A Molinist’s Guide Toward ‘Truthmaking’

By John A. Limanto

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September 10, 2018

Abstract: The outgrowth of the truthmaker theory is due in part to the realist conception of truth that has been endorsed more prominently in recent years. Supplementing this realism is the notion of truthmaking—that truth depends upon the world. As a ‘cheater-catching’ business, the truthmaking enterprise has been celebrated to exclude ontologically groundless metaphysical systems. Some of these ‘purported’ ontologically groundless propositions that truthmaker theory should exclude are counterfactuals—particularly, the kind of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCF) as posited by the proponents of a view of divine omniscience called Molinism. In this essay, I outline the truthmaker theory and posit an articulation of the compatibility of CCFs with the truthmaker theory.


Background

The notion of truthmaking, in the contemporary literature, has been so regarded as the great “cheater-catching business.”[1] This is because it was born out of the motivation that truth is grounded in a relation between propositions and reality. For example, that <snow is white> is dependent upon the worldly feature that snow is white seems, to most of us, to be intuitive. One of the ‘cheaters’ of the day include the use of counterfactuals that have no clear, ontological grounds. To cite one example, phenomenalism is a school of thought insisting that each object consists in how it is experienced. In justifying the validity of positing unperceived objects, the phenomenalists, appeal to counterfactuals in the form “If person p were in C, then sense data x would be perceived.”[2]

Against this backdrop, Molinism was revived by the philosopher Alvin Plantinga in 1970’s.[3] Molinism also posits counterfactuals about what every free creature would do in any possible circumstances. The counterfactual, named as counterfactual of creaturely freedom (CCF), is any subjunctive conditional of the form:

(CCF) If a world segment w` is actualized, then person p would freely do x.

A world segment, as defined here, is any subset of consecutive events leading up to time t associated with the events in a world. It is a maximal possible state of affairs until time t of a possible world w1. Thus, if a counterfactual describes events that happen counter to the actual world, a CCF describes all subjunctive conditionals about all possible circumstances and what agents would freely do given those circumstances.

It is to no wonder why CCFs receive the skepticism that the counterfactuals posted by the phenomenalists do. The bottom line seems to be that both presents true propositions on which there is no clear ‘ground’ towards the propositions. To illustrate the problem, notice that these CCFs were true prior to the actions of the agents described in the CCF. Thus, we know that the agent did not cause the CCFs to be true. However, we also know that Molinists insist that not even God could be the cause of the truth of these CCFs. For if God were to be the cause of the truths of the CCFs, then genuine human free will would be rejected. Perhaps, then, the concern of the anti-Molinists is with regards to the problem that there seems to be nothing that makes true these CCFs—no causal or non-causal relations that determines the truth of the CCF.

What I seek to do in this essay is to outline the truthmaker theory along with the motivations for it. Second, I will also argue how the truthmaker theory should pose no problem to the Molinists who are committed to truthmaking as an alternative to deflationary theories of truths.

What is Truthmaker Theory?

At first glance, it seems hard to define the truthmaker theory without invoking controversy. The very fact remains that proponents of the theory are at conflict, not only with defending the theory, but also with defining the theory. To give an example, the proponents of the theory are at odds as to whether the theory should encompass a sweeping generality of all propositions or not. At the radical extreme is the voice of Ross P. Cameron who insists that “either truthmaker maximalism is true or we should abandon truth maker theory altogether”[4] Resonating with Cameron is Truthmaker theory’s progenitor, David Armstrong, who likewise defines truthmaking to encompass all true propositions.[5] However, this thesis seems to be more disputed in the other circles of the truthmaking community. D. H. Mellor, writes: “I think that many truths do not have truthmakers, and also that some truthmakers do not necessitate what they make true.”[6] In fact, one of the forefront defenders of the theory, Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra, confines truthmaking to a select few of synthetic propositions with inessential predications.[7]

Thus, I shall confine myself to the definition that can apply, in general, to any form of truthmaking. The truthmaker theory, minimally defined, is the theory that propositions are true in virtue of the non-propositional content of reality. At the very least, even if friends of truthmaker theories cannot be unanimous in what constitutes  the range of truthmaking, truthmaker theorists are univocal in stating the kind of relation that constitutes truthmaking.

