Truth and Contradiction
Priest (Graham)
Source: The Philosophical Quarterly (1950-), Vol. 50, No. 200 (Jul., 2000), pp. 305-319
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Dialetheists, such as myself, hold that some contradictions are true. The view is a contentious one, but producing cogent arguments against it is another matter. Some have felt that what makes the view untenable is something about the nature of truth itself. The point of this paper is to examine whether this is in fact the case.
  2. Characterizing contradictions is relatively easy: contradictories are any things of the form a and ~a. This definition hides a difficulty, though. What sort of things are we talking about here - sentences, statements, propositions, beliefs? This is a thorny issue. Fortunately, then, nothing much seems to turn on the niceties of the question for present purposes. I shall simply assume that a and its kin are truth-bearers, whatever those are required to be. I shall use angle brackets to refer to such bearers. Thus (a) is the name of the truth-bearer a. If we write T for 'is true', the question of whether there can be any true contradictions is that of whether there can be an a such that T(a) and T(~a).
  3. Characterizing truth is much harder. Indeed this is an old philosophical chestnut. There are, of course, many theories of truth. Each of them gives an account of the nature of the beast. What I shall do in this paper is look at a number of such theories to see whether there is anything in them inimical to dialetheism, that is, in favour of the law of non-contradiction. I should say straight away that one may certainly produce arguments for the law of non-contradiction which appeal to other considerations, but I shall not be concerned with these here. The question on the agenda is whether there is anything about the nature of truth that rules out dialetheism; and if there is, this should follow from a theory that spells out that nature.
  4. It would be impossible to look at all the theories of truth that have been given. I shall therefore restrict myself to the major ones. The traditional accounts are the correspondence, coherence and pragmatist theories of truth. More modern accounts include the deflationist, semantic and teleological accounts. It is these six theories that I shall discuss, starting with the newer ones. Naturally each of these accounts comes in different versions, sometimes very different versions; but in each case there is a main supporting idea, which different versions develop in different ways. Some of these ways may, in fact, build in the impossibility of true contradictions. But, I shall argue, in every case there is nothing about the idee maitresse that requires this; and if there are particular versions that render dialetheias impossible, there are, equally, versions that do not. Finally, I emphasize that I am not at all concerned here with evaluating any of these accounts of truth or determining which theory, if any, is correct. My concern is solely with the bearing of each of these theories on dialetheism.

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