Truth and Circular Definitions [Book Review]

Minds and Machines 6 (1):124–129 (1996)
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Abstract
This original and enticing book provides a fresh, unifying perspective on many old and new logico-philosophical conundrums. Its basic thesis is that many concepts central in ordinary and philosophical discourse are inherently circular and thus cannot be fully understood as long as one remains within the confines of a standard theory of definitions. As an alternative, the authors develop a revision theory of definitions, which allows definitions to be circular without this giving rise to contradiction (but, at worst, to “vacuous” uses of definienda). The theory is applied with varying levels of detail to a circular analysis of concepts as diverse as truth, predication, necessity, physical object, etc. The focus is on truth, and hope is expressed that a deeper understanding of the Liar and related paradoxes has been provided: “We have tried to show that once the circularity of truth is recognized, a great deal of its behavior begins to make sense. In particular, from this viewpoint, the existence of the paradoxes seems as natural as the existence of the eclipses” (p. 142). We think that this hope is fully justified, although some problems remain that future research in this field should take into account.
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