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Two Fallacies in Proofs of the Liar Paradox

  • Peter Eldridge-SmithEmail author


At some step in proving the Liar Paradox in natural language, a sentence is derived that seems overdetermined with respect to its semantic value. This is complemented by Tarski’s Theorem that a formal language cannot consistently contain a naive truth predicate given the laws of logic used in proving the Liar paradox. I argue that proofs of the Eubulidean Liar either use a principle of truth with non-canonical names in a fallacious way or make a fallacious use of substitution of identicals. Tarski never committed the first fallacy and may have himself considered it fallacious. Nevertheless, I clarify that it is fallacious. I then argue substitution of identicals needs to be restricted within the scope of the truth predicate. A logic for truth implementing this restriction is a monotonic extension of a classical first order logic, or indeed a formalizable fragment of natural language. Proofs of Tarski’s Indefinability of Truth theorem are invalid in this logic. This approach generalizes to invalidate proofs of Liar-like paradoxes, particularly the predicate form of the Knower paradox. Consequently, such a logic can be further extended in a way that avoids Montague’s theorem for such a system. Yet, the semantic status of a Liar sentence is not fully resolved. It is no longer overdetermined; it is now underdetermined.


Truth Liar paradox Substitution of identicals Tarski’s indefinability theorem Knower paradox Montague’s theorem 



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© Springer Nature B.V. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy, Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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