Why All Philosophical Theories Are Non-Sensical


by Rosa Lichtenstein


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This Essay was written as a contribution to discussions on the far left concerning the nature of Traditional Philosophy, but it isn't necessary to know anything about that in order to follow the argument.


What follows is a very short summary of one of the main themes of Essay Twelve Part One at my site. It tackles issues that have sailed over the heads of some of the greatest minds in history. I claim no particular originality for what follows (except, perhaps its highly simplified mode of presentation); much of it has been derived from Wittgenstein's work, who takes all the credit.


[Any who think Wittgenstein is no friend of the left should read this, and then perhaps think again.]


This is nevertheless still an introductory Essay, which has been written for those who find the main Essays at my site either too long or too difficult. It doesn't pretend to be comprehensive; it is merely a summary of some of the core ideas expressed in at this site. So, the vast bulk of supporting analysis, evidence and argument found in Essay Twelve Part One has been omitted. Anyone wanting more details, or who would like to examine my ideas in full, should consult that Essay.


It is also worth pointing out that I take the terms "Traditional Philosophy" and "Metaphysics" to be all but synonymous. Marxist dialecticians understand the second of those two terms in their own rather unique way. I have justified my use of it here and here.


Unfortunately, however, in places this Essay is a little repetitive. Long experience has taught me that unless its core ideas are repeated several times, from different angles, their significance is all too easily missed by many on the far left. That is because very few of the latter are familiar with Analytic Philosophy and often confuse it with Logical Positivism.


Also, throughout this Essay I have used several rather stilted expressions, such as: "It is possible to understand an empirical proposition without knowing whether it is true or knowing whether it is false", as opposed to "It is possible to understand an empirical proposition without knowing whether it is true or false". I explain why I have adopted this rather odd way of talking here.


[I also explain below what an empirical proposition is!]


Finally, because I am trying to make some exceedingly difficult ideas as easy as humanly possible to understand, this Essay will need to be re-written many more times before I am satisfied that I have achieved that particular goal.


[Latest Update: 20/01/23.]


Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism


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Anyone using these links must remember that they will be skipping past supporting argument and evidence set out in earlier sections.


(1)  Metaphysical Theses


(a) The Difference Between Ordinary Truths And Philosophical Theses


(b) Dictating To Reality What It Must Contain


(c) Non-Sense And Nonsense


(d) Necessary Truth And Necessary Falsehood


(2) The Slide Into Non-Sense


(a) Why All Metaphysical Theories Are Non-Sensical


(b) No Way Back


(c) Has This Essay Only Succeeded In Refuting Itself?


Metaphysical Theories


The Difference Between Ordinary Truths And 'Philosophical' Theories


The following is a typical metaphysical sentence:


M1: Time is a relation between events.


Sentences like M1 purport to inform us of fundamental aspects of reality, valid for all of space and time (no pun intended).


The seemingly profound nature of 'propositions' like M1 is linked to rather more mundane features of the language in which they are expressed -- that is, the fact that the main verb is often in the indicative (or fact-stating) mood.


This apparently superficial grammatical fact hides a much deeper logical form, which only becomes apparent when sentences like M1 are examined more closely.


[For our purposes, logical form refers to those features of indicative sentences that (i) Enable us to understand them (I explain what that means below), and (ii) Allow us to draw valid conclusions from them.]


Expressions like M1 look as if they reveal profound truths about reality since they appear to resemble empirical propositions (i.e., propositions that are about matters of fact). But, they turn out to be nothing at all like them.


Consider an ordinary empirical proposition:


M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.


Compare M2 with the following similar-looking indicative sentences (that paraphrase ideas presented by two classical metaphysicians):


M1: Time is a relation between events. [Leibniz.]


M3: To be is to be perceived. [Berkeley.]


M1 and M3 appear to be reporting (i) facts about time, and (ii) facts about perception related to what does or does not exist.


However, when we compare M1 and M3 with ordinary empirical propositions (like M2), profound differences soon become clear.


First of all, in order to understand M2 it isn't necessary to know whether it is true or whether it is false. I am sure all of those who have read M2 understand what it is saying even though they haven't a clue whether or not it is true -- that is, whether or not Blair actually owns a copy of the said book.

