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Crivelli, Paolo. Aristotle on Truth.

CRIVELLI, Paolo. Aristotle on Truth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. 340 pp. Cloth, $85.00--Too often Aristotle's account of truth is summed up by repeating some variant of "to say of what is that it is and of what it is not that it is not, is to say the true; while to say of what is that it is not or of what is not that it is, is to say the false," and matters are left at that. Or worse still, it is simply described as a "correspondence theory." The importance of Paolo Crivelli's book is that it perspicuously fills in the blanks so that in its realm Aristotle's account can be seen as comparable to current truth-conditional compositional accounts like Tarski's and those deployed by figures such as Davidson. Crivelli's goals are to provide "a precise reconstruction of all of Aristotle's most significant views on truth and falsehood and to gain a philosophical understanding of them" (2. 39). He goes far toward attaining these ends. His approach consists of relating Aristotle's views to those at the forefront of contemporary discussions of similar topics and therewith adapting some of the most central themes of current philosophical logic and logical theory to explicate Aristotle on truth. One of these themes is the presentation of truth conditions for the various sorts of sentences dealt with by Aristotle and which still play a role on the present scene. In doing this he performs a valuable service to the scholarly community, allowing Aristotle scholars and others to apply seminal ideas from the Philosopher to topics in the history of philosophy, for example, the Terminist tradition, and to contemporary discussions. The book opens with an overview of Aristotle's theory of truth and is followed by material organized into three parts: (1) Bearers of Truth and Falsehood, (2) Empty Terms, (3) Truth and Time. These are followed by appendices which include translations of sections of the Metaphysics and discussions of many placed and of future-tense predication.

Part 1 examines the truth-vehicles Aristotle considered, indicating where these come closest to contemporary views, for example, sentences (utterances), thoughts (mental entities of a sort), and states of affairs. Crivelli also makes clear that Aristotle had additional truth-vehicles which are not part of contemporary discussions, and he explains their role in Aristotle. There are useful discussions of where Aristotle abandons bivalence and why. Part 1 also contains Crivelli's truth conditional account of Aristotle's theory. I take liberties here in summarizing it as follows. One can think of singular subject-copula-predicate assertoric categorical sentences in the present tense as the basic type to be evaluated as true or false. Unlike Tarskian and other contemporary approaches, the Aristotelian base clause contains subject-copula-traditional predicate sentences and not Fregean atomic predications. Another crucial difference from most current semantics is the importance of tense in the base clause. Current theories tend to be of tenseless Fregean predications. Then, as in contemporary semantics, other types of sentences are provided with apposite truth-conditions. So future-tense sentences, past-tense sentences, modal sentences, what are presently called truth-functional sentences, and to some extent the familiar A, E, I, and O form categoricals are explained along these lines. So in a sense the most significant truth condition is the one given for the abovementioned present-tense singular sentences.

This naturally leads to the part 2 discussions of the accuracy of portraying Aristotle's theory as a "correspondence theory," the liar's paradox, and the problem of empty terms. As for the latter, we are to some extent at a loss in discussing how Aristotle's theory of truth should deal with empty terms and in particular with empty singular names. There is only one example of an empty term in Aristotle. It is "goat-stag," and this is not much to go on. Moreover, unlike the singular term "Vulcan," and the general one "unicorn," which are simple/unstructured; "goatstag" seems to be complex or structured. Crivelli reports on Aristotle holding the view that an apparently singular sentence with such a term would not be treated as singular, but as involving separate sentences concerning goats and stags. Crivelli suggests that there are problems with this view. It strikes the present reviewer that the upshot of this specific historical investigation is that we need to look at later figures in the Aristotelian tradition for a systematic approach to empty names, for example, Ockham, Buridan, Leibniz, Kant, and Lesniewski. However, just as there is little consensus among current philosophers on the subject of empty names, we might not expect much among past figures.

Part 3 contains material on rime, change, and the famous determinism problem from the De Interpretatione. In appendix 6 there is a formal presentation, a rational reconstruction, employing predicate logic to interpret Aristotle's account of future-tense assertions.

In taking on the task of explaining Aristotle's views on truth using ideas from current philosophical logic, Crivelli has provided us with a much needed perspective. We now have a rigorously formulated, unified view of the referential semantics, the truth conditions, for Aristotle's own logical forms. By rendering Aristotle's accomplishments in terms of contemporary logical theory, Aristotle appears in a new light, in a present-day form with renewed significance.--Alex Orenstein, City University of New York.
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Author:Orenstein, Alex
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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