[hist-analytic] Deflationary Truth and Syncategoremata

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Fri Dec 24 07:52:40 EST 2010

"So, if truth resides outside us as a property of reality then deflation cannot hold..." 

Yes, this is an often stated view. The issue becomes one of realism vs. verificationism, at some point. If deflation holds then the correspondence theory of truth may be in trouble. But not everyone is a realist...so the debate goes on. Many, e.g. N. Goodman, deny there is a reality. The "reality" depends on your "model." Roger might agree. Don't know. 

The issue of syncategoremata is a syntactical one, seldom semantical. Since the idea came up in Occam some years ago, the idea has been (Quine) that whether a word has a meaning in isolation depends on its syntactical position. In other words, where in our example 'poor' occurs in syncategorematic position it contributes no independent meaning. In fact the radical view is that it is to be viewed as a string of letters arranged by concatenation and nothing else. So 'poor' in 'poor violinist' when it occurs syncategorematically has NO meaning. I think this is basically right, but the concept was used to excess; a worn out toy, so to speak. Like dispositions, in my opinion. 


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Landspeedrecord" <landspeedrecord at gmail.com> 
To: Baynesr at comcast.net 
Cc: hist-analytic at simplelists.co.uk 
Sent: Thursday, December 23, 2010 7:49:55 PM 
Subject: Re: Deflationary Truth and Syncategoremata 

I wasn't saying your remarks were senseless! I was saying that deflationary theories of truth literally have no sense to me in that there is no conceptual framework I can wrap my brain around that does not substitute the idea of deflation with that of suspension. In other words, the only way I can make sense of deflationary theories is to think of them as being "suspensionary" theories of truth, in which case it all seems silly to me. Rather than challenging any notions, I was more admitting a SERIOUS cognitive gap on my part hoping that someone will clue me in on what I am not getting about deflationary theories of truth. 

As for the word 'poor', in my prior email I was always using it to mean 'lacking wealth', so if you reread my prior email with that in mind, perhaps you might get a different spin on what I was saying? But perhaps it is the other way around, perhaps I am misunderstanding you... I was also assuming you were not jumping between two different meanings of the word 'poor'. If you were, please let me know. I assumed you were always using it to mean impoverished. 

At any rate, I wasn't attempting to muddy things by playing on the ambiguity of the term 'poor'. So for instance, 'poor Arnold' is meant as 'Arnold lacks money', just as I took you to mean that 'poor violinist' meant 'there exists a person and this person plays the violin and also lacks money'. Lacking money isn't modifying the ability to play the violin and the ability to play the violin isn't modifying the lack of money - hence my comment about 'poor' and 'violinist' referring in parallel but not to each other. Whereas with 'poor person' the lack of money IS modifying the proxy placeholder that we cognitively create for the unspecified person, and unlike 'poor violinist' the modification is to a word within the sentence - via the proxy status of the word 'person'; contrast this with 'poor violinist' where the cognitive modification is to an object outside the sentence. I should mention that I am not speaking of things here grammatically, obviously in a grammatical sense the adjective 'poor' modifies the noun 'violinist'. To me, 'violinist' is really an adjective noun combination in disguise: Cognitively, it unpacks to something like 'violin-playing person'. 

'poor violinist' -> 'wealth-lacking violin-playing person' 
'poor person' = 'poor person'. In this case there is nothing to unpack as the cognitive proxy is already part of the sentence. 

Perhaps I am devolving into an implicit Russellian stance unknowingly here (the king of france is bald... etc...) but I don't think so. My point isn't that utterances need to be properly unpacked to determine truth values, what I was saying was that the analogy between 'poor violinist' and 'true sentence' was a poor one due to the implicit way that we treat descriptive nouns like 'violinist', and that if 'poor person' was used instead, then the comparison with 'true sentence' becomes more apt - 'sentence' and 'person' being closer in relation to one another in that they are empty cognitive vessels that we fill with specifics, whereas 'violinist' already comes with a specific attached. 

So... ''S' is true' says nothing more than merely asserting 'S'" - this is where I lose the deflationary viewpoint. The proposition 'S', until specifics are provided, is an empty cognitive placeholder. As such, one of the specifics that we can attach to 'S' is that it is true. This allows us to speak about the structure of 'S' before it is ever asserted/uttered/specified and as such there must be something going on which a deflationary theory cannot account for. Therefore it makes sense to view truth as a property of a proposition, at least relative to the knower. And if this stipulation is necessary to account for truth (as some may know 'S' is true and other may not even know what 'S' is, much less whether it is true or not) then truth must be an actual property of our relation to the proposition, and thus standing objectively OUTSIDE us, if not a property residing in the proposition itself. So, if truth resides outside us as a property of reality then deflation cannot hold, despite a deflationists appeal to the idea that the notion of deflation is not supposed to apply to "meta" propositions of the form ''S' is true'. 