Contrast that with the comprehension of M1 or M3. Understanding either of these has always gone hand-in-hand with knowing they are both true, or they are both false (as the case may be).


Of course, some of those reading M1 and M3 might fail to grasp what they are trying to say, especially if they know nothing about Leibniz or Berkeley's ideas. The point is that as soon as M1 and M3 are understood (howsoever long that takes!) their truth-status (true or false) follows immediately. We are supposed to accept or reject them solely on the basis of what they say, not on any evidence.


So, as soon as they are understood their (presumed) truth-status follows automatically, and that truth-status will be based on one or more of the following considerations:


(a) The meaning the words they contain;


(b) The definitions of the terms employed -- or those of related expressions;


(c) A series of (long or short) supporting arguments;


(d) One or more 'thought experiments'.


But each of the above will depend solely on the supposed meaning of words. No evidence is needed. Indeed, it isn't possible to devise actual experiments or real world observations that could validate propositions like M1 or M3, even in theory.


[Naturally, it is always possible to reject M1 and M3 out-of-hand, but that repudiation won't be based on evidence, either. It will often be motivated by yet another, perhaps rival, philosophical theory -- again, involving yet more words, but still no evidence!]


M1: Time is a relation between events.


M3: To be is to be perceived.


This now intimately links the truth-status of sentences like M1 and M3 with the supposed meaning of certain words, not with experimental or evidential confirmation, and hence not with a confrontation with the facts. Their truth-status is therefore independent of the search for supporting evidence -- of which there is none anyway.


Well, what could anyone look for in order to confirm or confute M1 or M3?


By way of contrast, understanding M2 is independent of knowing whether or not it is true. Indeed, it would be impossible even to try to ascertain the truth or the falsehood of M2 if it hadn't already been understood. Plainly, the actual truth or the actual falsehood of M2-type propositions follows from the way the world happens to be -- that is, on the facts -- and doesn't solely depend the supposed meaning of certain words, as is the case with M1 and M3.


M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.


No amount of 'pure thought' will tell you whether M2 is true or whether M2 is false --, unlike M1 and M3, which were both based on 'pure thought'.


Empirical propositions are typically like this; they have to be understood first before they can be confronted with the evidence that establishes their truth-status.


In contrast, metaphysical propositions carry their truth or their falsehood on their faces, as it were. They need no evidence to establish their veracity. Understanding them is of a piece with knowing their supposed truth or their supposed falsehood.


Their truth-status follows solely from 'pure thought'.


Dictating To Reality What It Must Contain


Metaphysical theses like M1 and M3 were deliberately concocted by traditional philosophers in order to transcend the limitations presented by the material world -- and, incidentally, limitations placed on them by ordinary discourse, as we will see.


M1: Time is a relation between events.


M3: To be is to be perceived.


This dogmatic approach to 'knowledge' was 'justified' because it 'enabled' those who adopted it to 'uncover' nature's "hidden secrets", its underlying "essence", in the comfort of their own heads. This forged a permanent link between philosophical language and the 'fundamental structure of reality', tucked away beneath 'appearances', which was created by a 'deity' of some sort, and often given the grandiose title, "Being".


[There is more on this here.]


As Marx noted:


"Feuerbach's great achievement is.... The proof that philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned...." [Marx, 1844 Economic And Philosophical Manuscripts, p.381. I have used the on-line version, here. Link and bold emphases added.]


The idea that philosophy is capable of revealing 'hidden secrets' like this -- way beyond anything the sciences could possibly discover or even confirm --, still dominates much of traditional thought, despite the fact that the theological motive that used to underlie it has largely been abandoned. That is why metaphysical 'truths' are still being derived solely from language or thought, even by atheistical philosophers.


Theses like M1 and M3 were thus said to be "necessarily true" (or "necessarily false", as the case may be). They supposedly represented the fundamental nature of reality, unlike empirical propositions (such as M2), whose truth could alter with each change in the direction of the wind. After all, Tony Blair might sell his copy of Das Kapital -- or, he might buy the book if he doesn't already own it, or he might even remain forever without a copy. But, philosophical knowledge -- genuine knowledge -- can't depend on such fleeting contingencies.


