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Is Truth Made, and if So, What Do we Mean by that? Redefining Truthmaker Realism


Philosophical discussion of truthmaking has flourished in recent times, but what exactly does it mean to ‘make’ a truth-bearer true? I argue that ‘making’ is a concept with modal force, and this renders it a problematic deployment for truthmaker theorists with nominalist sympathies, which characterises most current theories. I sketch the outlines of what I argue is a more genuinely realist truthmaker theory, which is capable of answering the explanatory question: In virtue of what does each particular truthmaker make its particular truthbearer(s) true? I do this by drawing on recent work by Frederik Stjernfelt on Charles Peirce’s account of the proposition as having a ‘particular double structure’, according to which a proposition not only depicts certain characters of an object, it also depicts itself claiming those characters to pertain to the object. This double structure, I shall argue, also resolves important issues in analytic philosophers’ truthmaker theory, including the proper distinction between reference and truthmaking, and a dilemma concerning an infinite regress of truthmaking.

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  1. 1.

    See (Armstrong 1997, p. 13 and 2004, p. 4), and (Fox 1987, p. 188).

  2. 2.

    By realism here I mean a certain ‘broad church’ version of the view that in spite of its extreme generality has in recent decades been influential in analytic metaphysics, particularly in “Australian realism” as developed by Armstrong (e.g. 1978; 1989) and his key (‘honorary Australian’) interlocutor David Lewis. This realism’s clearest and most definitive claim is arguably a negative one – the avoidance of “some sort of pragmatism or idealism”, as John Bigelow remarks below. That this realism has been a guiding light in truthmaker theory can be seen in claims such as Greg Restall’s “Australian Realists are fond of talking about truthmakers” (Restall 1996, p. 331). There are of course many ways in which realism so broadly conceived may be disambiguated. One way is realism about universals or scholastic realism, and in this paper I advance this interpretation both because I see it as – ironically – relatively untried by truthmaker realists, and because I believe it enables me to do interesting theoretical work.

  3. 3.

    See also (Fox 1987, p. 189).

  4. 4.

    This is apart from certain special cases where propositions make other propositions (or themselves) true.

  5. 5.

    This has led some to suggest using relevant logic instead (Restall 1996), while others express scepticism about that (Simons 2008, p. 13).

  6. 6.

    This formulation is derived from (Price 1998, p. 41).

  7. 7.

    For argument that the standard division into ‘metaphysical’ and ‘deflationary’ accounts of truth constitutes a false dichotomy, see (Legg 2014).

  8. 8.

    Only one contemporary analytic truthmaker theorist seems to have had an inkling of this possibility: Barry Smith, who writes, “Truthmakers, like visual fields, are cognition-dependent entities which exist only as a result of certain sorts of cognitively effected demarcations of reality” (Smith 1999, p. 289). See also (Smith 1992).

  9. 9.

    Another interesting distinction to explore could be that between ‘made true by us’ and ‘made by us’. I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion.

  10. 10.

    Likewise, see the “semantic” defence of nominalism in (Devitt 1980).

  11. 11.

    It is neutral, that is, amongst the plethora of ontological forms currently posited and discussed in analytic metaphysics – such as objects, events, states of affairs, properties, tropes, facts, and more.

  12. 12.

    Lewis’ possible worlds are maximal sums of spatiotemporally related concrete particular objects (Lewis 1986b, p. 86).

  13. 13.

    For an argument that Armstrong is in fact a “nominalistic Platonist” see (Legg 2002).

  14. 14.

    See (Armstrong 1997, p. 126) for “The Victory of Particularity” with respect to first-order states of affairs, although they contain universals as constituents.

  15. 15.

    Armstrong himself heads in this direction (Armstrong 1997, chapter 5).

  16. 16.

    See for instance, (Armstrong 1997, p. 3). Wittgenstein also profoundly influenced Russell, who is credited as a truthmaker forefather by Armstrong, and Mulligan et al.

  17. 17.

    For explicit recognition of this see (Skyrms 1981), which Armstrong acknowledges in a number of places has greatly influenced him.

  18. 18.

    From the apparent (albeit opaque) material implication of the early Wittgenstein, to the strict implication of (Rodriguez-Pereyra 2006a, p. 188), and positions which do not fall into either camp such as (Linsky 1994).

  19. 19.

    Armstrong comes close to admitting this when he acknowledges that supervenience relation between truthmakers and truthbearers is symmetrical (Armstrong 2004, p. 8). This is not the usual understanding of supervenience. This point is expanded on at (David 2005, p. 147). David does also qualify that Armstrong explicitly repudiates the Identity Theory of Truth, giving a citation to support this (David 2005, p. 155). But the citation is to Armstrong’s 1973 book Belief, Truth and Knowledge, and we have already noted that Armstrong’s views evolved significantly through his career.

