Thursday, January 11, 2007

Jonny Blamey V Timothy Pritchard on the Truthlessness of Sentences

Tim's talk last night was very inspiring. However I completely disagree with his conclusion.
I understood the talks main point to be this:
When one puts a sentence in inverted commas, as in "elbows bend" then one is referring to the bit of language, let us say the sentence. When one uses a that clause, eg. "that elbows bend", however, one is referring to the propositional content of the sentence. Interestingly from my perspective, "if" does the work of "that". So for example
1 "Elbows bend" has a kind of alliteration.
2 It is a good job that elbows bend.
3 If elbows bend then this is not an elbow.
Depending on what you are trying to say, one of these forms will be incorrect. They are never interchangeable. So the following are wrong:
1 That elbows bend has a kind of alliteration.
2 It is a good job that "elbows bend"
3 If "elbows bend" then this is not an elbow.
Never? Well what about truth? We might want to say, with a host of semanticists, that "elbows bend" is true if and only if elbows bend. Tim thinks this is wrong because
4 "Elbows bend" is true.
Doesn't make sense, since the appropriate form is
5 That elbows bend is true. Or more naturally: It is true that elbows bend.

I find this very informative, but I do so because I think Tim is wrong and that 4 and 5 are both correct, but Tim is right in that it is a coincidence if both 4 and 5 are true. By revealing this to me Tim has open my eyes to the informativeness of complex sentences like:
6 "elbows bend" is true if and only if elbows bend.
By realising the contingent nature of 6, I come to appreciate its informativeness. In probabilistic terms, Tim’s talk made me see how unlikely it is that "elbows bend" is true if and only if elbows bend. The increase in unlikliness increases the informativeness. But Tim thinks that it is not merely unlikely but actually false, and truth cannot be predicated of sentences at all, only of the content of sentences. Against Tim then I will offer cases where it must be the case that we are talking about the sentence and not the propositional content when we predicate truth. I'll just give the examples without saying what my own intuitions are.

1 If the sentence "I love you" is true, then the sentence "Ich liebe dich" is true.
Contrast with:
2 If it is true that I love you then it is true that Ich leibe dich.

3 If Bonn were called "Berlin", and Bonn was on fire, then the sentence "Berlin on fire" would be true.
Contrast with:
4 If Bonn were called "Berlin", and Bonn was on fire then it would be true that Berlin was on fire.

5 There is a prophet among us who speaks in tongues. We believe that whenever he speaks in tongues he is the mouth piece of God but speaks a language we do not understand. Yesterday he uttered the sentence: "Dithrock pertuns bladly." We are sure that the sentence "Dithrock pertuns bladly" is true, but we have no idea what it means.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Timothy Pritchard said...

My talk was in part about suggesting that 'is true' cannot be
coherently predicated of sentences. Jonny's counterexamples all rely
on the supposition that it IS coherent to describe a sentence as true.
But that is precisely the issue here.

6:16 PM  
Anonymous Jonny Blamey said...

I was trying to presuppose nothing. I guess I was presupposing that if you can make use of the practice of predicating truth of sentences rather than of propositional content, then there is no reason to say that it can't be done. In my last example I think there was a perfectly intelligible sense in which one could have the belief with the content: {the sentence "p" is true} without having any belief with the content p.

6:45 PM  

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