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Studia Logica (2009) 92: 183201

DOI: 10.1007/s11225-009-9194-1 Springer 2009

Roy T. Cook What is a Truth Value
And How Many Are There?
Abstract. Truth values are, properly understood, merely proxies for the various rela-
tions that can hold between language and the world. Once truth values are understood
in this way, consideration of the Liar paradox and the revenge problem shows that our
language is indenitely extensible, as is the class of truth values that statements of our
language can take in short, there is a proper class of such truth values. As a result,
important and unexpected connections emerge between the semantic paradoxes and the
set-theoretic paradoxes.
Keywords: Absolute Generality, Indenite Extensibility, Liar Paradox, Revenge Problem,
Semantics, Set Theory, Truth Value.
1. What is a Truth Value?
Typically, within formal semantics, the semantic status of a statement is
represented in terms of a particular object assigned to that statement its
truth value.
In standard classical contexts the truth values are the true and
the false (sometimes 0 and 1 act as surrogates for the true and the false in
mathematical contexts), and non-standard logics often amount to nothing
more than extending the class of truth values beyond these initial two. In
addition, we often talk of statements having the properties of Truth and
Falsity (and other properties, in the context of non-standard logics), where
a statement has the property Truth if and only if its truth value is the true
(and similarly, statements have the property Falsity if and only if their
truth value is the false, etc.) There is no doubt that such techniques for
characterizing statements in terms of the truth values that they receive (or
in terms of various properties that hold of statements in terms of the truth
I shall ignore, for the most part, so-called relational semantics which replace the
function from statements to truth values with a relation holding between statements and
truth values (typically, relational semantics are mobilized in order to naturally formulate
gappy or glutty logics where a statement can receive either none (gappy) or more than
one (glutty) truth value). All of the arguments presented here regarding more standard
approaches can be easily modied to apply to relational semantics as well.
Special Issue: Truth Values. Part II
Edited by Yaroslav Shramko and Heinrich Wansing; Received October 29, 2008
184 Roy T. Cook
values they receive
) is a fruitful means for studying the semantic behavior
of various languages. The question at hand is whether such techniques get
to the heart of the matter that is, whether the fundamental semantic
status of a statement involves a special relationship between that statement
and a particular sort of object (a truth value), or whether the mapping of
statements to truth values is merely an indicator of some more fundamental
Logicians do sometimes talk as if statements are true and false solely
because they have some special relationship with the relevant truth value.
For example, the logical truth of an instance of excluded middle:
is often explained in terms of the fact that the rules for assigning truth
values to negations and disjunctions implies that the statement in question
will receive the true as truth value no matter how the world turns out.
Nevertheless, even if truth values are indeed actual objects, it is clear that
explaining the truth of a statement in terms of the truth value it receives is
not the whole story.
To see why, let us consider an example of excluded middle in more detail.
Such an example is particularly useful since logical truths and logical false-
hoods are the cases where the idea that the semantic status of the sentence
involves nothing more than a special relationship between it and a truth
value is most compelling. After all, we often say of such statements that
they are true in virtue of meaning, or true independently of how the world
turns out, etc.
Either today is a Thursday, or today is not a Thursday.
Now, we can know that this sentence is true without any investigation of
the world (assuming, for the moment, that we are classical logicians) be-
cause we know that statements are bivalent. Thus, today is a Thursday
is either true or false, so either today is a Thursday is true, or today
This paragraph is not meant to express any substantial thesis regarding the explana-
tory order holding between talk of truth values and talk of semantic properties in par-
ticular, I am not claiming that the proper analysis of semantic property ascriptions is in
terms of talk about truth values. Instead, I am merely claiming that these two ways of
characterizing the status of statements are equivalent for example, a statement is an
instance of the property Truth if and only if its truth value is the true, and a statement
is an instance of Falsity if and only if its truth value is the false. The point, to be made
below, is that neither of these analyses gets at the fundamental phenomenon.
Of course, as we shall see, saying doesnt make it so!
What is a Truth Value. . . 185
is not a Thursday
is true, and thus, by the semantic rule governing the
truth function associated with disjunction, we can conclude that the entire
statement is true.
The previous, rather tedious paragraph demonstrates a simple and rather
well-known fact: We can (often) come to know the truth of instances of
excluded middle (and other logical truths) without any recourse to the world.
All that is required is knowledge of the various rules that govern the behavior
of statements and their truth values.
What is critical here, however, is that we not confuse the epistemological
fact that we can know logical truths independently of the way the world
is, or the corollary that logical truths are true regardless of what the world
looks like, with the further claim that the world has no role to play in our
explanation of what makes such statements true. After all, as I write this, it
