Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Truth Value of Tensed Statements

I've heard certain philosophically inclined people suggest that the truth value of the statement:
(1) I will party like a rock star on January 1, 2011,
is dependent not only on whether or not I actually do party like a rock star on that date, but also on whether today (the day you are reading my statement) is before or after January 1, 2011. I don't agree.

We do not evaluate the truth of statements in a changing context. Thus, we evaluate the truth of statement (1) keeping mind when it was said, as well as who it was said about. The statement does not become false simply because I die, nor does it become false when someone else reads it.

That's probably more clearly seen from the use of past tense statements. The statement:
(2) I partied like a rock star,
is dependent (for its truth) on whether or not I had already so partied prior to making the statement. The statement does not become true on January 1, 2011, if I so party then (don't worry, friends and family, I have no such plans). The statement was a lie when I made it, and it is evaluated in that context, not a changing context.

Let me add one point of clarification: we evaluate the statements within a fixed context, but the content of that context may evolve. For example, only God knows whether (1) is true (as of today), by January 2, 2011, a number of people will know whether it is true (hopefully, they will know it was false), but many of you who don't know me personally may never know whether it is true. Likewise, you may not know whether (2) is true, and if you cared to find out you would investigate my past, which would involve (in theory) an increasing collection of information upon which you could make your judgment.

Who cares?

The issue is mostly interesting because God knows the future. He can make true statements about what will happen tomorrow, and it is impossible for anyone to intervene to make God's statements false. This idea eliminates an "open" view of the future, and leaves Calvinism as the primary viable explanation for how human freedom and divine Providence are compatible (which is really a topic for another post).

Those statements that God could make (and on many occasions has made) are always true. God's promise that a Messiah would come was true when God made it, and remains true now, even though the Messiah has already come, because we evaluate God's statement from a single unchanging context.



Anonymous said...

I have read this thread several times and have been pondering it a lot over the last number of hours since I first read it.

Here are some thoughts about it.

We read in Romans 8 with the caveat that though we were known before the foundation of the world, we are, now, by being born again, but a first fruits in the world of our flesh and in the presence of the devils and the worldly manifesting the Fruit of the Spirit.

With that in mind I greatly am edified with these Words of Isaiah:

Isa 2:1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
Isa 2:2 It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it,
Isa 2:3 and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Isa 2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
Isa 2:5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Though we do not as yet see the fullness of that prophecy, we can and do walk now in the Light of the Lord so that our confidence increases daily in that Living Hope now that we have been born again to it through Jesus Christ our Lord!

The question, "who cares" becomes a hard question to answer without prudence as a guide!

Anonymous said...

Great post!

wtanksley said...

Very nicely put; although I'm not sure why you say that "Calvinism" is the primary viable answer. I mean, I'm a Calvinist, but my understanding is that Calvinism per se doesn't specify a specific explanation.

I do find Edward's explanation illuminating, of course, but I don't think it's biblical; it's merely very thorough logic.