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Summary Primitivism about truth maintains that truth is a primitive, indefinable notion. Accordingly, primitivism is opposed to the traditional theories of truth, such as the correspondence theory, coherence theory, and pragmatic theory, which hold that truth can be defined into those further notions. Primitivism is also opposed to deflationary theories of truth, which maintain that truth is not a substantial notion. Hence, primitivism offers a substantial (i.e., non-deflationary) theory of truth, but one that resists definition in terms of any other notions.    
Key works Primitivism has a distinguished history. At the dawn of analytic philosophy, G. E. Moore (Moore 1899) and Bertrand Russell (Russell 1904) both defended the view, as did Gottlob Frege. The most famous argument for primitivism, known variously as Frege's treadmill, regress, or circularity argument, is found in Frege 1956. The most important contemporary discussion of primitivism is found in the work of Donald Davidson, notably Davidson 1990 and Davidson 1996. For a sustained discussion and defense of primitivism, see Asay 2013.
Introductions For an accessible introduction to primitivism and some of the theoretical motivations for it, see Davidson 1996.
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  1. Primitivism About Truth.Jamin Asay - forthcoming - In Michael Lynch, Nathan Kellen, Junyeol Kim & Jeremy Wyatt (eds.), The Nature of Truth (Second edition). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
    This essay offers an account and defense of conceptual primitivism about truth: the view that the concept of truth a is fundamental concept that cannot be analyzed or defined in terms of concepts that are more fundamental. It considers three arguments in defense of primitivism, and meets a familiar objection that fundamental concepts are by their nature obscure and mysterious. It concludes by considering the ways in which primitivism is similar to and different from other theories of truth, both substantive (...)
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  2. Truth in Frege.Richard Heck & Robert May - forthcoming - In M. Glanzberg (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Truth. Oxford University Press.
    A general survey of Frege's views on truth, the paper explores the problems in response to which Frege's distinctive view that sentences refer to truth-values develops. It also discusses his view that truth-values are objects and the so-called regress argument for the indefinability of truth. Finally, we consider, very briefly, the question whether Frege was a deflationist.
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  3. Truth : a concept unlike any other.Jamin Asay - 2021 - Synthese 198 (Supplement issue 2):S605-S630.
    This paper explores the nature of the concept of truth. It does not offer an analysis or definition of truth, or an account of how it relates to other concepts. Instead, it explores what sort of concept truth is by considering what sorts of thoughts it enables us to think. My conclusion is that truth is a part of each and every propositional thought. The concept of truth is therefore best thought of as the ability to token propositional thoughts. I (...)
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  4. Frege, the Self-Consciousness of Judgement, and the Indefinability of Truth.Colin Johnston - 2021 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 29 (6):1124-1143.
    ABSTRACT Frege characterizes judgement as the acknowledgement of the truth of a thought, appearing thereby to rule out false judgement. First in this paper I explain Frege’s characterization so that it does not have this consequence. Frege is not saying that for a subject S to judge that p is for S to acknowledge the truth of the thought that p. Rather, he is articulating judgement’s nature within self-consciousness. From within, to judge means to acknowledge a truth. Second, I suggest (...)
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  5. Frege's Choice: The Indefinability Argument, Truth, and the Fregean Conception of Judgment.Junyeol Kim - 2021 - Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy 9 (5):1-26.
    I develop a new reading of Frege’s argument for the indefinability of truth. I concentrate on what Frege literally says in the passage that contains the argument. This literal reading of the passage establishes that the indefinability argument is an arguably sound argument to the following conclusion: provided that the Fregean conception of judgment—which has recently been countered by Hanks—is correct and that truth is a property of truth-bearers, a vicious infinite regress is produced. Given this vicious regress, Frege chooses (...)
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  6. The Nature of Truth (Second Edition).Michael Lynch, Jeremy Wyatt, Junyeol Kim & Nathan Kellen (eds.) - 2021 - Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  7. Fix, Express, Quantify: Disquotation After Its Logic.Carlo Nicolai - 2021 - Mind 130 (519):727-757.
