Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 7

ON POPPER'S USE OF TARSKI'S THEORY OF TRUTH I. GRATTAN-GUINNESS I In a recent paper, S.

Haack has claimed that Tarski does not present his theory of truth as a correspondence theory) K.R.Popper has pointed out in a reply that Tarski does regard his theory as a correspondence theory." Since each author gives references to Tarski's writings to back up his position, there seems to be a contradiction in the air - an ironic situation for a theory of truth. Perhaps the contexts of the passages will resolve the difficulty. Popper first cites this passage from the beginning of Tarski's 1935 paper on truth: 'I would only mention that throughout this work I shall be concerned exclusively with grasping the intentions which are contained in the so-called classical conception of truth ("true - corresponding with reality") in contrast, for example, with the utilitarian conception ("true - in a certain respect usef u l " ) ' : Two paragraphs later, Tarski summarises the first section of his paper: 'In w colloquial language is the object of our investigations. The results are entirely negative. With respect to this language not only does the definition of truth seem to be impossible, but even the consistent use of this concept in conformity with the laws of logic'. Popper'.s second passage comes from a paper of Tarski of 1936: 'We regard the truth of a sentence as its "correspondence with reality" ,.4 Two paragraphs earlier Tarski writes: 'The language for which such a [structural] description can be given are called formalized languages. Now since the degree of exactitude of all further investigations depends essentially on the clarity and precision of this description, it is only the semantics of formalised

languages which can be constructed by exact methods'. The impression provided by these contexts is thatTarski is restricting his theory of truth to formalised languages. The impression is confirmed in the passage from Tarski's 1944 paper cited by Haack. After describing various definitions of truth, includ-

129

I. GRATTAN.GUINNESS ing the correspondence theory, he writes: 'none of them is sufficiently precise and clear [ . . . ] at any rate, none of them can be considered a satisfactory definition of truth'. 5 Thus Tarski affirms his own theory of truth as a correspondence theory for formalized languages, but is chary of defining truth (by any means, apparently) for natural languages. I think that Haack should have made this point clearer by citing the passages which Popper has quoted. However, he~ paper already contains a comment on Pepper's reply: 'Popper takes it - despite what Tarski says to the contrary - that Tarski's theory can be applied to natural as well as formal languages'. 6 In that reply Popper himself does not point out the distinction between natural and formal languages, and seems to convey the impression that Tarski asserts correspondence as a theory of truth for natural languages also, 'despite what Tarski says to the contrary'. In his more extended writings on Tarski's theory, Popper points out that it is not possible to give a general criterion of truth for natural languagesfl Nevertheless, he thinks that the view that Tarski's definition 'is applicable only for formalized languages is, I think, mistaken. It is applicable to any consistent, and even to a "natural" language, if only we learn from Tarski's analysis how to dodge its inconsistencies'. Thus it applies to 'a whole range of merle or less artificial though not formalized languages', a The artificialities inelude the avoidance of semantic closure, and presumably the introduction of some logical machinery to define satisfaction. Popper does not discuss one aspect of Haack's position. She points out that, since in Tarski's theory true propositions are satisfied by all sequences, it does not rely on any particular sequence of objects and so admits analytic cases - where correspondence to the facts is not e n t a i l e d - as well as the synthetic cases which are Pepper's concern.9 Popper might reply that it is truth with content that is of interest, which analytic cases therefore necessarily lack. II Theories of truth remain a controversial issue between philosophers. Correspondence theorists such as Popper, and semantics theorists such as Tarski, are both challenged by advocates of other theories, such as coherence, pragmatism and redundancy, t~ My purpose here is to consider various aspects of the correspondence theory as it is sited in Pepper's philosophy. Seven issues seem to stand out. 130

