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Summary Primitivism about truth maintains that truth is a primitive, indefinable notion. Accordingly, primitivism is opposed to the traditional theories of truth, such as the correspondence theory, coherence theory, and pragmatic theory, which hold that truth can be defined into those further notions. Primitivism is also opposed to deflationary theories of truth, which maintain that truth is not a substantial notion. Hence, primitivism offers a substantial (i.e., non-deflationary) theory of truth, but one that resists definition in terms of any other notions.    
Key works Primitivism has a distinguished history. At the dawn of analytic philosophy, G. E. Moore (Moore 1899) and Bertrand Russell (Russell 1904) both defended the view, as did Gottlob Frege. The most famous argument for primitivism, known variously as Frege's treadmill, regress, or circularity argument, is found in Frege 1956. The most important contemporary discussion of primitivism is found in the work of Donald Davidson, notably Davidson 1990 and Davidson 1996. For a sustained discussion and defense of primitivism, see Asay 2013.
Introductions For an accessible introduction to primitivism and some of the theoretical motivations for it, see Davidson 1996.
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  1. María Albisu Aparicio (2004). Observaciones a propósito de un argumento fregeano en torno a la verdad. Revista de Filosofía (Madrid) 29 (1):143-165.
    From the analysis of some proposals regarding Frege's reasoning about the indefinibility of the truth and supported on different considerations developed by J. Simon on this matter, this project proposes a new interpretation of the relations that the different theories of the truth have among themselves.
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  2. Jamin Asay (2013). Primitive Truth. Dialectica 67 (4):503-519.
    Conceptual primitivism is the view that truth is among our most basic and fundamental concepts. It cannot be defined, analyzed, or reduced into concepts that are more fundamental. Primitivism is opposed to both traditional attempts at defining truth (in terms of correspondence, coherence, or utility) and deflationary theories that argue that the notion of truth is exhausted by means of the truth schema. Though primitivism might be thought of as a view of last resort, I believe that the view is (...)
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  3. Jamin Asay (2013). Tarski and Primitivism About Truth. Philosophers' Imprint 13 (17):1-18.
    Tarski’s pioneering work on truth has been thought by some to motivate a robust, correspondence-style theory of truth, and by others to motivate a deflationary attitude toward truth. I argue that Tarski’s work suggests neither; if it motivates any contemporary theory of truth, it motivates conceptual primitivism, the view that truth is a fundamental, indefinable concept. After outlining conceptual primitivism and Tarski’s theory of truth, I show how the two approaches to truth share much in common. While Tarski does not (...)
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  4. Jamin Asay (2013). The Primitivist Theory of Truth. Cambridge University Press.
    Jamin Asay's book offers a fresh and daring perspective on the age-old question 'What is truth?', with a comprehensive articulation and defence of primitivism, the view that truth is a fundamental and indefinable concept. Often associated with Frege and the early Russell and Moore, primitivism has been largely absent from the larger conversation surrounding the nature of truth. Asay defends primitivism by drawing on a range of arguments from metaphysics, philosophy of language and philosophy of logic, and navigates between correspondence (...)
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  5. Thomas Baldwin (1997). Frege, Moore, Davidson: The Indefinability of Truth. Philosophical Topics 25 (2):1-18.
  6. Lajos L. Brons (2015). Wang Chong, Truth, and Quasi-Pluralism. Comparative Philosophy 6 (1):129-148.
    In (2011) McLeod suggested that the first century Chinese philosopher Wang Chong 王充 may have been a pluralist about truth. In this reply I contest McLeod's interpretation of Wang Chong, and suggest "quasi-pluralism" (albeit more as an alternative to pluralism than as an interpretation of Wang Chong), which combines primitivism about the concept of truth with pluralism about justification.
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  7. Peter Carruthers (1981-1982). Frege's Regress. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 82:17 - 32.