In short, truthmaker theorist defines truthmaking relation as the following:

(TMR) For any proposition p and truthmaker t, if t, then t entails the truth of p

This understanding of a non-causal relation is the backbone of truthmaking orthodoxy. Armstrong, adamantly voices: “The ‘making’ here is, of course, not the causal sense of ‘making’. The best formulation of what this making is seems to be given by the phrase ‘in virtue of.’ It is in virtue of that independent reality that the proposition is true.”[8]

I shall define the truthmaker theory to be the following: the truthmaker theory is the theory that, at minimum, some propositions are true in virtue of the content of reality.

Of course, truthmakers “make true” truthbearers. If truthmakers are the non-propositional content of reality, then truthbearers are the propositional content of reality. That is, truthbearers are the propositions that reality makes true. One way of construing the relation between truthbearers and truthmakers is in terms of “states of affairs” or “tropes.” Thus, the truthmaker for the proposition <snow is white> is the state of affairs of snow being white. The truthbearer, in this case, is the former while the truthmaker is the latter.

Motivations for Truthmaker Theory

Truthmaker theorists are driven by the same motivation that drive adherents of realist theories of truth. As I mentioned before, the first of these motivations is to catch “cheaters.” Simply stated, truthmaker theory is designed to delineate a clear stipulation for what makes a metaphysical model ontologically grounded or not. However, although this motivation may sound plausible, it is a pipe dream at best. A quick look at the debate on truthmaker theory yields us the knowledge that it is far from pellucid. For example, I cited earlier the difficulty revolving whether the truthmaking principle should apply to all propositions. From that, we also encounter the difficulty that negative existentials are at danger for being caught as one of the “cheaters.” Negative existential propositions are propositions about the nonexistence of an entity. Clearly, an example of this would be propositions such as

(1) There are no white ravens.

This proposition is about the nonexistence of white ravens. As such, should it be subsumed under the category of the cheaters? In the case that there really is no such thing as a white raven, it seems hard for the truthmaker theorists to sway away (1) as outrightly false.

Perhaps, the more convincing motivation is that the truthmaker theory seeks to maintain an intuition that truth supervenes on being. That is, that whatever proposition is true is dependent on the world and not vice versa. W. V. Quine puts it,

It is that truth should hinge on reality, not language; sentences are language. His [Tarski’s[ way of producing a reality for truth to hinge on is shabby, certainly: an imaginary projection from sentences. But he is right that truth should hinge on reality, and it does. No sentence is true but reality makes it so. The sentence ‘Snow is white’ is true, as Tarski has taught us, if and only if real snow is really white.[9]

No friend of truthmaker theory, Quine posits this asymmetry between truth and proposition. It is not as though propositions shape reality; on the contrary, it is reality that determines the truth of propositions.

If, on the one hand, we insist on holding the primitiveness of truth, then fatal consequences result. The proposition <I am sitting at present> has a truth that is independent to that of the non-propositional reality of me sitting at present. Perhaps, for a more traditional example, we can posit the example of <snow is white>. To claim that truth is primitive is to say that it is metaphysically possible for snow to be red and yet the proposition <snow is white> is still true.

To summarize, the two cited motivations for truthmaker theory are in terms of 1) ruling out ontologically groundless metaphysical systems and to 2) to take into account the intuition that truth supervenes on being. These two motivations serve as the article by which the truthmaker theory stands or falls. If it can be proven that the two motivations can be satisfied with an alternative model that circumvents the difficulties that the truthmaker theory faces, then the truthmaker theory ought to be jettisoned.

