My Own Truth
Semantic pathologies of self-reference include the Liar (‘this sentence is false’), the Truth-Teller (‘this sentence is true’) and the Open Pair (‘the neighbouring sentence is false’ ‘the neighbouring sentence is false’). Although they seem like perfectly meaningful declarative sentences, truth value assignment to their uses seems either inconsistent (the Liar) or arbitrary (the Truth-Teller and the Open-Pair). These pathologies thus call for a resolution. I propose such a resolution in terms of relative-truth: the truth value of a pathological sentence use varies with the context of its assessment. It always has a determinate truth value, but this truth value is relative to the context of its assessment. I start by considering a fairly esoteric pathology: the Truth-Teller, that is, sentences which assert nothing but their own truth. I make the case that truth value of a given truth-teller use must in general depend on the context of its assessment, and that one can indeed change its truth value at will. I then show how the notion of assessment-sensitive truth can help us provide solutions to other semantic paradoxes such as the Liar and the Open Pair and that those solutions are immune to revenge problems. I conclude by situating my proposal among the main approaches to the semantic paradoxes, and by drawing a very broad moral about pathological self-reference and intentionality.
Many thanks to Shahid Rahman, Stephen Read, Tero Tulenheimo, Mathieu Fontaine, Laurent Keiff, the audience at the 2009 SOPHA conference for useful discussions and to Marie Guillot for a priceless collaboration on related topics.
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