Friday, February 02, 2007

A Simple Argument for a Fact/True Proposition Dichotomy

The proposition that Andrew is male, it seems, is true in virtue of the fact that Andrew is male. (This seems like a perfectly good sentence of English, and I would expect that an ordinary English speaker would, if queried, agree to its truth.) However, this claim, call it 'C', spells trouble for the following thesis that I have been inclined towards:

Facts are True Propositions (FTP): For all S, if S is true, then the fact that S is the true proposition that S.

To illustrate a bit, if (FTP) is true, then the fact that snow is white is simply the proposition that snow is white, since that proposition is true and the fact simply is the corresponding true proposition.

Anyway, why does C spell trouble for (FTP)? Well, consider the following argument:

1. The proposition that Andrew is male is true in virtue of the fact that Andrew is male.
2. If the proposition that Andrew is male is true in virtue of the fact that Andrew is male, then: if (FTP) is true, then the proposition that Andrew is male is true in virtue of the proposition that Andrew is male.
3. Therefore, if (FTP) is true, then the proposition that Andrew is male is true in virtue of the proposition that Andrew is male.
4. The proposition that Andrew is male is not true in virtue of the proposition that Andrew is male.
5. Therefore, (FTP) is not true.

All of the premises of this argument seem true to me. I suppose that the best move for the proponent of (FTP) to make would be to deny either (1) or (4). But (1) definitely has ordinary language on its side and, insofar as I understand it, (4) seems true to me. So, facts are not true propositions.

(By the way, I don't mean to suggest a whole-hearted endorsement of this argument. As I said, all of its premises seem true to me. However, I also have some inclination to reject its conclusion. So, I'm not entirely sure what to say about the argument. I guess it pushes me towards somewhat towards accepting its conclusion. I also don't mean to claim that this is a novel or original argument. Honestly, I don't know the literature on facts very well, so I don't know if it is or not. However, given that it is such a simple argument, I suspect that someone's given it before.)

9 Comments:

Blogger rock* said...

For the doubters of my claim that premise (1) of the argument has ordinary language on its side, I have gathered come empirical data. In my CAS class today, I had my students fill out the following simple questionnaire:

"Consider the following sentence:
(S) The claim that snow is white is true in virtue of the fact that snow is white.
Notice that all (S) says is that the claim that snow is white is true in virtue of the fact that snow is white. It does not say that the claim that snow is white fails to be true in virtue of other facts as well. For instance, it is consistent with (S) that the claim that snow is white is true in virtue of the fact that snow reflects light in such-and-such a way or that it is true in virtue of the fact that snow appears white to us. Just so long as the claim that snow is white is also true in virtue of the fact that snow is white, (S) is true. Keeping this in mind, which of the following is (S)?:
a. True but uninformative
b. True and informative
c. False
d. I'm not sure."

Of the 12 students who showed up to my class today, 10 answered (a), 1 answered (c), and 1 answered (d). So, assuming (uncontroversially, I hope) that the proposition that snow is white is the claim that snow is white, premise (1) of the argument offered in my post has ordinary language on its side. (I also switched from an example concerning the proposition that Andrew is male to an example concerning the proposition that snow is white. However, I did that only because students were more likely to know that it is a fact that snow is white than to know that it is a fact that Andrew is male. Also, it seems to me that as the one case goes, so goes the other.)

2:58 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

I question the inductive strength of your inference based on sample size, distribution and manner in which the question was asked. I am still a doubter.

8:54 AM  
Blogger rock* said...

Joshua,

I must admit that the sample size and distribution were less than optimal. However, I did not intend to present a really strong case that premise (1) has ordinary language on its side. I simply meant to provide some evidence for that claim. I take it that the fact that the sample was small and the distribution was poor lessen the strength of the evidence in favor of the claim that ordinary language supports premise (1). However, would also think that the informal survey I performed provides some evidence in favor of that claim, albeit evidence that is not as strong as it would have been if the sample size and distribution were better.

As for the manner in which the question was asked: What do you think was wrong with it?

12:03 PM  
Blogger Chris Tillman said...

Haha, you are now an experimental philosopher. What the hell is Rochester doing these days?

Facts are not true propositions. I think the argument you gave is sound and that the ordinary-ness of your original claim is apparent. (Sorry, Joshua.) I think the following is also sufficient to demonstrate the point: Some true propositions possibly correspond to no fact, but no fact possibly corresponds to no fact. (Read both quantifiers in the variable domain way.)

