23 November 2005

More on Delta 29

I find the chapter curious and am not confident in proposing an interpretation. But here roughly is how I think the chapter should be understood. The first two paragraphs, on falsehood in pragmata and in logoi, are discussing falsehood in what we say (or in what we think or believe, as expressed in what we would say), whereas the last paragraph discusses 'false' as applied to a person.

The first two paragraphs discuss first pragmata and then logoi, because Aristotle is presuming, in the manner of the Categories, that to say or believe something is to apply a predicate (and a corresponding concept) to a thing. Assertion and believing is not the application of a grammatical predicate to a grammatical subject; or a thing (a universal) to a thing (a substance); or a concept to a concept. Rather, assertion and thinking is, as it were, a hybrid act that bridges thought to things.

On this presumption, it is an interesting consequence that there are two distinct ways in which falsehood may enter into an assertion or thought--the distinctness of these being flagged in the distinction of senses of 'false'. Either the thing we are talking or thinking about does not exist, or we say the wrong thing about it. In English we call the first sort of error a 'false presupposition' or 'false subject'. Aristotle calls it a false pragma.

I take it that it would follow that Aristotle implicitly has a position on whether "The present king of France is bald" is false. It would follow, I think, from Met. V.29 that one needs to distinguish between falsehood in the subject and falsehood in the predication. "The present king of France is bald" fails because of a false presupposition, and this is distinct from falsehood in the statement (which we typically take to be falsehood in the predication). In such a statement, the logos is not false; rather, the pragma is false.

I don't see, however, that Aristotle in V.29 is concerned with how we manage to say or think something about things that, after all, do not exist; and, similarly, I don't think he proposes a doctrine of 'states of affairs' or takes any position on this implicitly.