SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

"'True' as Ambiguous": A reply to Boscolo and Pravato
(Philosophy of Language, English)

In his 2008 paper titled "'True' as ambiguous" Kölbel argues that the truth predicate used in natural language is ambiguous between two meanings: a deflationist and a substantial one. According to the paper, utterances like the ones below are acceptable, even when taken simultaneously:

(1) That dogs are cute is true.

(2) Statements (etc.) about whether or not something or someone is cute (taste judgements) cannot be true or false.

Kölbel therefore concludes that there are two truth-predicates being used by competent speakers: one, as in (1), which corresponds to a deflationist conception of truth: trueD, and one, as in (2), which corresponds to an (unspecified) substantial conception of truth: trueS.

In their 2016 paper Boscolo and Pravato argue against this analysis. They test whether 'true' passes the three most established tests for ambiguity: conjunction-reduction, contradiction and ellipsis. They argue that if 'true' actually were am- biguous then it would have to pass at least one of these tests. Since it fails all of them, 'true' cannot be ambiguous.

The first part gives four possible replies to Boscolo and Pravato's claims, which could defend Kölbel's original claim:

1. Failure to pass ambiguity tests is not evidence enough for non-ambiguity.

2. Boscolo and Pravato make subtle changes to the phrasing of the sentences which are used to test the ambiguity of 'true'. These could be the reason for differing judgements.

3. It is not entirely clear who the relevantly competent speakers are, whose judgements could determine the success or failure of 'true' to pass the ambiguity tests.

4. The test applied only work for syntactical ambiguity, but the ambiguity of 'true' could be of a different kind.

The second part of the paper builds on the last reply and argues that there is some evidence that 'true' is actually pragmatically ambiguous. The main claim here is that sentences like in (1) express agreement with the opinion expressed and are a derivation of (2). To back this claim up, some analogies to metaphors and their literal and pragmatic meanings are drawn.


Boscolo, Stefano, Pravato, Giulia: "True but Also Not True". Argumenta - Journal of Analytic Philosophy2 (1): 43-54. 2016.

Kölbel, Max "'True' as Ambiguous'". Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 77 (2): 359-84. 2008.

Chair: Katharina Anna Sodoma
Time: 18:20-18:50, 18 September 2019 (Wednesday)
Location: SR 1.006

Barbara K. Haas 
(University of Vienna, Austria)

Barbara K. Haas studies Linguistics (BA) and Philosophy (MA) at the University of Vienna. She is an active member and Vice Secretary of the Vienna Forum for Analytic Philosophy.

Johanna Rosenberger 
(University of Vienna, Austria)

Johanna Rosenberger studies Philosophy (MA) at the University of Vienna. Additionally, she is the CEO of her own company and teaches teenagers mathematics.

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