2.1 Accounts of Truthmakers

With the brief introduction in mind, we shall now turn towards constructing an account of truthmaking. The celebrated philosopher J. L Austin is notorious for having said the following:

“When a statement is true, there is, of course, a state of affairs which makes it true”[10]

This notion that there needs to be a truthmaker for every true proposition is called truthmaker maximalism. Truthmaker maximalism, as defended by David Armstrong, is the idea that all truths have truthmakers.[11] Thus, to formulate the principle,

(TMM) For every true proposition p, there exists an entity x such that x’s existence entails p

The most celebrated response to this issue, as we have exposited, is the problem of negative existential propositions. If we take (1), our previous proposition, there does not seem to be an abstracta of the nonexistence of white ravens that make (1) true. It seems that (1) is true by virtue of the nonexistence of something. Yet, proponents of (TMM) are forced to adopt the view that there must exist a concrete entity that makes (1) true.

Of course, as always, there are revisions possible for (TMM). One such way is to revise the existence of entities to the existence of states of affairs and tropes.[12] This is the crucial point in which philosophers diverge. Take, for example, the following revised (TMM):

(TMM’) For every true proposition p, there exists a state of affairs or trope x such that x’s existence entails p

Here, whatever counts as one’s definition of state of affairs determines whether or not the revised (TMM’) succeeds. For example, it may be the case that, if one follows Plantinga, one would define state of affairs loosely as any state of reality. Thus, Plantinga writes:

There are such things as states of affairs; among them we find some that obtain, or are actual, and some that do not obtain. So, for example, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s being more than seven feet tall is a state of affairs, as is Spiro Agnew’s being President of Yale University. Although each of these is a state of affairs, the former but not the latter obtains, or is actual. And although the latter is not actual, it is a possible state of affairs; in this regard it differs from David’s having travelled faster than the speed of light and Paul’s having squared the circle. [13]

However, if one were to follow David Armstrong in this, one would have to say that states of affairs may be “bundlings of tropes, or attachments of tropes to particulars, or bundlings of universals (‘compresence’), or instantiation of universals.”[14] In that case, Armstrong’s (TMM) is doomed to the same problem of negative existential propositions.

2.1 Enter Molinism

The grounding objection to Molinism is, by far, the most celebrated objection to Molinism. Thomas P. Flint has called it to be ‘the principal obstacle’ to endorsing the Molinist doctrine of middle knowledge.[15] Although no official publication has taken place, the truthmaker theory has been cited repeatedly to be implicit in the intuitions of the anti-Molinist.[16] The grounding objection, briefly stated, is the objection that there is nothing that “makes” CCFs true. At this point, it should already be obvious why the Molinists have interpreted this to mean ‘truthmaker theory.’

The objection took its root in publication stemming from Robert M. Adams’ paper, “Middle Knowledge and the Problem of Evil.”[17] Adams expresses his incomprehension of Molinism. Citing the story of 1 Samuel 23 where Saul chases after David to Keilah, Adams confesses: “I do not understand what it would be for any of [CCFs] to be true, given that the actions in question would have been free”[18] First, in elaborating his objection, he proposes the following to be the “grounds”[19] of CCFs: correspondence to a future event, logical necessity, causal necessity and intentions.

First, he elaborates that the “ground” cannot be correspondence to a future event. Take, Adams’ example, of 1 Samuel 23:1-14. In this chapter, Saul pursues after David until David takes refuge in the city of Keilah. At Keilah, David asks to God through the Ephod: would the men of Keilah hand him over to Saul if he stays? Would Saul besiege the city if he stays? The Ephod answers ‘yes’ to both question, which prompts David to escape out of the city. The following episode in the Bible illustrates that there are, at least, two different propositions that may be true:

(2) If David stayed in Keilah, Saul would not besiege the city

(3) If David stayed in Keilah and Saul besieged the city, the men of Keilah would not surrender David to Saul.[20]

Neither (2) nor (3) can be ascribed as a correspondence to future events because these events do not actually happen as David fled from Keilah.

Second, the “ground” also cannot be either logical necessity or causal necessity. If (2) or (3) had been true by logical necessity, then (2) and (3) would be true in every possible world. This means that there is no possibility for David to have been able to do differently. Thereby, David would not be free in the libertarian sense. Similarly, if (2) or (3) had been true of causal necessity, then determinism would be true and LFW would also not be achievable through this model.

