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Aristotle on Truth (review)

From: Journal of the History of Philosophy
Volume 44, Number 3, July 2006
pp. 469-470 | 10.1353/hph.2006.0052

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Journal of the History of Philosophy 44.3 (2006) 469-470

Paolo Crivelli. Aristotle on Truth. Cambridge-New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. xi + 340. Cloth, $85.00.

A thorough contemporary study of Aristotle's theory of truth is welcome. Adopting a frankly analytic approach, Professor Crivelli addresses all of the most important Aristotelian texts on truth. He provides close and careful exegesis, attending to philological and interpretive difficulties related to the manuscripts and alternative translations. In the spirit of Hintikka, Łukasiewicz, and Mignucci, the tools of contemporary logical analysis are applied effectively and yield rigorous restatements of Aristotle's concepts and arguments. The most pressing questions about truth are posed. Crivelli scrutinizes prevailing interpretations, both traditional and contemporary, contrasts them with his own, and always maintains a fair and balanced dialectical stance. Where pertinent, he compares Aristotle's approach with contemporary alternatives. Anyone interested in Aristotle's theory of truth must read this book.

Crivelli divides the book into four parts. He provides an excellent detailed summary of his interpretation in the Introduction. In Part I, he presents the core of his interpretation of Aristotle's theory of truth. In Part II, he argues that Aristotle's account is a kind of "correspondence-as-isomorphism" theory, and he responds to the Liar paradox and to the problem of "empty" terms. In Part III, he considers two diachronic aspects of Aristotle's theory—change in truth value and the truth value of future tense assertions.

The book is rich in interpretation and argument. I shall limit myself here to a few salient points.

In Chapter 1, Crivelli argues that Aristotle posits three kinds of truth-bearers: linguistic expressions, beliefs, and objects. His discussion of linguistic expressions in terms of utterance tokens is sharp, though it is silent about written expression tokens. Although he does not dismiss the psychological dimension of Aristotle's semantic theory, Crivelli assumes that Aristotelian beliefs and thoughts are well enough understood as analogous to linguistic truth bearers, ignoring altogether the role of phantasia in Aristotle's semantic theory. Given the importance of representational thought in Aristotle's semantic theory and the wealth of relevant texts, this is disappointing.

The chief problem in Chapter 1, however, is Crivelli's proposed ontological scheme. Among objects, in addition to simple immaterial and composite material substances, Crivelli argues that Aristotle posits composite "states-of-affairs" that bear truth and falsehood, exhibit modal properties, and serve as objects of propositional attitudes. He relies on Metaphysics 10.29, 1024b1721 and 10.10, 1051a341051b17 for this claim, and it is the weakest point in the book. Crivelli's abstract, propositionally-structured states-of-affairs do not resemble any of the familiar denizens of Aristotle's ontology, and the textual evidence he offers is insufficient, leaving it unclear how they would fit into Aristotle's general semantic theory. Clearly, they generate difficulties for an Aristotelian account of propositional attitudes.

In Chapters 2 and 3, Crivelli presents the core of his interpretation of Aristotle's theory of truth—the truth conditions for assertions and beliefs. Crivelli's proposed analyses are dense but carefully wrought. The related Appendices 35 are very helpful, especially Appendix 5 which provides a formal presentation of a principle part of the theory.

In Chapter 4, Crivelli argues that Aristotle's account is a correspondence-as-isomorphism theory of truth for assertions and beliefs. The resulting interpretation establishes a clear sense in which assertions and beliefs "correspond" to reality. Crivelli then proposes a solution to the Liar paradox based on a shrewd reading of Sophistici Elenchi 25, 180a34180b7 that turns on a principled rejection of the Principle of Bivalence. While leaving Aristotle vulnerable to the Strengthened Liar, it is clear that Aristotle has resources from which to draw in responding to alethic paradox.

In Chapter 5, Crivelli confronts the notorious problem of "vacuous" and "empty" terms. Such terms signify nothing, on Crivelli's interpretation, and simple assertions involving vacuous and empty terms turn out to be disguised composite assertions.

According to Aristotle, utterances can be true at one time and false at...

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