PY4804 Philosophy of Logic Week 2: Tarski’s Theory of Truth

Agust´ Rayo ın ar29@st-andrews.ac.uk October 7, 2003 Tarski’s Condition of Material Adequacy
1. According to Tarski, sentences of the following form must follow from any adequate characterization of truth: (1) ‘Snow is white’ is true if and only if snow is white 2. To see that (1) is not trivial, compare it with the following: (2) ‘La nieve es blanca’ is true if and only if snow is white 3. Stating Tarski’s condition of material adequacy precisely is a bit tricky. One way of doing so is as follows: Each instance of the following schema must follow from one’s characterization of truth: (T) s is true if and only if p where ‘p’ is replaced by an English sentence and ‘s’ is replaced by a name of that sentence.

Naming sentences
Consider the following English sentence as an example: Susan runs Here are three names for this sentence: 1. ‘Susan runs’ 1

2. The sentence printed on the previous page, third line from bottom. 3. The sentence constituted by two words, the first of which consists of the 19th, 21st, 19th, 1st and 14th letters of the alphabet (in that order), and the second of which consists of the 18th, 21st, 14th and 19th letters of the alphabet (in that order) Here’s a Limerick by Richard Cartwright: According to W. Quine whose views on quotation are fine Boston names Boston and Boston names ‘Boston’ but 9 doesn’t designate 9 Exercise: add quotation marks so as to make every sentence in the Limerick true.

Why is a materially adequate characterization of truth non-trivial?
If we were concerned with a language containing only finitely many sentences, then the task would be easy. Consider, for example, a language L containing only the following two sentences: 1. Susan runs 2. Tom walks Then one could define truth for L as follows: φ is true if and only if: either φ = ‘Susan runs’ and Susan runs, or φ = ‘Tom walks’ and Tom walks. But languages such as English contain infinitely many sentences.

A further problem: The Liar Paradox
1. The Paradox Let us use the name ‘Bill’ to refer to the following sentence: Bill is not true If our characterization of truth is to meet Tarski’s criterion of material adequacy it must imply the following instance of (T): ‘Bill is not true’ is true if and only if Bill is not true 2

But, given our definition of ‘Bill’, this must be equivalent to: Bill is true if and only if Bill is not true which is a contradiction. 2. Why is the Liar Paradox such a big deal? The problem is that the Liar Paradox will be derivable in any language L meeting the following conditions: (a) L contains a truth predicate (which is materially adequate for sentences of L) and the resources for describing its own syntax. (b) The sentences of L are governed by classical logic. It is possible to show, moreover, that any language strong enough to express arithmetic has the resources for describing it’s own syntax. The result is sometimes called Tarski’s Theorem: Assuming classical logic, no sufficiently strong language can contain its own truth predicate. 3. How does Tarski intend to deal with the problem? He distinguishes between: (a) The object language: the language we are talking about, i.e. the language containing the sentences we want our truth-predicate to apply to. (b) The meta-language: the language we are using to talk about the object language, i.e. the language in which a truth-predicate is given. Consider, for example, the following sentence: ‘La nieve es blanca’ is true if and only if snow is white Here the object language is Spanish and the metalanguage is English. Tarski takes the lesson of the Liar Paradox to be the observation that one can only characterize a (materially adequate) truth-predicate for a given object language in an essentially richer metalanguage. For, with such a setup in place, the Liar Paradox doesn’t arise. Question: can you think of other ways of avoiding the Liar Paradox?

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Tarski’s characterization of truth
To make things easier, we’ll consider a toy example. Let L be the language containing: • Names: ‘Susan’ and ‘Tom’. • Predicates: ‘Walks’ and ‘Runs’ • Logical connectives: ‘¬’ and ‘∧’. • Brackets: ‘(’ and ‘)’. Thus, the following are formulas of L: • Walks(Susan) (Read: Susan walks) • ¬Runs(Susan) (Read: It is not the case that Susan runs) • Walks(Tom) ∨ ¬Runs(Susan) (Read: Either Tom walks or it is not the case that Susan runs) Here is a materially adequate characterization of truth for L: 1. Start by defining a denotation-function for L, as follows: • δ(‘Susan’) = Susan • δ(‘Tom’) = Tom • δ(‘Runs’) = the set of runners • δ(‘Walks’) = the set of walkers 2. Next, define the new predicate ‘φ is true’ recursively, as follows: • P (t) is true if and only if δ(t) is a member of δ(P ). • ¬ψ is true if and only if it is not the case that ψ is true. • ψ ∨ ξ is true if and only if either ψ is true or ξ is true. Exercise: verify that this definition of truth really is materially adequate.

