Deflationism and the Gödel Phenomena: Reply to Ketland Neil Tennant

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1 Deflationism and the Gödel Phenomena: Reply to Ketland Neil Tennant I am not a deflationist. I believe that truth and falsity are substantial. The truth of a proposition consists in its having a constructive proof, or truthmaker. The falsity of a proposition consists in its having a constructive disproof, or falsitymaker. Such proofs and disproofs will need to be given modulo acceptable premisses. The choice of these premisses will depend on the discourse in question. In the case of an arithmetical proposition, a truthmaker would be an intuitionistic proof from acceptable first principles, or axioms; and a falsitymaker would be an intuitionistic disproof from the same. For many an arithmetical proposition, one is not at present in possession of either a proof or a disproof of indeed, one is not possessed of any effective method that one knows will eventually produce either a proof or a disproof of. 1 That, says the intuitionist, is why one should refrain from asserting!. In my paper Deflationism and the Gödel Phenomena, I was not wearing the hat of an anti-realist committed to a substantial notion of truth. Rather, I was playing devil s advocate. The devil an unwitting client, for whom I was appearing pro bono was the deflationist. I was seeking to show that a certain argument appealing to the orthodox treatment of Gödel sentences in arithmetic did not count against deflationism about truth. Other writers, such as Shapiro and Ketland, had claimed that deflationism about truth could be discredited by consideration of the special status of independent Gödel sentences. Ketland, in particular, had written (1999, p. 88) 1 This weak statement is all that one needs in this context. But of course we can make a stronger statement. We know (by Church s Thesis) that, for sufficiently powerful and consistent systems S of arithmetic, there is no effective method that will, for any given arithmetical sentence, eventually produce either a proof or a disproof of. Mind, Vol January 2005 doi: /mind/fzi089 Tennant 2005

2 90 Neil Tennant our ability to recognize the truth of Gödel sentences involves a theory of truth (Tarski s) which significantly transcends the deflationary theories. (Emphasis in the original.) I was concerned simply to point out that Shapiro and Ketland were perhaps entering an over-hasty judgement against the deflationist. I showed that there were deflationarily licit ways of arriving at the conviction that one should assert a Gödel sentence rather than deny it. Ketland s main charge is now that I am guilty of theft over honest toil, because I simply assume certain reflection principles, allegedly without any justification. So I need to say something in order to convince the reader that adopting reflection principles, without any supposedly justificatory detour through theorizing about truth, is not wholly unjustified and unmotivated. The dispute turns on how we, as users of a current axiomatic system S of formal arithmetic (which we hope and trust is consistent, but which of course will then be incomplete) come to see the truth of any independent Gödel sentence for S. One comes to see the truth of a mathematical claim by proving it mathematically, from acceptable principles, and not necessarily by theorizing about truth. Why, the deflationist will want to know, should matters be any different with a Gödel sentence? Given a Gödel sentence independent of S, we have, by definition (assuming S is consistent), There is no S-proof of and (assuming S is 1-consistent) There is no S-disproof of. We know, however, that S (like any other axiomatic system) cannot be the last word in the codification of our intuitions concerning licit methods for forming proofs and disproofs. So we seek a natural extension of S that will be stronger but still licit, and which will be able to settle the question whether. It is well known that there is a proof, in primitive recursive arithmetic (PRA), of the Gödel sentence itself from Con S. (Indeed, even weaker systems than PRA will suffice for such a proof.) So whether one has Con S by outright axiomatic stipulation, or as the conclusion of some yet further argument, one will be able to append that proof of the Gödel sentence from Con S, and a proof of would be completed. The time-honoured mathematicians way of extending any system S has been to adopt as a new axiom the consistency statement Con S for S. That then secures the Gödel sentence as a new theorem.

