Horwich's minimalist conception of truth: some logical difficulties

Logic and Logical Philosophy 9:161-181 (2001)
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Aristotle’s words in the Metaphysics: “to say of what is that it is, or of what is not that it is not, is true” are often understood as indicating a correspondence view of truth: a statement is true if it corresponds to something in the world that makes it true. Aristotle’s words can also be interpreted in a deflationary, i.e., metaphysically less loaded, way. According to the latter view, the concept of truth is contained in platitudes like: ‘It is true that snow is white iff snow is white’, ‘It is true that neutrinos have mass iff neutrinos have mass’, etc. Our understanding of the concept of truth is exhausted by these and similar equivalences. This is all there is to truth. In his book Truth (Second edition 1998), Paul Horwich develops minimalism, a special variant of the deflationary view. According to Horwich’s minimalism, truth is an indefinable property of propositions characterized by what he calls the minimal theory, i.e., all (nonparadoxical) propositions of the form: It is true that p if and only if p. Although the idea of minimalism is simple and straightforward, the proper formulation of Horwich’s theory is no simple matter. In this paper, I shall discuss some of the difficulties of a logical nature that arise. First, I discuss problems that arise when we try to give a rigorous characterization of the theory without presupposing a prior understanding of the notion of truth. Next I turn to Horwich’s treatment of the Liar paradox and a paradox about the totality of all propositions that was first formulated by Russell (1903). My conclusion is that Horwich’s minimal theory cannot deal with these difficulties in an adequate way, and that it has to be revised in fundamental ways in order to do so. Once such revisions have been carried out the theory may, however, have lost some of its appealing simplicity.

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Sten Lindström
Uppsala University


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