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I recently read this article in my pursuit to understand wtf alethic nihlism is trying to say: https://philarchive.org/archive/ASASIT

One of the objections to alethic nihlism is that alethic nihlism claims to deny truth, but it is not very clear what it means when it denies truth. "To sum up, the challenge facing Liggins is how to demonstrate that when he claims to be denying the existence of truth, he is genuinely denying the existence of what non-nihilists embrace. Given that Liggins rejects the very claims that other theorists would point to in their account of what truth (or the concept TRUTH) is, or what ‘true’ means, etc., this challenge is especially pressing. On every extant theory of truth, it’s platitudinous that snow being white is a sufficient condition for there being truth. Liggins owes us a recognizable account of truth—one that validates the claim that he hasn’t changed the subject—that reveals how the world doesn’t, in fact, provide the necessary ingredients for there being truth."

So how do alethic nihlists respond? And what does truth mean in alethic nihlism?

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  • The truth-deniers are denying what the other truth-deniers assert. Of course. What did we expect? Stoicism is not a philosophy, etc
    – Scott Rowe
    Aug 16, 2023 at 11:39
  • Liggins does not offer an account of truth. Asay suggests in that paper that something like Künne’s theory of truth is implicit in his works, but then goes on to argue that it would not work. However, I am not so sure that nihilists "owe" us an account. The plentitude of extant accounts of it, with all of their problems and disagreements, might be circumstantial evidence that "truth" does not pick out anything cogent and ought to be dispensed with, not theorized about. Which is what nihilists do. There is no changing the subject when the perceived subject is actually non-existent.
    – Conifold
    Aug 16, 2023 at 16:53

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As Asay says in the essay:

Alternatively, [the thesis is that] there is no property of truth—even in the “merely abundant” or deflated sense of ‘property’.

This opens the door to a variety of corollary definitions:

  1. Truth-value nihilism: Frege held that truth is not a property of sentences/propositions but is an object to which sentences can refer; when this reference is secured is when we say that sentences are true. A nihilist about truth-values/truth-objects can deny this; but then a truth-value nihilist need not be a truth-property nihilist.
  2. Truth-predicate nihilism: we might also call this truth-relation nihilism, taking relations as polyadic predicates. Having a naive truth-predicate/truth-property allows the liar paradox to be constructed. If for all sentences S, it is a fact that not(S and not S), i.e. if the law of noncontradiction is assumed, a theory that allows us to construct an otherwise inescapable contradiction is a disproven theory. So the theory of a naive truth-predicate is disproven; so there is no naive truth-predicate.X
  3. Obtaining-states-of-affairs nihilism: the obtainment relation in the theory of states-of-affairs (SoA's) is not identical to the truth relation in the theory of sentences/propositions. Although SoA's are not always indicated by expressions like, "Mary's being a neuroscientist," or, "John's having of some breakfast," etc., these are typical such markers. Whereas we can say, "This sentence is not true," we can't say, "This SoA's not being true," since gerundive nominals are not truth-apt. "This SoA's not obtaining," perhaps does not generate a paradox, or if it does, demonstrating how is different enough from constructing the liar paradox that the obtainment relation is not the same as the truth relation. So it would be possible to affirm or deny the obtainment relation independent on one's affirmation or denial of the truth relation.

So one might be an alethic nihilist in any one or two of those senses, or even all three. It does seem as if threefold alethic nihilism would be tantamount to a self-refuting position or a change-of-subject. Generally, it is less that abstract definitions of concepts are, or fail to be, factually correct, but the issue is more how the concepts are used and if our use of them is an efficient way to approach our communication goals. I would like to add that Asay's paper as posted is in draft form, and I'm not entirely sure if it has been actually published yet: this link does indicate a late 2021 publication date, but maybe that's for a different version of the essay? Another paper by two other authors and exploring this territory, however, was published in 2017, which means plenty of time for alethic nihilists to have responded. Perhaps this pro-nihilism(!) essay from 2023 includes responses to either of the preceding texts.


XOne could zigzag off the changing-the-subject objection, here, and say that the way the truth-predicate is used in the construction of the liar sentence is itself already a change-of-subject, i.e. there is a world of difference between the way the phrase "is true" is used in, "It is true that snow is white," and, "It is true that this sentence isn't true." This would undermine one of the motivations for alethic nihilism from the outside.

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  • Can you explain this like Im 15 years old? I really have no idea wtf this is. @Kristian Berry Aug 17, 2023 at 0:59
  • @HelpMePlease the three versions of alethic nihilism indicated (against truth-as-an-object, truth-as-a-predicate, or truth-as-grounded-in-obtainment) are three ways that an alethic nihilist might use the word "truth," so that their use has some reference; the upshot is that full alethic nihilism, opposed to all those versions, would be somewhat pointless (why would I agree to use the word "truth" in the way a full alethic nihilist uses it?). As for your question about how alethic nihilists respond to Asay's objections, I found some other essays that might be relevant, that's all. Aug 17, 2023 at 1:08
  • I should add that "like I'm 15 years old" has almost no meaning for me as a description; I was homeschooled in extreme isolation so I have no clue what the average reading level of 15-year-olds was when I was that age, much less what it is now (I saw something recently about Zoomers regularly thinking on the essay level, regardless of how short TikTok videos look to be on the outside, so who knows?). Aug 17, 2023 at 1:12

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