    Truth-theoretic deflationism holds that truth is simple, and yet that it can fulfil many useful logico-linguistic roles. Deflationism focuses on axioms for truth: there is no reduction of the notion of truth to more fundamental ones such as sets or higher-order quantifiers. In this paper I argue that the fundamental properties of reasonable, primitive truth predicates are at odds with the core tenets of classical truth-theoretic deflationism that I call fix, express, and quantify. Truth may be regarded as a broadly (...)
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  8. Frege's Conception of Truth as an Object.Junyeol Kim - 2020 - Dissertation, University of Connecticut
    In this dissertation I explore Frege’s conception of truth. In particular I defend the thesis that Frege in his mature career takes truth to be an object, i.e., the True qua the reference of true sentences. In the literature on truth Frege has been usually taken to be a truth deflationist or a truth primitivist. Indeed Frege leaves a number of comments that sound like typical deflationist claims and his famous indefinability argument is the most discussed argument for primitivism. However, (...)
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  9. The Circularity Reading of Frege's Indefinability Argument.Junyeol Kim - 2020 - Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 9 (2):128-136.
    This paper criticizes the circularity reading of Frege's argument for the indefinability of truth. According to this reading, Frege is appealing to a sort of circularity in the argument. I argue that the circularity reading is interpretatively incorrect, or makes Frege's argument a non‐starter.
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  10. Editorial Introduction to ‘Truth: Concept Meets Property’.Jeremy Wyatt - 2020 - Synthese 198 (2):591-603.
  11. Anaphoric Deflationism, Primitivism, and the Truth Property.Pietro Salis - 2019 - Acta Analytica 34 (1):117-134.
    Anaphoric deflationism is a prosententialist account of the use of “true.” Prosentences are, for sentences, the equivalent of what pronouns are for nouns: as pronouns refer to previously introduced nouns, so prosentences like “that’s true” inherit their content from previously introduced sentences. This kind of deflationism concerning the use of “true” (especially in Brandom’s version) is an explanation in terms of anaphora; the prosentence depends anaphorically on the sentence providing its content. A relevant implication of this theory is that “true” (...)
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  12. A Simple Theory Containing its Own Truth Predicate.Nicholas Shackel - 2018 - South American Journal of Logic 4 (1):121-131.
    Tarski's indefinability theorem shows us that truth is not definable in arithmetic. The requirement to define truth for a language in a stronger language (if contradiction is to be avoided) lapses for particularly weak languages. A weaker language, however, is not necessary for that lapse. It also lapses for an adequately weak theory. It turns out that the set of G{\"o}del numbers of sentences true in arithmetic modulo $n$ is definable in arithmetic modulo $n$.
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  13. Putting Pluralism in its Place.Jamin Asay - 2016 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research:175-191.
    Pluralism about truth is the view that there are many properties, not just one, in virtue of which things are true. Pluralists hope to dodge the objections that face traditional monistic substantive views of truth, as well as those facing deflationary theories of truth. More specifically, pluralists hope to advance an explanatorily potent understanding of truth that can capture the subtleties of various realist and anti-realist domains of discourse, all while avoiding the scope problem. I offer a new objection to (...)
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  14. From One to Many: Recent Work on Truth.Jeremy Wyatt & Michael Lynch - 2016 - American Philosophical Quarterly 53 (4):323-340.
    In this paper, we offer a brief, critical survey of contemporary work on truth. We begin by reflecting on the distinction between substantivist and deflationary truth theories. We then turn to three new kinds of truth theory—Kevin Scharp's replacement theory, John MacFarlane's relativism, and the alethic pluralism pioneered by Michael Lynch and Crispin Wright. We argue that despite their considerable differences, these theories exhibit a common "pluralizing tendency" with respect to truth. In the final section, we look at the underinvestigated (...)
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  15. Wang Chong, Truth, and Quasi-Pluralism.Lajos L. Brons - 2015 - Comparative Philosophy 6 (1):129-148.
    In (2011) McLeod suggested that the first century Chinese philosopher Wang Chong 王充 may have been a pluralist about truth. In this reply I contest McLeod's interpretation of Wang Chong, and suggest "quasi-pluralism" (albeit more as an alternative to pluralism than as an interpretation of Wang Chong), which combines primitivism about the concept of truth with pluralism about justification.