is in fact a Thursday. So today is a Thursday is true (and thus today is
not a Thursday is not), and as a result, so is our instance of excluded middle.
Put bluntly: Regardless of any special epistemological properties that logical
truths might have, they are, like other, more pedestrian statements, made
true by the world.
Thus, statements receive the truth values that they receive because they
are true, and truth involves even in cases of logical truth and the like
the world cooperating in some way. In other words, a truth value attaches
to a particular statement because that statement has the appropriate rela-
tionship to the world (where the phrase the world can be interpreted as
broadly as we need it to be, encompassing not just states of aairs in the
physical world, but linguistic facts, etc.). Fleshed out a bit more, a state-
ment receives a particular truth value because of a particular relationship
which holds between the state of aairs/situation/structure/etc. described
by or appropriately associated with
the statement (i.e. what the statement
says) and the structure of the world (i.e. what is the case). Classical seman-
tics assumes that there are only two such relations that can hold between
what is said by a sentence and what is in fact the case: either they are iden-
tical, or they are distinct. As a result, we can sum up the above in terms of
Of course, we also need to know that today is not a Thursday is equivalent to it is
not the case that today is a Thursday.
The hedge here is intentional. Nothing in the present account requires acceptance
of the correspondence theory of truth. All that is needed is one accept that the truth
or falsity of a statement covaries with the characteristics of some part of the world or
other. Since the world contains not just physical objects and the like, but statements and
relations between classes of statements, the present view is compatible with a number of
dierent accounts of the nature of truth.
186 Roy T. Cook
the following two platitudes:
Truth: A sentence is true (i.e. receives T as its truth value) if and only if
what it says is the case.
Falsity: A statement is false (i.e. receives F as its truth value) if and only
if what it says fails to be the case.
Thus, truth values are, in the end, convenient ways of codifying the relation-
ship that holds between what is said by a statement and the world.
Once we realize that truth values the objects that we map statements
onto within formal semantics are merely place-holders for the various
relationships that can hold between how that statement describes the world
as being and how the world is, we can now begin to address our second,
and more dicult question: How many truth values are there? The crux
of the matter, however, should now be apparent: Given a language L, the
appropriate semantics for L will contain exactly as many truth values as
there are relevant ways for sentences of L to relate to the world.
For idealized or appropriately regimented mathematical, scientic, or
everyday languages containing no problematic resources (such as vagueness,
self-reference, etc.) we will, for the purposes of this paper, assume that the
traditional two classical values suce. Typically such languages are simple
enough that a straightforward division of statements within such languages
into those which correctly describe the world and those which fail to do so
is possible, and, as a result, we can unproblematically treat the semantics of
such languages as involving only two relationships between statements and
the world: either what the statement says is the case (i.e. the statement is
true), or what the statement says is not the case (i.e. the statement is false).
Of course, just because we can treat such simple languages along classical
lines does not mean that we have to. If, as will be the case below, we
nd that the result of extending such languages with additional resources
forces us to accept the existence of additional semantic relations holding
between statements and the world, then we might wish to revisit the simpler
languages, investigating whether any theoretical advantages will accrue from
It is worth noting that nothing said here forces us to take a stand on the metaphysical
status of truth values themselves. In other words, truth values might be sui generis objects
that really do stand in special relationships to appropriate statements, or they might be
merely convenient objects for example, 0 and 1 that we have chosen to represent
relations between language and the world. The point it, even if there are such special
semantic objects, the relations holding between statements and these objects is merely a
symptom of a more fundamental phenomenon: the relation between these statements and
the world.
What is a Truth Value. . . 187
introducing the new relations that is, the new truth values into their
semantics as well. I will not address these issues below, however, and will
leave the exploration of such matters for later work.
Consideration of truth values other than the traditional, classical values
arises primarily in two arenas of philosophical inquiry: investigation into
the semantic paradoxes and self-reference more generally, and investigation
into vagueness and the Sorites paradox. The semantic paradoxes will be our
main concern in what follows, but a brief word about the vagueness and the
Soritical paradoxes is in order.
As already noted above, we can think of the adoption of classical logic for
a particular language as an implicit acceptance of the idea that statements
of that language come in exactly two varieties: either what the statement
in question says exactly matches up with how the world is, or what the
statement says fails to match how the world is. Vague predicates, however,
force us to consider borderline cases.
For example, there are objects such
that the predicate is red neither clearly
applies nor clearly fails to apply.
If a is such an object, then:
a is red.
describes the world as being a certain way (namely, such that a is, in fact,