Or, so we have been told for over two thousand years.


M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.


Traditionally, this meant that empirical propositions like M2 were considered epistemologically inferior to M1-, and M3-type propositions, since the former were deemed incapable of revealing 'metaphysical truths' about the fundamental nature of 'Reality'.


Metaphysical propositions thus masquerade as especially profound, Super-Empirical Truths, which can't fail to be true (or can't fail to be false -- again, as the case may be). They create this impression by using the indicative mood, but they also go way beyond it.


M1: Time is a relation between events.


M3: To be is to be perceived.


What they say doesn't just happen to be the case, unlike ordinary empirical truths. What M1-, and M3-type sentences say can't possibly be otherwise. The world must conform to what they say, not the other way round. They dictate the 'logical form' (i.e., the hidden structure) of any possible or conceivable world.




In the previous paragraph, "logical form" was used in its older, metaphysical sense connected with the idea that the deep structure of 'reality' has a 'logic' built into it that can be ascertained by thought alone, and which 'logic' was stitched into 'reality' by the 'deity' -- or, according to Christianity, by 'the Logos', the "Word of God". However, a select minority of the human race were capable of accessing this 'logical form' since they were somehow in tune with the 'deity' and were thus able to 'reflect' 'His' thoughts in their own. Either that, or they were mere conduits, or messengers of the 'gods', like Hermes.


This idea is explicit in Plato, but more esoteric in Hermeticism, an ancient, esoteric system that exercised a profound influence on Christian Mystics, and hence on Hegel himself.


Here, for example, is Plato:


"If mind and true opinion are two distinct classes, then I say that there certainly are these self-existent ideas unperceived by sense, and apprehended only by the mind; if, however, as some say, true opinion differs in no respect from mind, then everything that we perceive through the body is to be regarded as most real and certain. But we must affirm that to be distinct, for they have a distinct origin and are of a different nature; the one is implanted in us by instruction, the other by persuasion; the one is always accompanied by true reason, the other is without reason; the one cannot be overcome by persuasion, but the other can: and lastly, every man may be said to share in true opinion, but mind is the attribute of the gods and of very few men. Wherefore also we must acknowledge that there is one kind of being which is always the same, uncreated and indestructible, never receiving anything into itself from without, nor itself going out to any other, but invisible and imperceptible by any sense, and of which the contemplation is granted to intelligence only." [Timaeus, 51e-52a. Bold added.]




This helps account for the frequent use of modal language (i.e., terms such as, "must", "necessary", and "inconceivable") in Metaphysics; as in, "I must exist if I can think" (paraphrasing Descartes), "Time must be a relation between events" (paraphrasing Leibniz), or "Being must be identical with and yet at the same time different from Nothing, the contradiction resolved in Becoming" (paraphrasing Hegel). Everything in reality must be this or it must be that.


Contrast that with M2. If anyone were to question its truth, the following response would be highly inappropriate, if not completely misleading: "Tony Blair must own a copy of Das Kapital".


So, from the above we can draw the following conclusions:


(A) The world dictates to us whether M2-type sentences are true or whether they are false. They do not dictate to reality what it must contain, or what it must be like.


M1: Time is a relation between events.


M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.


M3: To be is to be perceived.


(B) With respect to M1-, and M3-type sentences things are the other way round -- because their truth-status can be determined independently, and in advance of the way the world happens to be, philosophers formulated them in order to dictate to reality what it must be like.


Again, such Super-Truths (or Super-Falsehoods -- these terms are explained below) were derived solely from the alleged meaning of certain words, 'concepts', or definitions. In that case, just as soon as they were understood, propositions like M1 and M3 would guarantee their own truth or their own falsehood. Hence, they are true (or they are false), a priori.


