Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Minimalism about truth

Consider the claim:

  1. "Snow is white" is true because snow is white.
Say that a minimalist about truth is someone who thinks that statements like (1) fully explain all that calls out for explanation in the concept of truth.

Such a minimalist is wrong. It is clear that there is something fishy about (1) as a full explanation because the explanandum is about an object—the sentence "Snow is white"—which the explanans does not mention. In this regard, (1) is like the puzzling:

  1. Fred smoked a cigarette because Maxine called up Patrick.
The explanandum is about Fred but the explanans has nothing about Fred. Claim (2) might be true—but if so, it is incomplete. It might be partially completed by adding that Patrick is a notorious gossip and Fred and Maxine had a deal that Fred would quit smoking while Maxine would quit gossiping.

Sometimes we do not notice that an explanation is incomplete because the additional facts are obvious: "Fred was jealous because Maxine kissed Patrick" needs nothing added if we know that Fred and Maxine are married and we know some facts of human psychology. But even so, the explanation is incomplete, enthymematic. And a sure sign of an anthymematic explanation is that the explanans does not mention the subject of the explanandum.

How to complete (1)? Maybe:

  1. "Snow is white" is true because "Snow is white" says that snow is white, and snow is white.
Of course, normally we all know that "Snow is white" says that snow is white and so the first conjunct of the explanans is left off. Bu tit is needed, as is evident in cases where we do not understand the quoted phrase right away:
  1. "Snieg jest bialy" is true because snow is white.

And once we relize that (1) is enthymematic for something like (3), we can see why (1) doesn't solve all the puzzles in the vicinity of "truth". For the obvious question after seeing (3) is: "Why does 'Snow is white' say that snow is white?" And here a correspondence theory may reappear as a side-effect of solving this problem of meaning (this observation is not original—I recall it in, I think, Ayer and in Davidson).

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