Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Necessity and triviality

I’ve posted a new draft paper 'Necessary truth, truthmaking and triviality'. The main motivation of the paper is to defend the view that the necessary truths are all and only the trivial truths. A secondary motivation is to argue that, given truthmaker theory, this entails that the necessary truths are exactly the truths that lack a truthmaker.

A sentence is trivially true if and only if its truth makes no demand on the world. That is to say, its truth-conditions are trivially met. Nothing is required of the world for the truth conditions of a trivial truth to be met. Crucially, this is not the same as saying that the world meets the demands that the truth of the sentence imposes on it as a matter of necessity. It is conceptually consistent that the truth of a sentence makes demands on the world that the world necessarily meets. The substantial claim defended in this paper is that there are no such truths: all substantial truths (ones whose truth makes a demand on the world) are contingent.

To make sense of the idea of a truth with trivial truth-conditions, we must have a non-modal understanding of ‘demands’. The demands the truth of a sentence makes on the world can’t simply be what must be the case if the sentence is true. That is independently plausible: even if there are necessary existents such as numbers, or God, we should want an understanding of ‘demands’ such that the truth of ‘Socrates is a philosopher’ demands that Socrates exist and be a philosopher, but not that God or the number 2 exists. Indeed, I argue in the paper that if you only have a modal understanding of ‘demands’ there are a bunch of apparent conceptual possibilities that you simply can’t make sense of. Now if it makes sense that the truth of a sentence not demand that p be the case, even when p is necessary, we can make sense of the idea that the truth of the sentence makes no demands at all.

I argue that such trivial truths must be necessary, lest we violate a very weak version of the principle that truth is grounded in reality (one far weaker than the truthmaker principle). In that case we have an explanation for the necessity of at least some necessary truths: they are necessary because trivial. I further argue that if this is true we should hold that all necessary truths are trivial, lest we admit unexplained necessitites.

This has real consequences for certain debates in metaphysics. It settles the debate over whether there could have been no concrete objects, since ‘there are concrete objects’ is a substantial truth (it demands that there be concreta), hence a contingent one. It motivates, I argue, in favour of states of affairs as opposed to tropes as the truthmakers for contingent intrinsic predications. That is because ‘If the state of affairs of A being F exists, A is F’ is trivially true if true whereas ‘If the particular redness of A exists, A is red’ is substantially true if true (since more is required for A’s existence than that one of A’s properties exist, whereas since A is a constituent of the state of affairs of A being F, the conditions for A’s existence are already met in meeting the conditions for the existence of the state of affairs), and so only the former can be necessary – and given truthmaker necessitarianism, whichever is true is necessarily true.

(I want to give a shout out to Agustin Rayo. I've been much inspired and influenced by his recent work on truth-conditions, ontological commitment, etc. Go to his webpage and read 'On Specifying Truth-Conditions', 'Ontological Commitment' and 'Towards a Trivialist Account of Mathematics'. It's all really excellent stuff, and will give you an idea of the background I'm operating with in this paper.)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Permanent lecturer/senior lecturer at Leeds

Leeds is hiring again. We're seeking to appoint a lecturer or senior lecturer - AOS open, but we'd be especially keen on applicants with AOS in Theoretical Philosophy (broadly construed: i.e. phil logic and language, metaphysics, epistemology, phil mind, etc) or the history of philosophy.

Here's the ad:

University of Leeds

Faculty of Arts

Department of Philosophy

Lectureship/Senior Lectureship in Philosophy

(Available from 1 September 2009)

The Department of Philosophy is one of the largest Philosophy
departments in the UK, with around 30 academic staff and a
large intake of students. In recent evaluations it received a
maximum 24 for Teaching Quality and a rating of 5 in the 2001
Research Assessment Exercise. The Department includes the
Centre for History and Philosophy of Science,
the Centre for Ethics and Metaethics and the Centre for
Metaphysics and Mind.

The ‘Area of Specialisation’ for this position is open
across all areas of the Department but we are particularly
interested in applicants working in the areas of Theoretical
Philosophy (broadly construed) or History of Philosophy.

The position will incorporate undergraduate and postgraduate
teaching, some thesis supervision, and usual non-teaching duties.
With a strong record of research publication, the successful
candidate should be qualified to masters level or equivalent.
A PhD prior to application and teaching experience are strongly
preferred for a Lectureship and are essential for a position at
Senior Lecturer level.

For general information see

University Grade 7 (£30, 912 - £33,780 p.a.) or University 8
(£34,792 - £41,545 p.a.) or University Grade 9
(£42,791 - £49,606 p.a.)

Informal enquiries to Professor Steven French:

To download an application form and job details please visit and click on ‘jobs’.

Job ref 321001 Closing date 28 November 2008

Interviews will take place on 14/15 January 2009

Applicants should submit the completed application form,
full CV, and a writing sample (of no longer than 25 pages)
by the closing date of 28 November.