Third, the “ground” also cannot be the intentions of the agents. This is because intentions are non-causal to the actions of the agents. Therefore, given that (2) and (3) involves a free action, in order for the action to be fully free, it must be the case that (2) and (3) are not necessitated by even the intentions of Saul or the men of Keilah. In fact, Adams rebuts this notion by providing two propositions that would be true if (2) or (3) had been grounded in the intentions of Saul or the men of Keilah:

(4) If David stayed in Keilah, Saul would probably besiege the city

(5) If David stayed in Keilah and Saul besieged the city, the men of Keilah would probably surrender David to Saul.

In fact, Adams posits that (4) and (5), if proven to be true, are rebutting defeaters of (2) and (3). Given (2) and (3), the opposite of them are (4) and (5).

The first possibility that Adams is suggesting here is in terms of truthmaking. There is no truthmaker to which the CCFs can correspond to. Although Adams was  unclear in his exposition, there is one major reason to suppose that he had truthmaking in mind. In this grounding objection, Adams demands for an “explanation” for the truth of CCFs. Explanation, in this sense, is with regards to the question of how it is that the CCFs can be true? Of course, such a question is precisely the concern of the truthmaking principle.

2.2 From Truthmaking to Molinism: Rapprochement

One difficulty in identifying the purported conflict between truthmaker theory and Molinism is that there does not seem to be any formulated defense of the conflict. However, it may be supposed that the underlying premise behind the grounding objection is truthmaker maximalism à la David Armstrong:

(TMM) For every true proposition p, there exists an entity x such that x’s existence entails p

Of course, if one were to formulate the truthmaker theory in this manner, then one would not be able to have Molinism. This is because there are no entities in virtue of which CCFs would be true. It is not as though there are abstract objects in virtue of which CCFs are true. However, it has to be recalled that you would not get negative existential propositions as well using this principle. In fact, neither will you be able to get the truth of propositions about the past and the future to be true. Consider, for example, the following proposition:

(6) I will be eating cereal for breakfast on October 3rd 2021.

(6) is an example of a proposition that will be true. Perhaps, one may easily sway all future-oriented propositions to be false. Even further, consider, the following true proposition:

(7) On October 3rd 2006, I was eating cereal.

(7) is now a proposition about the past that most would not say is false simply because it is past. Yet, the question becomes intriguing when we ask what are the possible truthmakers for (6) and (7). Once again, Armstrong’s earlier formulation hardly can withstand such an elementary challenge.

Where do we go from here? Must we jettison the whole enterprise of truthmaking in favour of a model of divine omniscience. It seems that a way out is possible at this point. Consider our previous proposal of a Plantingan notion of states of affairs. If that is the case, then it follows that a state of affairs may simply be a way that reality could be. If that is so, then our revised principle may as well circumvent the issue:

(TMM’) For every true proposition p, there exists a state of affairs or trope x such that x’s existence entails p.

Using (TMM’), one can then argue that given the following CCF,

(CCF) If a world segment w’ is actualized, then person p would freely do x,

then the corresponding state of affairs just is the state of affairs of its being the case that if world segment w’ is actualized, then person p would freely do x.

Perhaps, it may be objected that we have allowed too many concessions. We have defused the notion of (TMM’) such that it is too weak to allow any work. However, as Craig points out, the (TMM’) mimics the precise mechanism of the truthmakers for natural dispositions in relation to laws of nature.[21] Consider the disposition of a glass. A glass may have the disposition to be fragile. Now, it may seem to us that the fragility of the glass is due to the molecular structure of the glass. But this cannot be quite right. The fragility of the molecular structure themselves are determined by the laws of nature. Thus, if we ask ourselves for the truthmaker of the proposition,

(8) The glass is fragile

Then the truthmaker of that would be the molecular structure plus the pertaining laws of nature. However, the pertaining laws of nature themselves are counterfactual states of affairs.

Thus, one would have something akin to the state of affairs of its being the case that if the structure of a group of particles are so-and-so, then the group of particles would be fragile.

Given that laws of nature are counterfactuals, then if we allow for there to be counterfactual state of affairs about laws of nature, then it seems that we would have to logically concede for other counterfactual state of affairs. Thus, given:

(L) If S, then L

(L) should be grounded in the state of affairs of its being the case that if S, then L. Yet, if such a state of affairs is possible, then we should likewise allow the same counterfactual state of affairs for CCFs!

