Truthmaker theory

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Truthmaker theory is "the branch of metaphysics that explores the relationships between what is true and what exists." [1]


A truthmaker for a truthbearer is that entity in virtue of which the truthbearer is true. Philosophers have speculated on the question whether every truthbearer requires a truthmaker. Parmenides' classic claim that what does not exist cannot be thought about has been read as a claim that every truthbearer must have a truthmaker, since otherwise the truthbearer is not about anything. A falsemaker for a proposition is that existent reality in virtue of which that proposition is false, assuming it is false.

Parmenides Ancient Greek philosopher

Parmenides of Elea was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from Elea in Magna Graecia. Parmenides has been considered the founder of metaphysics or ontology and has influenced the whole history of Western philosophy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy, which also included Zeno of Elea and Melissus of Samos. Zeno's paradoxes of motion were to defend Parmenides' view.

In philosophy, a proposition is a tentative and conjectural relationship between constructs that is stated in a declarative form. An example of a proposition is: “An increase in student intelligence causes an increase in their academic achievement.” This declarative statement does not have to be true, but must be empirically testable using data, so that we can judge whether it is true or false. Propositions are generally derived based on deductive logic or empirical observation (induction). Because propositions are associations between abstract constructs, they cannot be tested directly. Instead, they are tested indirectly by examining the relationship between corresponding measures (variables) of those constructs. The empirical formulation of propositions, stated as relationships between variables, is called hypotheses. The term proposition has a broad use in contemporary analytic philosophy. It is used to refer to some or all of the following: the primary bearers of truth-value, the objects of belief and other "propositional attitudes", the referents of that-clauses, and the meanings of declarative sentences. Propositions are the sharable objects of attitudes and the primary bearers of truth and falsity. This stipulation rules out certain candidates for propositions, including thought- and utterance-tokens which are not sharable, and concrete events or facts, which cannot be false.


In "Truth-Makers" (1984), Kevin Mulligan, Peter Simons and Barry Smith introduced the truth-maker idea as a contribution to the correspondence theory of truth. Logically atomic empirical sentences such as "John kissed Mary" have truthmakers, typically events or tropes corresponding to the main verbs of the sentences in question. Mulligan et al. explore extensions of this idea to sentences of other sorts, but they do not embrace any position of truthmaker maximalism, according to which every truthbearer has a truthmaker.

Kevin Mulligan is a British philosopher, working on ontology, the philosophy of mind, and Austrian philosophy. He is currently Honorary Professor at the University of Geneva, Full Professor at the Università della Svizzera italiana, Director of Research at the Institute of Philosophy of Lugano, member of the Academia Europaea and of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters. He is also known for his work with Peter Simons and Barry Smith on metaphysics, Austrian and Polish philosophy.

Peter M. Simons, is a British philosopher and a retired professor of philosophy at Trinity College Dublin.

Barry Smith (academic) British ontologist

Barry Smith is an academic working in the fields of ontology and biomedical informatics. Smith is the author of more than 600 scientific publications, including 15 authored or edited books.

This maximalist position leads to philosophical difficulties, such as the question of what the truthmaker for an ethical, modal or mathematical truthbearer could be. Of course someone who is deeply enough committed to truthmakers and who simultaneously doubts that a truthmaker could be found for a certain kind of truthbearer will simply deny that that truthbearer could be true. Those who find the Parmenidean insight sufficiently compelling often take it to be a particularly enlightening metaphysical pursuit to search for truthmakers of these kinds of propositions.

Ethics branch of philosophy that systematizes, defends, and recommends concepts of right and wrong conduct

Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value, and thus comprises the branch of philosophy called axiology.

Modal logic is a type of formal logic primarily developed in the 1960s that extends classical propositional and predicate logic to include operators expressing modality. A modal—a word that expresses a modality—qualifies a statement. For example, the statement "John is happy" might be qualified by saying that John is usually happy, in which case the term "usually" is functioning as a modal. The traditional alethic modalities, or modalities of truth, include possibility, necessity, and impossibility. Other modalities that have been formalized in modal logic include temporal modalities, or modalities of time, deontic modalities, epistemic modalities, or modalities of knowledge and doxastic modalities, or modalities of belief.

Mathematics Field of study concerning quantity, patterns and change

Mathematics includes the study of such topics as quantity, structure, space, and change. It has no generally accepted definition.

Another difficulty for the claim that every truthbearer has a truthmaker is with negations of existential propositions (or, equivalently, universal propositions). What entity makes it true that unicorns do not exist? Proposals include the totality of all things, or some worldly state of affairs such as x1's not being a unicorn, x2's not being a unicorn, ..., and everything's being x1, or x2, or ... (the latter suggestion is due to Richard M. Gale).

David Lewis has proposed a more moderate version of the truthmaker theory on which truthmakers are only required for positive propositions (e.g., there must be a truthmaker for the proposition that there are horses, but not for the equally true proposition that there are no unicorns). What makes a negative proposition p true is the lack of a falsemaker for it, i.e., the lack of a truthmaker for the negation of p. Thus what makes it true that there are no unicorns is the lack of a truthmaker for the proposition that there are unicorns, i.e., the lack of unicorns. This may be what Protagoras was getting at when he said that to speak truly is to say of what is that it is and of what is not that it is not.

Protagoras pre-Socratic Greek philosopher

Protagoras was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. He is numbered as one of the sophists by Plato. In his dialogue Protagoras, Plato credits him with inventing the role of the professional sophist.

Truthmaker theorists differ as to what entities are the truthmakers of various truthbearers. Some say that the truthmaker of the proposition that Socrates is sitting (assuming he is) is Socrates' being seated (whatever exactly that might turn out to be on the correct ontology) and in general the truthmaker of the truthbearer expressed by a sentence s can be denoted by the participial nominalization of s. Others will say that the truthmaker of the proposition that Socrates is sitting is just Socrates himself. In any case, the truthmaker is supposed to be something concrete, and on the first view is that whose existence is reported by the truthbearer and on the second view is that which the truthbearer is about.

While the existence of truthmakers may seem an abstruse question, concrete instances are at the heart of a number of philosophical issues. Thus, J. L. Mackie has argued that the truthmakers of moral claims would be "queer entities", too strange to exist, and hence all moral claims are false. Alternatively, a divine command metaethicist may insist that the only possible candidate for a truthmaker of a moral claim is a command from a perfect God, and hence if moral claims are true and a truthmaker theory holds, then God exists. Thus the disagreement between various metaethical schools is in part a disagreement over what kinds of truthmakers moral claims would have if these claims were true and over whether such truthmakers exist.

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Metaphysics Branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of reality

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