Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Truth-conditional semantics

Truth-conditional semantics

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Truth-conditional semantics'
Start a new discussion about 'Truth-conditional semantics'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Truth-conditional semantics is an approach to semantics of natural language that sees the meaning of assertions as being the same as, or reducible to, their truth condition
Truth condition
In semantics, truth conditions are what obtain precisely when a sentence is true. For example, "It is snowing in Nebraska" is true precisely when it is snowing in Nebraska....

s. This approach to semantics is principally associated with Donald Davidson
Donald Davidson (philosopher)
Donald Herbert Davidson was an American philosopher born in Springfield, Massachusetts, who served as Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley from 1981 to 2003 after having also held teaching appointments at Stanford University, Rockefeller University, Princeton...

, and attempts to carry out for the semantics of natural language what Tarski's semantic theory of truth
Semantic theory of truth
A semantic theory of truth is a theory of truth in the philosophy of language which holds that truth is a property of sentences.-Origin:The semantic conception of truth, which is related in different ways to both the correspondence and deflationary conceptions, is due to work published by Polish...

 achieves for the semantics of logic (Davidson 1967).

Truth-conditional theories of semantics attempt to define the meaning of a given proposition by explaining when the sentence is true. So, for example, because 'snow is white' is true if and only if snow is white, the meaning of 'snow is white' is snow is white.

History


The first truth-conditional semantics was developed by Donald Davidson in Truth and Meaning (1967). It applied Tarski's
Alfred Tarski
Alfred Tarski was a Polish logician and mathematician. Educated at the University of Warsaw and a member of the Lwow-Warsaw School of Logic and the Warsaw School of Mathematics and philosophy, he emigrated to the USA in 1939, and taught and carried out research in mathematics at the University of...

 semantic theory of truth
Semantic theory of truth
A semantic theory of truth is a theory of truth in the philosophy of language which holds that truth is a property of sentences.-Origin:The semantic conception of truth, which is related in different ways to both the correspondence and deflationary conceptions, is due to work published by Polish...

 to a problem it was not intended to solve, that of giving the meaning of a sentence.

Refutation from necessary truths


Scott Soames
Scott Soames
Scott Soames is a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. He specializes in the philosophy of language and the history of analytic philosophy...

 has harshly criticized truth-conditional semantics on the grounds that it is either wrong or uselessly circular.

Under its traditional formulation, truth-conditional semantics gives every necessary truth precisely the same meaning, for all of them are true under precisely the same conditions (namely, all of them). And since the truth conditions of any unnecessarily true sentence are equivalent to the conjunction of those truth conditions and any necessary truth, any sentence means the same as its meaning plus a necessary truth. For example, if "snow is white" is true iff snow is white, then it is trivially the case that "snow is white" is true iff snow is white and 2+2=4, therefore under truth-conditional semantics "snow is white" means both that snow is white and that 2+2=4. That is wrong.

Soames
Scott Soames
Scott Soames is a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. He specializes in the philosophy of language and the history of analytic philosophy...

 argues further that reformulations that attempt to account for this problem must beg the question. In specifying precisely which of the infinite number of truth-conditions for a sentence will count towards its meaning, one must take the meaning of the sentence as a guide. However, we wanted to specify meaning with truth-conditions, whereas now we are specifying truth-conditions with meaning, rendering the entire process fruitless.

Refutation from deficiency


Michael Dummett
Michael Dummett
Sir Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett FBA D.Litt is a British philosopher. He was, until 1992, Wykeham Professor of Logic at the University of Oxford...

 (1975) has objected to Davidson's program on the grounds that such a theory of meaning will not explain what it is a speaker has to know in order for them to understand a sentence. Dummett believes a speaker must know three components of a sentence to understand its meaning: a theory of sense
Sense and reference
Sinn and bedeutung are usually translated, respectively, as sense and reference. Two different aspects of some terms' meanings, a term's reference is the object that the term refers to, while the term's sense is the way that the term refers to that object.Sinn and bedeutung were introduced by...

, indicating the part of the meaning that the speaker grasps; a theory of reference
Sense and reference
Sinn and bedeutung are usually translated, respectively, as sense and reference. Two different aspects of some terms' meanings, a term's reference is the object that the term refers to, while the term's sense is the way that the term refers to that object.Sinn and bedeutung were introduced by...

, which indicates what claims about the world are made by the sentence, and a theory of force, which indicates what kind of speech act
Speech act
Speech Act is a technical term in linguistics and the philosophy of language. The contemporary use of the term goes back to John L. Austin's doctrine of locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary acts...

 the expression performs. Dummett further argues that a theory based on inference, such as Proof-theoretic semantics
Proof-theoretic semantics
Proof-theoretic semantics is an approach to the semantics of logic that attempts to locate the meaning of propositions and logical connectives not in terms of interpretations, as in Tarskian approaches to semantics, but in the role that the proposition or logical connective plays within the system...

, provides a better foundation for this model than truth-conditional semantics does.