Language, Partial Truth, and Logic [Book Review]

Analysis 71 (2):313-322 (2011)
In Hard Truths, Elijah Millgram maintains that analytic philosophy rests on a mistake. 1 It is committed to bivalence – the contention that every truth bearer is either true or false. As a result of this commitment, its views about logic and metaphysics are profoundly misguided. He believes that rather than restricting ourselves to two truth values, we should recognize a plethora of partial truths – sentences, beliefs and opinions that are partly true or true in a way. These are located on a multidimensional continuum between truth and falsity. Millgram never says exactly what partial truth is. The closest he comes is ‘Partial truth is the not fully articulated standard, or family of standards to which we hold [utterances, inscriptions and thoughts] in partial truth inferences’ , where partial truth inferences are those used in cases where ‘there is a recognized mismatch between representation and world – but not in any way that requires changing the representations’ . A critical issue then is what constitutes such a mismatch. I will argue that Millgram’s reasons for recognizing partial truths rest on untenable conceptions of logic, truth and language. Perhaps there are partial truths; perhaps recognizing them would enhance our logic or metaphysics. But Millgram’s arguments fail to show it. 1. Logic Recognizing that there can be some truth in sentences that as a whole are false is not unprecedented. Analyses by Ullian and Goodman 2 and, more recently, Yablo 3 reveal how a false sentence or proposition can be true about a particular item. ‘The dog barks and the cat speaks French’ is true about the dog, even though the conjunction as a whole is false. This does not undermine classical logic. Rather, such analyses reveal that truth about a particular subject matter is more fine grained than truth simpliciter. ‘True …
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