red), but what this sentence says neither (clearly) is the case nor (clearly)
fails to be the case. Thus, one natural solution to the problem (one adopted,
in dierent forms, by the majority of writers on vagueness) is the introduc-
tion of additional truth values. In other words, when we expand a language
that allows for a two-valued classical interpretation by adding vague predi-
cates (or other vague expressions), we arrive at a new language that contains
expressions that are related to the world in ways that none of our old state-
ments are.
One natural way of understanding these additional truth values as used
in the literature on vagueness is that they represent relations of partial t
or partial matching up between statements and the world. In other words,
a three-valued semantics applied to a language involving vagueness can be
I certainly do not mean to suggest that vagueness is merely the presence of borderline
cases. On the contrary, a satisfactory characterization of vagueness will no doubt be much
more complex than this, as attested to by the wealth of articles on the subject (see, ,e.g., the
discussions of this issue in Cook [3], Ecklund [5], and Greenough [7]). Nevertheless, there
seems to be general agreement that potential borderline cases are a necessary condition
for a predicate to be vague.
I use clearly here as a placeholder for any of the various notions that have been used
to explicate the notion of a borderline case, where these include deniteness, determinate-
ness, knowability, unimpugnability, etc.
188 Roy T. Cook
naturally interpreted as a rejection of the idea that, for any statement of
the language, either what it says exactly matches up with how the world
is, or what it says exactly fails to match how the world is. Instead, the
proponent of a three-valued semantics can be understood as introducing a
third relation between language and world: the relation that holds between a
statement and the world if what the statement says matches up partially, but
not completely, with how the world is. Along similar lines, a degree-theorist
can be viewed as replacing the traditional two relations of exact t between
statement and world and lack of t between statement and world with a
continuum of degrees of t that might hold between language and world.
As we shall see below, the semantic paradoxes also motivate the addition
of new truth values in other words, self-reference and the problems that
come along with it force us to give up on the idea that the only relations
between language and world are the two classical relations. Importantly,
however, the additional relations that can hold between what a statement
says and how the world is will not be interpretable in terms of a partial t
between what is said and what is. Instead, the novel semantics relations
(and thus, the novel truth values introduced as proxies for them) must be
understood in a dierent manner.
2. Truth Values and the Revenge Problem
Let us assume, as seems to be the case, and as Saul Kripke (among others)
has concisely yet forcefully argued (see [8], p. 56), that self-reference is both
I am not suggesting that many, or even any, of the defenders of these types of semantics
for vague discourse would describe their project in these terms. Instead, I am merely
suggesting that, given the understanding of semantics and, in particular, of truth values
sketched in previous paragraphs, this is a natural way of understanding what they might
be up to, viewed from the outside, so to speak.
This brings up an important methodological point: Sometimes theorists will introduce
a particular many-valued logic, demonstrate how this logic, and the semantics built upon
it, solves both the Liar paradox and the Sorites paradox, and then conclude that this
logic is the correct logic. The problem, however, is that the relations between statements
and the world represented by the additional truth values when the logic is applied to
languages involving the semantic paradoxes might be a dierent from the relations that
those same truth values represent when applied to languages involving vague expressions.
After all, surely it is possible that the same non-standard formal logic that is, the same
algebraic structure might be used to represent dierent relations in dierent contexts.
Thus, we should resist the urge to automatically identify the truth values introduced in
order to handle one problematic phenomenon with the truth values introduced to handle
another such phenomenon, even when the logic and semantics constructed for each case
are isomorphic (i.e. when we have used the same formal logic twice).
What is a Truth Value. . . 189
possible and meaningful. In other words, in addition to referring to physical
objects, mathematical objects, etc., statements of our language can refer
to statements, and in particular, we can construct statements that refer to
themselves. Assume, further, that at least some statements are true (and
not false), and that some statements are false (but not true), and that our
language contains predicates T(x) and F(x) which apply to exactly the true
statements and the false statements respectively. Given all of this, we can
prove that some statements fail to be either simply true (i.e. true and not
false) or simply false (i.e. false but not true). Doing so requires nothing
more than that we consider the status of the Liar sentence :
L : L is false.
The argument runs as follows (and assumes our platitude about truth dis-
cussed in the previous section):
Proof. Assume that L is either true but not false, or false but not true:
Case 1: L is true but not false. So (by Truth) what L says must be the
case. L says that L is false, So L is false. Thus, L is both true and false. So
L is not true but not false after all.
Case 2: L is false but not true. L says that L is false. So what L says is
the case. So (by Truth) L is true. Thus, L is both true and false. So L is
not false but not true after all.
Thus, the Liar sentence forces us to conclude that there is some sentence
