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Monday, February 4, 2013

Reading Guide for Dummett's "Truth"

It occurred to me that maybe a lot of people could use a guide to Dummett's paper "Truth". So here is the "reading guide" I produced for my students.
As you'll see, I didn't even try to get into the "anti-realist" stuff at the end. If anyone wants to add some material on that, I can update this for general use.
  • Dummett begins the paper by expounding Frege's claim that sentences refer to their truth-values. It is easiest to understand this claim when it is put differently: that the "semantic value" of a sentence is its truth-value. And what that claim is best understood in terms of the truth-tables: that the central semantic fact about a sentence is that it is true or false.
  • Dummett then rehearses an argument that a sentence cannot refer to the proposition is expresses. The argument is:
    1. "Mark Twain was an author" and "Samuel Clemens was an author" express different propositions.
    2. "Mark Twain" refers to the same person as "Samuel Clemens".
    3. The corresponding parts of the two sentences therefore have the same reference.
    4. Reference is "compositional", in the sense that the reference of the whole is completely determined by the references of the parts.
    5. Hence, the two sentences must have the same reference.
    6. Hence, that reference cannot be the proposition expressed.
    The point of this is really just to introduce the idea of thinking of truth from the perspective of logic.
  • Dummett then suggests that, while it's reasonable to think that sentences do have "semantic values", Frege has to earn the right to say that their semantic value is their truth-value. On pp. 142-3, Dummett introduces an analogy between truth and falsity, and winning and losing, to illustrate what Frege would have to do to earn that right. What exactly does Dummett think Frege would have to do?
  • Dummett then proceeds to argue, on pp. 145-6, that (the propositional version of) the T-scheme may not even be correct. The argument turns on the idea that there may be sentences that are perfectly meaningful—they express proposition—but are neither true nor false. A putative example would be something like, "The greatest prime number is one less than a perfect square". Frege would have held that this expresses a proposition, but does not have a truth-value, due to the fact that there is no greatest prime. Why, then, does Dummett think that:
    It is true that the greatest prime number is one less than a perfect square iff the greatest prime number is one less than a perfect square.
    is not itself true?
  • Dummett then argues, on pp. 146-9, that, even if its instances are all true, the T-scheme "cannot give the whole meaning of the word 'true'". The argument turns on the assumption that the truth-tables have some explanatory value, in particular, that they embody (at least partial) explanations of the sentential connectives. How exactly is this argument supposed to go?
  • On p. 149, Dummett then concludes that a theory of truth must be possible in a certain sense. In particular, he thinks that it must be possible for us to articulate the point of our characterization of assertions as true and as false. There is a sketch of what Dummett has in mind in the paragraph running from p. 149 to p. 150. Try to articulate as best you can what research program he means to be articulating.
  • On pp. 150-4, Dummett then argues in support of a very general claim that he makes on p. 150: that, given the point of the characterization of assertions as true and as false, there is no need, and no room, for any finer characterization, and so that it is senseless to say that an assertion is neither true nor false. The core of the argument is on p. 153, where Dummett suggests that, although we might call both conditionals with empty antecedents and sentences containing non-referring terms "neither true nor false", there is an important asymmetry between the two cases that this common terminology lacks. What is that asymmetry?
  • Finally, on p. 154, Dummett concludes that "we should abandon the notions of truth and falsity", at least in connection with the explanation of the meanings of statements. In fact, however, that isn't quite what he means. He thinks there is a particular way of using "true" and "false" that is unhelpful and another way of using them that would still be OK. What is the difference? And how is it related to Dummett's central thesis about the role of the concept of truth?
  • Dummett then proceeds, on pp. 154-7, to explore whether thre might yet be a point in calling certain statements neither true nor false. He argues that there may well be, but that, if there is, it must necessarily concern the way such statements behave when they occur as parts of other statements (e.g., as antecedents of conditionals). It is morally certain that we will not get to this material, so you do not need to read beyond p. 154. But if you wish to do so, then the question to ask here is just how Dummett's arguments here are supposed to cohere with the earlier ones, and what point he thinks there could be in distinguishing among different ways a statement might be true or false.
  • Finally, on pp. 157-62, Dummett introduces a set of considerations that are supposed to show that the notions of truth and falsity that are appropriate to the evalaution of assertions are not the classical notions of truth and falsity. Rather, calling an assertion "true" is like saying it is justified, and calling it "false" is like saying that it is unjustified. This sort of argument is one that became closely associated with Dummett, and he spent much of his career trying to develop it and to fill in the details. We certainly will not discuss this material.

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