Theism and Truthmaking

By | August 5, 2009

Trenton Merricks claims that truthmakers must be what truths are “about” in some unarticulated sense of “about”. He then argues against truthmaker-type principles by claiming that there are truths of various sorts for which his undefined aboutness criterion cannot be met.

In two of my last three posts I have criticized Merricks for leaving this vital piece of his argument undefined, and in my last post, I sought to rectify matters by presenting a criterion of aboutness for truthmakers:

A truth is “about” one of its truthmakers in the relevant sense if and only if (a) there exists something such that (b) full acquaintance with that thing and only that thing would enable one to know with certainty that the truth in question is true.

Now, I’m pretty sure that Merricks would reject my criterion, but until he shows me why its wrong I’m going to stick by it. What I want to argue in this post is that if one accepts my criterion of aboutness and if one accepts the necessary existence of an essentially omniscient God (as Merricks does), then Merricks’ main objection against truthmaker principles (that there are truths which are not about any truthmakers) fails. In particular, I consider negative existentials and truths about the past.

Negative Existentials
It is true that there are no hobbits. In virtue of what could this be true? Merricks considers the suggestion that the entire physical universe might make this true, but he argues against that suggestion. For one thing, it doesn’t suffice unless we posit a totality state of affairs, e.g., there being nothing more. Otherwise we could simply add a hobbit (and maybe a few other things) on top of the physical universe. But in that case the physical universe as it stands would not necessitate the truth of ‘there are no hobbits’ and so would not suffice to make it true. One wonders, though, what this totality state of affairs is supposed to consist in. It seems rather suspicious. Merrick’s chief objection, though, is simply to claim that ‘there are no hobbits’ is not relevantly about the physical universe.

I think Merrick’s is right that the physical universe by itself will not suffice without a totality state of affairs. And I agree that such a state of affairs looks unacceptably suspicious. But I don’t think he’s considered a plausible alternative truthmaker, one the existence of which he himself would seem to be committed to in virtue of being a theist, namely, God’s having a hobbit-free experience of creation. No extra totality state is needed here because God’s essential omniscience takes care of that. Nor could any theist reasonably dismiss this as unacceptably suspicious. And, moreover, by my aboutness criterion, this is a truthmaker for ‘there are no hobbits’ – thus, if we were fully acquainted with God’s experience of creation, we would be able to know with certainty that that proposition is true.

Truths about the Past
Merricks, like myself, is a presentist, someone who believes that only what exists now exists simpliciter. A common objection against presentism is that it lacks the resources to supply truthmakers for truths about the past. Merricks accepts the objection but denies its force. He claims that truths about the past aren’t relevantly about any presently existing things. And he argues that presentism is more plausible than any truthmaker principles, hence if the two conflict, it is the truthmaker principles that must go.

Against Merricks, I deny that there is any conflict between presentism and truthmaker principles. In a recently published paper, “Presentism, Truthmakers, and God” (available on my website), I argue in detail that God’s memories can supply truthmakers for truths about the past. Moreover, God’s memories satisfy my aboutness criterion – thus, if we were fully acquainted with God’s memories, we would be able to know with certainty that, say, ‘Caesar crossed the Rubicon’ is true.

I think similar options are available for the other alleged problem-cases that Merricks considers.

Moral: If you’re a theist, don’t bracket your theism when doing metaphysics. If God exists, he should be metaphysically relevant to (nearly) everything else.

9 thoughts on “Theism and Truthmaking

  1. David Gawthorne

    If individuating aboutness is a problem for truthbearers, can't you run a similar problem for the aboutness of God's mind? What is the truthmaker for the fact that God knows or experiencs the world as being hobbit-free as opposed to hobbit-filled?

  2. Alan Rhoda

    Hi David,

    I'm not sure I follow your questions.

    I take the basic test for truthmaker adequacy to be truthmaker necessitation, and nothing more. So if one can make out a good case that the existence of X suffices for the truth of p, and if one is willing to commit to X, then one has a solution to the truthmaker problem for p. Is it an overall acceptable solution? Well, that depends on whether X meets the rest of our metaphysical criteria.

    All I claim here is that an essentially omniscient God's having a hobbit-free experience would suffice to make it true that there are no hobbits. That seem hard to deny. If one is willing to accept the existence of such states of affairs, I don't see why one should continue to think that negative existentials pose a problem for the truthmaker thesis.

  3. David Gawthorne

    You do not seem to take into account how problematic it is for intentional states to be “about” non-existent things. Either, God's hobbit-free experience is about hobbits and you need to explain such an apparent relation to hobbits, or God's hobbit-free experience does not better than the hobbit-free world as the truth-maker for the proposition that there are no hobbits.

  4. Alan Rhoda

    Hi David,

    Well, it's not clear to me yet what the problem is with intentional states being “about” non-existent things. Fictional and imaginary constructs are legion. So in one sense at least it's obvious that we do think about non-existent things. And if we can do so, then why not God, who gave us our imaginative ability?

    I take fictional objects to be nothing more than concepts. Their being consists in their being thought by someone. If the intentional relation needs an intentional object as one of its relata, fine. But it doesn't have to be a concrete object. Nor does it have to be an independently existing Platonic universal. I'm a theistic conceptualist. All possibilia are conceptions in the mind of God. 'Hobbitness' is one of these.

  5. Anders Branderud

    The term “God's memories” implies that God is dependent of time. It is easy to prove that the Creator is independent of time.

    I think the formal logical proof for the existence of a Creator and His purpose found at (left menu) could interest the reader of this blog.

    Anders Branderud

  6. Alan Rhoda

    Dear Anders,

    Thank you for your comment. Might I ask that if it's so easy to prove that God is independent of time that you display the proof? I suspect that some of the premises your proof requires would beg the question against temporalist forms of theism.

    So far as I can see, appealing to God's memories does not imply that God is dependent on time in any sense that should be objectionable to theists. The dependence in question is merely logical, not metaphysical. Time, according to temporalist forms of theism, is not a subsisting thing or quasi-substance that God exists “in”. Rather, time is just change. Thus, “dependence” of God on time just amounts to the truism that God is temporal if and only if God changes (in some respects).

  7. Alan Rhoda

    Hi Anders,

    I perused the links you suggested, and I don't see that you've proven what you claim to have proven.

    All theists agree that God is the creator of all things other than God, but it is an open question whether spacetime is a “thing”. Substantivalists say yes; relationalists say no.

    As for time being purely physical, this begs the question against the theistic temporalist. Since God is non-physical, if temporalist theism is even possible, then time cannot be essentially and purely physical.

  8. Alan Rhoda


    Let me add some further clarification on the physicality of time thesis.

    Your argument assumes that the 't' variable in Einstein's equations refers to genuine metaphysical time. Since, according to such equations, 't' can be defined wholly in terms of other physical quantities like joules of energy and mass, you conclude that time is purely physical. But no theistic temporalist is going to concede you the initial assumption. They will reason that if God is temporal and non-physical, then time is not purely physical. Hence, the 't' variable in Einstein's equations must refer to something other than genuine time – 'empirical time', perhaps, but not metaphysical time.


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