["A priori", used in this way, means that the supposed truth of a given indicative sentence may be inferred in advance of any supporting evidence (and for which none is necessary anyway). An example of a genuine a priori idea might be the following: despite the fact that you won't ever have experienced this, and never will, you know that ten billion marbles added to twenty billion marbles will total thirty billion marbles (although, I prefer to call this inference the application of a rule). A bogus a priori idea might involve, for instance, an attempt to prove the existence of 'god' from 'his' definition, as Anselm of Canterbury tried to do. Yet another would involve an attempt to show that everything in 'reality' is governed by 'contradictions', a dogma based solely on a 'linguistic argument' of sorts (concocted by Hegel).]


The intimate connection between M1-, and M3-type sentences and the language they use means that questioning their veracity seems to run against the grain of our understanding, not our experience. Indeed, if 'true', they appear to be self-evident precisely because they need no evidence to confirm that truth-status. In effect, they supply their own 'justification' and testify on their own behalf.


Unfortunately, this divorces them from the actual world, since they are true (or they are false) independently of any apparent state of that world, independently of the facts.


[I return to this point below since it is integral to the main aim of this Essay: to show why M1-, and M3-type sentences -- indeed, why philosophical theories themselves --, are non-sensical.]


Which is, of course, why no experiment is conceivable by means of which they can be tested.


This is one of the reasons why sentences like these were regarded as a 'reflection' of "hidden", "esoteric", "universal" verities. While 'appearances' might sometimes seem to contradict such Super-Truths, their status remains forever impervious to the facts, hermetically sealed against any such easy refutation.


Again, this is totally unlike M2-type propositions.


M1: Time is a relation between events.


M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.


M3: To be is to be perceived.


Nonsense Vs Non-Sense


Unfortunately, the Super-Scientific nature of Cosmic Verities like these means they soon collapse into non-sense.


This happens because their proponents actually succeed in undermining either the vernacular or the logical and pragmatic principles on which it is based. [Why that is so, and why it is important, will be explained presently.]


It is important to note that the word "non-sense" (as it is used in this Essay) isn't the same as "nonsense". The latter term has various meanings ranging from the patently false (e.g., "Karl Marx was a shape-shifting lizard") to plain, unvarnished gibberish (e.g., "783&£$750 ow2jmn 34y4&$ 6y3n3& 8FT34n" -- assuming. of course, that that string of 'symbols' isn't a code of some sort).


The term "non-sense", on the other hand, applies to indicative sentences that turn out to be incapable of expressing a sense (that word will also be explained presently) no matter what we try to do with them. That is, they are incapable of being true and they are incapable of being false. So, when such sentences are employed to state 'fundamental truths about reality' they seriously misfire -- since they can't possibly do this.


[The rest of this Essay will explain why that is so.]


Finally, the word "sense" expresses what we understand to be the case for a proposition to be true or what we understand to be the case for it to be false, even if we don't know whether it is actually true or whether it is actually false -- and even if we never succeed in ascertaining either one of these, nor wish to do so.


For example, everyone (who knows English, who also knows who Tony Blair and what Das Kapital are) will understand M2 upon reading it. They grasp its sense --, that is, they understand what the world (or, at least, certain parts of it) would have to be like for it to be true, or what the world (or, at least, certain parts of it) would have to be like for it to be false.


M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.


More importantly, the same situation that makes M2 true (if it obtains) will make M2 false (if it doesn't) -- that is, Blair's owning the said book. If the latter obtains, M2 is true; if it doesn't, M2 is false.


[The significance of these seemingly innocuous, perhaps even trite, remarks will also become apparent. Some might object that ownership is a rather complex, or even vague, notion. I have dealt with that objection here and here, where it will become clear that the vagueness or complexity of this term doesn't affect the points being made in this Essay.]


These conditions are integral to our capacity to understand empirical propositions before we know their truth-status. Indeed, they help explain why we know what to look for (or what to expect) in order to ascertain whether or not such propositions are actually true or are actually false -- again, even if we never succeed in doing either of these, and even if we have no wish to do so.


That is, we know what (possible) state of affairs M2-type sentences express.


[Attentive readers will no doubt have noticed the intimate, even logical, connection between a state of affairs -- like Blair owing a certain book -- and the truth or the falsehood of M2. Why that is so is beyond the scope of this Essay since it concerns the nature of empirical propositions, not the nature of metaphysical theories.]


