Is there such thing as truth of sentences?
Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on November 6, 2008
When I claim that I had eggs for breakfast this morning, there are two possibilities regarding the truth of what I am claiming. It might be true that I had eggs for breakfast this morning, or it might not be true that I had eggs for breakfast this morning.
We can say of course that what I am claiming is true or false. (BTW, I’m focusing on the act of claiming here, but analogous reasoning can be given with other speech-acts like those of wondering-aloud or asking)
Given that what I am claiming IS that I had eggs for breakfast this morning, to claim that what I am claiming is true, is to claim nothing else but that I did have eggs for breakfast this morning. Or, alternatively to claim that what I claimed is false, is to claim nothing else, but that I didn’t have eggs for breakfast this morning.
There are two ways to approach sentences here – we can speak of sentences as they appear as part of a claim, or we can speak of them in abstract manner, where we abstract from the speech act. The issue is – do sentences have truth values taken in this abstract manner, separated from the speech act?
It seems to me that the answer is – NO. I can pronounce the sentence “I had eggs for breakfast this morning”, but if by pronouncing it, I’m not claiming that I had eggs for breakfast this morning, but just, well… pronouncing the sentence for the sake of pronouncing a random sentence, there is no sense in which the sentence can be true or false. Someone might ask me – are you claiming that you had eggs for breakfast this morning, and I will say – no, I’m just pronouncing this sentence. He can’t say then that the sentence is right or wrong, as really nothing is claimed by the sentence.
Of course, one might speak of the truth or falsity of the claim that would be done and in part of which (claim) there would be an act of pronouncing of that certain sentence. That is, given the sentence “I had eggs for breakfast this morning”, I can imagine a person claiming that he had eggs for breakfast this morning, and how as an aspect of that claim (of that speech-act) he is pronouncing the given sentence. But again, there is no reason to speak of the truth value of the sentence alone, if we can’t make sense of it being right or wrong separated from the speech-act of claiming.
If this is so – it points to the answer of how are we able to understand a sentence, even in its abstract form, separated from any speech-act. I think it relates to what I said – to understand a sentence, IS to understand what one would claim, if in that speech act of claiming that sentence appears. So, to understand what “I had eggs for breakfast” means, is to understand that the sentence will appear, in the case where one will claim that he had eggs for breakfast that morning (or maybe in some other claim).
Because of this, I think we can say that truth or falsity has nothing to do with language. Sure, I use language to claim that I had eggs for breakfast this morning, but given that language gives me ability to claim that I had eggs for breakfast this morning, it gets out of the picture – it has nothing with the truth or falsity of what I claimed. This might be more obvious in the case of wondering-aloud. When I’m wondering aloud if John had eggs for breakfast this morning, I do pronounce the sentence “I wonder if John had eggs for breakfast this morning”, but I can wonder if John had eggs for breakfast this morning even without pronouncing that sentence. I’m not wondering if the sentence “John had eggs for breakfast this morning” is true.
I guess it is interesting to point that the apparent problem of the truth-value of the sentence “This sentence is false” also disappears if we deny that there are truth values of sentences at all. If we don’t allow that sentences can have truth-values taken in this abstract way, the closest thing we can come to is claiming that the claim is false. That is, one can claim that what he is claiming is false. But seems to me the normal response to such claim would be – And what exactly ARE YOU claiming? You are not claiming anything! And as you are not claiming anything, there is no sense in which your claim can be true or false. Of course, from this point, the claim that what one is claiming is true, is not better – nothing is actually claimed.