By sentence theory I just mean a theory of truth carriers that implies that some sentences are true or some are false. Not necessarily a monist sentence theory (=theory that implies that sentences are the only kind of truth carriers) or a theory of sentences as primary truth carriers (=theory that implies that sentences are the primary truth carriers). For more about these terms, see my earlier writings on the subject.

Anyway, I read the newest post on my favorite logic blog (Blog&~Blog). It dealt with the sentences which I have given incredibly clever names (in footnotes):

For all sentences, if it is not the case that it is meaningful, then it is not the case that it is true.

NMNT.1 (∀S)(¬M(S)→T(S))

For all sentences, if it is not the case that it is meaningful, then it is not the case that it is false.

NMNF.2 (∀S)(¬M(S)→F(S))

With the obvious interpretation keys.

This seems like plausible sentences to many when faced with sentences such as the Chomsky:

C. Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

Which Ben, btw, got wrong as he forgot the first word.

Let’s also agree that:

1. It is not the case that C is meaningful.

¬M(C)

However, this along with some other sentences is inconsistent (=implies a contradiction). First sentence bivalence:

SB.3 For all sentences, it is either true or it is false.

(∀S)(T(S)∨F(S))

The contradiction is easy to derive here:

2. ¬T(C) [from 1, NMNT, MP]

3. ¬F(C) [from 1, NMNF, MP]

4. T(C) [from 3, SB, DS]

5. T(C) ∧¬T(C) [from 2, 4, conj.]

Contradiction! So this doesn’t work. Here I told Ben (author of the blog) that I would drop SB.4 However that apparently doesn’t work either.

Say hi to the T-schema, or the semantic theory of truth:

TS1. For all sentences, iff it is true, then it is the case.

(∀S)(T(S)↔S)

TS2. For all sentences, iff it is false, then it is not the case.

(∀S)(F(S)↔¬S)

Now these are obvious to most people. Not something is that plausible to deny unless the alternatives are really bad. However from these one can get their contra-positional versions:

TS1-CP. For all sentences, iff it is not the case, then it is not the case that it is true.

(∀S)(¬S↔¬T(S))

TS2-CP. For all sentences, iff it is not the case that it is not the case, then it is not the case that it is false.

(∀S)(¬¬S↔¬F(S))

And from these, we can derive their converses (and we can do that because these are bi-conditionals that can be conversed without problems). Do the same for TS1 and TS2:

TS1-CP-C. For all sentences, iff it is not the case that it is true, then it is not the case.

(∀S)(¬T(S)↔¬S)

TS2-CP-C. For all sentences, iff it is not the case that it is false, then it is not the case that it is not the case

(∀S)(¬F(S)↔¬¬S)

TS1-C. For all sentences, iff it is the case, then it is true.

(∀S)(S↔T(S))

TS2-C. For all sentences, iff it is not the case, then it is false.

(∀S)(¬S↔F(S))

And these actually need to be simplified too before I can use them, but I’m too lazy to do that, so I’ll just add a simp. step. No big deal.

Now:

6. ¬C [from 2, TS1-CP-C, simp., MP]

7. F(C) [from 6, TS2-C, simp., MP]

8. F(C)∧¬F(C) [from 3, 7, conj.]

Contradiction. And I didn’t need to use double negation to get it though one could do that too with TS2-CP-C, and of course I didn’t use SB either. It seems to me that this is terrible and the best way out of the contradiction is to deny NMNT and NMNF, and believe instead that sentences like C cannot even meaningfully be said to be true or false, nor can they meaningfully be said to be not true or not false. Any complex sentence with a meaningless part is itself meaningless.5

There is a tendency for people to conflate denial of properties with the denial of the meaningful application of these properties to things. This seems to be the case here too. So instead of saying things like:

Meaningless sentences are not true.

Cars are not true.

We should say things like:

Meaningless sentences cannot meaningfully be said to be true.

Cars cannot meaningfully be said to be not true.

Maybe some people sometimes, confusingly, use the first versions as a shorthand for the second. If they do and really mean what the second ones mean, then they should use them.

In a web of beliefs approach one could set up an inconsistent set of sentences and see which one is the least plausible. I figure that my readers can do that in their heads without I needing to write it out in this case. Maybe the readers will agree with me that NMNT and NMNF are the least plausible ones in the set.

Notes

1Not meaningful not true.

2Not meaningful not false.

3Sentence bivalence.

4Because, seen as a set of inconsistent sentences, this one is the least plausible to me.

5One can formulate clever sentences for this principle. I’ll do that in another essay quickly to follow this one.

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