Truth supervenes on being
September 20, 2007 — 13:16

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Concept of God  Comments: 20

The thesis that truth supervenes on being is that any two possible worlds that differ in the truth-value of a proposition also differ in whether some entity exists or not.

Truth supervenes on being if and only if contingent truth supervenes on being.  (Necessary truths trivially supervene on everything.)

A theistic argument for contingent truth supervening on being:  If p is a contingent truth that does not supervene on being, then no one can have brought it about that p.  For how can someone make such a p be true?  One’s making something contingently be thus-and-so is a matter of causing and/or refraining from causing (I make an egg be hardboiled by causing it to heat up;  I make it be spoiled by leaving it alone).  Causation is a relation.  Relations hold only between entities.  So, any contingent truths that are brought about by someone must supervene on being.  The same is true for contingent truths that are brought about by something.  Ergo, if there is a contingent truth that does not supervene on being, it is ultimately lacking in explanation (it might have a constitutive explanation, but that has to stop somewhere, and it can’t stop at being/non-being, so the problem remains).  And it is contrary to divine sovereignty that there be contingent truths that are not caused to be such, at least indeterministically, by God.  (The latter consideration entails that Molinism is false.)  So, contingent truth supervenes on being, because God is the first cause (even if indeterministically) of all contingent truth.

  • john a

    You write, “And it is contrary to divine sovereignty….” How do you get divine sovereignty into your overall argument? Why not an infinite regress of contingent facts with each fact being explained by a previous fact? I know that this is seen by many to be untidy, but that does not make it implausible. Also is there an unjustifed eqivocation in your use of ‘being’ and ‘entity?’ I agree that every being is an entity, but is every entity a being or are you using ‘being’ simply to refer to a thing that exists? A tree falling in the forest and killing a deer does not seem to refer to any being (ok, maybe the deer is a being) only entities. In this case the contingent truth of the tree killing the deer would not supervene on a being if the tree is not a being.
    Interesting argument though.

    September 20, 2007 — 14:37
  • tim pawl

    Consider two worlds, W and V. Each world has all and only the same two contingent beings in it: me and a coin (and whatever makes us up, if such there be).
    Suppose both worlds to be indeterministic. I flip the coin in each world. In W it comes up heads, in V it comes up tails. So, in W, it is true that the coin came up heads, and in V, it is true that the coin came up tails. So, there must be an entity that exists in W and not in V (to make it true that the coin came up heads), and another that exists in V and not in W (to make it true that the coin came up tails). But what are these things?
    They can’t be necessary, or they would exist in both worlds, thus making both propositions true in each world (and that’s impossible).
    So, the beings are contingent. But I supposed that the only contingent beings were me and the coin (and the things that make us up, if such there be). Since those things exist in both V and W, they can’t do the work of making true the heads proposition but not the tails proposition either. My powers (and God’s) are the same in both worlds as well, so they can’t do the trick either.
    It looks to me that we would have to say that it is impossible for there to be a world (or two worlds) where the only contingent things are Tim and a coin (and whatever makes us up, if such there be). But I don’t see why such worlds must be impossible.
    Perhaps you would want (Armstrongian) states of affairs? That would do the trick, but it would, again, mean that a world where the only contingent things are me and a coin is impossible.

    September 20, 2007 — 14:48
  • Tim:
    Yes, Truth Supervenes on Being commits one to the existence of something like accidents, tropes, property instances, instantiatings, participatings, relatings, vel cetera. Presumably these will have to ensure for the difference between heads being up and heads being down.
    I am assuming God exists and is sovereign.

    September 20, 2007 — 17:08
  • tim pawl

    I see. So in W when I flip the coin and it lands heads, the coin gains a new trope (say), the trope of being heads up. Is that the sort of thing you have in mind?
    How about this. It is possible that God not create anything at all. Call the world that contains only God (and whatever else necessarily exists, if such things there be) W. In W, it is true that no contingent beings exist. That truth is contingent, so it must have a truthmaker (by Truth Supervenes on Being).
    But what is it in W that makes it true that no contingent beings exist. It can’t be anything contingent! But if it is something necessary, then it exists in this world as well. One necessary condition for any viable truthmaker theory is that the truthmaker necessitates the truth–that is, if T makes P true, then in any world where T exists, P is true. But then whatever necessary thing we point at in W that makes it true that there are no contingent beings will also make it true in the actual world that there are no contingent beings (by truthmaker necessitation). But, of course, it is not true in the actual world that no contingent beings exist! So, something has gone awry.