POPPER'S USE OF TARSKI'S THEORYOF TRUTH (1) Popper writes that Tarski solved the 'apparently hopeless problem' of elucidating the notion of correspondence by reducing it to the 'simpler idea' of satisfaction. 11 He emphasises that Tarski's definition of satisfaction is executed with respect to formalized languages, but presses ahead with its use in more general contexts, where natural languages presumably obtain. But there even the 'simpler' notion of satisfaction presents difficulties for the establish. ment of an absolute objective theory of truth. For thet choice of objects of the (physical) world as, the referents of the arguments of the sentential functions could itself be theoretical, even subjective. If someone points to the sleeping cat and says: 'Look, of course snow is white, can't you see it for yourself?.', who is to say that he is not a correspondence theorist? In a passage cited by Haack, Tarski points out that his theory is 'completely neutral' towards epistemological positions - even one, therefore, based on misidentifications, or poor knowledge of the language involved. 12 (2) 'Snow is white' is a favourite example, with both Tarski and Popper, of truth defined as correspondence with facts. Assuming that snow is actually the referent of the statement, this example strikes one as excellent example of the difficulty of associating an objective theory of truth with facts. Is the snow white, or rather off-white by now? How is it being lit, anyway? Facts are of course highly theoryqmpregnated, as Popper has emphasised often; but then they must be unsuirable candidates for the site of the objectivity and absoluteness which he seeks. 3) As an example of the last point, consider this judgement by Popper: 'Tarski's theory allows us [ . . . ] to define reality as that to which true statements correspond'. ~3 This definition is in fact consistent with some positivist and even solipsist epistemologies; indeed, it may be more in tune with them for the following reason, unremarked and presumably unnoticed by Popper. The set of true statements is denumerable, since it is lexicographically orderable. Hence reality is composed of a denumerable set of (classes of) referents of true propositions. I doubt whether one could actually prove or refute this claim in a formal way, but it seems to fit ill with the conception of reality that Popper expounds at length elsewhere (its independence of experiencers, and so on). (4) I would much prefer to see Pepper's epistemology oriented not towards factual truth but towards what elsewhere I have called 131

I. GRATTAN.GUINNESS 'ontological correctness'3 4 Theories are ontologically correct if they describe how the particular phenomena actually - that is, ontologically - occur. (I assume that we could invent languages sufficiently rich to express such theories.) In a physical world like ours, where its substances seem to be composed of 'microsized' essences and its causal corrections are at least not experientially obvious, the distinction between ontological correctness and factual truth is important. For example, a theory can be both ontologically incorrect but factually true, if it describes phenomena in a way that actually does not apply but which corresponds to the facts as well as experiment and experience currently allow, ts Scientific "theories are often concerned with 'micro' rather than surface effects; quantum mechanics, one of Pepper's favourite scientific areas, is full of examples. (5) 'Snow is white' also clearly exemplifies another difficulty in applying Tarski's theory to general contexts - namely, its use of the classical logic as the underlying logic. Snow is white or it is not white, tertium non datur; but of course as I indicated in (2) above, snow can go through various shades. Many scientific theories also use inexact concepts, and to base a theory of truth as correspondence with the facts on classical logic is to restrict that theory of truth to a small class of phenomena. On the other hand, I suspect that a classical underlying logic could be used when truth is defined relative to ontological correctness; for a scientific theory is ontologically correct or not. (Unfortunately, we shall never be able to prove that a correct theory is correct, for the next test might refute it; but that is another matter.) If truth is to be defined relative to facts, whether by correspondence or some other way, then I think that some non-classical logic is needed, to try to capture the component of vagueness in our theories of which 'snow is white' is such a good example .16 (6) The concept of vagueness is sometimes associated, and even confused, with that of belief. Popper places beliefs in his World 2 of subjective knowledge, but of course they can be the referents of objective World-3 theories o f belief: among psychologists studying personality, for example, or neurophysiologists wondering if beliefs are explicable in terms of neural states. Such scientists will need a theory of the relationship between a belief and its referent; and thus arises the well-known criticism of the applicability of the corre132

POPPER'S USE OF TARSKI'S THEORY OF TRUTH spondence theory to belief predicates, not out of the way in World 2, but present in Popper's World 3 of objective knowledge. Popper might assert that, since 'World 3 is the world of the products of the human mind',IT there exists an object to which the belief corresPonds. But, apart from the question-begging character of the assertion (how would one know that the object is there if the belief had not been uttered?), it surely cannot have the same status as the facts to which his theory of truth has statements correspond. (7) Popper affirms the epistemological primacy of statements, and seems to regard analyses of concepts as essentialism or ordinarylanguage analysis, ts Sadly, he is very often right; but in addition there are many cases in scientific theorising where non-essentialist conceptual analysis is required. Foundational theories in a science contain many examples, especially if the theory has a mathematical component. Indeed, Tarski~s theory of truth itself is, to one admirer, a 'successful description of a method for defining "true"; 19 thus it is a theory of the concept of truth. Hence an exposition of Tarski's theory as a correspondence theory for natural languages (which Popper asserts) surely requires some conceptual analysis of statements (which Popper disparages). As I have mentioned points of discrepancy between Popper and Tarski, here is another quotation from Tarski's 1944 paper on truth: 'In fact, I am rather inclined to agree with those who maintain that the moments of greatest creative advancement in science frequently coincide with the introduction of new notions by means of definition' .20 III I draw two conclusions from this discussion. Firstly, Popper's advocacy of truth as correspondence to the facts seems to me to be a problematic part of his epistemology, whether or not Tarski's semantic theory is held to explicate the machinery of correspondence; the emphasis on facts raises doubts, and even seems out of tune with other aspects of his philosophy. Secondly, and more broadly, the competition between different theobies of truth may not be one for the possession of the concept of truth but a demarcation dispute between contexts in which these theories apply. For example, in (6) of the previous section a scenario was sketched in which it would be possible to advocate one theory of truth for

