Tinkering with truthmakers

Bill Vallicella returns now and again (and more often of late) to the discussion of truthmakers (see here for a great quick account in no. 1 and 2). It’s an interesting idea to tinker with.

Vallicella’s method is to start with the case where truthmakers are easiest to see in the hopes of working his way out. Because of this, he limits his examples to singular, positive, contingent (SPC) propositions like “Tom is sitting” or “Jones is sick”. Problematically, even SPC’s are difficult enough, and so one never gets to the point of considering other propositions. This raises the question whether the difficulty might be that we are considering the SPC too generally, since we are looking at it with an eye to understanding all propositions. Would it be better to consider what “truthmaking” would be for the singular and contingent as such, and not merely as true?

But of course it won’t do to try to consider the matter without some consideration of propositions as true. The whole question is about truthmakers, and without an account of truth we’re in no position to speak about how it might be made. Vallicella, like most Analytic philosophers, appears to be working from the idea that truth is a form (they would say property) of propositions. One can balk at this account – both Aristotle and St. Thomas take truth not as a feature added to a complete proposition, but as the action of making the proposition itself. Like all making it presupposes a standard, and truth appears to consist in attaining that standard. This is all lost if we treat the already made proposition as the subject of truth, which might be the source of some problems. Perhaps, we might say, that if the question is really about truthmaking then we cannot answer it by thinking truth as belonging to a proposition already made with respect to its truth. One does not make the proposition and then make it true over and above this, one rather makes the proposition true in the act of making it, not in the sense that the act of making suffices to make it true, but because in making we make according to a standard that can either be attained or not. On this account, the “truth maker” can be considered either as a.) as the standard or b.) as the activity (or person) that pulls apart proposition parts or identifies them in an effort to attain the standard, or c.) the proposition parts themselves. It’s easy to recognize three of the four causes here. The one that is left out is the formal cause, since forms do not exist during making. So perhaps that’s the problem.

Take the SPC proposition again, say “Cain is a fratricide”. At the beginning of Genesis IV it is false, at the end it is true. Vallicella sees one and the same proposition which goes from having one property to having another. Again, his thought is that there is a single subject that exits in two different truth states (having and lacking). But if we saw truth as a real making, that is, as a making of a proposition, which like all making is done with an eye to a standard, then to make “Cain is a fratricide” is not the same action at the beginning of the chapter as at the end of it. It’s not that one and the same thing goes from having a property to losing it. What happens is analogous to if your grandma made you a pair of pajamas for your first birthday and then made an identical pair (identical in all respects, including size) for your thirteenth birthday. The proposition is not numerically the same proposition, even if one writes it down and looks at it twice, since there are numerically two different acts of making. In other words, the proposition is not a single subject that goes from having one property to having another.

But then have I simply moved the goalposts to the discussion of the “standard”? Here again, even if I did, I think it pushes the discussion of truthmakers forward. Making needs a standard, that is, something that specifies that the making is of this and not that, and if we see truth making as (for us) the making of a proposition (as opposed to the proposition itself, except by extension) then we’ve made a real advance. But what is this “standard”? Is it a fact? a projection of the proposition? Is there any unproblematic way of describing it?

At the bare minimum, it is being as communicable to mind, or being as present to mind. This is simply what it means to serve as a standard for mind. Since we can experience in ourselves no intrinsic limit of making propositions- said positively, since we experience our infinite power with respect to making propositions – it follows that there is no limit to the manner in which being is communicable to mind. In fact, we must set up a real identity between being and its communicability or presence to mind, since if we did not we would have to posit something that could be but about which we could not make a statement about its being. It would be an unknowable about which it would not be true to say it was an unknowable. But there are no such things. Therefore being as being is communicable to mind. The difference is in our consideration and not in the reality we consider. Something of this sort of universality is required to account for the standard as a standard, even if it does not explain this or that standard.


  1. Tim said,

    November 19, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    The current notion of truthmaker is the same as the medieval notions of a fundamentum in rei, or, for later medievals, the verificatum. It is that portion or bit of reality in virtue of which the enunciable is true, rather than false. The medievals who considered this question (John Doyle has some articles on later medieval Jesuits on this notion) never thought of a verificatum as the standard, as you spell it out here.

    You mention that to say a proposition goes from being true to false is incorrect. One and the same proposition cannot do so. But why not? Your example is of two things separated by 13 years (the PJs). But what about my thought that my wife is in the car. Suppose I meditate on that thought for 5 seconds, but at second 3 she gets out of the car. So she was in the car for the first two seconds, but not in for the last three. Doesn’t the truth-value of my thought change in virtue of the fact that some particular part of reality (involving my wife and the car) has changed? Whatever part of reality it is that is relevant here is the fundamentum in rei, or the verificatum, or, in contemporary terms, the truthmaker. Why isn’t this an example of an enunciable changing truth-value? Why should we think it is, as it is on your account, a case of two different enunciables?