that is neither true and not false, nor false and not true. In other words, the
Liar sentence forces us to give up classical semantics.
Of course, there is more than one way to give up classical semantics. In
particular, a close examination of the reductio of classical semantics above
shows that we are forced, if the argument is valid, to forego one of the
following two claims:
Bivalence : Every statement is either true or false.
Non-Contradiction : No statement is both true and false.
Abandonment of Bivalence leads naturally (but not unavoidably) to a so-
called gappy logic, where some sentences are neither true nor false (and
where, typically, the logic and semantics involves a third truth value repre-
senting this status). Abandonment of Non-Contradiction leads naturally to
glutty logics, where some statements are both true and false (and where,
typically, the logic and semantics involves a third truth value representing
this status).
190 Roy T. Cook
We need not take a stand on the gappy versus glutty debate here,
however. Regardless of how we work out the details, if the Liar sentence
is indeed meaningful, then we are forced to accept some third category of
statements in addition to those that are true but not false and those that
are false but not true. In order not to beg any questions, we will introduce
a technical term:pathological. Pathological is, at this stage, merely a
placeholder for whatever substantial semantic account we eventually provide
for such problematic statements.
For our purposes here we need merely
note that a statement is pathological if and only if it fails to be either true but
not false, or false but not true, and that the reductio of classical semantics
above, using the Liar sentence, can be viewed as a proof of the existence of
pathological statements (and, in fact, a constructive existence proof of this
fact, since the Liar sentence itself is an example).
Once we have our third semantic category, and the corresponding third
relationship between sentences and the world that it represents, we can pro-
vide a straightforward semantics for our language via the Kripke xed point
construction (or some other appropriate formal device). All is not well, how-
ever, because at this point the Liar sentences younger and stronger cousin
makes its appearance. If we have, as a result of the reductio above, been
forced to admit the existence of at least one truth value in addition to the
classical values that is, if we have admitted that there are more than two
relevant ways that declarative sentences can be related to the world then
presumably there is nothing to block our extending the language in such a
way as to allow us to characterize such pathological statements. In other
words, once we are forced to admit the existence of statements receiving
pathological as their truth value, it is only natural to add to the language a
predicate is pathological which applies to a statement (or, more carefully,
which applies to the G odel code or other name of a statement) if and only
if the statement in question receives pathological as its truth value.
Once we have extended the language in this manner, however, we can
construct the Strengthened Liar:
SL: SL is either false or pathological.
With the Strengthened Liar in hand, however, we can prove that our current
crop of three truth values is not enough. In other words, we can perform
a reductio similar in structure to the one given above (but somewhat more
In particular, predication of the term pathological to a statement should not be
taken to imply that the statement is meaningless, or that it fails to assert what it appears
to assert, or that it is otherwise semantically faulty.
What is a Truth Value. . . 191
complicated) that shows that there must be statements which are neither
(simply) true, nor (simply) false, nor (simply) pathological:
Proof. Assume that SL is either:
true, but neither false nor pathological, or
false, but neither true nor pathological, or
pathological but neither true nor false
(again, we need only assume our platitude Truth from above):
Case 1: SL is true, but neither false nor pathological. So (by Truth) what
SL says must be the case. SL says that SL is either false or pathological.
So SL is either false or pathological. Thus, either SL is true and false, or
true and pathological. So, either way, SL is not true but neither false nor
Case 2: SL is false, but neither true nor pathological. So SL is false or
pathological. SL says that SL is false or pathological. So what SL says is
the case. So (by Truth) SL is true. Thus, SL is both false and true. So SLis
not false but neither true nor pathological, after all.
Case 3: SL is pathological, but neither true nor false. So SL is false or
pathological. SL says that SL is false or pathological. So what SL says is
the case. So (by Truth) SL is true. Thus, SL is both pathological and true.
So SL is not pathological but neither true nor false, after all.
Along the same lines as before, we seem forced by the argument to give
up one or the other of:
Trivalence : Every statement is at least one of true, false, and pathological.
Non-Contradiction : No statement is more than one of true, false, or
And again, as before, jettisoning either of these amounts to adding a fourth
semantic category, which we can call pathological
, into our semantics. Our
new extended language would assign this new truth value to new problem-
atics statements such as the Strengthened Liar.
It is important, in assessing the correctness of this proof, to remember that the third
value attaches to those statements that are neither true simpliciter nor false simpliciter,
and that in this context true means true simpliciter, and false means false simpliciter.
In particular, if we imagine that the third, pathological value is the dialetheists glut
value true and false, then, on the terminology used here,true and pathological - that
is, true, and both true and false - is, contrary to appearances, an impossible status for
a statement to have.