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  16. The Primitive Thesis: Defending a Davidsonian Conception of Truth.Justin Robert Clarke - 2015 - Dissertation,
    In this dissertation I defend the claim, long held by Donald Davidson, that truth is a primitive concept that cannot be correctly or informatively defined in terms of more basic concepts. To this end I articulate the history of the primitive thesis in the 20th century, working through early Moore, Russell, and Frege, and provide improved interpretations of their reasons for advancing and eventually abandoning the primitive thesis. I show the importance of slingshot-style arguments in the work of Frege, Church, (...)
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  17. The Primitivist Theory of Truth By J. Asay. [REVIEW]John Collins - 2015 - Analysis 75 (3):525-527.
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  18. The Primitivist Theory of Truth, by Jamin Asay: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013, Pp. Xiii + 354, US$95.00. [REVIEW]Paul Dicken - 2014 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92 (4):816-816.
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  19. Examination of Merricks' Primitivism About Truth.A. R. J. Fisher - 2014 - Metaphysica 15 (2):281-98.
    Trenton Merricks argues for and defends a novel version of primitivism about truth : being true is a primitive monadic but non-intrinsic property. This examination consists of the following triad: a critical discussion of Merricks’ argument for his view, a rejection of his objection against Paul Horwich’s minimalist theory of truth, and a direct objection against his view on the grounds that it entails being true is a mysterious and suspicious property. The conclusion is that Merricks’ primitivism should be rejected.
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  20. Primitive Truth.Jamin Asay - 2013 - Dialectica 67 (4):503-519.
    Conceptual primitivism is the view that truth is among our most basic and fundamental concepts. It cannot be defined, analyzed, or reduced into concepts that are more fundamental. Primitivism is opposed to both traditional attempts at defining truth (in terms of correspondence, coherence, or utility) and deflationary theories that argue that the notion of truth is exhausted by means of the truth schema. Though primitivism might be thought of as a view of last resort, I believe that the view is (...)
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  21. Tarski and Primitivism About Truth.Jamin Asay - 2013 - Philosophers' Imprint 13:1-18.
    Tarski’s pioneering work on truth has been thought by some to motivate a robust, correspondence-style theory of truth, and by others to motivate a deflationary attitude toward truth. I argue that Tarski’s work suggests neither; if it motivates any contemporary theory of truth, it motivates conceptual primitivism, the view that truth is a fundamental, indefinable concept. After outlining conceptual primitivism and Tarski’s theory of truth, I show how the two approaches to truth share much in common. While Tarski does not (...)
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  22. The Primitivist Theory of Truth.Jamin Asay - 2013 - Cambridge University Press.
    Jamin Asay's book offers a fresh and daring perspective on the age-old question 'What is truth?', with a comprehensive articulation and defence of primitivism, the view that truth is a fundamental and indefinable concept. Often associated with Frege and the early Russell and Moore, primitivism has been largely absent from the larger conversation surrounding the nature of truth. Asay defends primitivism by drawing on a range of arguments from metaphysics, philosophy of language and philosophy of logic, and navigates between correspondence (...)
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  23. A crítica de Frege a teoria da verdade como correspondência.Kariel Antonio Giarolo - 2013 - Philósophos - Revista de Filosofia 18 (2):135-166.
    This paper has as main objective present and discuss Gottlob Frege critic to the attempt to define the concept of truth, especially, the attempt to define of truth as correspondence. The correspondence theories of truth sustain that truth can be defined in terms of correspondence between sentences, propositions or true thoughts and facts. However, in his posthumous writing Logic (1897) and, after, in The Thought (1918), Frege presents a severe critic to this kind of approach. He holds that truth is (...)
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  24. Truth and Epistemology.Matthew McGrath & Jeremy Fantl - 2013 - In John Turri (ed.), Virtuous Thoughts: The Philosophy of Ernest Sosa. Springer. pp. 127--145.
    In Sect. 1 of this chapter, Matthew McGrath examines Sosa's work on the nature of truth. Sosa's chief purpose is to determine what sort of theory of truth is appropriate for truth-centered epistemology -- an epistemology that takes truth to be the goal of inquiry and which explains key epistemic notions in terms of truth. While Sosa refutes arguments from Putnam and Davidson against the correspondence theory, he is hesitant to endorse it because he doubts we have a clear enough (...)
