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(2014) Mind, values, and metaphysics II, Dordrecht, Springer.

On liars, "liars" and harmless self-reference

Wolfgang Künne

pp. 355-429

The topics of this chapter are (1) the history of a mislabelled antinomy and of a pseudo-paradox and (2) some logico-semantical peculiarities of self-referential sentences that do not give rise to a paradox. My points of departure will be Bernard Bolzano's discussions of a plain fallacy he called The Liar and of an antinomy that we unfortunately got used to calling The Liar. He found a pointer to the fallacy in Aristotle's ">Sophistical Refutations. In a logic manual of the early renaissance, he came across a source of the antinomy in the form of a sentence that declares itself to be false. In Sect. 24.1, I shall praise Bolzano's reaction to the fallacy and discuss his analysis of the concept of lying. I will present some ancient expositions of the antinomy and go on to criticize, along Moorean lines, Russell's rather sloppy account. Finally, I will defend the author of the "Letter to Titus' against the charge of being paradox-blind when he invoked a Cretan denigrator of all Cretans. (Some twentieth century logicians and analytic philosophers are the villains of this part of my chapter: I shall criticize their carelessness with respect to a well-entrenched concept, and I shall complain that they keep on alluding to ancient texts without bothering to read them closely.) In Sect. 24.2, I shall reconstruct Girolamo Savonarola's excellent exposition of the antinomy, examine Bolzano's criticism of the Florentine diagnosis and reject his own attempt to defuse the paradox. (I shall not try to improve on his attempt.) In this context, Bolzano makes a point concerning self-referential sentences that is not affected by the failure of his alleged dissolution of the antinomy. He rightly takes it to be a matter of course that there are ever so many harmlessly self-referential sentences. But he shows that some care is needed when one wants to formulate their negation. In Sect. 24.3, I will expound this point. It turns out that similar problems arise when one uses harmlessly self-referential sentences in deductive arguments. Such sentences also enforce a revision of certain intuitively plausible constraints on translation.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-05146-8_24

Full citation:

Künne, W. (2014)., On liars, "liars" and harmless self-reference, in A. Reboul (ed.), Mind, values, and metaphysics II, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 355-429.

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