FOM: truth and Aristotle

William Tait wwtx at
Thu Mar 7 11:26:25 EST 2002

On Monday, March 4, 2002, at 04:14 PM, Kanovei wrote

> May I ask you, ``true'' in the last line, means true by nature
> or should be considered as true in relation to us even if the
> Aristotle had not actually written it?

in response to my posting (March 4):

> I quoted (or paraphrased) Aristotle [...]
> ``Things are two ways; for it is not the same
> to be prior by nature and prior in relation to us...'' [...]
> For, even if Aristotle or Frege had not written it,
> it is nevertheless true.

I don't understand the distinction between `true by nature' and `true in 
relation to us', unless the latter refers simply to what we believe. 
There have been---and are---philosophers who have held relativist views 
of truth, but for them, truth is always `truth in relation to us': there 
is no `truth by nature'. Is this the view that Kanovei is suggesting?

But perhaps he is calling into question Aristotle's and Frege's 
distintion. (It was the `truth' of that distinction that I was 
affirming.) But there is a well-established conception of foundations 
(i.e. use for the word `foundations') in which the primary truths, i.e. 
what is prior, are (roughly) the axioms. In this sense (to use an 
example that Frege would have despised), Dedekind's characterization of 
a simple infinity, expressed as an axiom system, is a foundation for 
number theory. But clearly, speaking individually or collectively, these 
axioms are not what we first knew about numbers---what were `prior in 
relation to us'.

Nevertheless, I should apologize to Richard Heck for criticizing him on 
the basis of someone else's description of what he wrote. Richard has 
noted in a private posting that he did take the distinction in question 
into account in his paper.
On March 5, Dean Bruckner wrote

> Extraordinary that 400 years after the reverence for Aristotle "by which
> men's understanding was strangled in early years" was finally 
> overthrown, it
> is still enough to say "Aristotle hath said it".  As for Frege: "what is
> long established has great power over the minds of men".  The beauty of
> Frege, though, is that he rarely seeks the authority of earlier 
> writers, he
> relies on his own arguments of great power and simplicity.
> I don't see any arguments in these e-mails.  Heck's paper contains some
> ingenious insight and above all some powerful arguments about how we can
> learn from the way very young children understand the world.  No one 
> seems
> concerned to address these.  They cite Aristotle or Frege instead.

To cite others for a statement of a view that one holds is not to give 
arguments from authority; it is to give those others credit for first 
stating the view---a practice not sufficiently followed in contemporary 
philosophy. I mentioned Aristotle in response to Neil Tennant's posting, 
because Aristotle first stated the point explicitly (as far as I know: 
it is implicit in Plato). I did not (and still do not) think there could 
be serious disagreement with the distinction itself that Frege and 
Aristotle drew.

I feel a bit unhappy to have it thought that I would hold a view on the 
authority of either Aristotle or Frege.


Bill Tait

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