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Further Reading
1. There is a required reading for Friday’s seminar: • Tarski, A ‘The Semantic Conception of Truth’ (1944), in Lynch, M. The Nature of Truth, MIT Press, 2001. 2. Enthusiasts could also look at: • Tarski, A. ‘The Concept of Truth in Formalized Languages’ (1929), in Tarski, A. Logic, Semantics and Meta-Mathematics, Hackett, 1983 , pp. 152-278. This is a hard paper, but it’s a classic—and a paradigm of philosophical rigor. Any philosopher who is seriously interested in the concept truth must study this paper carefully sometime in the course of her career.

Appendix (for enthusiasts only)
1. Tarski’s definition of truth for a first-order language
Consider a first-order language whose non-logical vocabulary consists of the proper names ‘Susan’ and ‘Tom’, and the predicates ‘Runs(x)’ and ‘Walks(x)’. Then Tarski’s definition of truth is as follows: True(φ) ≡df ∀v(VA(v) ⊃ Sat(φ, v)) where ‘VA(x)’ is true if and only if x is a function that takes each variable to an object and ‘Sat(φ, v)’ is defined as follows: Sat( Runs(t) Sat( Walks(t) Sat( t1 = t2 Sat( ¬ψ Sat( ψ ∧ ξ Sat( ψ ∨ ξ Sat( ψ ⊃ ξ Sat( ψ ≡ ξ Sat( ∀x ψ , v) ≡ Runs(δ( t , v)) , v) ≡ Walks(δ( t , v)) , v) ≡ δ( t1 , v) = δ( t2 , v) , v) ≡ ¬Sat( ψ , v) , v) ≡ (Sat( ψ , v) ∧ Sat( ξ , v)) , v) ≡ (Sat( ψ , v) ∨ Sat( ξ , v)) , v) ≡ (Sat( ψ , v) ⊃ Sat( ξ , v)) , v) ≡ (Sat( ψ , v) ≡ Sat( ξ , v)) , v) ≡ ∀y Sat( ψ , v[ x /y])

Here v[ x /y] is the function that is just like v except that it assigns y to x , and ‘δ(t, v)’ is defined as follows: δ(‘Susan’, v) = Susan δ(‘Tom’, v) = Tom δ( xi , v) = v( xi ). 5

2. A puzzle for enthusiasts
Wait! Couldn’t one emulate the characterization of truth provided in the preceding section to explicitly define a truth-predicate for the language of set-theory within the language of set-theory? Take True(φ) to be a syntactic abbreviation of the following formula: ∀s∀u[(Sat(s) ∧ VA(u)) ⊃ φ, u ∈ s] Intuitively, ‘VA(x)’ says that x is a valuation function; formally, it is true if and only if x is a function that takes each (set-theoretic representation of a) variable to an object. Intuitively, ‘Sat(s)’ says that s consists of the ordered-pairs φ, v where v satisfies φ; formally, we take it to be a syntactic abbreviation of the following formula: ∀θ∀v{VA(v) ⊃ [ θ, v ∈ s ≡ [(θ (θ (θ (θ (θ (θ (θ (θ (θ

= = = = = = = = =

x ∈ y ∧ v( x ) ∈ v( y ))∨ x = y ∧ v( x ) = v( y ))∨ ¬ψ ∧ ¬ ψ , v ∈ s)∨ ψ ∧ ξ ∧ ( ψ , v ∈ s ∧ ξ , v ∈ s))∨ ψ ∨ ξ ∧ ( ψ , v ∈ s ∨ ξ , v ∈ s))∨ ψ ⊃ ξ ∧ ( ψ , v ∈ s ⊃ ξ , v ∈ s))∨ ψ ≡ ξ ∧ ( ψ , v ∈ s ≡ ξ , v ∈ s))∨ ∃x ψ ∧ ∃y( ψ , v[ x /y] ∈ s))∨ ∀x ψ ∧ ∀y( ψ , v[ x /y] ∈ s))]]}

(where v[ x /y] is the function that is just like v except that it assigns y to x ). Have we shown that set-theory can define its own truth predicate? Tarski’s Theorem tells us that, on pain of inconsistency, no sufficiently strong theory can contain its own truth-predicate (and set-theory is certainly ‘sufficiently strong’). Should we conclude that set-theory is inconsistent? As far as we know, set-theory is not inconsistent. So there must be a problem somewhere. But where? A prize of £10 for the first student to come up with the right answer.

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