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Monday, February 4, 2013

The Grand Teaching Experiment (4)

I mentioned a couple posts back that we are scheduled to read Dummett's paper "Truth" this Wednesday. As many of you will know, this paper is legendarily hard and is often said to contain every major idea Dummett would spend the rest of his career developing. That is a slight overstatement, but it does indicate the rather frightening density of the paper.
Terrified by this prospect, I decided that what I needed to do was to give the students a whole lot of guidance about how to read Dummett's paper. The result can be found on the course website. We'll see how much it helps.
More generally, I realized when thinking about this that it isn't just Dummett's paper that's hard. All philosophy papers are hard. For many of my more philosophical "survey" courses, I've therefore often provided students with a handful of questions that might help structure their reading, and those sorts of questions are already on the website for this course. When I was lecturing on this material, those sorts of brief questions might have been adequate. But if I'm not lecturing, if I'm essentially expecting the students to do more of the work for themselves, then they're probably not adequate.
So, yesterday, even though we were scheduled to talk about Tarski's "Semantic Conception of Truth" today, I went to the course website and put up a similar reading guide for that paper.
To see the contrast, the original questions were:
What does Tarski think the Liar Paradox shows about our intuitive notion of truth? How is Convention T supposed to be related to our intuitive notion of truth? What are an object-language and a meta-language? How does distinguishing between them help us solve the liar paradox?
What's there now is:

  • Tarksi insists that a definition of truth must be "materially adequate" and "formally correct". What are these two notions?
  • If a definition of truth satisfies convention T, that is supposed to imply that it is in some sense correct. In what sense? and why? Note here the difference between extensional and intensional correctness that Tarski himself discusses.
  • What does Tarski mean by saying that truth is a "semantic" concept?
  • What is Tarski's diagnosis of the Liar Paradox? That is: To what exactly do his conditions (I), (II), and (III) come? To answer this question, analyze the informal presentation of the Liar on pp. 347-8. Where exactly do the three conditions play a role? Is there anything else that plays a role that Tarski is not mentioning?
  • Why exactly does Tarski mean when he says that he will not "use any language which is semantically closed"? Why, if we do that, are we then forced to distingish object-language from meta-language?
  • Tarski says that the meta-language must be "essentially richer" than the object-language if we are going to be able to define truth for the object-language. How exactly must the meta-language differ from the object-language?
And I will plan to structure today's class around these same questions.

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