    September 20, 2007 — 17:38
  • jon kvanvig

    Tim, Alex can defend his own claims just fine, but the truthmaker theory is stronger than the supervenience claim.
    But I’m still unpersuaded by
    this inference:
    “Causation is a relation. Relations hold only between entities. So, any contingent truths that are brought about by someone must supervene on being.”
    The premises imply that if p is true and is caused to be true, then something exists that did the causing. So truth implies the existence of some being. But that isn’t the supervenience claim, and I don’t see why it entails it if it does.

    September 20, 2007 — 19:46
  • Hi Tim,
    What if one adopted a view like that of Plantinga, namely, that of holding states of affairs to be abstract entities which exist necessarily but obtain contingently? If a proposition p asserts that a state of affairs S obtains, then S will make p true only if it obtains. So in a possible world where there are no contingently existing entities, the state of affairs “nothing’s being contingently existent” (or if you prefer, “everything’s being necessarily existent”) will serve as the truthmaker for the claim that nothing contingent exists, but it will do so in virtue of its obtaining, and not merely in virtue of its existence. In this way we can accept the claim that there is a world where nothing contingent exists without being forced to reject the claim that all truths have truthmakers.

    September 20, 2007 — 19:55
  • Dear Jon:
    What I was thinking is this: Not only the cause, but also the effect, must be something. And the latter something, the effect, is presumably what p supervenes on (unless p supervenes not on the effect, but on the effect’s being related to the cause; hmm, I don’t know what to do about that).

    September 20, 2007 — 20:55
  • jon kvanvig

    So, suppose we go with the event in question. The event is a thing, and it is somehow in virtue of the existence of the event that the contingent truth is true. Well, if the event is a truthmaker, then we can derive supervenience from that claim. But if it isn’t a truthmaker, then it’s not clear that supervenience holds. So maybe what you really want is the truthmaker account of supervenience to be the assumption here? If so, Tim, I take it back: your worry is on target.

    September 21, 2007 — 10:14
  • Tim – I don’t see how your example of W, where only necessary beings exist, and W+1, where necessary beings and (at least one) contingent beings exist is a counter-example to Alex’s supervenience thesis. According to the thesis, any difference between what is true at W and W+1 must be explained by a difference in what entities exist in each world. At least one contingent being, 1, exists in W+1 and does not exist in W, and this difference in entities explains the fact that ‘Only necessary beings exist’ is true in W and not in W+1.
    On Armstrong’s theory of truth-makers, the truth-maker for ‘Only necessary beings exist’ at W is a general fact, the fact that the necessary beings totalize existing beings at W. I don’t know whether that is what Alex has in mind, since there are other ways to handle that.
    Alex – for what it’s worth, my own view is that truths of mathematics depend on nothing: they don’t require any truth-makers at all. However, that is another story …

    September 21, 2007 — 10:32
  • How about this as a global argument: If two worlds differ in respect of some fact, then they must differ in respect of some instance of causation (by divine sovereignty). But could two worlds differ in respect of some instance of causation without differing in respect of some event (say, having a different effect)? If not, we get supervenience.
    And “not” seems the right answer. One argument: What the cause of an event is an essential property of that event. (Yes, this is controversial, but it seems true to me.) Suppose that F causes E in w1. If F does not cause E in w2, then E does not exist in w1, since the cause of an event is an essential property of that event. Hence, the worlds differ in respect of the existence of E.
    But maybe there is a subtler way in which two worlds could differ in respect of an instance of causation. Maybe F causes E in w1 and F causes E in w2, but the causing is somehow different. But how could F cause E differently? Well, one way would be through a different chain of intermediate events. But then the worlds will differ in respect of some event. The other way would be that in w1, a different exercise of F’s causal capacities gives rise to E than in w2. But an exercise of causal capacities seems to be an event. So there is an event in one world that is not in the other, again. Besides, it is plausible that just as F’s being the cause of E is an essential property of E, so the manner in which F causes E is an essential property of E.
    OK, now on to Jon’s specific criticism. I am arguing that Truth Supervenes on Being. Thus, I allow that some things hold not because something exists, but because something doesn’t exist–not because there is a truthmaker, but because there is no falsemaker. (This is Aristotle’s theory, arguably, when he says that to say something true is to say of what is that it is and of what is not that it is not.) And of course it could be a combination of these.

    September 21, 2007 — 11:52
  • Ben:
    As long as you don’t think mathematical truths are contingent, the view that nothing makes mathematical truths true is compatible with Truth Supervenes on Being. A necessary truth supervenes on any set of propositions you may care to name. (This makes me think that I wrongly called Truth Supervenes on Being “Aristotle’s theory”. Aristotle’s theory says something stronger than just supervenience.)
    By the way, here’s an unsound argument for Truth Supervenes on Being. Suppose for every proposition p that God believes, there is a distinct entity, God’s believing p. (This premise is false, because God is simple.) God is omniscient. Hence, any two worlds that differ in respect of some fact differ in respect of the existence of some divine belief. Hence truth supervenes on being.