    In his essay 'Thoughts',' Frege is to be found employing a regress-argument against the correspondence theory of truth. He seems to have felt that the argument is not only completely destructive of the correspondence theory, but that it could be deployed equally well against any attempt to provide a general definition of the notion of truth. In my view neither conclusion is warranted. But Frege's Regress can, nevertheless, be developed into an argument of the greatest significance.
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  8. Cezary Cieśliński (2005). Dlaczego prawda jest (nie)definiowalna. Filozofia Nauki 1.
    The aim of this paper is to consider the question about the reasons of the indefinability of truth. We note at the start that a formula with one free variable can function as a truth predicate for a given set of sentences in two different (although related) senses: relative to a model and relative to a theory. By methods due to Alfred Tarski it can be shown that some sets of sentences are too large to admit a truth predicate (in (...)
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  9. John Collins (forthcoming). The Primitivist Theory of Truth By J. Asay. [REVIEW] Analysis:anv009.
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  10. John Collins (2002). Truth or Meaning? A Question of Priority. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65 (3):497-536.
    There is an incompatibility between the deflationist approach to truth, which makes truth transparent on the basis of an antecedent grasp of meaning, and the traditional endeavour, exemplified by Davidson, to explicate meaning through of truth. I suggest that both parties are in the explanatory red: deflationist lack a non-truth-involving theory of meaning and Davidsonians lack a non-deflationary account of truth. My focus is on the attempts of the latter party to resolve their problem. I look in detail at Davidson's (...)
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  11. Donald Davidson (1996). The Folly of Trying to Define Truth. Journal of Philosophy 93 (6):263-278.
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  12. Donald Davidson (1990). The Structure and Content of Truth. Journal of Philosophy 87 (6):279-328.
  13. Paul Dicken (2014). The Primitivist Theory of Truth, by Jamin Asay. [REVIEW] Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92 (4):816-816.
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  14. Luis Fernández Moreno (1996). Die Undefinierbarkeit der Wahrheit bei Frege. Dialectica 50 (1):25-35.
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  15. Gottlob Frege (1956). The Thought: A Logical Inquiry. Mind 65 (259):289-311.
  16. Kariel Antonio Giarolo (2014). A crítica de Frege a teoria da verdade como correspondência. Philósophos - Revista de Filosofia 18 (2):135-166.
    This paper has as main objective present and discuss Gottlob Frege critic to the attempt to define the concept of truth, especially, the attempt to define of truth as correspondence. The correspondence theories of truth sustain that truth can be defined in terms of correspondence between sentences, propositions or true thoughts and facts. However, in his posthumous writing Logic (1897) and, after, in The Thought (1918), Frege presents a severe critic to this kind of approach. He holds that truth is (...)
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  17. Mario Gómez-Torrente (2004). The Indefinability of Truth in the “Wahrheitsbegriff. Annals of Pure and Applied Logic 126 (1-3):27-37.
    Contrary to what often seems to be the implicit belief, Tarski's 1933 version of the theorem on the indefinability of truth did not mention semantic notions, either defined or intuitive. I state this version in a somewhat modernized form and explain briefly the self-imposed mathematico-philosophical constraints that led Tarski to formulate it as he did. I also point out that close attention to its content suggests a refined view of the exact contrast between Tarski's achievement and Gödel's achievement in his (...)
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  18. Dirk Greimann (ed.) (2007). Essays on Frege’s Conception of Truth. Rodopi.
    In his writings on the foundations of logic, Gottlob Frege, the father of modern logic, sketched a conception of truth that focuses on the following questions: What is the sense of the word “true”? Is truth a definable concept or a primitive one? What are the kinds of things of which truth is predicated? What is the role of the concept of truth in judgment, assertion and recognition? What is the logical category of truth? What is the significance of the (...)
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  19. Dirk Greimann (2000). Explicating Truth: Minimalism and Primitivism. [REVIEW] Journal for General Philosophy of Science 31 (1):133-155.