192 Roy T. Cook
Of course, once our semantics contains this fourth truth value that is,
once we admit that there are (at least) four relevant ways that statements can
relate to the world we can construct a new, Strengthened-Strengthened
Liar sentence:
SSL: SSL is either false or pathological or pathological
But then, an argument similar to the ones above (and left to the reader) can
be used to show that SSL cannot have any of these fourth values as its sole
truth value, leading to a fth truth value, and so on.
This particular innite sequence is one particular instance of a phe-
nomenon known as the Revenge Problem. Put simply, the problem is this:
Given any semantics that purports to deal adequately with various semantic
paradoxes such as the Liar and its strengthened variants, if we extend our
language to include the resources for discussing the truth values assigned
to statements in that semantics, then we will be able to construct a state-
ment using these novel resources which cannot have exactly one of those
truth values as its semantic value. In particular, if T, F, V
, V
, . . . V
are the
(exclusive and exhaustive) truth values admitted by the semantics, and we
extend our language by adding predicates T(x), F(x), V
(x), V
(x), . . . V
which hold of a statement (or its G odel code, etc.) if and only if the state-
ment receives the corresponding truth value (and no other value), then the
corresponding Super-Liar sentence:
SupL : F(SupL) V
(SupL) V
(SupL) . . . V
cannot receive any one of T, F, V
, V
, . . . V
as its truth value.
Revenge problems plague just about any approach to the semantic para-
doxes, and the typical reaction is to stop the regress by denying, at some
point, that the semantic concepts used in the metalanguage can be legiti-
mately added to the object language in question, either by invoking a se-
mantics involving stratication and level-induced restrictions on the appli-
cation of semantic predicates such as Tarskis hierarchical account [15], or
by denying that the problematic semantic concepts are expressible at all
(e.g. Priest [11]). Such restrictions violate strong intuitions concerning the
functioning of language and our apparent ability to straightforwardly ex-
press such concepts in natural language, however. In particular, it seems
that we can, in fact, meaningfully (even if sometimes mistakenly) say things
such as All statements in our language are false. or Some statements
in our language are pathological. Such restrictions on what we can say
in other words, claims that we cannot express what we seem to be able to
What is a Truth Value. . . 193
express quite easily seem to me to involve biting a somewhat too large
and unpalatable bullet.
Instead, I want to sketch an account which imposes no restrictions (or
very few, at least) on what can be said. As a result, however, we are stuck
with revenge. The question, of course, is how to deal with it, and the innite
regress of truth values that seems to come along with it. On the view to be
sketched below, revenge, and the innite series of truth values that results,
is no longer a problem, but instead provides a deep and fundamental insight
into the workings of language in general, and semantic expressions such as
true and false in particular.
Let us consider the revenge phenomenon in a bit more detail. The regress
occurs because we seem forced into an unending alternation between two
actions: We start with a simple classical language L
(classical arithmetic,
say) and a semantics S
for it (in this case, some relatively standard classical
construction). Our rst act is to extend L
by adding the resources for
describing the semantics of that language (i.e. a truth predicate, and a
falsity predicate), obtaining a new language L
. Next, we discover that
the new, extended language L
contains statements that cannot be handled
adequately in S
. So we extend S
by adding an additional truth value
(or additional values, depending on the details) for dealing with the new
problematic expressions, obtaining a new semantics S
. But now, we need
to extend the language again, in order to be able to describe the novel
semantic resources that were added to S
to obtain S
in other words, we
add a predicate like is pathological to L
to obtain L
. And so on:
At this point most theorists will stop, concluding that something has gone
wrong, and nd some other approach for dealing with the semantics of lan-
guages containing self-reference. I would like to suggest instead that the
diagram above correctly describes the phenomenon: Any language that we
speak can be extended by adding the resources for describing the semantics
of that language, and in addition, the semantics for a particular language
will always involve resources beyond those that can be described in that very
194 Roy T. Cook
language. As a result, we are (often unknowingly) extending our language
all the time by the very act of attempting to describe the semantics for that
In the end, there is an innite hierarchy of expressively richer
potential languages, each one sucient for describing the semantics of those
that came before it. Along with this comes an innite hierarchy of truth
values, to serve as proxies for the hierarchy of semantic relationships that
can hold between sentences of these languages and the world.
Once we take seriously the idea that truth values are really just ways of
representing the dierent relationships that can hold between a statement
and the world, however, the picture transforms from shocking and obviously
absurd to intuitive and roughly what we should have expected all along. The
basic thought is this: Given a particular language L, there will be some class
C of semantic relations that hold between sentences of L and the relevant
bit of the world (i.e. that part of the world about which sentences in L
make claims). L will, due to well-known results of Tarski [15] and G odel [6],
be inadequate for describing these relationships. As a result, we will need
an expressively stronger language L