Necessary Truth and Necessary Falsehood


However, intractable logical problems soon begin to emerge (with respect to M1-, and M3-type propositions) if an attempt is made to restrict or eliminate one or other of the paired semantic possibilities (i.e., truth or falsehood) associated with ordinary empirical propositions -- that is, if an attempt is made to exclude the possibility of their falsehood, or if an attempt is made to exclude the possibility of their truth.


This occurs when, for example, an indicative sentence (like M1) is declared to be "only true" or "only false" -- or, more pointedly, "necessarily" the one or the other.


As we are about to see, this will result in the automatic loss of both semantic possibilities for a given sentence (i.e., the possibility of its actual truth and its actual falsehood). With that will vanish any sense it might seem to have had, rendering it non-sensical.


M1: Time is a relation between events.


M3: To be is to be perceived.


Recall: an empirical proposition (not already known to be true or not already known to be false) leaves it open whether it is actually true or whether it is actually false. That is why its actual truth-status (true or false) can't simply be read-off from what it says, why evidence is required in order to determine that status, and why it is possible to understand it before its actual truth-status is known.


Plainly, it isn't possible to confirm or confute an indicative sentence if no one understands what it is saying!


When that isn't the case -- i.e., when either option (truth or falsehood) is closed-off, or when a proposition is said to be "necessarily true" or "necessarily false" -- evidence clearly becomes irrelevant.


If, however, a proposition is regarded as a Super-Truth, supposedly about the world (but which is really about its 'essence', or its underlying, 'rational structure'), then it is plainly metaphysical.


['Super-Truths' superficially resemble ordinary scientific propositions but they are in fact nothing at all like them. They transcend anything the sciences could possibly confirm or confute. M1 and M3 are excellent examples of this. Their 'truth' depends solely on the supposed meaning of a handful of words, not on the way the world happens to be, not on evidence. Indeed, metaphysical, 'Super-Truths' thus go way beyond any conceivable body of evidence that could be offered in their support, which exalted status had been intended for them all along. As Plato noted, they are meant to transcend the debased world of evidential support. (Why that is so is explained here.)]


Otherwise, the actual truth or the actual falsehood of M1-, and M3-type sentences would be sensitive to the way the world happened to be, and hence dependent on evidence. They wouldn't be based on thought alone. That explains why the 'comprehension' of metaphysical propositions appear to go hand-in-hand with knowing their automatic truth-status; 'comprehension' of such sentences is based exclusively on thought, language and meaning. As soon they are 'understood', their truth, or their falsehood, follows directly. Their semantic status is of a piece with their 'comprehension'.


M1: Time is a relation between events.


M3: To be is to be perceived.


By way of contrast, empirical propositions derive their sense from the truth-possibilities they hold open (which truth-possibilities have to be confirmed or confuted by observation or experiment). That is why the actual truth-value of, say, M2 (or its contradictory, M4, below) doesn't need to be known before it is understood. On the contrary, it is why evidence is relevant to establishing that truth-value.


M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.


M4: Tony Blair doesn't own a copy of Das Kapital.


[Plainly, M4 would normally be used to deny the truth-value of M2 -- or vice versa.]


In order to comprehend M2 -- or, indeed, M4 -- all that is required is some grasp of their content (i.e., the possibilities they hold out -- i.e., Blair's owning the said book). M2 and M4 thus have the same content -- that is, they are made true, or they are made false, by the same situation obtaining or not obtaining, respectively.


[The significance of that remark will become clearer as the argument develops.]


The Ineluctable Slide Into Non-Sense


Why All Metaphysical Theories Are Non-Sensical


If a proposition appears to be empirical but can only be true, or can only be false, then, as we will see, it forfeits both options.


We can appreciate why that is so if we consider M1 again alongside its supposed negation, M5:


M1: Time is a relation between events.


M5: Time isn't a relation between events.


M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.


M4: Tony Blair doesn't own a copy of Das Kapital.


As we have seen, the alleged truth-status of M1 is capable of being derived solely from the meaning of the words it contains (in fact, M1 is a definition, which establishes what its key term ("time") is supposed to mean or imply).


