Random thoughts and views of Tim Young

Pospositional Truth

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Just read this post from John H. Armstrong on propositional truth.

Unfortunately I wasn’t at the seminar he did 4 years ago (though I would have loved to be there since he sounds like a good and interesting guy), but his post has got me thinking about all the quarrels over propositional truth.  I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.   It seems like most of the issues people raise are based in misunderstanding.

Consider the issues raised by Armstrong.  His beef is with the word “proposition.”  He says there are “loads of problems” with the term.  Many logicians, for example, don’t like to use the word, and it is “hugely” controversial among philosophers.  But why should this present a problem for propositional truth?  He’s right about there being controversy among philosophers, but I think most of that controversy centers on the ontological status of propositions.   Philosophers disagree on whether propositions really exist, and if they (rather than say, sentences, or beliefs) are the proper bearers of truth.  But this whole controversy is irrelevant because believing in what many Christians are calling “propositional truth” does not commit one to the existence of propositions.  What’s important is that something (be it sentences, beliefs, or propositions) is true (or false).  Most Christians who use the term “propositional truth” don’t know anything about the technical issues surrounding propositions—nor is that necessary.  However the debate among philosophers turns out in the end is certainly important, but it will likely have no effect on the standing of propositional truth.

Now I mentioned just now that propositional truth does not commit one to the existence of propositions, but for the sake of argument let’s suppose that it does.  Why would this be a problem exactly?  All this would mean is that the person who believes in it stands on one side of the controversy rather than the other.  But why should this be a problem for propositional truth?  I mean, if you want to go that route, then why not take it a step further and point out that there is also controversy among philosophers over whether God exists, whether we have a mind/soul, or whether there are objective moral values?

Next, Armstrong raises another problem.  He asks us to think about the following syllogism:

Premise 1:  All men are mortal
Premise 2:  Jesus of Nazareth is a man
Conclusion: Therefore Jesus of Nazareth is moral

He then points out that Christ is not mortal in the same sense that any other man is moral.  But why should this be a problem for propositional truth?  If what Armstrong says here is true, then the above syllogism would be unsound, because the first premise would be false.  But that wouldn’t present any problem for propositional truth at all; it would only present a problem for that syllogism.

Next he says that propositional logic attempts to express “complete” propositions.  He finds this to be a problem because he does not think it is always possible to express complete propositions.  Why not? Because Christian truth claims sometimes lead us into mysteries.  Again, I don’t see what the problem is here.  Why think, for example, that expressing “complete” propositions about the Christian faith is incompatible with there being mystery in the faith?  Take the following propositions:

  1. Jesus is God
  2. The Father is God
  3. The Holy Spirit God
  4. Each is not the other
  5. There is only one God.

Surely these are “complete” propositions, yet there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the Trinity. Or consider,

6. The soul is an immaterial substance that interacts with a material body

There is a whole lot of mystery surrounding this as well, even though it is a complete proposition.  …but maybe I’m just misunderstanding what he means by a “complete proposition”?

Lastly, he points out that “Jesus is the truth, not our humanly constructed propositions.”  This is certainly true (Jesus says He’s the truth after all!) but it is, in my estimation, completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand.  Nobody that I know of who believes in propositional truth, believes that propositions are the truth.  They believe that proposition are true (or false)–that is to say they believe propositions are truth bearers–but they don’t believe they are the truth.  In fact, I’d venture to say that Armstrong thinks the following proposition is true:

7. Jesus is the truth.

Yet he wouldn’t think that it is the truth. So it seems to me that Armstrong hasn’t said anything in his blog worth worrying about.



Written by Tim

January 4, 2010 at 3:59 pm

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