    This paper pursues two goals. The first is to show that Horwich's anti-primitivist version of minimalism must be rejected because, already for formal reasons, the truth-schema does not achieve a positive explication of any property of propositions. The second goal is to develop a more moderate primitivist version of minimalism according to which the truth-schema is admittedly powerless to underpin truth with something more basic but it still succeeds in giving a complete account of the necessary and sufficient conditions for (...)
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  20. Richard Heck & Robert May (forthcoming). Truth in Frege. In M. Glanzberg (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Truth. Oxford University Press.
    A general survey of Frege's views on truth, the paper explores the problems in response to which Frege's distinctive view that sentences refer to truth-values develops. It also discusses his view that truth-values are objects and the so-called regress argument for the indefinability of truth. Finally, we consider, very briefly, the question whether Frege was a deflationist.
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  21. Anssi Korhonen (2009). Russell's Early Metaphysics of Propositions. Prolegomena 8 (2):159-192.
    In Bertrand Russell’s The Principles of Mathematics and related works, the notion of a proposition plays an important role; it is by analyzing propositions, showing what kinds of constituents they have, that Russell arrives at his core logical concepts. At this time, his conception of proposition contains both a conventional and an unconventional part. The former is the view that propositions are the ultimate truth-bearers; the latter is the view that the constituents of propositions are “worldly” entities. In the latter (...)
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  22. Wolfgang Künne (2008). Frege on Truths, Truth and the True. Studia Philosophica Estonica 1 (1):5-42.
    The founder of modern logic and grandfather of analytic philosophy was 70 years old when he published his paper 'Der Gedanke' (The Thought ) in 1918. This essay contains some of Gottlob Frege's deepest and most provocative reflections on the concept of truth, and it will play a prominent role in my lectures. The plan for my lectures is as follows. What is it that is (primarily) true or false? 'Thoughts', is Frege's answer. In §1, I shall explain and defend (...)
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  23. David Larson (1988). Tarski, Davidson, and Theories of Truth. Dialectica 42 (1):3-16.
    SummaryIn developing his claim that meaning cannot be understood independently of truth, Donald Davidson argues that a theory of meaning will take the form of a Tarskian theory of truth. In this essay I seek to describe more fully the structure of a Davidsonian theory of meaning and the extent to which Davidson modifies Tarski's account. 1 consider and reject John Foster's claim that Davidson takes, or should take, truth as a formal primitive, and argue that it is Davidson's principle (...)
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  24. Richard Matthews (2009). Interpretation and the Indefinability of Truth in Heidegger and Davidson. Analecta Hermeneutica 1 (1):35-45.
    Heidegger famously diminishes the significance of everyday theories of truth like the correspondence theory, disparaging these as a matter of ‘mere’ correctness.They are among the starting points that lead to ‘the true’ but are not themselves genuine or authentic. Donald Davidson develops a theory of interpretation that suggests some reasons why the ordinary senses of truth should not be so mistreated: responsible theories of interpretation should treat the everyday senses of truth more seriously. This paper argues that the necessity of (...)
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  25. Colin McGinn (2000). Logical Properties: Identity, Existence, Predication, Necessity, Truth. Oxford University Press.
  26. Trenton Merricks (2007). Truth and Ontology. Oxford University Press.
    Truth and Ontology concludes that some truths do not depend on being in any substantive way at all.
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  27. G. E. Moore (1899). The Nature of Judgment. Mind 8 (30):176-193.
  28. Timothy J. Nulty (2007). Primitive Disclosive Alethism. Metaphysica 8 (1):1-15.
    The contemporary debate about truth is polarized between deflationists and those who offer robust accounts of truth. I present a theory of truth called ‘Primitive Disclosive Alethism’ that occupies the middle ground between these two extremes. Contrary to deflationist claims, truth has a nature beyond its merely linguistic, expressive function. Truth is objective and non-epistemic, yet cannot be characterized in terms of correspondence. Primitive Disclosive Alethism offers a metaphysically satisfying explanation of our correspondence intuitions, while explaining why the concept of (...)
