Two sentences walked into a bar
Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on December 18, 2008
Few posts ago I expressed my opinion that sentences can’t be true or false. That what can be true or false is what is claimed. Also that “what is claimed” there shouldn’t be understood as some kind of entity (be it called “proposition” or “claim” or “statement”). Claiming is an act where something is claimed, like – I might claim that I had eggs for breakfast. I don’t claim any “claim” or “proposition” or “statement”. I simply talk about me having eggs for breakfast.
What I said is that given that we don’t accept that sentences can be true or false, it kind of removes the issues of sentences like “this sentence is false”. Both “this sentence is false” and “this sentence is true” , or “the second sentence from the first paragraph is true” are nonsense, as sentences can’t be true or false. Sure, the sentence might be “Earth is fifth closest planet to the Sun in the Solar system”, and we can say that sentence is false *meaning* that it is not true that Earth is fifth closes planet to the Sun in the Solar system, however whatever we actually mean has nothing to do with sentences, it has to do with Earth being or not being the fifth closest planet to the Sun in the solar system. That we speak of this in the context of what somebody has written in a book is maybe important for the way we will say it, because we are considering and commenting on it only because we are reading that, but what we are considering, the intentional matter of our thinking – has nothing to do with sentences. So, we may say “that sentence is false” meaning that, but I think that saying that in that way is asking for trouble, and sooner or later we will get into paradoxes and problems.
Anyway, what I wanted to say here is that it seems to me that it is not just the talk of sentences as being true or false which is making problems, but also any self-referencing in sentences. It might seem as quite a different thing, but the basis of being critical of this is the practically the same one.
Namely it is people (or other conscious beings) who can consider things, get to belief that things are such and such, and further can claim that things are such and such, can ask if things are such and such, etc… But, what is claimed is something that can be believed and considered. Like, I might consider if I had eggs for breakfast, or I might come to believe that Earth is third planet of the Solar System. And I can further claim or express my opinion that Earth is third planet of the Solar System, or that I had eggs for breakfast. Sure, somebody might approach my speech act of expressing opinion or claiming, and on another different level – of actual performance of the act (I guess we may say as a purely locutionary act), and be able to locate such things as “sentences” there. But I don’t think that expressing opinion, or claiming something involves some intentional creation of sentences, or looking for a sentence, such that it will have some kind of meaning that we are intending to express.
To get back to the self-referential sentences – given that we agree that considering if things are such and such, and believing that things are such and such, is what is behind expressing the opinion that things are such and such or claiming that things are such and such – if we can’t find such acts which would correspond to the claims like – “this sentence has five words”, I don’t think we can make sense of these kind of claims. So to say – one can’t wonder if this sentence has five words, and then express his claim that this sentence has five words… The claim is not a sentence, the sentence is something that appears *while* making the claim. And certainly there is no sentence to speak of when we merely wonder about things. We may think of course about the sentence “this sentence has five words” having five words, but in doing so, we are considering the sentence as a subject matter. The claim that would correspond than would be that sentence “This sentence has five letters” has five letters. Of course, the same claim can be expressed in English or German or any other language.
So to say there is no sense in wondering if this sentence ha five words (which sentence?), there is no sense in forming opinion if this sentence has five words (again – which sentence), and in same way there is no sense in claiming that this sentence has five words. As mentioned before I don’t think that talking about ‘statements’, ‘propositions’ or ‘claims’ helps much, we don’t consider or form opinion about propositions, only if things are such and such or otherwise.
One can say – that maybe we consider if the world is according to some description/statement/proposition, so that the proposition/statement/description may be located as some separate entity, but is this anything but adding an aditional step which doesn’t solve anything? Because “the world is according to some statement/proposition” is again something that is claimed – should now consider this as a new proposition/statement/description?