Friday, November 12, 2010

The theistic theory of truth and the Euthyphro dilemma

Here is a theory of truth for propositions:

  1. p is true if and only if God believes p.
And here is one for sentences:
  1. s is true if and only if God believes what s says.
If traditional theism is correct, these theories of truth are necessarily extensionally correct. So what's wrong with them? In a post from last fall, I mentioned (2) but wasn't too happy with it. But now these theories seem rather good.

The standard tool for probing theistic analyses is the Euthyphro dilemma. Is p true because God believes it or does God believe it because it's true? But unlike in the case of the Euthyphro dilemma, I submit that there is no cost to taking the first horn.

Granted, it is initially tempting to say: "Surely, a knower's beliefs (at least in central cases[note 1]) reflect reality, and so (at least in central cases) God believes p because p is true." But this temptation should disappears once we see that in central cases of our knowing p, it is false that we believe p because p is true.

Here is a central case. Let p be the proposition that there is a computer in front of me. And let Bp be the proposition that I believe p. What explains why I believe that there is a computer in front of me is that there is a computer in front of me (and that it reflects and emits light to my eyes and puts pressure on my hands). Thus, p (partly) explains Bp. But observe that Tp, the proposition that p is true, does not explain Bp. Light reflects from the computer, not from the abstract proposition p. The proposition Tp is a second order proposition about p, and this second order proposition does not enter into the standard causal explanation of my believing p. It is the first order proposition p that does that.

The following seems correct: p explains Tp. It is true that there is a computer in front of me because there is a computer in front of me. Likewise, plausibly, God believes that there is a computer in front of me because there is a computer in front of me. Thus, Tp and the that God believes p have the same explanatory relation to p, and there does not appear to be any need to suppose that <God believes p> is explanatorily posterior to Tp, though in at least some cases there is reason to suppose that <God believes p> is explanatorily posterior to p. The Euthyphro dilemma, thus, is not an issue here. And the same goes for (2).

One could try to define truth as what God knows. But because truth may be a part of an analysis of knowledge, this could be circular in a way in which (1) and (2) don't seem to be.


Heath White said...

Even more directly, some strands of the tradition hold that God's knowledge (unlike ours) causes its truth. In that case, the theistic theory is very solid. But that's probably not where you want to go.

I do have a worry about sentences like "p explains Bp". This reads ambiguously between "the proposition p is the explanation of Bp" and "the proposition p figures in the explanation of Bp." For example, computers figure in explanations of computer beliefs, but they are not explanations of computer beliefs; only propositions are explanations.

Alexander R Pruss said...

"p explains Bp" should be understood as: the proposition p is the explanation of the proposition Bp. In other words, if p is the proposition that s, where "s" is some English sentence, then "p explains Bp" is true iff that s explains (at least partly) why it is that I believe that s.

We loosely talk of events and objects as explaining, and what we mean by that is that that the event occurred or that the object exists explains (at least in part).

enigMan said...

Well, we should believe things because they they are true; and similarly, God would believe things because they were true. Take God's self-awareness. Whatever God is, God believes that that is what He is because it is. Or take God's creation. God believes that it's as it is because it is, for all that it is that way because He wanted it to be. Is God the way He is because He believes He is? Surely God's being is not logically posterior to His actions.

As for truth, to say that it is true that there is a computer in front of you is to say that there is a computer in front of you. Questions of truth are questions of how well our words fit the world. (Maybe they are not questions of the world, but we do use words to ask questions about the world.) It being true that p just is it being the case that p. (Talk of different orders is imaginary when we are using ordinary language.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

To say that snow is white and to say that the proposition that snow is white is true is to say two different things. The latter attributes a property to a proposition, while the former attributes a property to snow. It is possible to believe that a proposition is true without believing the proposition. Let p be a name for the first theorem in Al Baernstein's latest published math paper. The I believe that p is true, but I don't believe p as I haven't read the paper so I don't even know what p is.
Now that we have the distinction, I think it is very plausible that in central cases it is p, not Tp, that is prior to the belief. (And there are plenty of cases where p isn't prior to the belief, e.g., when p is about the future and the knower is human and there is no prophecy.) I believe p because of the evidence for p. The evidence for Tp only gets me to believing Tp, from which I can then infer p if (as is usual) I know what p is.

enigMan said...

Indeed, but that doesn't really undermine my objection. God believes that He is as He knows Himself to be because that is true. To say that that is true is to say that those words adequately describe how things are.