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I read the article “On the Advantages of Believing that Nothing is True”. I just don't understand how someone can believe something is the case, but is not true. It's like saying you believe unmarried men exist, but you don't believe in bachelors.

If you are denying the existence of truth, then what exactly is truth? It seems like it’s denying the existence of something that is not truth - or at least how ‘truth’ is used generally.

A statement is true if it’s in accordance with fact, or reality. How can someone agree that "snow is white" is a statement in accordance with fact or reality, but not agree that it is true?

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    Your confusion is understandable. On standard conventions, "A is B" is synonymous with "it is true that A is B" (T-schema). However, even without nihilism, there is some intuitive room between asserting something and declaring its truth. One can be prepared to act on something (assert it), while hesitating on its truth, a higher bar. If one wishes to explore this difference they would reject the T-schema. Nihilists take this to the extreme: not just hesitating on truth occasionally, but denying it wholesale. One motivation for this (Liggins's) is that it gives a solution to the Liar paradox.
    – Conifold
    Aug 14, 2023 at 9:35
  • But nihlists don’t deny everything - they just deny its truth value. So they won’t deny Snow is white, they will deny Snow is white is true. Which sounds stupid. Its like saying “I believe in the existence of water but I don’t believe in the existence of H2O”. Like what are they even saying? Aug 14, 2023 at 16:21
  • It is more like saying “I believe in the existence of water but that is not a truth, there are no truths”. As I said, even some non-nihilists have different standards for what they believe and for what they consider established as "truth". As long as the standards are different, saying what nihilists say can be made sense of.
    – Conifold
    Aug 14, 2023 at 17:41
  • What does truth mean for alethic nihlists? What is their solution to Liar Paradox? Aug 14, 2023 at 19:42
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    See Asay's Something is True for a survey of various alethic nihilists and their arguments, along with his objections. Liggins's solution to the Liar is explained on p. 3. Disallowing the passage from "(L) is not true" to "'(L) is not true’ is true" by the T-schema, blocks the derivation of the contradiction. For non-nihilist views of truth that still allow to reject the T-schema, see SEP, Pragmatic Theory of Truth.
    – Conifold
    Aug 15, 2023 at 8:22

4 Answers 4

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How can someone agree with "snow is white" is a statement in accordance with fact or reality, but not agree that it is true?

For the nihilist, saying "snow is white" corresponds with reality, but calling it "true" mistakenly assumes there is some real property of "truth" that it possesses. They argue "truth" is an incoherent philosophical notion that should be abolished entirely.

In a sense, they are arguing we should stop using the word/concept "truth" at all when analyzing statements, and just talk about whether they correspond with reality, cohere with other beliefs, are useful models, etc.

It is a pretty counterintuitive viewpoint that requires rejecting common notions of truth and semantics. But the nihilist sees "truth" as a misleading philosophical term that should be eliminated from discourse altogether.

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    What does truth mean to alethic nihlist? In order to deny the existence of something, you need to clearly define it. Because what it seems like is that the alethic nihlist is denying something other than truth. Aug 14, 2023 at 16:25
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You are interpreting the intentions of alethic nihilists too broadly. The point is that the words 'is true' when used in a statement of the form 'x is true' entail a set of implications, some of which are problematic when carefully analysed. That implies there is something flakey about the term 'is true', notwithstanding the fact that in everyday speech you can use phrases of the sort 'x is true' without encountering any practical difficulties. Given that, the a. nihilist suggests that we abandon the term 'is true' (and all its associated variations), as that avoids the troublesome implications. However, they are not suggesting that the large subset of untroublesome implications of 'is true' should be thrown out with the bathwater, but simply that we should express them in different terms. So, instead of saying 'The statement "I am typing this at home", is true', we might say 'The statement "I am typing this at home" accords with reality'. In other words, the point they are tediously making is an incredibly esoteric one with no practical consequences as far as ordinary day-to-day discourse is concerned, and their suggestion that terminology such as 'is true' should be dropped is unlikely to have a widespread impact.

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Jesus: I came to bear witness to the Truth!
Pilate: What's "truth"?

So it's been a while, us being confused about the very concept of truth. What makes something true? And why we seem to stay in perpetual disagreements -- why so often something that is true for one person, is not true for another? Is this what Jesus meant when he said to his opponents, "There is no truth in you -- [and that's why] when you lie, you simply speak your native language?"

Indeed, many philosophers believed that being unsure about something this important lies at the root of all evil. That this -- the confusion -- is why we keep inflicting pain and suffering on each other; why we keep mistaking evil for happiness, for the good we seek.

That is not to say that this must be our fate. However, if the thousands of years of our history is any indication, it is unlikely that this problem will go away on its own.

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I think this point is addressed where the article's author says:

My conjecture is that truth-talk arose like this. We had a device for expressing agreement that was transformed into a way of describing things. The transformation was beneficial because it enabled us to say more. But it came with a price.

For instance, if I were to tell you what I did last Sunday — a description of my day — you could agree or disagree with what I said, but you would have no idea about the 'truth' of the the matter. Trying to translate that agreement/disagreement into truth/falsity weirdly imports psychology and character into the question: either I told the truth or I lied. But we all know the issue isn't such a simple binary. I might have recounted a dream or fantasy without realizing it; I might have told you what I wanted to do or would have done; I might have confabulated, because I don't really remember what I did on Sunday and am filling in the blanks. And honestly, you might agree with what I said even if you think it's not 'true', to be friendly, or nice, or because we have a habit of telling each other tall tales… Hitching agreement to facticity is seriously limiting.

Now, there are reasons to do it. If you were a cop and thought I had robbed a bank on Sunday, you might investigate, and you might find that this thing I said and that thing I said did not happen. But note: you haven't proven that what I said was false, much less that I robbed a bank. You've disagreed with points of my story, saying that this and that were not the case. I could still try to salvage my story by agreeing with your observation and substituting in new points, with appropriate excuses for my mistakes. This is where it becomes convenient or expedient to make the bridge between 'agreement' and 'truth', because it allows you (as a cop) to do two things:

  1. Make the induction that since some elements in my story are not-the-case, the story as a whole is false, and a lie
  2. Use the assertion of a lie as prejudicial: i.e. that a lie in the context of a crime is presumptive of guilt

The goal is to use the induction of 'falsehood' to impugn character so that jurors will not agree with the exculpatory story.

It might help to think of the matter this way. A good movie or play creates what theater people call "suspension of disbelief". The audience intellectually knows that the presentation isn't real: the things portrayed do not actually happen to the actors portraying them. But the audience puts aside their disbelief — agrees to the premises of the story — so that they can immerse themselves in it. Much of what we take as reality is a similar form of suspension of disbelief: e.g., the vast majority of people in the world merely accept that physics is 'true' without ever having experimented or given the math more than a passing thought. The question is whether we overtly assert that we know the 'truth', or consciously suspend our disbelief for the purpose.

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