Formal theories, as in logic and mathematics, are sets of sentences closed under logical consequence. Philosophical theories, like scientific theories, are often far less formal. There are many axiomatic theories of the truth predicate for certain formal languages; on analogy with these, some philosophers (most notably Paul Horwich) have proposed axiomatic theories of the property of truth. Though in many ways similar to logical theories, axiomatic theories of truth must be different in several nontrivial ways. I explore what an axiomatic theory of truth would look like. Because Horwich’s is the most prominent, I examine his theory and argue that it fails as a theory of truth. Such a theory is adequate if, given a suitable base theory, every fact about truth is a consequence of the axioms of the theory. I show, using an argument analogous to Gödel’s incompleteness proofs, that no axiomatic theory of truth could ever be adequate. I also argue that a certain class of generalizations cannot be consequences of the theory.
KeywordsTruth Axiomatic theories Deflationism Paul Horwich
This article has been improved by comments on earlier drafts from many people. I want to particularly thank Paul Horwich, Mark Crimmins, John Etchemendy, and John Perry.
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