Pinni B-building lecture hall 4141 (Address: Kanslerinrinne 1)
An almost unquenchable desire implanted in the human breast”: Russell on truthmaking, falsemaking and negative facts
Anssi Korhonen (University of Helsinki) in researchseminar of Philosophy
The problem of negative truth concerns two classes of cases: true negative existentials (“Loki does not exist”; “there are no griffins”) and true denials (“this sheet of paper is not red”). Such cases pose a serious difficulty for those contemporary truth-maker theorists who accept, first, that a truth-maker for a truth is an entity that in some sense necessitates the truth (necessitation); and second, that every truth has a truth-maker (maximalism). “There are no griffins” is true. Given maximalism, this proposition has a truth-maker. Given necessitation, the truth-maker is an entity. But what entity could necessitate the non-existence of griffins? Apparently, no ordinary entity could do the trick. This is the contemporary problem.
In this talk, I discuss some aspects of the historical background of the contemporary problem. The focus is on Bertrand Russell’s logical atomism, which explains that a fact is “the kind of thing that makes a proposition true or false”. I do two things: first, I give a quick sketch of the context of Russell’s views; second, I discuss a key difference between Russell’s logical atomism and Wittgenstein’s. According to Russell, every proposition is true or false because of a fact (an early version of maximalism); this implies that there are negative facts. Wittgenstein, on the other hand, holds that only true elementary propositions have truth-makers; hence, there are no negative facts but there are truths which have no truth-makers (an early version of truth-making optimalism). I track down this difference between Russell and Wittgenstein to their different understandings of the bipolarity of propositions. Wittgenstein introduced the notion in his ‘Notes on Logic’ (1913) to explain how propositions differ from names. Russell accepts the notion in his ‘Philosophy of Logical Atomism’ (1918), but gives it a different content.
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