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  25. Frege, la Verdad y El Progreso Cientifico.Carlos Ulises Moulines - 2012 - Disputatio. Philosophical Research Bulletin 1 (1):17--35.
    [ES] El presente trabajo muestra la continuidad, a través de la obra de Frege y en el contexto de su caracterización del hacer científico, de una noción de verdad que no es constructiva ni instrumental y ni siquiera puede entenderse como relación de correspondencia o adecuación. Se trata de un concepto primitivo y no definible, que se intenta llevar a sus últimas consecuencias —algo que no llegó a hacer Frege. El autor defiende, finalmente, una noción alternativa de verdad que podría (...)
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  26. La Noción De Verdad En “el Pensamiento: Una Investigación Lógica” De Gottlob Frege.Ricardo Araujo - 2011 - Episteme NS: Revista Del Instituto de Filosofía de la Universidad Central de Venezuela 31 (1):85-90.
    La noción de verdad juega un papel fundamental dentro del marco lógico- semántico expuesto por Gottlob Frege en sus ensayos “Función y concepto” y “Sentido y referencia”. En su artículo El pensamiento. Una investigación lógica, el filósofo alemán nos dice que la lógica es la ciencia que estudia lo verdadero y las leyes que en cuanto verdadero le competen, pero, ¿qué debemos entender por “verdad”? Esta interrogante será uno de los puntos centrales que Frege expondrá en su artículo. ¿La verdad (...)
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  27. Our Grasp of the Concept of Truth: Reflections on Künne.Paul Boghossian - 2010 - Dialectica 64 (4):553-563.
    Wolfgang Künne's Conceptions of Truth (2003) is a magnificent achievement. Wonderfully clear, erudite, compendious, honest and insightful on some very tricky issues – these are some of its many virtues. I have benefited a great deal from studying it. In this short note, I will concentrate on Künne's own positive proposal about the concept of truth, his modestly named ‘Modest Account’. I will raise some questions about its ultimate viability.
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  28. Axiomatic Theories of Truth.Volker Halbach - 2010 - Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
    At the centre of the traditional discussion of truth is the question of how truth is defined. Recent research, especially with the development of deflationist accounts of truth, has tended to take truth as an undefined primitive notion governed by axioms, while the liar paradox and cognate paradoxes pose problems for certain seemingly natural axioms for truth. In this book, Volker Halbach examines the most important axiomatizations of truth, explores their properties and shows how the logical results impinge on the (...)
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  29. Truth as Conceptually Primitive.Douglas Patterson - 2010 - In Cory D. Wright & Nikolaj J. L. L. Pedersen (eds.), New Waves in Truth. Palgrave-Macmillan.
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  30. New Waves in Truth.Cory Wright & Nikolaj Jang Lee Linding Pedersen (eds.) - 2010 - Palgrave-Macmillan.
    What is truth? Philosophers are interested in a range of issues involving the concept of truth beginning with what sorts of things can be true. This is a collection of eighteen new and original research papers on truth and other alethic phenomena by twenty of the most promising young scholars working on truth today.
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  31. Russell's Early Metaphysics of Propositions.Anssi Korhonen - 2009 - Prolegomena 8 (2):159-192.
    In Bertrand Russell’s The Principles of Mathematics and related works, the notion of a proposition plays an important role; it is by analyzing propositions, showing what kinds of constituents they have, that Russell arrives at his core logical concepts. At this time, his conception of proposition contains both a conventional and an unconventional part. The former is the view that propositions are the ultimate truth-bearers; the latter is the view that the constituents of propositions are “worldly” entities. In the latter (...)
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  32. Russellova rana metafizika propozicija.Anssi Korhonen - 2009 - Prolegomena 8 (2):159-192.
    In Bertrand Russell’s "The Principles of Mathematics" and related works, the notion of a proposition plays an important role; it is by analyzing propositions,showing what kinds of constituents they have, that Russell arrives at his core logical concepts. At this time, his conception of proposition contains both a conventional and an unconventional part. The former is the view that propositions are the ultimate truth-bearers; the latter is the view that the constituents of propositions are “worldly” entities. In the latter respect, (...)