    September 21, 2007 — 11:59
  • jon kvanvig

    Alex, I think the principle about causation is false, at least if we are reasonably coarse-grained about events (so that e’s occurring is the same event as e’s occurring as the result of a particular causal chain, when in fact e is that result). Then first specify all the events. Then construct two worlds where the causal pathways differ between the two worlds. Then the events will have different properties in the two worlds, but all the events will be the same.
    So I think you want fine-grained events here?

    September 21, 2007 — 12:51
  • tim pawl

    That’s a good point. I wonder, though, whether the obtaining of the state of affairs that there are no contingent beings is itself an event (or some other sort of thing). If it were an event, it would be a contingent event. If it is a contingent event, it can’t exist in that world (since it is true in that world that there are no contingent beings).
    I guess one would have to say that the obtaining isn’t a thing in any right, or it is a necessary thing. Since it surely isn’t a necessary thing, it must just not be anything. I do take the point though, if the obtaining of a state of affairs doesn’t add anything to one’s ontology, then one can use such a “thing” as the truthmaker in W for the truth that there are no contingent beings.
    You are right; I was misreading Alex’s view as a stronger view that each truth needs a truthmaker in the world in which it is true. In that case, there would be problems.
    I don’t agree with your claims about Armstrong, though. Armstrong doesn’t think there are necessary things (see his chapter on necessary truths in his truthmakers book, I don’t have it on hand). That general fact that you mention — the fact that necessary beings totalize existing beings– is itself a contingent fact (Armstrong would call it a state of affairs, I’d think).
    I think Armstrong sets himself up for problems in affirming that every truth in W needs a truthmaker in W, and that it is possible that there be nothing at all. for suppose that V is the world where there is nothing at all. What makes it true that there is nothing at all? Surely not nothing (given truthmaker maximalism). Surely not something (Given that nothing exists there).

    September 21, 2007 — 13:38
  • Jon:
    Actually, I think the individuation claim is true for coarse-grained events. (If anything, it is less obviously true for fine-grained ones.)
    Why do I think the individuation claim is true? Well, if space is relational (which I think it is), then Kripke’s lectern argument shows that the identity of the immediate cause of the event. Let me try. Take a world w0 where some object (substance or event) A causes an event E at t0. Let w1 be a world where E occurs at t0 but is not caused by A. Let’s say, E is caused by B at w1 at t1 (probably one will insist that t0=t1). Now take a world w2 where an event E1 that is qualitatively just like E is in in w0 caused by A at t0 in exactly the way in which E was caused by A in w0, and where a distinct event E2 that is qualitatively just like E is in w1 is caused by B just like E is caused by B in w1. It seems that E1 is identical with E-in-w0, and E2 is identical with E-in-w1. But E-in-w0 = E-in-w1. So, E1 = E2. But two distinct events cannot be identical, so this is absurd.
    The main competitor to the view that the cause of a coarse grained event is essential to the event is the views of those folks who think that events are individuated by their spatiotemporal position together with their qualitative feature. If E is an explosion, any explosion at the same time and place that internally was just like E (same intensity, same color, same directionality) would be identical with E.
    But this view is very implausible if space is relational.
    Moreover, such an account of events makes it impossible for two qualitatively identical events to take place at the same place at the same time. But two qualitatively identical events could take place at the same place at the same time–for instance, two ghosts could each scratch their heads at the same place at the same time.
    By the way, what I think would be a really exciting response to my argument would be this. There are interesting views on which causation is a ternary or quaternary relation. But what would be neat is if it turned out that sometimes an instance causation would be unary. Thus, x could cause it to be the case that p, but x’s causing wouldn’t be a relation between x and any other entity.