Another problem with identifying facts and true propositions is that one is then tempted to say that facts are the objects of knowledge and propositions are the objects of belief. But then we get the so-called 'Problem of Doxastic Shift'. This problem is basically that there are all sorts of linguistic reasons to take knowledge and belief to have the same object (woo hoo anaphora!). But this is supposed to be a real nightmare for those who hold that facts are what is known and propositions are what is believed. Avoid the headache, accept the linguistic data, and capture the claim that only truths can be known in some other way than by invoking facts as the objects of knowledge. Here's an attempt: S knows P only if P is true. Ta da.

(I think Williamson has some paper on facts/true propositions but I can't track it down. I've also heard that he has some paper on philosophy of time stuff. Any ideas anyone?)

10:10 AM  
Blogger Chris Tillman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:10 AM  
Blogger rock* said...

Chris,

I actually think the experimental philosophy can be useful, especially when philosophers make claims concerning how an ordinary speaker would react to a claim. (Whether making claims concerning how an ordinary speaker would react to a claim is useful is a different issue. However, I take it that it can be useful to do so, at least sometimes, because I take it that the fact that an ordinary speaker would assent to a claim is at least some evidence that it is true.)

Anyway, it's nice to have someone on my side concerning the ordinary-ness of premise (1) of the argument I presented.

As for you the other argument you present for the conclusion that facts are not true propositions, I have my doubts concerning how persuasive it is. Consider an analogous argument for the conclusion that bachelors aren't males: Some males possibly correspond to no bachelor, but no bachelor possibly corresponds to no male. So, bachelor aren't males.

There is a way of interpreting the premise of this analogous argument so that it is true. But on that way of interpreting the premise, the conclusion doesn't follow. Similarly, I think that someone who is inclined to endorse (FTP) will find the premise of your argument against the claim that facts are true propositions plausible only on the reading on which the conclusion doesn't follow from the premise. And I suspect that they will also claim that, insofar as people find that premise plausible, that is because they hear it as having that reading.

This is, of course, simply a claim about persuasiveness, not about soundness. Your argument for the conclusion that facts are not true propositions might very well be sound when the premise is given the other reading (the reading on which the conclusion does follow). However, I don't think that a proponent of (FTP) would be at all bothered by it or be very inclined to buy it. Which I guess is why I think the argument I offered in the post is a bit better, because I think that a proponent of (FTP) will be at least somewhat inclined to accept its premises

8:07 AM  
Blogger Chris Tillman said...

I was just giving you crap about being an experimental philosopher. I don't think that there's anything wrong with that in principle, but the sort of work that is usually done under that name is, I understand, laughably unrigorous by scientific standards. And I guess that the work that would need to be done in order to rectify that is probably often not worth the purported value of the conclusion that might be obtained. I also worry about another related point. It seems very difficult to me to isolate pre-theoretic judgments (if there really even are any) from first philosophy. And first philosophy should probably not be given any weight.

As for the persuasiveness of the argument, I was assuming a Kaplanian picture concerning evaluations of modal claims. So the metaphor involves us "packing up" the relevant entities into our singular propositions, hopping on the transworld airlines, and opening our luggage to see what we find, so to speak. On the Kaplanian picture, whereas we may pack up a true proposition and find that when we open our luggage in w what we have is false, it is plausible that when we pack up our fact, that fact is still a fact when we open our luggage at w. Yes this picture can be resisted, as can the conclusions that are based on it. But one could as well say that some things hold in virtue of themselves. Perhaps this could intelligibly be considered to be the trivial case of x holding in virtue of y. So as far as persuasiveness goes, I'm not sure that a clever identifier of facts and propositions is pinned by the original argument. That said, I think our goal should be to figure out what the evidence best supports rather than trying to persuade the intransigent. In that spirit I was offering another piece of evidence in support of the thesis that facts are not true propositions.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Chris Tillman said...

I just came across this which you might be interested in: http://instruct1.cit.cornell.edu/research/graff/papers/replytomarian.pdf

4:00 PM  
Blogger Alex S. said...

Rejecting either (1) or (4) is not the only plausible moves for resisting the argument against (FTP). For (1) and (FTP) alone do not entail the consequent of (2). They entail the consequent of (2) only given another principle. But that principle seems false. So another plausible move for resisting the argument is to reject (2).

The relevant principle is something like this:

(EIV) If (i) x is F in virtue of y and (ii) y is identical to z, then x is F in virtue of z.

In other words, to derive the consequent of (2) from (1) and (FTP), clearly one must assume that the context introduced by 'in virtue of' is extensional, i.e. that (EIV) is true. But (EIV) seems false. For 'in virtue of', if it expresses any relation, expresses an explanatory relation. And explanatory relations are notorious for introducing non-extensional contexts. (Examples left to reader.)

So unless there is some other way to support (2) other than by way of (EIV), the friend of (FTP) can reject (2).

5:38 PM  

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