I have a suspicion that I am entirely missing the intent of your initial post, if so, please set me straight! 

On Sun, Dec 12, 2010 at 2:41 PM, < Baynesr at comcast.net > wrote: 

Thanks, Landspeedrecord (?), whoever you are! Much appreciated. Let me just add a clarifying remark and a question or two. We can always go back to some of the details. First, on "syncategorematic." 

X can be a poor violinist without being poor; so Quine's thinking here is that 'x is a poor violinist' does not imply that 'x is poor' on the syncategorematic reading. However, on the categorical reading 'x is a poor violinist' implies that x is both poor and a violinist. He stands in front of the Harvard Coop playing Mozart for quarters. When I used 'modify' my intent was to restrict this to the case where 'poor' in 'poor violinist' modifies x; that is, attributes to the violinist the property of being poor (impoverished) although, maybe, a terrific violinist. My reading of 'poor violinist' on the syncategorematic reading is that 'poor' cannot stand alone as modifying that to which 'poor violinist' is attributed; whereas, in the categorematic reading 'poor' can stand alone to "modify" the "subject" viz. 'violinist', which in such cases can always stand alone. I can't get a sense of 'poor' in your example, 'poor Arnold', of the same sort that I can get in 'Arnold was a poor violinist'. 

My remarks on truth may be senseless. But I'm not sure that the deflationary theory is senseless. It is to say that ''S' is true' says nothing more than would an assertion of 'S'. Now I'm not prepared to either accept or reject this theory, but it does seem to me to make sense. 

Best wishes 


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Landspeedrecord" < landspeedrecord at gmail.com > 
To: Baynesr at comcast.net , hist-analytic at simplelists.co.uk 
Sent: Sunday, December 12, 2010 12:49:51 PM 
Subject: Re: Deflationary Truth and Syncategoremata 

I don't understand this. I don't understand deflationary theories of truth in general and this cuts nicely to the heart of the matter for me. 

'Poor', in the "syncategorematic" sense is modifying, not another word in the sentence but the referent. So is violinist. They refer in parallel to the referent but not to each other. 

On the other hand, 'poor Arnold' is different. Here 'Arnold' is a proxy/stand-in of the referent - and I am not speaking of rigid designation here. 'Arnold' stands FOR the (hypothetical) person who we refer to as "Arnold". So 'poor' IS modifying 'Arnold'. The property of being poor is added to the mental list (temporarily at least) we are keeping about the properties of 'Arnold'. This is particularly clear in the case where it is understood that there is NO person being referred to, where the name is just being used demonstratively, as it is by me in this case. 

So 'true sentence' is nothing like 'poor violinist' - a much better analogy is 'poor person' or 'poor human'. That is to say, poor is a putative property of the putative person, and true is a putative property of the putative sentence. Until the actual sentence is provided, then yes, in a trivial sense, the term 'truth' is just an emphatic declaration, truth has been deflated - but really what is going on is that truth isn't being deflated... it is being suspended - as is 'poor' when it modifies 'human' - once the referent is given the suspension is OVER. And hence deflation of truth is merely a disguised form of suspended/imaginary truth. 

And so deflationary theories make literally NO sense to me, as I can never get past this issue. 

On Fri, Dec 10, 2010 at 2:33 PM, < Baynesr at comcast.net > wrote: 

Recall Quine's example of syncategoremata: 

'poor violinist' 

Where 'poor' does not modify 'violinist', i.e. in the sense that the violinist may be wealthy. We 

may suppose 'poor violinist' is predicated of 'Jack'. 

Now consider 

'true sentence' 

where 'true' does not modify 'sentence', and where we suppose the true sentence is 'p' (cf. 


So we have it that we might assert ambiguously, either: 

'The violinist is poor' 

'The sentence is true' 

A deflationary theory of truth is consistent with the syncategorematic reading of 'true' in 

'true sentence'. We may assert 

'p is true 

and no more commit ourselves to property attribution that we do when predicating 'poor' of 

the 'violinist' when we say, 

The violinist is poor. 


STeve Bayne 

Pentabarf #5: A Discordian is Prohibited from Believing What he reads. 

Pentabarf #5: A Discordian is Prohibited from Believing What he reads. 
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