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  29. Timothy J. Nulty (2006). Primitive Disclosive Alethism: Davidson, Heidegger, and the Nature of Truth. Peter Lang.
    Davidson, truth, and triangulation -- Davidson applied -- Half truths -- Heidegger's analytic of Dasein -- Dasein and truth -- Truthful intersections -- Primitive disclosive alethism.
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  30. Timothy J. Nulty (2004). Davidson and Heidegger on the Nature of Truth. Dissertation, The University of Connecticut
    The dissertation examines Davidson and Heidegger's rejections of correspondence truth, as well as their claims that truth is theoretically primitive. Truth is primitive in the sense that it cannot be reduced to, nor defined in terms of, some other more theoretically basic concepts, such as those offered in correspondence, coherence, and pragmatic accounts of truth. The fact that truth cannot be defined in terms of more basic concepts does not mean that there are not important and meaningful things to say (...)
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  31. Douglas Patterson (2010). Truth as Conceptually Primitive. In Cory D. Wright & Nikolaj J. L. L. Pedersen (eds.), New Waves in Truth. Palgrave Macmillan.
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  32. B. Russell (1904). Meinong's Theory of Complexes and Assumptions (III.). Mind 13 (52):509-524.
  33. Bertrand Russell (1994). The Nature of Truth. In Alasdair Urquhart (ed.), The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, Volume 4: Foundations of Logic, 1903-05. 528 - 533.
  34. Bertrand Russell (1906-1907). On the Nature of Truth. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 7 (1):28 - 49.
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  35. Anna Sierszulska (2006). Realistyczny minimalizm w kwestii prawdy. Filozofia Nauki 2.
    The paper presents three different Fregean approaches towards the question of truth, all of which can be classified as belonging to the category of minimalistic theories, namely the identity theory of McDowell and Hornsby, the 'modest' conception of truth proposed by Wolfgang Künne and the 'alethic realism' of William Alston. The conceptions are described as realistically biased, in spite of their refusal to accept 'objectual' facts as entities in the world. It is argued that a legitimate position can be distinguished (...)
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  36. Hans Sluga (2002). Frege on the Indefinability of Truth. In Erich H. Reck (ed.), From Frege to Wittgenstein: Perspectives on Early Analytic Philosophy. Oxford University Press.
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  37. Ernest Sosa (2001). Epistemology and Primitive Truth. In Michael Lynch (ed.), The Nature of Truth: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. MIT Press.
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  38. Ernest Sosa (1993). Epistemology, Realism, and Truth: The First Philosophical Perspectives Lecture. Philosophical Perspectives 7 (1):1-16.
    Truth centered epistemology puts truth at the center in more ways than one. For one thing, it makes truth a main cognitive goal of inquiry. For another, it explains other main epistemic concepts in terms of truth. Knowledge itself, for example, is explained as belief that meets certain other conditions, among them being true. And a belief is said to be rationally or epistemically justified or apt, which it must be in order to be knowledge, only if it derives from (...)
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  39. Ernest Sosa (1993). The Truth of Modest Realism. Philosophical Issues 3:177-195.
    True, the believing could not in those cir- cumstances be there the object of belief being there. accept a notion of correspondence or reference according to which a word or a brain state of ours can refer to some external or or independent (This no more forces.
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  40. Markus Stepanians (2003). Why Frege Thought It to Be "Probable" That Truth is Indefinable. Manuscrito 26 (2):331-345.
    Frege’s so-called “Regress Argument” is closely examined and it is argued that Dummett’s reconstruction of it is not satisfactory. Contra Dummett, the argument does not involve a regress, is not a reductio and not even a strictly deductive argument. Rather, what Frege tries to show is that any attempt to define truth fails to be epistemically fruitful and thus misses the very point of analytic definitions of concepts. The cause of this epistemic sterility is an inherent circularity, and it is (...)
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