However, unlike M2 and M4, the truth of M1 can't be denied by means of what appears to be its negation, M5, since that would amount to a change in the meaning of the word "time".


Again, that is because sentences like M1 define what a given philosopher means by, in this case, "time".


But, if 'time' isn't a relation between events (as M5 attempts to tell us), then the word "time" must have a different meaning in M5 from the meaning it has in M1. And, if that is so, M1 and M5 can't relate to the same supposed underlying state of affairs -- unlike M2 and M4.


So, despite appearances to the contrary, M1 and M5 are logically unrelated sentences -- unlike the relation between M2 and M4, which are linked by a common possible state of affairs -- Blair owing the said book.


M1: Time is a relation between events.


M5: Time isn't a relation between events.


So, despite appearances to the contrary, M5 isn't the negation of M1!


And that is because the subject of each sentence is different.


To see this, compare the following:


M6: George W Bush crashed his car on the 3rd of May 2012.


M7: George H W Bush didn't crash his car on the 3rd of May 2012.


Whether or not one or both of these is true, M6 and M7 aren't negations of each other since they relate to two different individuals, George W Bush and his father, George H W Bush. M6 and M7 thus have two different subjects. They are true, or they are false, under entirely different conditions since they don't have the same sense, the same empirical content. They express different possible states of affairs.


An analogous change of subject applies to metaphysical propositions -- such as M1, and what appears to be its negation, M5:


M1: Time is a relation between events.


M5: Time isn't a relation between events.


Why is this important?


Well, if M1 is held to be "necessarily true", that would be tantamount to declaring its supposed negation, M5, "necessarily false". And yet, M5 isn't the negation of M1. So it isn't possible to derive the falsehood of M5 from the supposed truth of M1. M1 and M5 are logically unrelated. The 'truth' or 'falsehood' of one has no bearing on the 'truth' or 'falsehood' of the other -- unlike M2 and M4.


But, by declaring M1 "necessarily true" we should have to know what M1 is ruling out as "necessarily false", otherwise we would be in no position to declare it "necessarily true". [That, too, will be explained presently.]


As we have seen, an ordinary empirical proposition and its negation have the same content (i.e., they are made true or they are made false by the same specific state of affairs obtaining or not -- in this case, Blair actually owning the said book).


M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.


M4: Tony Blair doesn't own a copy of Das Kapital.


Hence, if we know under what conditions M2 is true, we automatically know under what conditions its negation, M4, is false (i.e., not true). This is what allows us to investigate the actual truth-status of empirical propositions, since we know in advance what to look for, what we are ruling in and what we are ruling out, and thus what to expect.


If, for example, we find out that M4 is true, we can automatically infer the falsehood of M2 -- and vice versa. In that case, we can automatically reject M2 as false if M4 is true, just as we can automatically reject M4 if M2 is true. The same content tells us which we can rule in and what we can rule out.


It is this shared content that connects the two.


However, as we have seen, between a metaphysical proposition and what might appear to be its negation there is a change of subject. They fail to relate to the same supposed state of affairs and hence they have a different presumed content. [In fact, as we are about to see, they have no content at all.] There is nothing that connects them in the above manner.


["Content" here is taken to express what an indicative sentence purports to tell us about the world, what state of affairs it expresses.]


In which case, the 'truth' of M1 can't be ruled out by means of the 'truth' of M5 (nor vice versa), since we would now have no idea what we were ruling out -- and thus no idea what we were ruling in.


[Why that is so will also be explained presently, but it is connected with the fact that M1 and M5 express no actual or possible state of affairs.]


M1: Time is a relation between events.


M5: Time isn't a relation between events.


Or, rather, what we might imagine we are trying to rule out by the use of M1 (i.e., what M5 appears to be saying) can't in fact be ruled out, since M5 has a different subject, and hence a different 'content'.


Why is this important?


It is important because to declare a sentence "true" is ipso facto to declare it "not false". These two go hand-in-hand.


[Some might think the above represents an unwise concession to the so-called 'Law of Excluded Middle' [LEM]. I can't enter into that topic here, so any who do so think are advised to read this (and follow the link at the end of it), and then perhaps think again. Of course, if a supposed proposition is neither true nor false, it wasn't a proposition to begin with.]