4 92 Neil Tennant primitive recursive arithmetic. That is to say, any provable claim of the form Prov S ( ) can be proved in PRA. The deflationist s soundness principle, however, is stronger than what is needed for a proof of the Gödel sentence for S. He can get by with something a lot weaker. Much more austere would be to adopt all instances of the following schematic principle of uniform primitive recursive reflection, in which, note, the conditional is dominant: n Prov S ( (n) ) t m (m), where is primitive recursive. It turns out that adding to S the schema of uniform primitive recursive reflection for S produces exactly the system (S+Con S ). This is the weakest extension of S affording a proof of the Gödel sentence for S. There is no truck here with a substantial notion of truth. All one is doing here is applying the reflective thought involved in the soundness principle, but now within the scope of a universal numerical quantifier, and confined to complex predicates within which there are no unbounded numerical quantifications. It is surely a very modest way of expressing one s confidence in the resources of the system S for providing proofs of one s assertions. There is only reflection on one s present axiomatic and deductive commitments, and an attempt to articulate the systematic upshot of these commitments, by framing the rather weak-looking reflection principle just given. The truth-predicate does not even feature in these reflections. Instead, one has found a nontruth-theoretic way of expressing one s commitment to stand by one s earlier methods for justifying one s assertions. No further justification is needed for the new commitment made by expressing one s earlier commitments. As soon as one appreciates the process of reflection, and how its outcome is expressed by the reflection principle, one already has an explanation of why someone who accepts S should also accept all instances of the reflection principle. One accepts with equanimity that by formulating that commitment (to one s earlier methods) as a new principle, one has thereby taken on essentially new commitments. For that is the lesson of the Gödel phenomena. The more we try to express our confidence in our licit methods of proofs, the more we extend them. The very concept licit method of proof is indefinitely extensible. We do not need a substantial concept of truth in order to establish this result; and the result applies to all methods of proof, including those that eschew explicit truck with truth. Ketland writes if the base theory is something like PA and the truth axioms are Tarski s truth axioms, then the global reflection statement becomes provable in the

6 94 Neil Tennant Tennant appears to be arguing that the deflationist has properly deflationary means for attaining the insight that G follows from the soundness of S. I find this misinterpretation of the debate bizarre. So do I. But whose misinterpretation is at issue? First, the semantic argument is not mine; I presented a passage from Dummett s writing as an example of the semantic argument, and referred to other places in the literature where similar forms of argument have appeared. I was concerned to show, contrary to popular opinion, that the deflationist could give the same line of argument without making any explicit use of a truth-predicate. As for Ketland s complaint that Tennant provides no justification for the crucial premiss, that the theory S is sound it appears to escape Ketland that the semantical argument does not need the full force of the claim that the theory S is sound. Let me make explicit what ought to have been clear, in context, in my statement of the semantical argument which Ketland quoted. Here, in full, is the original passage from my paper, with clarificatory material now added in square brackets: G is a universally quantified sentence (as it happens, one of Goldbach type, that is, a universal quantification of a primitive-recursive predicate). Every numerical instance of that predicate is provable in the system S. (This claim requires a subargument exploiting Gödel-numbering and the representability in S of recursive properties.) Proof [of any such numerical instance] in S guarantees truth. Hence every numerical instance of G is true. So, since G is simply the universal quantification over those numerical instances, it too must be true. Clearly the semantical argument needs, as its crucial premiss, no more than that all provable numerical instances of primitive-recursive predicates are true. This is the principle that I called (pa) in 2002, at p This principle is much weaker than the soundness of S, that is, than the claim that every theorem of S is true. Note, for example, that even the unsound (but presumably 3 consistent) system PA+ Con PA proves the same numerical instances of primitive-recursive predicates as does the sound system PA+Con PA. In my faithful recapitulation, on behalf of the deflationist, of the deductive structure of the semantical argument, the reflection principle (pa) is not itself directly applied. Rather, the wouldbe application of (pa) becomes the following feature (i) of an application of uniform primitive recursive reflection. This application of uniform primitive recursive reflection deals at one blow with (i) the (pa)- 3 I say presumably here because the consistency of PA+ Con PA follows from that of PA; and PA is, presumably, consistent.