    • Brandon said,

      November 19, 2011 at 1:46 pm

      It’s possible I am simply misunderstanding your reference, but I am unconvinced of the claim that truthmakers as generally conceived just are verificata (e.g., the latter pertains to terms, not just enunciables; they are simply singular propositions, usually ostensive; etc.); what reasons do you have for saying this?

    • November 19, 2011 at 5:20 pm

      I hadn’t thought about that sense in which a thought is continuous. Good point. Still, since the composition or division that makes a truth is an act of an intellect, it is an immanent action which is therefore complete at any moment of its being thought. The making that gives rise to the truth is a continual making. So, in the case of your wife being in the car, it’s not that you made the truth and then thought about it for 5 seconds where the it split time between having one relation and then having another, its rather that you first made it according to the proper standard and then ceased doing so, both of which were complete and autonomous acts of making, even if we speak of their temporal continuity.

  2. Tim said,

    November 21, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Dear Brandon,

    I was thinking of cases like Luis de Lossada (S.J.)’s 4th disputation in Metaphysica, “about what is opposite to real being”, where he argues against the existence of lacks. One of the arguments he brings up, and one that he says many interlocutors affirm, is that there have to be lacks to count as truthmakers (‘verificativa’) for negative assertions. He says his opponents view is that a lack “is the proper truthmaker (‘verificativum’) of a proposition which denies the existence of a thing.” [this citation is from a course reader that John Doyle put together for a graduate course many years ago]. But I see now that I accidentally typed “verificatum” in my initial post rather than “verificatIVum.” I’m sorry about that. My claim was supposed to be that the later medieval ‘verificativum’ are what we mean today by truthmakers. In fact, the later medievals have the same discussions the contemporary analytics have today. For instance, the very discussion of lacks as truthmakers for negative existentials or predications.

    James, is it your view that if I meditate for a 10 seconds on the thought, “that James is sitting down”, and you jump in and out of your seat 10 times during that time [you sit 5 times and stand 5 times], that I’ve formed at least 10 different mental acts in that time?

    How many mental acts can I perform per second? No matter what number you say (unless you say an infinite number), there will be propositions that change their truth-value with more rapidity. For instance, Suppose I can form 100 thoughts a second. Then we can focus on the following thought: “that an even number of milliseconds have passed since James sat down”. the truth or falsity of that thought will flicker faster than my ability to form new thoughts, and so I can’t form a new thought for each change in truth-value. But if I were to meditate on that thought for 10 seconds while you are seated, the truth-value would change with every millisecond. And so each change in truth-value of a proposition does not require the new complete and autonomous forming of a proposition on the part of an intellect.

    It seems counterintuitive to think that I’m continually performing complete and autonomous acts of thought-making. Why think that, as opposed to thinking that I have 1 10-second-long thought, which at some times is in correspondence with reality, and at other times isn’t, and so at some times is true and other times false?

    • December 5, 2011 at 12:02 am

      Is it sufficient to say that every contingently true thought has an implicit reference to the “here and now” conditions that prompted it? Thus the continual thought would be true insofar as it referenced a particular “here and now” but perhaps it is false when compared to the current “here and now.”

      • Tim said,

        December 5, 2011 at 10:34 am

        Dear Edward,

        Sufficient for what?


      • December 5, 2011 at 12:16 pm

        A sufficient response to this:

        James, is it your view that if I meditate for a 10 seconds on the thought, “that James is sitting down”, and you jump in and out of your seat 10 times during that time [you sit 5 times and stand 5 times], that I’ve formed at least 10 different mental acts in that time?

  3. Tim said,

    December 5, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Dear Edward, I have a hard time seeing how that response is a response to the yes or no question I asked James. I am interested in whether, on his view, if (as I would put it) I continuously think P for 10 seconds, but P’s truth-value changes once each second from true to false, must I have formed at least 10 mental acts in that time period. He claimed earlier (in the wife-in-the-car case) that I perform two complete and autonomous acts of the intellect if I think “that she is in the car” for 5 seconds, but she gets out at second 3. I’m wondering if the same holds true for examples of shorter duration.

    Your response, if I understand it rightly, has the same thought existing continually, and being true with respect to an earlier here-and-now, but false with respect to the present here-and-now. That means the truth-value changes (or could change) as the here-and-now changes. And I thought James denied that possibility.

    • December 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm

      What I intended to say is that the truth value doesn’t change because the thought implicitly refers to the conditions prompting it; but, if it is compared to other conditions, it can change. So I’m saying there is only one mental act.

      For example, If I see someone sitting at 2PM, I think “he is sitting.” I think this for 10 minutes during the course of which he stands up: my proposition is still true because it does not refer to his state at 2:10PM but to his state at 2:00PM. If I compare it to his state at 2:10, then it would be false but only so per accidens

    • December 5, 2011 at 5:53 pm

      So I deny that the truth value changes because the proposition “He is sitting (at 2PM)” is only accidentally the same as the proposition “He is sitting (at 2:10PM)”

      • Tim said,

        December 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm

        Dear Edward,

        I see what you mean now. Thanks for the clarification.

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