition. The problem is that this will give "a different result for each proposition" (108). The truth-condition of one p may be snow's being white and another may be ravens' being black. Why not ask, then, what it is that makes any proposition true? What do all true propositions share?

Perhaps they don’t share anything. Perhaps the question is ‘over-generalised’ (‘How much does anything weigh?’). We can compare each proposition with its truth-condition. However, "there is no general truth about truth in the sense required by the traditional theories" (109).

For example, are truths about the past the same as truths in mathematics or truths about what’s happening now? What about negative truths like the truth that Gordon Brown is not in my room now or the truth (if it is a truth) that God doesn't exist?

Instead, we should see truth as part of our language or as part of a language. As S puts it, truth

"does not have the magic property which nothing could have, of leading us out of language, into some direct of transcendental encounter with the world’ (109).

What would such a direct or transcendental encounter be like? It would be languages-less. Thus we can't have such an encounter because everything we say about the world is said in some language or other.

And the truth predicate ‘is true’ is unequivocally part of that language. If it is part of our language, then it is part of us. It belongs to our concepts, senses, categories, classifications and the like. It is polluted by minds and by language.

The problem has been that many metaphysicians have wanted something that is somehow language-less or even mind-less that can make truth something deep and more profound than just about everything else that is natural. They have wanted truth to be, then, a non-natural property or thing both in and out of the world. Something non-observable, non-concrete than can somehow belong to the world or be applied to the world. They wanted the best of both worlds, as it were. They want something transcendent to be applied to the immanent. Something abstract or just non-spatiotemporal to be part of - or be applied to - the concrete and spatiotemporal.

The problem is that our language, or we, have become used to the predicate ‘is true’. We use it everyday of our lives. Is it any wonder, then, that it would be hard to do without it in our everyday discourse? We use the word ‘true’ or ‘truth’ as often as the ancient Greeks used the words ‘the gods’.

For example, take the locution

"The truth about Mozart’s death."

That certainly makes a lot of sense. We can say: ‘The fact/s about Mozart’s death.’ But facts are almost as metaphysically controversial as truths. Not only that: there may be a strong relation between fact and truth.

What is a fact? It is something that is true? What makes something a fact? That something is true of the world and that makes it a fact? In addition, facts are said to correspond with true propositions or statements. There doesn’t seem to be a way out of this semantic circle. The same is true about "a story which is largely true". We can say: "A story that is largely factual." Here we have the same problems again. What makes this story factual? The fact that it is largely true!

According to Frank Ramsey’s theory, "how could you remove these words from these phrases" (109)? However, the fact that we can’t remove the words ‘true’ from these phrases doesn't automatically mean that truth is a metaphysical property or any property at all. We also use the word ‘Superman’; though Superman doesn't exist. We can even use the phrase ‘"he round square"; though the round square doesn't exist (not even at a possible world or abstractly).

Similarly, we can say that ‘not’, ‘or’ and ‘and’ don't refer to anything; though they do have a use and they can be implicitly defined. Perhaps we can say that ‘true’ has a use and we can define its use in our discourse. However, it may have a use and also a definition which does not entail that truth is also a metaphysical property of some kind. It may function like ‘or’ or ‘not’ in our discourse. Alternatively, it may be closer to the word ‘yes’ or the word ‘stop!’.

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