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  33. Interpretation and the Indefinability of Truth in Heidegger and Davidson.Richard Matthews - 2009 - Analecta Hermeneutica 1:35-45.
    Heidegger famously diminishes the significance of everyday theories of truth like the correspondence theory, disparaging these as a matter of ‘mere’ correctness.They are among the starting points that lead to ‘the true’ but are not themselves genuine or authentic. Donald Davidson develops a theory of interpretation that suggests some reasons why the ordinary senses of truth should not be so mistreated: responsible theories of interpretation should treat the everyday senses of truth more seriously. This paper argues that the necessity of (...)
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  34. Frege on Truths, Truth and the True.Wolfgang Künne - 2008 - Studia Philosophica Estonica 1 (1):5-42.
    The founder of modern logic and grandfather of analytic philosophy was 70 years old when he published his paper 'Der Gedanke' (The Thought ) in 1918. This essay contains some of Gottlob Frege's deepest and most provocative reflections on the concept of truth, and it will play a prominent role in my lectures. The plan for my lectures is as follows. What is it that is (primarily) true or false? 'Thoughts', is Frege's answer. In §1, I shall explain and defend (...)
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  35. Essays on Frege’s Conception of Truth.Dirk Greimann (ed.) - 2007 - Rodopi.
    In his writings on the foundations of logic, Gottlob Frege, the father of modern logic, sketched a conception of truth that focuses on the following questions: What is the sense of the word “true”? Is truth a definable concept or a primitive one? What are the kinds of things of which truth is predicated? What is the role of the concept of truth in judgment, assertion and recognition? What is the logical category of truth? What is the significance of the (...)
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  36. Truth and Ontology.Trenton Merricks - 2007 - Oxford University Press.
    Truth and Ontology concludes that some truths do not depend on being in any substantive way at all.
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  37. Primitive Disclosive Alethism.Timothy J. Nulty - 2007 - Metaphysica 8 (1):1-15.
    The contemporary debate about truth is polarized between deflationists and those who offer robust accounts of truth. I present a theory of truth called ‘Primitive Disclosive Alethism’ that occupies the middle ground between these two extremes. Contrary to deflationist claims, truth has a nature beyond its merely linguistic, expressive function. Truth is objective and non-epistemic, yet cannot be characterized in terms of correspondence. Primitive Disclosive Alethism offers a metaphysically satisfying explanation of our correspondence intuitions, while explaining why the concept of (...)
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  38. Primitive Disclosive Alethism: Davidson, Heidegger, and the Nature of Truth.Timothy J. Nulty - 2006 - Peter Lang.
    Davidson, truth, and triangulation -- Davidson applied -- Half truths -- Heidegger's analytic of Dasein -- Dasein and truth -- Truthful intersections -- Primitive disclosive alethism.
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  39. Tarski's Grelling and the T-Strategy.Greg Ray - 2006 - In Bryson Brown (ed.), Truth and Probability: Essays in Honour of Hugues Leblanc. College Publications.
    Tarski's argumentative use of the liar paradox is well-known, but officially it is the Grelling paradox that has final pride of place in Tarski's argument, not the Liar at all. Tarski explicitly gives argumentation that adverts to the liar argument, but it is an alternative argument—one he only hints at and which adverts to the Grelling—which he says has the advantage of removing any empirical element. In this paper, we will examine how the Grelling might be used in place of (...)
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  40. Realistyczny minimalizm w kwestii prawdy.Anna Sierszulska - 2006 - Filozofia Nauki 2.
    The paper presents three different Fregean approaches towards the question of truth, all of which can be classified as belonging to the category of minimalistic theories, namely the identity theory of McDowell and Hornsby, the 'modest' conception of truth proposed by Wolfgang Künne and the 'alethic realism' of William Alston. The conceptions are described as realistically biased, in spite of their refusal to accept 'objectual' facts as entities in the world. It is argued that a legitimate position can be distinguished (...)
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  41. Dlaczego prawda jest (nie)definiowalna.Cezary Cieśliński - 2005 - Filozofia Nauki 1.
