Merricks on Truthmaking

By | July 1, 2009

I’ve recently been rereading Trenton Merrick’s book Truth and Ontology (Oxford, 2007) in which he argues against the substantive dependence of truth on being. Thus, he rejects theses like

  • TM – Every truth has a truthmaker, a parcel of reality the existence of which necessitates, and thereby grounds, that truth.
  • TSB – Truth supervenes on being. I.e., every possible difference in truth corresponds to a possible difference in reality (i.e., in what things exist and in what properties have and/or what relations they stand in), and vice-versa.
  • Correspondence theory of truth – A proposition (or truth-bearer) is true iff what it represents is the case (i.e., iff reality is as the proposition depicts).

Merricks’ strategy is to saddle the above theses with as much baggage as he can, thereby imposing steep restrictions on what an adequate theory of substantive dependence would have to look like, and then arguing that such theories fail to satisfy those restrictions.

His favorite restrictions are (1) that it is the purpose of theses like TM and TSB to “catch cheaters” by criticizing (a) those who fail to endorse an ontology robust enough to ground or necessitate the truths they feel free to invoke, and (b) those who try to discharge their grounding obligations by positing “suspicious” properties; and (2) that substantive grounds for truths must consists of what those truths are “about”, in some rather loosely defined sense of that term.

For example, Merricks argues (ch. 6) that presentism (the theory that whatever exists simpliciter exists now) is true, that it violates TM and TSB, and therefore, that TM and TSB should be rejected. While he discusses some attempts by presentists to satisfy the demands of TM and TSB, Merricks rejects these either because they trade in “suspicious” properties or because they violate the “aboutness” constraint.

I’m not persuaded by Merricks. In part, that’s because I think he’s wrong that a purpose of TM and TSB is to catch cheaters of the second sort, namely, those who invoke allegedly “suspicious” properties. (All things equal, we ought to try to avoid “suspicious” properties where possible, but it’s not TM and TSB’s job to say what those properties are.) Also, I don’t think he’s nearly clear enough on the relevant sense of “aboutness”. He admits it has something to do with “relevance”, but apart from a handful of examples that he claims to find intuitive, he nowhere defines the notion.

Still, it is a fair question what someone like myself who is partial to TM and TSB should say about the truthmakers or the supervenience base for various kinds of truths. In particular, necessary truths, general truths, modal truths, negative existentials, counterfactuals, and metaphysical theses like presentism, actualism, and nominalism have all been thought to raise serious problems for TM and TSB. In the next few posts, I’m going to look at some of these problem cases and argue that they are less worrisome for theists than they might be for those of different metaphysical persuasions.

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