But, if we can't do that, if we can't declare M1 "not false" (and we plainly can't do that if we have no idea what we are ruling out -- indeed, as soon as we attempt to do that by means of M5 we end up changing the subject of the original sentence!), we can't then say the original sentence is true.


Why that is so will now be explained.


By declaring a sentence like M1 "necessarily true", we appear to be ruling some things conclusively in, and thus ruling other things conclusively out as "necessarily false". That is, it looks like we are ruling out the same presumed state of affairs. But, in this case there isn't a shared state of affairs here. In fact, there is no state of affairs here to begin with, shared or otherwise. M1 picks out no state of affairs -- even in theory -- and neither does M5.


If there were a common state of affairs that M1 and both M5 expressed, we would be able to negate M1 legitimately (i.e., by using M5), and hypothesise that M1 doesn't obtain. But we have just seen we can't even do that. In relation to M1, what we think we are ruling out is M5. But, M5 has a different supposed content to M1, so we aren't in fact ruling M5 out!


M1 thus has no content at all, and neither has M5.


If they had a content then M1 and M5 would be logically connected, and there would be no change of subject between them. But, that isn't so. Hence, they don't share the same content but have no content at all.


In that case, they are both telling us nothing factual.


M1: Time is a relation between events.


M5: Time isn't a relation between events.


When sentences like M1 are entertained, a pretence (often genuine) has to be maintained that they actually mean something, that they are capable of being understood, and thus that they are capable of being true, or are capable of being false -- i.e., in this case, at least, that they at least depict a theoretical state of affairs -- time being a relation between events, in this instance. To that end, a further pretence has to be maintained that we understand what would make such propositions true -- or, indeed, would make their 'negations' false -- so that those like M5 can be declared "necessarily false".


We imagine they depict at least a theoretical state of affairs, which we have just seen they can't.


Again: if there were a state of affairs that M1 picked out, we would be able to negate M1 legitimately, but as we have seen we can't do that without changing the subject.


Hence, with philosophical 'propositions' like M1 and M5 this entire exercise is an empty charade, for no content can be given them. They depict no state of affairs, even in theory.


M1: Time is a relation between events.


M5: Time isn't a relation between events.


In order to declare M1 true, we pretend that a theoretical state of affairs (at least) is being ruled out (i.e., what M5 says); but, we have just seen that this isn't so. Nothing is being ruled in or out, since M1 is incapable of depicting anything. It has no content.


So, anyone who accepts M1 as 'true' is in no position say what it depicts, even in theory. That isn't because it would be psychologically impossible for them to do so, it is because it is logically impossible to do it. If M1 could depict something (even in theory), we could legitimately negate it; but (apparently) doing that changes the subject (in M5). By declaring M1 true, or "necessarily true", we would normally be declaring M5 false, or "necessarily false". But, it isn't possible to specify conditions that would make M5 false, and hence M1 true without changing the subject.


But, if we can't say under what conditions M1 is true (since it is now clear it depicts nothing at all), we can't say it is false, either. In which case, we are in no position to declare M1 either true or false! Any attempt to do so falls apart, for that would imply that two logically unrelated sentences (M1 and M5) were related after all.


No Way Back

Hence, metaphysical propositions can't be true and they can't be false. They have no content. They express no state of affairs, even in theory.


They thus lack a sense, and there is nothing that can be done to rectify the situation.


Our use of language actually prevents them from expressing a sense, and therefore being true or false.

They are non-sensical, empty strings of words.


[It is also possible to show that metaphysical propositions aren't just non-sensical, they are also incoherent non-sense, but that won't be attempted in this Introductory Essay. On that, however, see here and here.]


Isn't This Essay Non-sensical, Too?


Some have tried to argue that the above analysis is susceptible to its own critique -- in that it looks no less metaphysical because it asserts this or that about "sense", or the semantics of "true" and "false", etc., etc. --, hence it, too, is non-sensical!


I have addressed that seemingly knock-down riposte, here.


[Remember, the above link (and many of the others on this page) won't work properly if you have ignored the advice given at the top of this page!]


Latest Update: 20/01/23


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