The Liar Syndrome

SATS 3 (1) (2002)
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Abstract

This article examines the various Liar paradoxes and their near kin, Grelling’s paradox and Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem with its self-referential Gödel sentence. It finds the family of paradoxes to be generated by circular definition–whether of statements, predicates, or sentences–a manoeuvre that generates pseudo-statements afflicted with the Liar syndrome: semantic vacuity, semantic incoherence, and predicative catalepsy. Such statements, e.g., the self-referential Liar statement, are meaningless, and hence fail to say anything, a point that invalidates the reasoning on which the various paradoxes rest. The seeming plausibility of the paradoxes is due to the fact that often the sentence used to make the pseudo-statement is ambiguous in that it may also be used to make a genuine statement about the pseudo-statement. Hence, if a formal system is to avoid ambiguity and consequent paradox and contradiction, it must distinguish between the two statements the sentence may be used to make. Gödel’s Theorem presents a further complication in that the self-reference involved is sentential rather than statemental. Nevertheless, on the intended interpretation of the system as a formalization of arithmetic, the self-referential Gödel sentence can only be an ambiguous statement, one that is both a pseudo-statement and its genuine double. Consequently, the conclusions commonly drawn from Gödel’s theorem must be deemed unwarranted. Arithmetic might well be formalized in a proper system that either excludes circular definition or introduces disambiguators.

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