to describe these relations. But now

consider the semantic relations that hold between L

and the portion of the

world relevant to it (i.e about which its statements make claims). L

is a
proper extension of L, of course, but we should also notice that the portion
of the world relevant to the truth, falsity, or whatever of L

statements is
a proper extension of the portion of the world relevant to the truth, falsity,
etc., of statements of L. After all, we are assuming that our languages
contain the resources to self-refer so, as a result, L

will contain statements

that make claims about statement of L

. So L

itself is contained in that

part of the world relevant to L

, but not to that part of the world relevant

to L (although L will, of course, be contained in the latter).
Thus, we have a situation of the following form: We are interested in
relations of type (in the case at hand, semantic relations) that can hold
between members of a class C (a language, or set of sentences in the case
at hand) and parts of a structure S (the part of the world relevant to the
language in the case at hand). One crucial aspect of our situation is that
the items contained in C are also parts of S. Now, let us use R to denote
the class of -relations that hold between members of C and parts of S,
whatever they are. The critical question is this: In general, if we extend C
to C

by adding new members to it (and, as a result, extend S to S

we are assuming that all members of C are parts of S), should we expect
In fact, on this view, I am extending the language we speak every time I give a talk
on this topic, or write a new paper. Thanks to Stewart Shapiro for pointing this out.
What is a Truth Value. . . 195
all of the -relations that hold between C

