Truth of Sentences, Take Two
Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on November 13, 2008
I want to approach what I discussed in previous post from somewhat different perspective, in order to explain myself better.
In the linguistic community we become aware of all of different kind of things that can be done with language. Among other things, we can use language to speak about the world – through language we can claim that things are thus and so (“I had eggs for breakfast”), we can ask someone if things are thus and so (“Did I have eggs for breakfast?”), we can wonder aloud if things are thus and so (“I wonder if I have eggs for breakfast”), wonder what might have been if things were thus and so (“I wonder what would have been if I had eggs for breakfast.”).
Now, there is something clear here – while all those speech acts are different – they have something in common, they are about the same thing – about things in the world being thus and so, or in the specific case about me having eggs for breakfast. If I did have eggs for breakfast, that would mean that the answer to the question if I had eggs for breakfast is positive, that I was right in claiming that I had eggs for breakfast, that those who deny that I had eggs for breakfast are wrong, and so on…
We now (in the tradition of analytic thought) want to isolate this common thing, and on another side isolate another element to account for what is different in all those cases. If we do so, we can reduce the wealth of phenomena to few defining parts. Combine those parts, and you will be able to get to all those kinds of speech-acts.
The solution is pretty obvious – we will have claiming, asking, wondering-aloud, suggesting, denying and etc. on one side, and we will have the other element – call it proposition, statement or sentence, on another side. It seems also obvious that this other element, can’t be some actual state of affairs as the proposition might be “I had eggs for breakfast”, and maybe I didn’t have eggs for breakfast.
The moment we do this separation though, the need appears to specify the nature of the sentence/proposition/statement, and somehow “glue” it to the world. To me it is this that seems problematic – in the speech acts to which we pointed, we are simply claiming something about the world, asking something about the world – taken on this less-abstract level, there are no issues of connection between what is said and the world. It is when we take one aspect of those speech-acts, motivated by given reasoning, where we get into the issues of connecting this aspect to the world. Giving account of its meaning and truth-value.
So, I’m thinking that we are doing something wrong there. We are taking the notions of speech-acts (claiming something, asking something, denying something, etc…), we take their aspects, take those aspects as self-subsistent, and then try to reconnect them (while keeping their assumed self-subsistence). The idea is then that we can’t take sentences and speak of them as being true or false, independent on any speech-act. It is speech-acts in which we are speaking about the world, and that only what is said about the world can be true or false (vs. merely what is said taken as abstract).