For over  a week, I’ve been trying, from time to time, to figure out one sentence in Kirkham’s Theories of Truth.  It seems like a test of syntactic limits, unless Kirkham’s sentence is actually nonsense. (After all, his editor regularly allowed “the affect on” when he should have written “the effect on.”) So, it matters. Now I think I might have cracked his sentence. But I’m not sure, especially because the verbal construction sounds very tenuous English. Here’s Kirkham’s sentence:

“To put another way, we need a theory of truth in which the very contingent facts that would otherwise make a sentence paradoxical will show, in conjunction with the theory, that in  fact the sentence has no truth value.”

I’d like someone to try this one. In fact, I’d like everyone to. I have figured out a possible parse for it, but I’ll keep it for my comments later.

Here’s a hint. Kirkham’s context and meaning is something like this:

To avoid the liar paradox (“This sentence is false” — if it’s true then it’s false) we need a theory of truth to solve this.

This theory will allow the liar paradox to have no truth value (neither true nor false, just meaningless — like “The present king of France is bald”: since there is no such present king, it’s arguably neither false nor true, just meaningless, as it wouldn’t do to say “The present king is NOT bald” either).

That theory will make sentences truth-valueless only if those sentences would be paradoxical if they had a truth value.

So, if some sentence would seem factually paradoxical (like the liar paradox), then this truth theory would somehow make just such sentences (like the liar paradox) truth-valueless.

Now try Kirkham.


3 Responses to “nuts”

  1. Dorothy Ross Says:

    Here is my shot. Currently, we cannot say anything about the truth of a paradox, since it is meaningless. Kirkham is looking for a theory of truth that would have something to say about paradoxes – that paradoxes do not have truth value. This would be based on the facts of the individual paradox, and not on a blanket, theoretical statement about paradoxes in general. What do others think?

    • rob Says:

      You are courageous!! For me, the crucial grammatical problem in the sentence is figuring out the two words “…will show….” Is it part of a verbal complex “make…will show” or is it the verb phrase of one of the antecedent noun phrases, like “the theory…will show” or “truth…will show” or “the very facts…will show” or “the sentence…will show” or even the relative pronoun “that…will show”? I’m going to hold onto my parse until I’ve got all my friends weighed in — though they might not have the courage to commit to written form.

  2. nbmandel Says:

    Here’s what I think: It’s grammatical, but it’s bad. For example, couldn’t he have written it without the duplication of “the facts” and “in fact”? So clumsy, and not because it’s inelegant repetition but because I’d think he should have something very specific in mind when he uses the word “fact” in the context of a discussion of truth, and wouldn’t want to throw it around casually.

    I actually can’t see how you could read it other than as “the facts . . . will show.” But I still don’t get what he means. Is this longed-for theory of Truth a kind of light outside of the visible spectrum that when aimed at the “contingent facts” of a paradoxical statement will show it’s something else? (And presumably, given the introductory clause, this is meant as the easy short-form version of the idea. I am glad I don’t have to struggle with its first presentation.)

    Signed, Not A Philosopher (or a linguist)

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