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Reading some philosophy articles, I keep coming across the phrases "it is the case that X" and "it is not the case that Y". I get the impression that this phrase has a somewhat different nuance than "X is true" (or X is reality) and "Y is false". But when I search for definitions, I can't find any. ("Case" obviously is a common word, with several meanings that are irrelevant to this question.)

The closest thing I find to a definition of "is (not) the case" is in the definition of negation: ~ P is defined to mean "It is not the case that P".

Can someone point me to a description of how "It is the case that X" is different from "X is true"?

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2 Answers

The difference is a subtle one but methodologically important. There is a distinction in metaphysics between how the world is and how statements or propositions about the world latch on or describe that world. Looking in depth at the former is a different philosophical investigation (which might be driven by the physical sciences) to the latter (which is more geared towards the cognitive sciences).

A metaphysical state of affairs is a logical relationship between parts of the world. This relationship can be understood in a number of ways - in Platonist and Aristotlean metaphysics, we might say that a particular partakes of a universal. Russell gives a good introduction to this kind of metaphysics in his "Problems of Philosophy"; especially chapter 9, "The World of Universals".

When we say of some proposition, say that the tree outside my window has yellow leaves, that it is the case, what we mean to say is that there is a metaphysical state of affairs such that the parts are related in the relevant ways - that the tree and its leaves (or whatever parts or atoms we take to constitute the tree and leaves) are in the arrangement that we take to amount to the tree having yellow leaves.

Being the case is not a property of propositions, but a property of some aspect of the world that we take the proposition to describe. By contrast, Truth is a property of statements or propositions. It says, of a proposition, that the terms of that proposition in the appropriate relations amount to a correct description of something that is the case. On Russell's view, we might say that Truth is described in terms of language that corresponds to what is the case. Where our talk of something being the case is used to make assertions about the world, our talk of something being true is used to make assertions about other assertions, whether by us or by others.

Often, all that truth amounts to is a reiteration of the proposition, and we might say that because our language and our systematic metaphysics should be as close as possible, the truth predicate is in a sense "transparent". This idea is expressed in a number of different ideas under the philosophical umbrella of Deflationism, which has an SEP article worth reading if you want to look in greater depth at the idea.

But to try to suggest that Deflationism is at least not trivial, consider firstly that we can make generalized assertions about propositions whose content we don't necessarily know ourselves:

Everything that Daniel Dennett says is True

And secondly, consider the truth of sentences in other languages and conceptual schemes; what would it take for a non-German to say that an assertion of "Schnee ist weiß" is true?

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Paul, thanks for this explanation. I am surprised at your statement that investigation into how the world is "should be driven [only?] by the physical sciences" - this seems contingent on an assumption of physicalism. But that's a rabbit trail. The contrast between properties of some aspect of the world and properties of propositions is very helpful. –  LarsH Oct 25 '12 at 14:55
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Lars, I tend to pitch the difference in terms of physical versus cognitive science since it makes it easier to avoid going into questions about what metaphysical reality amounts to, but you're right that I should be less normative. You don't really need to have a fixed interpretation as to what the "real stuff" is to get that a distinction can in principle be drawn between elements of the stuff in the world that we talk about and elements of the mechanism we use to talk about that stuff. The gloss is just easier when the audience might be skeptical about metaphysics (as is often the case). –  Paul Ross Oct 25 '12 at 23:37
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I don't believe that "It is the case that X" is different from "X is true".

As far as defining it, I'd say the closest synonym I can think of is "a fact" - as in "It is a fact that X".

In more general use however, there can be several, contradictory "cases" being discussed, whereas a "fact" is more a constant (given, assumed, or proven) across all "cases". (scenarios? possibilities?)
Example sentence: x -> y y While it is a fact that y is true, there are two cases to consider, the case where x is true, and the case where x is false.

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Ryno, thanks for putting in your 2c. Do you know whether your impression of "the case" agrees with how it is used formally in philosophical discussions? –  LarsH Oct 25 '12 at 14:54
    
It has been a long time since I have studied any "formal£ logic, but that explanation certainly fits every use of the phrase that I've ever heard/used. –  Ryno Oct 29 '12 at 15:36
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