Conclusion

My goal in this tract is to briefly outline the notion of truthmaking and how it poses no threat to Molinism. At the end of the day, the vital intuition behind truthmaking need not be discarded. However, one should also remain adamant in maintaining that Molinism provides a mechanism by which counterfactuals become the fundamental state of affairs of reality. Perhaps, the worry here is that this opens too big of a rabbit hole for the “cheaters” to be back in business. However, it seems that the intuition may also be captured through the Truth Supervenes on Being (TSB) thesis. Although not covered within this article, the TSB thesis may also be another model of truthmaking to be compatible with Molinism.


Notes

[1] Sider, Theodore. 2001. Four-Dimensionalism: An Ontology of Persistence and Time. New York: Oxford University Press. 40-41.

[2] “Against this objection that we may correctly speak of unperceived objects, the phenomenalist tends to reply that such remarks can be analysed in terms of counterfactuals—statements of which sense-data would exist in various hypothetical circumstances.” Lowe, E. J, and A Rami, . 2009. Truth and Truth-Making. Oxon: Routledge. 196

[3] See (Plantinga 1977) for the first revival of Molinism. In his response to J.I Mackie’s (Mackie 1971) argument against Theism from the problem of evil, Plantinga suggests that some worlds may not be feasible for God to create given that creatures’ CCFs may not permit so. Inadvertently, Plantinga has referenced Molina’s work in this. For a translation of Molina’s work, see (Freddoso 1988).

[4] Cameron, Ross P. 2008. “How to Be a Truthmaker Maximalist.” Noûs (Wiley) 42 (3): 410-421.

[5] David Armstrong went just as far in presuming that the truthmaker theory is synonymous to truthmaker maximalism. Armstrong, David M. 2004. Truth and Truthmakers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 5

[6] Mellor, D. H. 2003. “Replies.” In Real Metaphysics, 212-238. London: Routledge. 213.

[7] Rodriguez-Pereyra, Gonzalo. 2005. “Why Truthmakers.” In Truthmakers: The Contemporary Debate, 17-31. New York: Oxford University Press. 31.

[8] Armstrong, David M. 2004. Truth and Truthmakers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 5

[9] Quine, W. V. 1986. Philosophy of Logic. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 10.

[10] As cited in Merricks, Trenton. 2009. Truth and Ontology. New York: Oxford University Press. 1-2.

[11] See Armstrong, David M. 2004. Truth and Truthmakers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 5-7.

[12] Tropes are particularized universals. An example would be a type of red, which is the instantiation of the universal redness.

[13] Plantinga, Alvin. 1974. The Nature of Necessity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 44.

[14] Armstrong, David M. 2004. Truth and Truthmakers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 48.

[15] Flint, Thomas. 1998. Divine Providence: A Molinist Account. New York: Cornell University Press. 123.

[16] At this point, it seems that the Molinists are putting words inside the mouths of the non-Molinists. See Craig, William Lane. 2001. “Middle Knowledge, Truth–Makers, and the “Grounding Objection.” Faith and Philosophy 18 (3): 337-352. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/divine-omniscience/middle-knowledge-truth-makers-and-the-grounding-objection/.

[17] Adams, Robert. 1977. “Middle Knowledge and the Problem of Evil.” American Philosophical Quarterly 109-117.

[18] Ibid. 110.

[19] Adams explicitly uses the word “ground” himself. See ibid.

[20] The following propositions are taken directly from ibid. 110.

[21] Craig, William Lane. 2001. “Middle Knowledge, Truth–Makers, and the “Grounding Objection.” Faith and Philosophy 18 (3): 337-352. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/divine-omniscience/middle-knowledge-truth-makers-and-the-grounding-objection/.

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About the Author

By John A. Limanto

John A. Limanto is a fellow leader of Philosophy group in Pelita Harapan School and an aspiring Christian apologist in his local community. After living for 7 years in Borneo, he now resides with his family in Jakarta, Indonesia where he is pursuing his research on Molinism and free will.