  20. 20.

    This claim does assume the view known as Truthmaker Maximalism. But (Milne 2005 notwithstanding) without it there seems little point in a truthmaker theory, as once one allows some truthbearers to lack truthmakers, one must devise an alternative explanation for their truth, and why then can’t such an account be developed for all truthbearers?

  21. 21.

    Others have made this point – see for instance Lewis’ correction of Quine: “I want to construe ‘being’ broadly: it covers not only whether things are, but how they are” (1992, p. 218). How this irenic claim fits with Lewis’ Humean Supervenience manifesto is not entirely clear. See also (Cameron 2008; Schaffer 2008).

  22. 22.

    “Russellian” should here be understood in a broad sense indicating not every detail of the doctrine adumbrated in “On Denoting” so much as the sweeping influence of these ideas through twentieth century philosophy of language (albeit amended by later philosophers such as P.F. Strawson, who noted that descriptions such as “the F” need not uniquely refer to count as “definite”).

  23. 23.

    Here the point might have been more clearly made if Restall had said that a unicorn is something whose existence necessitates the truth of the claim “a unicorn exists”, since the mere existence of an entity does not necessitate that anyone claim that that entity exists. I am grateful to an anonymous referee for pointing this out.

  24. 24.

    Truthmaker essentialism is adumbrated in (David 2005, p. 144). (Parsons 1999) discusses but ultimately denies it. The above should not be taken as endorsing truthmaker essentialism as a plausible view, merely as acknowledging its presence in the literature.

  25. 25.

    although see (Smith and Murray 1981)

  26. 26.

    “2.12: the picture is a model of reality” (Wittgenstein 1961).

  27. 27.

    “5.526: We can describe the world completely by means of fully generalized propositions, i.e. without first correlating any name with a particular object” (Wittgenstein 1961).

  28. 28.

    Robert Brandom concurs, placing the insight within his distinctive inferentialism by categorising it as the smallest unit of meaning for which we can take responsibility (Brandom 2000).

  29. 29.

    Stjernfelt distinguishes Peirce’s account from that of Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein at (Stjernfelt 2015, p. 1031). See also (Stjernfelt 2016).

  30. 30.

    Peirce arguably expresses this point when he says, “The most perfectly thorough analysis throws the whole substance of the Dicisign into the Predicate.” (Peirce 1931-58 2.318). One might protest that such a move robs the Dicisign’s subject of all meaning, which cannot be correct. But this depends what one means by ‘meaning’. The subject retains a pure indexing role with regard to the Dicisign’s first object, which is its proper function. Meanwhile, the predicate, properly analysed (which may not correspond exactly to the proposition’s ‘surface grammar’) assumes the entire iconic signification. There is a further important story to tell, which must be postponed to another time and place, about how these icons and indices are mobilised to co-function by an overall interpretation which counts as a symbol in Peirce’s sign-theory. I am grateful to challenges from an anonymous referee on these points.

  31. 31.

    Or, even better, a “Picture-Pointing Theory of the Meaning of Propositions”, since the meanings of terms and arguments require a different analysis. I am grateful to John Bishop for incisive discussion on this point.

  32. 32.

    A final objection at this point is that it seems perverse to think that the proposition is made true, not by white snow, but by its own semiotic relationship with white snow. But is this really perverse? Why? Isn’t some sort of ‘semiotic relationship’ between proposition and fact precisely what is wanted in a truthmaker? Here I urge the astute reader to be careful not to beg the question for the nominalism that I have suggested runs through much previous truthmaker theory.

  33. 33.

    This is exactly what happens in Peirce’s graphical logic system, the Existential Graphs, with the so-called ‘cut’ which represents negation. For further details, see (Roberts 1973).

  34. 34.

    “Consider ‘there are three ways in which Joe could win his chess match.’…What makes the quantified sentence true is nothing more than that ⋄P and ⋄Q and ⋄R” (Melia 2005, p, 84).

  35. 35.

    Armstrong’s philosophy has been discussed in this regard above. See also David Lewis, “New Work for a Theory of Universals” (Lewis 1983).


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Legg, C. Is Truth Made, and if So, What Do we Mean by that? Redefining Truthmaker Realism. Philosophia 48, 587–606 (2020).

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  • Truth
  • Truthmaker
  • Proposition
  • Realism
  • Nominalism
  • Peirce
  • Stjernfelt
  • Icon
  • Index
  • Dicisign