    The aim of this paper is to consider the question about the reasons of the indefinability of truth. We note at the start that a formula with one free variable can function as a truth predicate for a given set of sentences in two different (although related) senses: relative to a model and relative to a theory. By methods due to Alfred Tarski it can be shown that some sets of sentences are too large to admit a truth predicate (in (...)
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  42. Lynch on the Value of Truth.Matthew Mcgrath - 2005 - Philosophical Books 46 (4):302-310.
  43. Observaciones a propósito de un argumento fregeano en torno a la verdad.María Albisu Aparicio - 2004 - Revista de Filosofía (Madrid) 29 (1):143-165.
    From the analysis of some proposals regarding Frege's reasoning about the indefinibility of the truth and supported on different considerations developed by J. Simon on this matter, this project proposes a new interpretation of the relations that the different theories of the truth have among themselves.
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  44. The Indefinability of Truth in the “Wahrheitsbegriff”.Mario Gómez-Torrente - 2004 - Annals of Pure and Applied Logic 126 (1-3):27-37.
    Contrary to what often seems to be the implicit belief, Tarski's 1933 version of the theorem on the indefinability of truth did not mention semantic notions, either defined or intuitive. I state this version in a somewhat modernized form and explain briefly the self-imposed mathematico-philosophical constraints that led Tarski to formulate it as he did. I also point out that close attention to its content suggests a refined view of the exact contrast between Tarski's achievement and Gödel's achievement in his (...)
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  45. Davidson and Heidegger on the Nature of Truth.Timothy J. Nulty - 2004 - Dissertation, The University of Connecticut
    The dissertation examines Davidson and Heidegger's rejections of correspondence truth, as well as their claims that truth is theoretically primitive. Truth is primitive in the sense that it cannot be reduced to, nor defined in terms of, some other more theoretically basic concepts, such as those offered in correspondence, coherence, and pragmatic accounts of truth. The fact that truth cannot be defined in terms of more basic concepts does not mean that there are not important and meaningful things to say (...)
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  46. Why Frege Thought It to Be "Probable" That Truth is Indefinable.Markus Stepanians - 2003 - Manuscrito 26 (2):331-345.
    Frege’s so-called “Regress Argument” is closely examined and it is argued that Dummett’s reconstruction of it is not satisfactory. Contra Dummett, the argument does not involve a regress, is not a reductio and not even a strictly deductive argument. Rather, what Frege tries to show is that any attempt to define truth fails to be epistemically fruitful and thus misses the very point of analytic definitions of concepts. The cause of this epistemic sterility is an inherent circularity, and it is (...)
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  47. Truth or Meaning? A Question of Priority.John Collins - 2002 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65 (3):497-536.
    There is an incompatibility between the deflationist approach to truth, which makes truth transparent on the basis of an antecedent grasp of meaning, and the traditional endeavour, exemplified by Davidson, to explicate meaning through of truth. I suggest that both parties are in the explanatory red: deflationist lack a non-truth-involving theory of meaning and Davidsonians lack a non-deflationary account of truth. My focus is on the attempts of the latter party to resolve their problem. I look in detail at Davidson's (...)
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  48. Frege on the Indefinability of Truth.Hans Sluga - 2002 - In Erich H. Reck (ed.), From Frege to Wittgenstein: Perspectives on Early Analytic Philosophy. Oxford University Press.
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  49. Précis of Understanding Truth. [REVIEW]Scott Soames - 2002 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65 (2):397–401.
    Part one attempts to diffuse five different forms of truth skepticism, broadly conceived: the view that truth is indefinable, that it is unknowable, that it is inextricably metaphysical, that there is no such thing as truth, and the view that truth is inherently paradoxical, and so must either be abandoned, or revised. An intriguing formulation of the last of these views is due to Alfred Tarski, who argued that the Liar paradox shows natural languages to be inconsistent because they contain (...)
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  50. Understanding Truth.Scott Soames - 2002 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65 (2):397-401.
    Part one attempts to diffuse five different forms of truth skepticism, broadly conceived: the view that truth is indefinable, that it is unknowable, that it is inextricably metaphysical, that there is no such thing as truth, and the view that truth is inherently paradoxical, and so must either be abandoned, or revised. An intriguing formulation of the last of these views is due to Alfred Tarski, who argued that the Liar paradox shows natural languages to be inconsistent because they contain (...)
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