Truth in the tractatus

Synthese 148 (2):345 - 368 (2006)
Abstract
My paper takes issue both with the standard view that the Tractatus contains a correspondence theory and with recent suggestions that it features a deflationary or semantic theory. Standard correspondence interpretations are mistaken, because they treat the isomorphism between a sentence and what it depicts as a sufficient condition of truth rather than of sense. The semantic/deflationary interpretation ignores passages that suggest some kind of correspondence theory. The official theory of truth in the Tractatus is an obtainment theory – a sentence is true iff the state of affairs it depicts obtains. This theory differs from deflationary theories in that it involves an ontology of states of affairs/facts; and it can be transformed into a type of correspondence theory: a sentence is true iff it corresponds to, i.e. depicts an obtaining state of affairs (fact). Admittedly, unlike correspondence theories as commonly portrayed, this account does not involve a genuinely truth-making relation. It features a relation of correspondence, yet it is that of depicting, between a meaningful sentence and its sense – a possible state of affairs. What makes for truth is not that relation, but the obtaining of the depicted state of affairs. This does not disqualify the Tractatus from holding a correspondence theory, however, since the correspondence theories of Moore and Russell are committed to a similar position. Alternatively, the obtainment theory can be seen as a synthesis of correspondence, semantic and deflationary approaches. It does justice to the idea that what is true depends solely on what is the case, and it combines a semantic explanation of the relation between a sentence and what it says with a deflationary account of the agreement between what the sentence says and what obtains or is the case if it is true.
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