    September 21, 2007 — 14:45
  • Tim,
    Thanks for your reply. I agree that the “obtaining” of S is not some new thing, I think it should be understood in terms of S exemplifing properties which it does not exemplify in worlds where it does not obtain. I discussed this issue on my own blog a little while ago, so if you’ll allow me to quote myself:
    “If there are at least two possible worlds which are exactly alike with respect to what exists in them, but which differ in respect to which objects exemplify which properties, these differences cannot be accounted for in terms of there being truthmakers which exist in one world but not in another. In such a scenario, what is the case is underdetermined by what exists. Existential propositions will have truthmakers, but we must look elsewhere for the truthmakers of non-existential ones.
    […]As a first pass, we can say that it is the obtaining of a state of affairs which is the truthmaker for a non-existential proposition.
    The above, however, is not quite right. As far as I can tell, a given state of affairs S and the state of affairs “S’s obtaining” are one and the same state of affairs. Thus, if p is a proposition which asserts that S obtains, the truthmaker for p is S itself, otherwise p would have no truthmaker at all. S will no doubt have different properties in those worlds in which it obtains than it has in those worlds in which it does not obtain, but the worlds in which it obtains have no additional existents which could serve as truthmakers for p only in those worlds.[…] In consequence of this, S is the truthmaker for p whether S obtains or not. What we ought to say then, on this account, is that a truthmaker for a non-existential proposition p, in spite of its name, only makes p true if it obtains. Its bare existence is not enough.”
    I guess this commits me to reject (one interpretation of) the principle that truthmakers necessitate truth. It may seem counterintuitive, but I think it’s worth the price.

    September 21, 2007 — 16:17
  • Tim – as a matter of fact, I’m slightly more than halfway through reading ‘Truth and Truth-makers’ right now. As you point out, Armstrong doesn’t believe in necessary objects. What I should have said was that someone who does believe in necessary objects could make use of his totalizing relationship in this context.
    Alexander – my theory is that even if there were no propositions, still it would be true that if I had two unicorns in my attic and two unicorns in my cellar, I’d have four unicorns in my house. (The counterfactual is true even if neither me, nor unicorns nor propositions exist). This relies on the idea that propositions can be true of a world, even if they are not true in that world, because it is a world where nothing, not even propositions exist. I am not supposing that a world where nothing exists is possible; this arose out of a theory about counterfactuals with impossible antecedents. (I was reflecting on Copan and Craig’s ‘Creation Out Of Nothing’). In that case, mathematical truths are true of situations where propositions exist and where propositions don’t exist. Wouldn’t that go against the supervenience thesis?

    September 22, 2007 — 9:50
  • Douwe

    Alex: “I am assuming God exists and is sovereign.”
    How can you possibly do this? If you want to be a philosopher, this is not possible. If you don’t want to be a philosopher, but just some Christian guy trying to make a point in favor of his God, be my guest, but then don’t meddle in philosophy.
    Or, don’t call it philosophy, but theology. No real philosopher would accept any axioma claiming sovereignity to a god, any theologist would.

    September 25, 2007 — 11:35
  • I am more interested in getting to the truth than in getting to the truth through the methods of one particular discipline or another. If I want to get to the truth, I should make use of everything I know, be it through philosophical, or theological, or mathematical, or scientific means.
    Besides, it’s a standard method of proceeding in philosophy to start from a belief that one thinks one has already established elsewhere, and to go on from there. A myriad of papers in philosophy and science begin by assuming some particular theory that they do not argue for in that paper (e.g., naturalism, or Relativity Theory, or evolution, or…), and then proceed to look at further implications. If each paper had to start at the beginning, we’d rarely get anywhere interesting.

    September 25, 2007 — 12:20
  • Douwe, I find it hard to call it meddling in philosophy when someone earns a Ph.D. and proceeds through several jobs to end up with a tenured position at a major university. Alex has had tenured positions at two major universities, in fact.
    He is right, of course, that much of philosophy explores the implications of certain claims or sets of claims. There’s no good reason to take the claim that God exists as somehow exempt from this.
    As for the difference between philosophy and theology, it’s a false dilemma. There’s a branch of philosophy of religion called philosophical theology, and that’s exactly what Alex is engaging in here. It’s quite distinct from biblical theology or systematic theology, which usually take their start from a scriptural text.

    September 25, 2007 — 19:15
  • Douwe does raise an important question about reasonable assumptions in philosophical arguments. Obviously, reasonable assumptions depend on context: if we are worried about arguments for God’s existence, then it is not reasonable to simply assume that God exists. It also depends on the interlocuters you want to engage. If you want to speak to the converted about other commitments entailed by God’s existence, then sure, make the God assumption.
    But some of us believe that, if God exists, then the arguments for/against theism are bound to favor theism without having to baldly assume theism. That is, if God does exist, then it must be true that the best explanation for the existence of evil (and so on) are those which include the fact of God’s existence. There simply has to be some error in atheistic explanations. So theists should not fear playing on an even field where they do not begin with what they are sure is true–viz., that God exists.
    There is of course yet another hand. On that hand, as Plantinga emphasizes, theists do have to move past the endless insistence on further proof. Interesting lines of inquiry in other disciplines–theistic psychology, say, or theistic anthropology–do include tracing out the implications of theism in these areas.

    September 25, 2007 — 21:10