133

I. GRATTAN-GUINNESS beliefs and another for the scientific investigation of beliefs. I do not see why any theory of truth should be expected to cover (say) social justice, analytic number theory, personality testing, quantum mechanics, paths of projectiles, musical temperament, religious conviction and viral infection; yet these are all topics in which truth can have a bearing. It may well be that the problem of defining truth is undecidable, and that we need different theories of truth for different contexts. In other words, we must seek a philosophy of truths. MIDDLESEX POLYTECHNIC QUEENSWAY, ENFIELD MIDDLESEX EN3 4SF ENGLAND

NOTES

t = 3

4 s s '

'

S. Haack, ' "Is it true what they say about Tarski? " ', Philosophy, 51 (1976), 323-336. K.R. Popper, 'Is it true what she says about T~rski? ', Philosophy, 54 (1979), 98. A. Tarski, 'The concept of truth in formalised languages' (1931), in Logic, semantics, metamathematics (trans. J.H. Woodger: 1956, Oxford), 152-178 (p. 153). A. Tarski, 'The establishment of scientific semantics' (1936), in ibM., 404. A. Tarski, "The semantic conception of truth and the foundations of semanties',Phllos, phenom, res., 4 (1943-44), 341-375 (p. 343). Haaek(Footnote 1), 323. See, for example, Pepper's The open society and its enemies, vol. 2 (1962 ed., London), 369-374; or Ob/ective knowledge (1972 ed., Oxford), 46, 317-318. On p. 331 of the 1979 edition of the latter work he repeats his criticism of Haaek. K.R. Popper, Con/ectures and refutations (1969 ed., London), 223, 398-399. Haack (footnote 1), 325.

134

POPPER'S USE OF TARSKI'S THEORY OF TRUTH 10 it Haack provides an excellent survey in Philosophy o f logics (1978, Cambridge), ch. 7. K.R. Popper, The logic o f scientific discovery (1968 ed., London), 274. I do not understand the use of 'simpler' here. Tarski's ten-line definition of satisfaction ((footnote 3), 193) is not simpler than the two-line definition of truth (ibid., 194) from a formal point of view. And as Popper is not an instrumentalist or conventionalist, I cannot see why simplicity is worth claiming anyway. Tarski (footnote 5), 362; quoted in Haack (footnote 1), 330. Popper, Objective knowledge (footnote 7), 329. See my 'On Pepper's philosophy and its prospects', Brit./. hist. sci., 12 (1979), 3 1 7 - 3 3 7 (pp. 324-326). Ibid., 3 2 6 - 3 3 0 . My own favourite candidate for this approach is fuzzy set theory, though I cannot recognise the validity of fuzzffying truth concepts themselves, .as carried out in R.E. Bellman and L.A. Zadeh, 'Local and fuzzy logics', in J.M. Dunn and G. Epstein (eds.) Modern uses o f multiple-valued logic (1977, Dordreeht), 105-165. Popper in his and J.C. Eecles's The self and its brain (1977, Berlin), 449. I have in mind the table of opposites, where important use of propositions is contrasted with (allegedly) essentialist analysis of concepts (see, for example, Conjectures (Footnote 8), 19; Objective knowledge (footnote 7), 124). The point made in this section amounts to a request for a middle column to be added to the table. Popper, Objective knowledge (footnote 7), 328. Tarski (footnote 5), 359.

t2 ~3 ~(

ts
t~

t~ **

~) 20

135