Colin and I have been having a disagreement by email which prompted me to put some thoughts down here in a more orderly fashion than I did in my emails.

Let X be any statement that could be considered factual. (Leave ‘factual’ as primitive for now.) Consider four phrases that could be appended to X:

a. It is true that
b. It is the case that
c. It is believed that
d. It is known that

(a)X will be an abbreviation for “It is true that X”, (b)X is an abbreviation for “It is the case that X”, etc.

Excluding performatives, in any context where some statement (a)X, (b)x, (c)X, (d)X is appropriate (requested, desired, etc), the statement of X without a preceding phrase will also suffice. “Suffice” here means “not result in communicative misfire.” I think this also hold in at least some cases with performatives but I’ll leave that for now.

Here are two examples with different statements for X.

[I] Take X for this example to be “The soup has nuts in it.” Let’s say someone with nut allergies wants to know if they are safe eating the soup I’m serving for dinner. They ask me “Is it true that X?” I can answer with any of (a)X, (b)X, (c)X, (d)X, or X without a preceding phrase. In this context, X and the four compounds of phrase plus X are equivalent.

[II] Take X for this example to be “The product is harmless.” Let’s say I sold a product which was found to be harmful. I am on trial to see if I did so deliberately. The lawyer asks me “Do you believe that X?” I can answer with any of (a)X, (b)X, (c)X, (d)X, or X without a preceding phrase. In this context, X and the four compounds of phrase plus X are equivalent. (Saying “The product is harmless” would also here indicate that I do not assent to the finding that the product is harmful.)

In example [I] the issue at stake is that of determining an external state of affairs so to speak – whether or not the soup has nuts in it. In example [II] the issue at stake is that of determining an internal state of affairs, so to speak – whether or not I acted with deliberateness in selling a product which has been found to be harmful. Whether the issue at stake has to do with an internal or external state of affairs is not contained in (a)X, (b)X, (c)X, (d)X, or X. Rather, the issue at stake is determined in the context in which the statement appears.

It would not make sense to say “(a)X but not (b)X” or the reverse. So, let (a)X and (b)X be considered equivalent. Let’s say “(a/b)X” is an abbreviation for “(a)X or (b)X.” Modify (c)X and (d)X to apply to one subject in the first person: “I believe that X” and “I know that X.” In that case, it would not make sense to say “(c)X but not (d)X” or the reverse. So, let (c)X and (d)X be considered equivalent. Let’s say “(c/d)X” is an abbreviation for “(c)X or (d)X.” I hold that (a/b)X does not differ in any context independent way from (c/d)X. That is, in at least some contexts (a/b)X is equivalent to (c/d)X, something that can be abbreviated (a/b/c/d)X. Examples [I] and [II] show this.

(One point of my and Colin’s disagreement is that I argue that one can not honestly assert “(c/d)X but not (a/b)X” or the reverse. Colin argues that one can. I’m not sure how to address this.)

There are some examples where these are not equivalent. I can think of two.

The first example deals with false beliefs, and has two types. One can find out that one has had false beliefs (this happens in time, a distinction between present and past: “I believed that X but X is not true” or “I believed that X but [now] I know that not X”) or one can encounter or know of some person or group with beliefs that are false (this is a distinction in terms of group membership “they believe that X but X is not the case” wherein the speaker does not belong the group indicated in “they). One can not, however, be a member of a group in the present which both holds (c/d)X but not (a/b)X.

The second example deals with uncertainty. Stating (c)X can be used to indicate that one is less sure than if one says (a)X, (b)X, or (d)X. Let’s say for the sake of argument that “I know” is equivalent to “I am completely certain.” This does not mean that there is a general difference in kind between (c)X and (d)X. Rather, the difference is one of degree: one can be very certain but not completely certain, for instance. One can also be completely certain but still be wrong. That one says “You believed X with complete certainty but you were wrong” but does not say “You knew X but you were wrong” strikes me as an idiomatic difference, not a difference between the substance of knowledge and belief.

These examples do not mean that there is an important context independent difference between (a)X, (b)X, (c)X, or (d)X. I believe that is means there is not a context independent difference between being-true, being-the-case, being-believed, and being-known.

The other big point of my disagreement with Colin, I think, is that I think he believes we can have truths which are not things which are taken-to-be true but are actually true. That is, that we can get outside the position from which we hold our beliefs and in some way verify them in a way which is not subjective. I don’t understand how that would work. I hold that “objective” can always be replaced with “subjectively considered objective” with little loss.

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