Tuesday, July 26, 2016

If the future is open, it is never true that one is saying the truth

Given an open future, it is only true once one has already spoken that one says/said a particular sentence. For as long as one is still speaking, there is no fact of matter about how the sentence will end. It might end in an emphatic "--not!" So no utterance is true while it is being made. It can only be true after a decent pause. This is implausible, so we should reject the open future.


Walter Van den Acker said...

"No utterance is true while it is being made. It can only be true after a decent pause."

This utterance is true unless the pause after it was uttered was not decent enough.

Alex Dima said...

The only future you need in uttering the sentence appears simultaneously with the time of the utterance: as the utterance develops itself, the branching structure of the future gets trimmed. We do not need pauses. (Do Germans speakers wait the end of a sentence, where almost always one finds the verb that gives the overall sense of the phrase? The meaning is grasped very soon.) If the future is not open, we do not speak really: all the things to be said are there (where?) as already said.
Spazializing abstraction delivers such paradoxes. Language has to be developed like a piece of music.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I know very little German, but I think the following example will adapt. Suppose I have just finished saying the words "The sky is blue". At that point, given an open future, there are many possibilities. For simplicity, consider just two:
(a) I will say nothing more
(b) I will add "and 2+2=5".

Whether I am saying something true depends on whether (a) or (b) is the case. If (a) is the case, I am saying something true; if (b) is the case, I am saying something false. But if the future is open, there is no fact of the matter whether (a) or (b) is the case. So there is no fact of the matter about whether I am saying something true. It is only after the decent pause or after I start another sentence that it becomes the case that I said something true.

In writing we try solve this problem with a period or exclamation point at the end of a sentence. Though even in writing it is possible to start by writing "The sky is blue." and then finish it into "The sky is blue, and 2+2=5" (a dot can be the start of a comma).

That said, even though given an open future one can't correctly say in the present tense "He is saying the truth", one may be able say: "What he is trying to say is the truth." For what he is trying to say depends on the intention animating his action, and that intention will sometimes have been fully formed in the past. And then after a decent pause, or after a new sentence started, one can say: "What he said was the truth."

Michael Gonzalez said...

Pruss: If a logical statement is true (say, the S5 axiom), is it still true when I only write down half of it? Are truth values really given to partial/incomplete statements??

Landon said...

Why not just key the truth or falsity of the statement to whether the judgement intended to be expressed by the statement is true or false? After all, it's pretty clear that acts of judgment (assertion) are not temporally extended, with different bits corresponding to different bits of language as the latter bits occur in sequence. German verbs with separable prefixes are a good illustration of this: the prefix will often entirely change the meaning of the verb, and should be considered as a part of the verb, but one does not get the prefix until the end of the sentence, well after the other part of the verb. There are clearly not two temporal parts of my act of judgement, one involving one part of the verb and another involving another part of the verb - the separate parts of the verb do not signify separately, but form one word, a single syntactical unit, logically speaking, even though the parts are linguistically separated.

Alexander R Pruss said...


If the future is not open, then "He is writing down a true logical statement" can be true even if he has only written the first letter of it, as long as what he will write is true.


That's an interesting suggestion.

But suppose I intend to say that the sky is blue, and I say "The sky is", and then I change my mind and say: "yellow". Back when I was on the word "sky", my intention was to say "The sky is blue". But it's not correct, I think, to say that I was *saying* "The sky is blue" even then. What I was saying was the first part of "The sky is yellow", contrary to my intention at the time. But I agree that this isn't completely clear.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Why do we want to be able to say that someone "is saying" a true statement?? A completed statement has a truth value. Incomplete statements simply don't. It's like saying a man is currently winning at a game. At best, that means he is currently doing better than his opponent (by some proper measure of the current status). We obviously don't mean "he is currently in the midst of a game which he WILL win once it's finished". Likewise, a person can be intending a true statement, and then we could say that they are speaking (or, at the very least, TRYING to speak) truthfully. If it changes later (say the sky changes color while they are mid-sentence, or they change their minds and decide to lie) that doesn't change the fact that they WERE speaking (or trying to speak) truthfully any more than the outcome of the game changes the fact that they WERE winning at that point when we said that.

Alexander R Pruss said...

It's more like saying that someone is dying. A person is only dying if he will in fact die from the condition that he is dying of. (And, similarly, the open futurist can never correctly say that someone is dying.)

Anyway, suppose I say: "I am speaking." Assuming there are tensed propositions (which pretty much comes with the territory of an open future), the tensed proposition I am expressing is one that is true only while I am speaking. But given an open future, it is only true that I am expressing that proposition *after* I have spoken. So, the open futurist has to say: What Alex was saying was true when he was speaking, even though while Alex was speaking it wasn't the case that Alex was saying something true. That's implausible.

Michael Gonzalez said...

First off, we often do say someone is "dying" in that their outcome looks bleak (much as we say someone is "winning" or "losing" a game). We shouldn't think that we are making a statement about a future truth; we are describing how things appear right now.

Secondly, "I am speaking" is no more problematic than any incomplete statement. I wasn't done saying it until... I was done saying it! And incomplete statements do not have truth values. Once the statement is complete, we can say that I spoke truthfully.

For what it's worth, the only real-life context in which we ever say "I am speaking" is when we are engaged in a longer elocution, and so the statement is about the overall elocution; not specifically about the time in which you are saying those three words. The purpose might be to silence a potential interruption. But we don't say "I am speaking" with regard to that same sentence; it's with regard to the larger speaking that we're engaged in.

Michael Gonzalez said...

{cont.}... in which case, the statement is true right then.