and S

to be contained in R?
The answer, quite obviously, is no. If we are interested in relations of
type that hold between items in two domains, and we extend and thus
further complicate both domains, then in general we should expect that
new relations of type might arise in the more complex case that were not
present in the prior unextended case. The present thesis is merely that what
we should expect in general, with regard to situations with this structure, is
exactly what happens in the particular case under consideration here.
Thus, we can sum up the view being defended as follows: In extending
both the statements of our language and the portion of the world relevant to
semantic evaluation of those statements by adding the linguistic resources for
describing the semantic relations that hold between these two domains, we
have complicated the language/world structure in such a way as to introduce
new semantic relations into the picture.
Before moving on, it will be helpful to look at a particular example. As
before, let us take standard classical Peano arithmetic (PA) as our starting
point. Here, the language is just the standard one for Peano arithmetic, and
the relevant portion of the world is just the -sequence of natural numbers.
As a result, we nd that a classical, bivalent semantics suces for inter-
preting the language. In other words (and with the caveat from the end of
1 above in mind), there are only two relationships that can hold between
statements of PA and the structure of natural numbers: either what the
statement says is the case (it is true), or what the statement says fails to be
the case (it is false). Note that these truly are relations: What a statement
says will be the case if and only if some specic relation holds between that
statement and the relevant bit of the world, and what a statement says will
fail to be the case if and only if some other relation holds between that
statement and the relevant bit of the world.
But now consider what happens when we extend PA by adding a truth
predicate and a falsity predicate. Note that this in eect extends the portion
of the world relevant to evaluating the statements of our language, since our
language can now be used to make claims about not just numbers, but about
claims about numbers. We can now express the Liar sentence. And the Liar
sentence, on pain of contradiction, enters into neither the what is says is
the case relationship with the world, nor with the what it says fails to be
the case relationship. Instead, this sentence forces us to recognize a new
relationship that can hold between sentences of our extended language and
the relevant bits of the world, something like what it says is the case if
and only if what it says is not the case, which we have been abbreviating
196 Roy T. Cook
above as pathological.
Thus, we can add the following platitude to our
platitudes for truth and falsity:
Pathological : A sentence is pathological if and only if: what it says is the
case if and only if what it says fails to be the case.
Thus, we have the general picture of how truth values are generated by
semantic paradox and the revenge phenomenon. There are important con-
nections between this picture and one standard way of understanding the set
theoretic paradoxes and the development of Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory in
light of them, however, and it is to this topic that we turn in the next section.
3. Revenge and Indenite Extensibility
One way of describing the innite hierarchy of truth values discussed above
is to observe that the concept Truth Value is indenitely extensible. As a
result of this indeniteness, we can never be in a position to quantify over
Given the picture being sketched here, an additional complication arises when we
consider so-called Truth-Teller statements such as:
This statement is true.
Unlike the Liar, which can consistently be assigned neither true nor false, the Truth-
Teller can be consistently assigned either semantic value. Thus, it is in a sense semanti-
cally underdetermined, in the same sense that we might say that the Liar is semantically
We can think of the relationship that holds between the truth-teller and the world as
something like:
What it says is the case if and only if what it says is the case.
One open question, on the present account, is whether this is the same relation as the
one that holds between the Liar statement and the world in other words, whether on
the present picture the extension of a classical language with a truth predicate and a
falsity predicate introduces one additional relation between language and world, or two.
My intuition is the latter, although I will not argue for that here.
There is of course a generalized version of the question: Given an arbitrary language L,
how many new truth values are introduced when we extend the language by adding the
resources for describing the semantics of L? The answer must be at least one, by the argu-
ments above, but narrowing it down further is a topic that will be postponed to later work.
Reasoning classically, this denition of pathological implies that no sentences are
pathological. Thus, it is important to remember that the reason for introducing this
semantic predicate in the rst place is that we have already extended our initial classi-
cal language to one that requires (at least) a three-valued logic. Viewed within such a
many-valued context, the denition does not collapse (see Cook [2] for details).
What is a Truth Value. . . 197
all truth values (and, as a result, we cannot quantify over all statements, or
speak a universal language).
The notion of a concept being indenitely extensible seems to have rst
appeared in the writings of Bertrand Russell on the paradox that bears
his name:
the contradictions seem to result from the fact that . . . there are what
we may call self-reproductive processes and classes. That is, there are
some properties such that, given any class of terms all having such a
property, we can always dene a new term also having the property
in question. Hence, we can never collect all of the terms having the
said property into a whole; because, whenever we hope we have them
all, the collection which we have immediately proceeds to generate a
new term also having the said property. ([13], p. 144.)
The idea that a number of central mathematical concepts, such as Cardi-
nal Number, Ordinal Number, and Set, are indenitely extensible, and
that the set-theoretic paradoxes associated with these concepts are caused
by illegitimately attempting to collect together and/or quantify over the ex-
tensions of indenitely extensible concepts, is now a largely unchallenged
part of philosophical folklore.
Michael Dummett formulated a slightly more precise characterization of
the notion of a concept being indenitely extensible in The Seas of Lan-
guage (the term indenite extensibility was coined by Dummett as well).
Dummett writes that:
The paradoxes both the set theoretic and the semantic paradoxes
result from our possessing indenitely extensible concepts. . . An
indenitely extensible concept is one for which, together with some
determinate range or ranges of objects falling under it, we are given
an intuitive principle whereby, if we have a suciently denite grasp
of any one such range of objects, we can form, in terms of it, a
conception of a more inclusive such range. . . By the nature of the case,
we can form no clear conception of the extension of an indenitely
extensible concept; any attempt to do so is liable to lead us into
contradiction. ([4], p. 454)
We can reformulate Dummetts criteria for a concept to be indenitely ex-
tensible as follows:
198 Roy T. Cook
Definition 3.1. A concept C is indenitely extensible if and only if there is
(we can identify?
) a function f mapping collections of objects to objects
such that, given any denite collection D of Cs, f(D) is a C and f(D) is
not in D.
In other words, a concept is indenitely extensible if, and only if, when
confronted by a denite collection of objects falling under the concept, we
can always nd another object not in that collection which also falls under
the concept.
The concept Ordinal is the prototypical case of indenite extensibility:
Given any set (i.e. denite collection) of ordinals, we can identify an ordinal
not in the set for example, the successor of the supremum of the set.
Similarly, we can nd operations that map any collection of sets onto a set
not contained in the collection (e.g., the powerset of the transitive closure
of the set), or that map any set of cardinals onto a cardinal not in that set
(e.g., the cardinality of the powerset of the union of that set of cardinals).
Thus, the concepts Set and Cardinal are also indenitely extensible.
