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Is Truthmaker Theory Sufficient to Solve the Gettier Problem?

ARC Team 02
2022-10-21 16:23 182


Caiqin Liu[1]

 Religion and Social Communication 20, No. 1 (2022)



Abstract

 

The Gettier problem arises out of the scenario in which a justified true belief (JTB theory) is only true by chance; it is generally conceived as a “lucky guess” rather than knowledge as the justifications of the subject are false. Thus, most epistemologists think that the traditional definition of knowledge (knowledge is justified true belief) is not sufficient. Since then, the issue of what it is the sufficient condition for someone to know a proposition became a big deal. Adrian Heathcote believes that some extra conditions are needed in addition to JTB. According to Heathcote, knowledge is a justified, true belief, and the evidence that constitutes justification is identical with the evidence of the very state of affairs that makes the believed proposition true. This paper will focus on Heathcote’s definition of knowledge and his solution to the Gettier problem. The paper will analyze the nature of the truthmaker and truth-making relationship and argue that the truthmaker theory of Heathcote is insufficient to solve the Gettier problem comprehensively and much less provides sufficient conditions for knowledge as it claimed. However, it lays a groundwork for a deeper epistemological exploration, and its inquiry on the issue of tracking truth and truthmaking relationship is helpful for us to find the truth in a world of misinformation, and it is also helpful to improve the current polluted informational environment.

 

Keywords: Gettier, truthmaker, justification, true belief, causal mechanism

 


1. The Gettier Problem

 

As Stephen Hetherington comments, the Gettier problem “arose as a challenge to our understanding of the nature of knowledge,”[2] especially the propositional knowledge (knowledge that P), which is “knowledge of a truth or fact — knowledge of how the world is in whatever respect is being described by a given occurrence of ‘P’, with ‘P’ being replaced by some indicative sentence),”[3] such as ‘Pandas living in China. Generally speaking, when epistemologists discuss knowledge in the context of Western philosophy, they are talking about the propositional knowledge. The question is: What exactly is such knowledge? What is the nature of such knowledge? The traditional knowledge analysis provides a “generic three-part analysis of what it is for a person to have knowledge that P (for any particular ‘P’),”[4] which are belief, truth and justification. It means when we say a person knows that a proposition P is true, it suggests: 1) The person believes that P; 2) P is true; and 3) The person is well-supported or justified in believing that P, such as he/she forms a belief based on some good evidence or reasoning, sold and rational justification.[5] If those three conditions are satisfied, it is generally conceived as a case of knowledge. In other words, as Hetherington states, the traditional knowledge analysis “presents three individually necessary, and jointly sufficient conditions for having an instance of knowledge that P.”[6] Therefore, the traditional analysis conceives knowledge as justified true belief (JTB), which has been widely accepted by many philosophers.

However, the American philosopher Edmund L Gettier challenged the analysis in his very short paper "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?"  in 1963, in which he argued that it “does not state a sufficient condition for someone’s knowing a given proposition.”[7] Gettier sketched a situation in which an epistemic agent had a belief that was true and well-supported by evidence, but the belief just happened to be true. So almost all epistemologists thought that the epistemic agent did not really know that the proposition was true in that case. Gettier’s paper had a striking impact on contemporary epistemologists, who generalized Gettier’s original views into a broader concept known as a Gettier case or problem, which is beyond the case that Gettier proved in his original paper. This is the Gettier problem discussed in this paper, which is a broader concept about the understanding of the nature of knowledge, i.e., what it is for someone to know a given proposition. Gettier constructed two thought experiments to prove that the JTB theory (knowledge is justified true belief) does not state sufficient conditions for someone’s knowing a proposition. This section presents his two counterexamples: Case I and Case Ⅱ.

In Case I, Gettier supposes that epistemic agent Smith is justified in believing the following proposition: (d) “Jones is the man who will get the job, and Jones has ten coins in his pocket.”[8]

Smith’s evidence for proposition (d) are that: (1) The president of the company assured Smith that Jones will get the job in the end; (2) Smith had counted that there were ten coins in Jones’ pocket.

On the grounds of the proposition (d), Smith further reasonably accepts the proposition: (e) “The man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket.”[9]

Thus, Smith is justified in believing a true belief (proposition (e)); but it turns out that all the evidence that Smith relies on are false. The fact is that, unbeknown to Smith, (3) he himself is the person who gets the job in the end; and (4) he has ten coins in his pocket as well.

So, does Smith know the truth of proposition (e)? Almost all epistemologists would deny that. Rather, it is just a lucky guess since Smith is entirely ignorant about the facts of (3) and (4). Rather, the evidence (evidence (1) and (2)) that Smith has for proposition (e) are neither true. In short, Smith is justified in believing in a true proposition (e) by chance. Therefore, Gettier argues that Smith’s justified true belief does not grant him knowledge. Afterward, Gettier stated the second case to further solidify the claim that justified true belief is not sufficient for knowledge.

In Case Ⅱ, Smith is justified in believing the following proposition:

(f) “Jones owns a Ford.”[10]

All the evidence Smith has is: (5) Smith remembered Jones owned a car, which is a Ford; (6) Jones was driving a Ford to offer Smith a ride.

And Smith has no idea where his friend Brown is. And he chose three places fairly randomly and forms the following beliefs:

 

(g) Either Jones owns a Ford, or Brown is in Boston;

(h) Either Jones owns a Ford, or Brown is in Barcelona;

(i) Either Jones owns a Ford, or Brown is in Brest-Litovsk.[11]

 

Each of the three propositions are entailed by the proposition (f), which Smith has strong evidence of. Smith thus is justified in believing (g), (h) and (i). However, unbeknown to Smith, the facts are that: (7) Jones does not own a Ford; (8) but Brown really happens to be in Barcelona, which means proposition (h) is true. Hence Smith is well justified in believing in a true proposition (h).

Again, does Smith know the truth of the proposition (h)? Most epistemologists would deny that as it turns out that all the shreds of evidence that Smith has are not true. Neither of those facts (7) and (8) was known by Smith. The proposition (h) is accidentally true. Therefore, Gettier argues that again, Smith’s justified true belief does not guarantee him knowledge. Gettier concluded that these two cases show that “it is possible for a belief to be true and justified without being knowledge.”[12] In other words, the generic three-part (belief, truth, and justification) analysis of knowledge does not present a sufficient condition for knowledge. This is known as the Gettier problem. In addition to Gettier’s own cases in his paper, there are many other Gettier-like cases, for example, the case of the sheep in the field proposed by Chisholm, and the case of fake barns from Goldman, etc.[13] There is one thing in common among those different kinds of Gettier cases, that is, the epistemic agent forms a belief which is true and well justified but without being knowledge, which arise out of the following two common characteristics:

 

(1) Fallibility. The evidence or justification that the epistemic agent has within each case is false.

(2) Epistemic luck. In any Gettier case, it is an epistemic luck that makes a well-supported but false belief true.

 

2. The Truthmaker Theory’s Solution to Gettier Problem

Since Gettier raised this challenge, many theories to cope with the Gettier problem have emerged. Given the above two general characteristics of Gettier case, theorists have tried to address the problem from two aspects, namely, either to ensure the authenticity of evidence and justification or to eliminate the interference of epistemic luck, such as no false lemmas theory, reliabilist theory, causal theory, which entails appending some extra conditions on the basis of JTB (justification, truth and belief) so as to ensure the authenticity and reliability of the evidence without negating the premise. Australian philosopher Adrian Heathcote tried to make sure that the justification which the subject holds is identical to the evidence that makes the proposition true. He thus advocated the truthmaker theory, which calls for adding a fourth condition (i.e., truthmaker condition) based on JTB theory. He claimed that the combination of the fourth condition and JTB forms a sufficient condition for knowledge.

According to Heathcote, knowledge could be redefined as: “S knows that p if (1) S believes p; (2) S is justified in believing p; (3) p is true; and (4) the evidence that S has which constitutes the justification is the evidence of the very state of affairs that makes p true.”[14]

Here the crucial component is the fourth condition, which is the truthmaker condition. It is obvious to see that the truthmaker condition expresses an identical relationship between the evidence that the epistemic agent has which constitutes the justification and the evidence that makes the proposition true. In Heathcote’s opinion, it is because the separation of these two kinds of evidence that gives rise to the Gettier problem. For example, in Case I, Smith’s justification for proposition (e) [the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket] is all about Jones: Jones’s coins in his pocket and the testimony from the president of the company. However, the truthmaker for the proposition (e) is all about Smith himself. So, the evidence that constitutes Smith’s justification is false (Jones will get the job and the testimony from the president that Jones will get the job) and disjoints from the evidence that makes proposition (e) true (Smith will get the job and Smith has ten coins in his pocket). In short, the evidence for Smith’s justification is separated from the evidence that makes the proposition true.

The same situation of separation between the evidence of justification and the evidence of truthmaking happens in Case II. The evidence that constitutes Smith’s justification of proposition (h) is Jones owns a Ford, which is false as Jones is driving a rented car. What makes the proposition (h) true, namely the truthmaker, is the fact that Brown really happens to be in Barcelona, which Smith is totally ignorant about. So again, the evidence that constitutes Smith’s justification is false and separate from the evidence that makes proposition (h) true. Heathcote argues that it is precisely this disjunction that gives rise to the Gettier problem. Hence, he introduces the truthmaker condition and combines it with JTB. He thinks that once the truthmaker condition is added to the JTB conditions, the core elements that constitute the Gettier problem will be shielded. Furthermore, Heathcote argues that combining the truthmaker condition with the JTB conditions would jointly constitute sufficient conditions for knowledge. However, can the truthmaker theory really cover all types of Gettier cases and provide a sufficient condition for knowledge as Heathcote suggests?

 

3. Questions about the Truthmaker Theory

As stated above, in Heathcote’s definition of knowledge, the most important condition is the fourth one, or the truthmaking condition, namely, “the evidence that S has which constitutes the justification is the evidence of the very state of affairs that makes p true”,[15] which expresses the identity relationship between the evidence of justification and the evidence of truthmaking.

 

(1) What is a Truthmaker?

 

According to Heathcote, the truthmaker of a proposition is the evidence that makes the proposition true. Heathcote’s explanation does not clearly delineate what a truthmaker is and the difference between a truthmaker and a non-truthmaker. In other words, it is very vague about the issue as: when we say that A is the truthmaker for proposition <p>, what do we mean by that? Is A an entity with form and quality or something else?

First, the truthmaker theory is based on the acknowledgement that truth depends on being, and not vice versa. Truthmaker theorists believe that “the sentence is true because of what exists in the world; it is not the case that the world is the way it is because of which sentences are true.”[16] For example, the statement “Pandas live in China” is true in virtue of the fact that there are pandas living in China, not vice versa. Thus, truth depends on being is the fundamental idea and the starting point of the truthmaker theory. Based on that, some philosophers (Bigelow 1988: 125; Armstrong 1989c: 88) explain that “a truth-maker is that in virtue of which something is true (abbreviation: virtue-T).”[17] From this definition, we can see that the connotation of what is a truthmaker depends on “whether we have a clear understanding of ‘in virtue of’.”[18] Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra (2006a: 960-1) believes that the notion of “in virtue of” is unavoidable. But John Bigelow thinks that the notion of “in virtue of” is both vague and avoidable (Bigelow 1988). Therefore, there is a fierce debate among philosophers on the issue of what exactly a truthmaker is. Some philosophers, though not all, such as David Armstrong, John Bigelow, and Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra, take a realist stance. Rodriguez-Pereyra (2006) argues that the central question of metaphysics is the question of what makes some true sentences true, and those who “believe in truthmaking believe in truthmakers, i.e. they believe that truth is grounded in being or entities.”[19] That means that there is something that exists in the world making a proposition true. According to Rodriguez-Pereyra, the word “something” could be interpreted as “some thing” or “some entities”. Therefore, they believe that the truthmaker is the entity.

As Rodriguez-Pereyra claims that “if a proposition is made true by something, it is made true by some thing, it could be a fact or state of affairs, a trope, or any other sort of entity. That is, a truthmaker is an entity in virtue of which a certain proposition is true.”[20] Along with this line of thought, Rodriguez-Pereyra discusses about the five attractive and popular definitions of truthmaker in his work of Truthamkers (2006) as follow:

 

(1) Entity e is a truthmaker for proposition <P> if e exists, <e exists> entails proposition <P> (Abbreviation: Entailment-T).

(2) Entity e is a truthmaker for proposition <P> if <P> is true and <e exists> relevantly entails <P> (Relevance-T ).

(3) Entity e makes <P> true if <P> is true in virtue of e (Virtue-T).

(4) Entity e is a truthmaker for <P> if it is part of the essence of <P> that <P> is true if e exists (Essence-T).

(5) If e is a truthmaker for <P> then, necessarily, if e exists then <P> is true (Necessitation-T).[21]

 

Given the definition (1), it means that the very existence of entity (e) entails proposition <p>. The central concept in the definition is the word “entails”, which makes every existent entity a truthmaker for every necessary truth. For example, the proposition that “2 plus 2 equals 4” would remain true no matter how the world changes. It suggests that every entity, such as panda, swan, unicorn, apple, etc. could be the truthmaker for the proposition that “2 plus 2 equals 4”, which is obviously incredible. Definition (2) is no better than the definition (1). The core factor within the definition is the word “relevantly”. The restriction of relevance aims to avoid the problem of irrelevance in definition (1). However, the problem is that there are many relevant logic systems. It is very unclear which one is the system to which the truthmaking belongs.

Considering definition (3), the most important concept in which is the expression of “in virtue of”, which, as stated above, is a very obscure notion. When we say that something exists in virtue of something else, it could mean that it owes the truth value of the sentence solely to the entity that exists in the world. For example, the sentence that “pandas live in China” is true in virtue of the entity of pandas being present in China. We could reinterpret it as: a sentence is true in virtue of the fact when its truth can be known merely based on the fact. Now considering the proposition “copper is copper”. One might think that the existence of copper can serve as the truthmaker of the proposition. However, even if we know that copper exists, we still do not know for sure whether copper is made of copper or something else. That is to say, the entity of copper or obtaining the fact of copper does not guarantee the truth of the proposition that “copper is copper”. There is no one-to-one correspondence between language and existence. Thus, definition (3) cannot explain analytical and conceptual knowledge.

As for definition (4), the key ingredient is the expression “part of the essence of”, which emphasizes that the truthmaker is part of the essence of the truth value of the proposition. The question is: What is the essence of the truth value of a proposition? One answer is that it should be consistent with something, some notion, or some statement. The essence is the actuality rather than semblance, which sounds attractive and rational. Let us think about the proposition that “Smith is a free being”. We are generally inclined to take freedom as the essence of the truth value of the proposition. Then what is the essence of freedom? One might say that Smith can do many different things; does it mean that Smith can choose to do whatever he wants to do? This would not be agreeable in a civilized society. Therefore, the concept of “essence” is also very vague and elusive, and it raises a lot of controversies.

Finally, in definition (5), the crucial factor is the word “necessarily. Although this term looks credible, it is not free of problems. For example, Rodriguez-Pereyra raises a challenge to this definition:

 

Taking in consideration the proposition that if it is necessary that everything exists, then everything exists necessarily. But it is necessary that everything exists. Therefore, everything exists. Now, if everything exists necessarily, every truthmaker exists necessarily. And if every truthmaker exists necessarily, (5) entails that every truth with a truthmaker is a necessary truth. So no contingent truth has a truthmaker! This is contrary to what most truthmaker theorists have thought since they are usually prepared to let necessary truths lack truthmakers, but not contingent truths.[22]

 

Moreover, Benjamin Schnieder (2006a) believes that “the objects which are usually taken to play the role of truthmakers fall in either of two categories: that of individual moments (comprising particularized properties like Socrates’ paleness, and events, like Little Voices singing), or that of fact.”[23]

In fact, the view that truth is grounded in entities is very controversial. Not all philosophers agree that a proposition is made true by what entities exist in the world. Hornsby Jennifer (2005), for example, believes that truth exists without truthmaking entities. Which is the stance that it is not entities that make a proposition true but how they are. For example, in the true proposition <The rose is red>, we might say that the proposition is made true by the rose’s being red or the redness of the rose, and those who believe in truthmaking entities would say that the rose’s being red, or the redness of the rose are entities that serve as the truthmaker of the proposition. However, those philosophers who endorse the stance that truth is grounded in how things are would deny that the rose’s being red, or the redness of the rose are entities; rather, it is the state of how the rose is. As Rodriguez-Pereyra concludes, those who believe in truthmaking without truthmaking entities believe that “there is no entity that makes the proposition true. What makes it true is how the rose is, and how the rose is is not an entity over and above the rose.”[24] Based on that, Joseph Melia (2005) defends the possibility of truthmaking without truthmakers. Pablo Rychter asserts that “although every true proposition is made true by reality, there need not be particular entities (like facts, states of affairs, or tropes) that make such propositions true.”[25]

 

(2) Do All Truths Have Truthmakers?

 

Putting such doubts aside, let us now consider the issue regarding whether all truths have truthmakers. Truthmaker Maximalists, such as David Armstrong (2004), believe they do; otherwise, the truth will ‘float free’ of reality. However, the view of Truthmaker Maximalism has also incurred many suspicions, especially in the negative existential truths and general truths, such as the truth of the proposition that [there are no penguins in the North Pole] and [all swans are white]. Armstrong proposes the “totality state of affairs” to support Truthmaker Maximalism. But Ross P. Cameron (2008) objects by saying that there are no ‘positive’ entities in the world to guarantee that there are no penguins in the North Pole. Regarding the general truth, the challenge is that we cannot be sure if there are potential facts that makes the proposition false, for instance, the black swan that found in Australia is a good counterexample, which makes the proposition that all swans are white false. Thus, there have been heated disputes among philosophers on the issue of the negative existential truths and general truths about Truthmaker Maximalism.

Perhaps we should compromise and admit that not all truths have truthmakers. As Rodriguez-Pereyra claims, “Just some proper subset of truths (such as the positive truths or synthetic truths) have truthmakers.”[26] That is, there is a truthmaker gap, some truths, such as the negative existential truths and general truths have no truthmakers. Hence, Rodriguez-Pereyra puts a restriction on the category of proposition to establish a restricted version of the truthmaker principle in his paper of Why Truthmaker (2008). He argues that “not all truths, but a class of synthetic true propositions including inessential predictions have truthmakers.”[27]

Taking the stopped clock case as an example. Suppose one afternoon, Smith looks up at the clock in his room, which shows that it is 2.00 o’clock now; and it has always worked reliably and accurately in the past. Smith thus takes that to be good inductive evidence that it is working reliably now. Smith further believes that [it is 2.00 pm now]. But unbeknown to Smith, the clock was broken and stopped at 2.00 o’clock (2 am) last night. But, quite coincidentally, the moment that Smith looks at the clock, it is in fact 2.00 pm. Therefore, Smith’s belief that [it is 2 pm now] is true. However, does Smith’s belief have a truthmaker? Heathcote believes that it has. The question then is: What is it? To the truthmaker of the time issue, Heathcote responds as follows:

 

What is the truthmaker for the sentence ‘It’s now 2.00 o’clock in the afternoon?’ It is for the place where the sentence is uttered to stand in particular relation to Greenwich Mean Time, its time zone, as established by administrative or governmental fiat, on top of which there are laid governmental ordinances regulating daylight saving for each time zone. Underneath these, there are stipulations concerning the length and number of hours in a day, which are related to the natural fact that the Earth spins on its axis so that there are (stipulated to be) 24 hours in a day. All of these stipulations and decisions make it an objective, though not natural, fact that it is now, for me here, 2.00 o’clock in the afternoon.[28]

 

To put it simply, Heathcote reckons that it is governmental regulations that determine the fact that it is 2.00 o’clock in the afternoon at where Smith is. Although it is related to natural facts, the truthmaker for a time ultimately depends on stipulations and decisions. As Heathcote states, “Decisions create facts that are perfectly firm. The stipulation that a loaf of bread is sold for X dollars, makes the sentence ‘this loaf costs $X’ objectively perfectly true.”[29] Nonetheless, the response is clearly controversial with the starting point of the truthmaker theory, which is that the truth of the sentence depends on what exists in the world. But being or reality refers to the things as they are, which means what exists cannot be created. Hence the response raises another crucial issue, namely, what kind of objects or things can serve as the truthmaker of a proposition?

 

(3) What Kind of Objects Can Be a Truthmaker?

If we acknowledge that a proposition is true by some thing, then what exactly is that some thing? In other words, what kind of objects can serve as the truthmaker? As Asay comments,

 

For many truthmaker theorists, there is no restriction on the kind of object that can be a truthmaker. To be a truthmaker, something just needs to appropriately account for the truth of some truthbearer. On this view, truthmakers are just whatever sorts of things are ontologically available. Other views impose restrictions. For example, one might argue that only facts or state of affairs are properly thought of as truthmakers.[30]

 

If we reckon that only facts or state of affairs can be a truthmaker, it means that an entity is not the truthmaker of a proposition. Now thinking about the proposition that [Socrates exists], then “Socrates could not be a truthmaker for ‘Socrates exists’, because Socrates himself is not a fact or state of affairs. (At best, he is a sort of abstraction from various states of affairs or facts.).”[31] Rather, what makes the sentence [Socrates exists] true is either the fact that Socrates exists, or the state of affairs that are combine the particular (Socrates) with the existence property (Socrates’s being existence). This explanation is less attractive. As stated before, Armstrong proposes that the totality states of affairs serve as the truthmaker for negative and general truths. However, not all truthmaker theorists accept Armstrong’s approach, as negative existential truths and general truths are big challenges to the approach. For example, some epistemologists argue that tropes are necessary and sufficient for contingent predictions. David Lewis (2003) uses counterpart theory to resist the above arguments for states of affairs and tropes. Lewis maintains that “objects under counterpart relations can be truthmakers for contingent predictions.”[32]

All in all, perhaps there are entities, states of affairs, universals, tropes, regulations, or counterparts that could serve as the truthmaker of a proposition. Besides the questions raised above, there are still many other problems faced by the truthmaker theory. We will not discuss them one by one but focus on questions as stated. And it is an open question as to how many truthmakers we need. As John F. Fox states, “If every truth has a truthmaker, we can survey those things which we think are true, and ask what the inventory of the universe must be for them to be so: neither multiplying entities beyond necessity nor pruning them beyond sufficiency.”[33] That is obviously incredible and impossible to do. In summary, there is no convincing definition of the truthmaker, and truthmaker theory still faces the challenges of whether a truthmaker must be an entity; what kind of objects can serve as the truthmaker, especially in terms of the negative existential truths and general truths; and furthermore, whether we even need truthmakers.

 

4. The Category and Hierarchy of Truthmaker

As stated before, if we take Truthmaker Maximalism as our stance, namely, admitting that all truths have truthmakers, then it should be emphasized that the truthmaker should be more than just entities. Other types of truthmakers should be placed in categories such as non-natural stipulations, testimonies, and memories, etc. In short, the truthmaker, or the state of affairs that makes a proposition true could be categorized into two main types: objective state of affairs and subjective state of affairs.

 

(1) Category of Truthmaker

 

Consider the following statements:

 

i. Smith is sitting in a chair. (Objective truth)

ii. The painting is beautiful. (Preferences)

iii. Blue is a kind of color. (Stipulations/decisions)

iv. Murder is morally wrong. (Social/ethical standards)

 

The truth of proposition (i) that Smith is sitting in a chair is determined by the fact that Smith is really objectively sitting in a chair right now. The sentence is true just because it corresponds to the objective fact (Smith is sitting in a chair now). Thus, facts determine truth. In other words, truth depends on being, which is exactly the standpoint of the truthmaker theory. There is no doubt that facts, entities, or beings – all those objective existences – determine truths. It works well in such objective domains as the physical sciences since we can verify the truthfulness with facts. Hence, we can say that the type of proposition such as proposition (i) is an objective proposition, and we need an objective truth or objective state of affairs for it.

Regarding proposition (ii) that the painting is beautiful, what can we do to verify it as true or false? When we say that the painting is beautiful, what are we talking about? Are we talking about the painting or are we talking about ourselves and our preferences? We all would agree that we are talking about individual opinions or preferences. We are telling the listener that we think the painting is beautiful through the statement. The truth of the statement is about the subject, so it is a subjective truth. Another example might better explain the notion of subjectivity. Considering the proposition that “Smith is thinking of someone”. Is there anywhere we can go through that might give us any indication as to the truthfulness of the statement? Of course not. It is absurd to tell the listener that the person is not on Smith’s mind. What is true in Smith’s mind cannot be perceived or experienced by the rest of us. This is because the truth of the proposition is what we call a subjective truth.

For statement (iii), if we believe that all truths have truthmakers, there is no doubt that the proposition is true, and it has a truthmaker. However, what is the truthmaker here? If we reckon that truthmakers are only objective entities, then proposition (iii) has no truthmaker since there is no objective entity of “blue” and “color” in the world to make it true. It means that it is a true proposition, but its truth is floating in the air. That is contrary to the claim of the truthmaker theory and Truthmaker Maximalism. Heathcote notices the complexity of the truthmaker in the stopped clock case as well, which is why he proposes that stipulations and decisions are the truthmaker of the time issue. Similarly, when we say that blue is a kind of color, what we are talking about is that we, as a community, set a series of stipulations to decide what color is and how many colors we recognize; we also categorize and name them according to our standard. So, whether blue is a kind of color is determined by our stipulations. These stipulations would be true on the Earth but might be false on Mars. This kind of truth completely depends on what stipulations are made, a kind of non-natural subjective fact.

Given proposition (iv), there is much debate as to whether murder is morally wrong, which depends on the social or ethical code in a particular society. In ancient times, soldiers took pride in killing enemies, and in some societies, murder is not morally wrong as well. Thus, the truth of the proposition that murder is morally wrong depends on the social or ethical standards of each particular society and community. Likewise, whether the painting is beautiful or not is determined by personal or social aesthetic standards. Precisely because we, as a community, set the standard for what counts as being beautiful and morally wrong, we can decide that kind of thing is beautiful, and what is morally wrong or right. Therefore, the moral, aesthetic, regulative and mathematical properties are something that we impose onto the world rather than something originally existing in the world. That is, it is the subjective state of affairs that makes the proposition true.

To sum up, different kinds of propositions, such as the scientific propositions, mathematical propositions, moral propositions, and social or institutional propositions, have completely different attributes. Therefore, it is impossible to find one kind of truthmaker (entities or others) that works best across all range of cases. The truthmaker theory works well in some Gettier cases, but it does not work in all situations. Thus, one strategy to support truthmaker theory is that it must be admitted that there are different kinds of truthmakers, such as, objective truthmaker, viz objective state of affairs, and subjective truthmaker, viz subjective state of affairs to serve as the truthmaker for different kinds of propositions.

 

(2) The Hierarchy of Truthmaker

 

Moreover, truthmaker is plural. A proposition might have multiple truthmakers rather than only one. At the same time, a truthmaker might also play a role in the truthmaking process of multiple propositions, that is, the truthmaking relationship between the proposition and truthmaker could be a many-to-many relationship. For example, the truthmaker for the proposition “the rose is red” includes the existence of rose and the redness of rose. On the other hand, the existence of rose could serve as a truthmaker for the proposition “rose is a flower” and “rose is a plant”, etc. Similarly, the redness of rose also could serve as a truthmaker for the proposition “roses are bright red” and so on. Therefore, the truthmaking relationship is complicated. It is much deeper than a superficial identification between the evidence of justification and the truthmaker characterized by Heathcote.

At the same time, there is a priority of importance among all the truthmakers of a proposition. While some truthmakers are crucial and others less important for a proposition, they jointly serve to make a proposition true. For instance, while the existence of snow will be a crucial and indispensable truthmaker for the statement “it is snowing”, the presence of wind will be a less important truthmaker for this statement. The reason is because sometimes it snows with wind, and sometimes it snows without wind. Although the presence of snow is a crucial truthmaker for the truth of the statement “it is snowing”, it is superficial one since the truth of the statement “it is snowing” is ultimately grounded in some more fundamental truthmakers, which are the conditions for snowfall. Snow will only appear when the temperature is low, the water vapor is saturated, and there are condensation nuclei in the air. So air temperature, water vapor, and condensation nuclei are more fundamental truthmakers of the statement “it is snowing” compared to the presence of snow.

In short, the truthmaker of a proposition is hierarchical, which means that some truthmakers are more fundamental, while others are superficial for the truth of a proposition. One might ask whether there is something in the world that serves as an ontological ground for a truth. This is related to the goal of our metaphysical inquiry. If our perspective on the truthmaking theory is the realist stance, then what exists makes a proposition true should be our primary concern. But if we focus on the semantics of the truthmaking theory, then how the truthmaker makes a statement true is our primary concern. As Kite Fine concludes in his work of Truthmaker Semantics,

 

If our aim is to understand the world, then our focus should be on the ultimate truthmakers, on what in the world ultimately makes something true, and the question of how the truthmakers make the statements of our language true is of no great concern. But if our aim is to understand language, then our focus should be on the immediate truthmakers, not the ultimate truthmakers, and the question of how they make the statements of the language true will be of greatest concern.[34]

 

Since the truthmaker theory takes the view that truth depends on reality as its starting point, then the aim of the truthmaker theory should be to try to understand the world and focus on the ultimate truthmaker rather than the immediate or superficial truthmaker. In other words, according to truthmaker theory, the truth of the proposition “2 plus 2 equals 4” should be what exists in the world ultimately makes it true rather than what the representational features (superficial truthmakers) of the statement makes it true. For instance, in the case of the stopped clock, we can say that the superficial truthmaker of the statement “It is 2.00 o’clock in the afternoon now” is the reading that is shown by a properly working clock and contextual parameters. Nonetheless, what is the ultimate truthmaker of this statement? What exists in the world ultimately makes the proposition “It is 2.00 o’clock in the afternoon now” true? Those should be the primary concern for truthmaker theorists.

Besides, the truthmaker theory also faces other challenges. For example, “Is the truthmaking relation a necessary relation or a contingent one? Is it a kind of supervenience, dependence, or something else? What, if anything, makes negative truths true?”[35] The truthmaker for the general proposition and negative proposition is in fierce debate. All of these are the cross-examinations that the truthmaker theorists cannot handle. Therefore, even though Heathcote’s truthmaker theory can deal with the case of substantial and exemplary causal mechanism, it cannot solve the Gettier problem comprehensively. It still faces many challenges and problems.

 

5. Truthmaking and Misinformation

Epistemology centers on the issue that what we know and how we know it. In the Gettier case, the subject is quite unsure about which evidence or testimony is true and who he/she can trust. The individual can be easily misled by false evidence. In fact, the cognitive environment faced by the epistemic agent in the Gettier case is exactly the polluted informational environment we are facing today. We are living in a post-truth world in which we are continually bombarded by fake news and disinformation. Justin McBrayer observes that “the peddlers of news and information often have incentives to stray from the truth, we often lack incentives to believe the truth and have incentives to believe what’s false.”[36] In such a world, as an audience, we are quite uncertain about which news is really true. This is very ironic as the mission of journalism is to deliver truth and facts; but today’s news media organizations have deviated from their original mission due to capital and market manipulation. Therefore, the so-called authoritative media agencies and experts have lost our trust because we have been lied to and fooled too many times. Thus, we are in a situation where we do not know where the truth is and who we can believe and rely on. But truth matters. Then as individuals, how can we improve the odds of getting to the truth in such a world? And can we shape our epistemic environment to achieve that? Truthmaker theorists’ inquiry on the issue of truth tracking and truthmaking relationship might be helpful for us to approach to the truth more reliably in a world full of fake news. As stated before, truthmaker theory starts its inquiry with the acknowledgement that truth depends on being, hence truthmaker theorists focus on the issue of the relationship between the justification (evidence) and truth in order to confirm what we believe is knowledge. Although the truthmaker theory is not good enough to cope with the Gettier problem, it does provide some guidance on how we can approach the truth.

First, the truthmaker theory could be helpful for the producer of the news to reflect on how to maintain the ability to think carefully and independently. Its inquiry into the truthmaking relationship could help journalists treat all the information that they receive everyday cautiously, and distinguish between dependable and undependable sources and testimonies. It can train us to think rationally and prudently, which is crucial when faced with the current situation of misinformation. On the other hand, as the consumer of news, we need to think carefully and judge prudently, and enhance our ability of discern true and false news to make sure that we are not manipulated by others, such as politicians. For instance, as McBrayer suggests, we can judge the credibility of a news website or agency by “looking at a news source’s ratio of links to other news sites.”[37] However, that is still not enough, as it is quite difficult to know who and what to trust. We can take inspiration from Rene Descartes' advise that “we must step back from our assumptions about the world and the crowd in which we find ourselves and evaluate each from a neutral point of view.[38] That is, as an audience or consumer of news, what we can do is to take a step back and delay our belief and exercise caution when we watch or read a news report. But it does not mean that we do not need to trust others. We do need to trust those real experts or any others who are with truth-related incentives and make falsifable but accurate judgments to help us approach the truth.

 

 

6. Conclusion

 

The truthmaker theory starts with the view that truth depends on being. Considering this point, the truthmaker theory could be a good solution to some kinds of Gettier cases that have an ontological, model causal mechanism between the proposition and its truth. It means that, in these cases, there are ontological entities to make the proposition true. But there are many other kinds of non-natural propositions that the truthmaker theory cannot cope with, as there are no ontological entities to make them true. Thus, if truthmaker theorists take a realistic stance, they should be clear about what the truthmaker is and lay out a detailed explanation about it first. But it does not mean we should define the truthmaker by one definition. Because we have so many kinds of propositions, the truthmaker could take various forms. Therefore, the feasible way would be to categorize the truthmaker instead of limiting it by one definition. Second, truthmaker theorists should state what kind of objects could serve as the truthmaker clearly. Finally, they need to explain what the truthmaking relationship is. Those issues are very crucial to refine the truthmaker theory. In short, this paper demonstrates that the truthmaker theory has many flaws and it cannot provide sufficient conditions for knowledge. Nonetheless, it lays the stage for a deeper epistemological exploration, which is beneficial for the pursuit of metaphysical inquiry and for navigating the current environment of misinformation as well.

 

 

References

 

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——. Truth and Truthmakers. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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[1] Caiqin LIU is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Philosophy and Religion of Assumption University in Bangkok, Thailand, where she is currently researching on the comparative study of Western analytic epistemology and Confucian epistemology.

[2] Stephen Hetherington, “Gettier Problems,” https://iep.utm.edu/gettier/, accessed on February 24, 2022. 

[3] Hetherington, “Gettier Problems.”

[4] Hetherington, “Gettier Problems.”

[5] Hetherington, “Gettier Problems.”

[6] Hetherington, “Gettier Problems.”

[7] Edmund L Gettier, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” Analysis 23, no.6 (1963):123.

[8] Gettier, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” 122.

[9] Gettier, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” 122.

[10] Gettier, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” 122.

[11] Gettier, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” 122-123

[12] Hetherington, “Gettier Problems.”

[13] See more about these other Gettier cases at “Gettier Problems,” https://iep.utm.edu/gettier/

[14] Adrian Heathcote, “Truthmaking and the Gettier Problems,” in Aspects of Knowing: Epistemological Essays, ed. Stephen Hetherington (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2006), 165.

[15] Heathcote, “Truthmaking and the Gettier Problems,”165.

[16] Jamin Asay, “Truthmaker Theory,” https://iep.utm.edu/truth-ma/, accessed on January 24, 2022. 

[17] Fraser MacBride, “Truthmakers,” https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truthmakers/, accessed on January 27, 2022.

[18] MacBride, “Truthmakers.”

[19] Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra, “Truthmakers,” Philosophy Compass 1, no.2 (2006): 186.

[20] Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra, “Why Truthmaker”, in Truth and Truth-making, ed. E. J. Lowe and A. Rami (Cape Town: Acumen Publishing, 2008), 17.

[21] Rodriguez-Pereyra, “Truthmakers,” 186-187.

[22] Rodriguez-Pereyra, “Truthmakers”, 188.

[23] Benjamin Schnieder, “Truth-Making without Truth-Makers,” Synthese 152, no.1 (2006a): 22.

[24] Rodriguez-Pereyra, “Why Truthmaker”, 17.

[25] Pablo Rychter, “Truthmaker Theory without Truthmakers,'' Ratio 27, no.3 (2014): 276.

[26] Asay, “Truthmaker Theory.”

[27] Rodriguez-Pereyra, “Why Truthmaker,” 18.

[28] Adrian Heathcote, “Gettier and the Stopped Clock,” Analysis 72, no.2 (2012): 310.

[29] Heathcote, “Gettier and the Stopped Clock,” 311.

[30] Asay, “Truthmaker Theory.”

[31] Asay, “Truthmaker Theory.”

[32] Asay, “Truthmaker Theory.”

[33] John F. Fox, “Truthmaker,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 65, no.2 (1987): 192.

[34] Kit Fine, “Truthmaker Semantics,” in A Companion to the Philosophy of Language, Second Edition, ed. Hale Bob et al. (New York: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2017), 557.

[35] Asay, “Truthmaker Theory.”

[36] Justin P. McBrayer, Beyond Fake News: Finding the Truth in a World of Misinformation (New York: Routledge, 2021), 105.

[37] McBrayer, Beyond Fake News, 123.

[38] McBrayer, Beyond Fake News, 133.

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