7 Deflationism and the Gödel Phenomena: Reply to Ketland 95 style transition, for any numerical instance n of the primitive recursive predicate Proof S (n, G ), from the statement of the provability of that instance to that instance itself; and (ii) the transition from the arbitrary instance Proof S (n, G ) to the universally quantified statement n Proof S (n, G ), that is, to G itself. By misrepresenting the force of the soundness claim adverted to in my statement of the semantical argument, Ketland is forcing into my unwilling hands a hammer to crack a walnut. He has not attended to a constant refrain in my paper: that the deflationist s reconstruction of the semantical argument must be faithful to its deductive structure that it must preserve the line of reasoning employed therein. So I am not impressed by his asseveration that Shapiro, Feferman and he do not assume that proof in S guarantees truth, but rather they prove it. So what? The philosophical point is that they do not need to, at least for the purpose of showing that one ought to assert the Gödel sentence for S, rather than deny it. (Here it should be borne in mind that my whole paper was focusing on that limited purpose.) Indeed, it is at and on this very point that one can take the philosophical argument to the anti-deflationist, and inflict some real damage. Why should the anti-deflationist think that he has provided any sort of justification for the soundness claim when in doing so he appeals to theoretical principles that are much more powerful than the claim being justified? One is reminded of Tarski s reported quip, when asked whether Gentzen s proof of the consistency of arithmetic (using transfinite induction up to 0 on quantifier-free formulae) increased his confidence in the consistency of arithmetic. Tarski replied By about an epsilon. Ketland s comparison of the deflationist s position here with that of an instrumentalist in the case of empirical theorizing is not well taken. In the empirical case, one can give a compelling methodological justification for the need to state one s explanatory hypotheses at a level of greater generality and scope. This is because one is theorizing about the concrete and the contingent, and formulating hypotheses that are intended to be, at least in principle, empirically falsifiable. But in the mathematical case one is stating axioms (and proving theorems from them) about abstract domains, concerning which those theorems are necessary. In this context, justifications are weaker to the extent that the principles that they invoke are logico-mathematically stronger. Hence my unwillingness to use truth-theoretic hammers to crack mathematical walnuts. Nor is Ketland right in claiming

8 96 Neil Tennant if Tarski s theory of truth provides at least one way of recognizing the truth of Gödel sentences, then this fact alone contradicts deflationism (for a deflationary theory of truth should be conservative). The entirely different assumption, which I did not make, that this is the only way is irrelevant. This is deeply puzzling. It is obvious that I have always conceded the antecedent of the conditional: Tarski s theory of truth does indeed provide a way of recognizing the truth of Gödel sentences. My sole concern in my paper was to argue that this was not the only way of recognizing the truth of Gödel sentences. I sought (and found) a way for which the deflationist could opt, because it eschewed truth-talk altogether. I would not have succeeded in doing so had the Tarskian way been the only way that is, if our ability to recognize the truth of Gödel sentences involves [Tarski s] theory of truth (to quote Ketland yet again). It was crucially relevant to show that our ability in this regard need not be explained or analysed by appeal to a substantial concept of truth. Ketland s way of putting the matter, however, even when read carefully in context, makes the claim of exclusivity that going via Tarski s theory of truth is the only way. Now, whether that claim of exclusivity was an assumption, or the conclusion of an argument, for Ketland, is neither here nor there; for Ketland made the claim. He now calls it an assumption, and says he did not make it. He also claims now that it is irrelevant. This I cannot fathom. Ketland quotes Feferman in order to show how Feferman proved general reflection principles for S by using a suitably formalized truth theory for S. That only shows, however, that a way of proving reflection principles is to invoke some truth theory. It does not show that there is no other way to be justified in postulating those reflection principles such as engaging in suitable intellectual reflection. Thanks to Feferman, one can regard the theorizing about truth as a ladder to be kicked away by the deflationist who has discovered (in the reflection principles themselves) other means of ascent. Department of Philosophy 230 North Oval The Ohio State University Columbus, OH USA neil tennant

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