Given the points raised in the previous section, however, the concept
Truth Value is indenitely extensible as well. Constructing the requisite
function is not dicult: Let F map any set of incompatible truth values S
to the truth value of the statement:
Rev: Rev has a truth value in S other than true.
A generalized version of the arguments given in the rst section of this paper
demonstrates that Rev must have a truth value not in S (in addition, the
truth value of Rev cannot be the true!). As a result, we can map any denite
collection of truth values onto a truth value not in that collection. So the
class of truth values is indenitely extensible.
The idea that the semantic paradoxes are caused by indenite extensi-
bility, however, although suggested by Dummett, has not been throroughly
explored. In addition, Dummetts own solution to the paradoxes that arise
as a result of indenite extensibility adopt intuitionistic logic and math-
ematics is not adequate for dealing with the Liar paradox and its vari-
ants, since the contradiction arising from the Liar sentence can be derived
The phrase we can identify is inserted to emphasize that there are at least two read-
ings of the notion of indenite extensibility a platonist one, which we are mobilizing
here, and a constructive one, where indenite extensibility is connected to our ability to
identify such a function. The latter reading is likely closer to what Dummett himself had
in mind, although the distinction does not make much dierence in the present context.
What is a Truth Value. . . 199
The failure of Dummetts response to the indenite exten-
sibility of semantic concepts such as Truth Value does not alter the fact
that these concepts are, in fact, indenitely extensible, however.
The correct response, of course, is to deal with the indenite extensibil-
ity of the concept Truth Value in the same manner that we deal with the
indenite extensibility of other concepts such as Set, Ordinal, and Cardi-
nal. The full account can only be sketched here.
Any attempt to describe
the semantics of the language we speak automatically and immediately ex-
tends that language by adding expressive resources required to describe the
semantics, and in particular, the truth values, of the original language. As
a result, the potential to repeatedly carry out such extensions implies that
there is a hierarchy of richer and richer languages, and a corresponding hier-
archy of more and more extensive collections of truth values corresponding
to these languages. We can never reach a point, however, where we have
all of the truth values, or where extensions to our language are no longer
required in order to describe things that we might wish to describe (such as
the semantics of a particular language).
As a result, there is an innite hierarchy of truth values (in fact, a proper
class, since there will be at least as many truth values as ordinals
, and the
totality of truth values cannot be collected together into a denite collection
that is, into a set. The similarity between the structure of potential lan-
guages and their truth values and the structure of the set-theoretic universe
(as described by, say, ZFC) is not accidental
, and this way of dealing with
For a detailed discussion of Dummetts application of indenite extensibility to the
semantic paradoxes, as well as a clear examination of the various factors underlying the
failure of Dummetts strategy, the reader should consult Williamson [16].
The reader should consult Cook [2] for a detailed development of a formal semantics
corresponding to this informal sketch.
A full explication of the semantic picture sketched here requires a proper class of
truth values. The reason is simple: If our language is rich enough (and part of the point
of the present project is to avoid unmotivated restrictions on the expressive power of our
languages) we can formulate statements such as:
This sentence has one of the truth values that can be modeled
within our current set theory and which is not the true.
Statements like this one that involve quantication over large collections of truth values
(including truth values which might not be required to interpret the language in which such
statements are formulated) allow us to make large jumps up the hierarchy of languages.
See Cook [2] for details.
It is worth noting that this parallel between the commonly accepted diagnosis of
the set-theoretic paradoxes and the diagnosis of the semantic paradoxes is accidental, in
a certain sense: I have never found a priori arguments that various paradoxes such
200 Roy T. Cook
the semantic paradoxes has the added advantage of providing a uniform solu-
tion to the set-theoretic and the semantic paradoxes. In the end, both types
of paradox result from the same phenomenon: the indenite extensibility of
concepts used (in an illegitimate manner) in the derivation of the paradox.
As a nal note, we should say something about restrictions on express-
ibility in the present view. Unsurprisingly, there are some things that we
think that we can say (or, perhaps, that we think that we think that we can
say) which we cannot say. In particular, we cannot say all truth values,
or, more carefully, since we did just in fact say (or, actually, write/read) it,
we cannot say what we intend to say when we use this phrase. If this phrase
meant what intuitively one might think it does, then we could construct an
Ultimate Liar sentence:
Ult: Ult has one of the truth values (that is,
one of all of them), other than the true.
In other words, unrestrictedly general quantication is not possible on the
present picture. This, however, is not as worrisome as are, for example, the
restrictions on negation imposed by Graham Priest [11], however, since there
already exist independent reasons for doubting that unrestrictedly general
quantication is possible (see, e.g., the various articles in [12]). Nevertheless,
there is, in a certain sense, nothing that we want to say that we cannot
say on the present picture. While there is no language that can express
everything, since for any language there is an extension of it containing
additional (semantic) vocabulary, there is, on the present view, nothing we
need to say that cannot be said in some language. And it is here where
the real advantages of the present view over traditional approaches, such
as those developed by Tarski [15] and Kripke [8], is most evident. Both
Kripkes account and Tarskis suer from severe limitations on what can be
expressed: Tarskis hierarchy bans self-referentiality (or, at the very least, it
bans self-referential statements involving semantic expressions, such as the
Liar sentence) and Kripkes construction does not allow the introduction of
as the semantic and set-theoretic ones should have a single uniform solution at all
convincing. Instead, such arguments have always struck me as expressing little more than
an aesthetic judgment of the arguer that is, these so-called arguments typically appear
to amount, in the end, to little more than the thought that the universe would be a
prettier place if all of these paradoxes has a single uniform solution. Lacking faith in the
prettiness of the universe, I was immensely surprised when, in developing this view, clear
connections between the set-theoretic and the semantic paradoxes began to emerge. To put
it simply: I take the existence of these connections to be a profound discovery regarding the
underlying shared nature of these puzzles. Discovering such a shared underlying nature,
however, was never, in my view, a desideratum on a successful account of the paradoxes.
What is a Truth Value. . . 201
semantic expressions or connectives necessary to describe the three-valued
construction itself (since such expressions and logical notions are non-mono-
tonic, as Kripke notes). The present approach, however, suers from neither
of these expressive defects, allowing use to say everything (or very nearly
everything) that we think that we think we can say.
Acknowledgements. The present paper has beneted from collegial feed-
back from the philosophy departments at The Ohio State University; St.
Cloud State University; The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; The Uni-
versity of Minnesota, Duluth; The University of Nevada, Las Vegas; and
The University of St Andrews. Thanks are also due to Peter Hanks, Hannes
Leitgeb, ystein Linnebo, Kevin Scharp, Stewart Shapiro, Greg Taylor, Neil
Tennant, Giulia Terzian, James Woodbridge, and Crispin Wright for helpful
discussions on these issues.
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Roy T. Cook
Department of Philosophy
University of Minnesota
819 Heller Hall 271 19th Ave
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA