tarski peirce and truth correspondences in law
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Tarski, Peirce, and Truth-Correspondences in Law. Can Semiotics Describe Truth in Legal Discourse? Paul R. Van Fleet. Western Meaning is MADE Abrahamic Religions The World is a Sum of Parts Logical Analysis Are you eating the menu?. Eastern Meaning ARISES Hinduism, Buddhism

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tarski peirce and truth correspondences in law

Tarski, Peirce, and Truth-Correspondences in Law

Can Semiotics Describe Truth in Legal Discourse?

Paul R. Van Fleet

the divide

Meaning is MADE

Abrahamic Religions

The World is a Sum of Parts

Logical Analysis

Are you eating the menu?


Meaning ARISES

Hinduism, Buddhism

The World is an Inseparable Whole

Direct Experience

What are you eating?

The Divide
the bridge semiotics
The Bridge – Semiotics!
  • Semiotics aims to identify meaning, but as a unified whole – it is a tool to describe the infinite relations between objects and interpretants by using signs
  • This way, we know that the dinner we eat is not confined to the menu and we can use that menu to choose what we eat!
signs and symbols
Signs and Symbols
  • Throughout the presentation, keep in mind this necessary relation:
  • This is important because analytic traditions use symbols as the building blocks of logical analysis.
  • Semiotics, however, uses the sign as the building block of semiotic analysis.
correspondence theory of truth
Correspondence Theory of Truth
  • “The world is all that is the case.” – L. Wittgenstein
  • The main thesis – If a proposition corresponds to reality (or what is), then the proposition is true.
  • The problem – What is reality? What is a fact?
das wahre and das falsche
Das Wahre and Das Falsche
  • Gottlob Frege
  • Any function (or sign) with a value of either das Wahre (the true)or das Falsche (the false) exists as a proposition.
  • Evaluating these truth functions requires a comparison to “the state of affairs.” – a correspondence theory of truth!
alfred tarski 1901 1983
Alfred Tarski (1901-1983)
  • The Big Four of Logic – Aristotle, Gödel, Frege, and Tarski
  • Professor at University of Warsaw
  • Mathematician
  • Logician
  • Convention-T
convention t the prerequisites
Convention-TThe Prerequisites
  • Propositional language
    • Language used to express a proposition
  • If propositional language is used to evaluate that proposition’s truth, the system ultimately collapses on its own self-referential nature
  • The solution - Meta-language!
why meta language is necessary
The statement within a rectangle on this slide is false.

Let c be an abbreviation for “the statement within a rectangle on this slide.”

Then, consider c, then only view this slide (the only available set of information).

“c” becomes identical with the statement “c is false.”

BUT, “c is false” if and only if c is false.

Therefore, c is true if and only if c is false.

If propositions are considered on the same level of analysis, i.e. primary analysis, then this contradiction occurs and the system fails.

Why Meta-Language is Necessary
how meta language works
How Meta-Language Works
  • If we have a secondary language to evaluate the primary proposition, then the previous contradiction does not occur.
  • So, meta-language is the language by which we evaluate the truth of primary propositions.
  • This insight is crucial to Tarski’s seminal contribution to an analytic definition of truth – Convention T
convention t
Convention T

For some x: T(x) if and only if φ (x).

Let x = the statement in propositional language, T = the proposition-language truth function of that statement, and φ = the meta-language truth function

For some x, x is true in the propositional language if and only if x is true in the meta-language that evaluates the propositional language.

  • Convention-T is most useful when the meta-language is defined by the same syntax and value sets that the propositional language contains.
  • The meta-language confirms the truth or falsity of the propositional language by using one’s existing knowledge on the subject.
convention t and legal discourse
Convention T and Legal Discourse
  • In Tarski’s theory, the set by which the meta-language is defined is conceptual.
  • In legal discourse, the set by which the meta-language is defined is institutional.
  • This means that the legal profession determines truth and falsity according to legal truth – the law must assume that every fact presented to it is either true or false, regardless of whether this may actually be determined.
legal correspondence theory criminal law
Legal Correspondence Theory (Criminal Law)
  • P1 – A statute defines a situation as a crime.
  • P2 – Some event occurs.
  • P3 - Certain facts of this event are analagous to the situation the statute defines.
  • C – A crime occurs.
  • Here, we see that law defines its OWN truth!
an example theft
An Example - Theft
  • “A person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully takes, or exercises unlawful control over, movable property of another with intent to deprive him thereof.” - 18 Pa.C.S. § 3921.
  • So let’s break this down into analytic-legal language…
18 pa c s 3921 broken down
18 Pa.C.S. § 3921 Broken Down
  • Let x symbolizes some movable property,
  • Let U symbolizes unlawful taking,
  • Let E symbolizes an exercise of unlawful control,
  • Let D stand for the intent to deprive,
  • Let T stand for a theft.

∀x: (U(x) v E(x)) ^ I(x) → T(x).

Each of the functions must be evaluated for truth in order to find a theft!

What tools do we have to evaluate truth?

truth tables
Truth Tables
  • A truth table is an analytic tool to determine the truth or falsity of not only symbols, but relations between those symbols.
  • First consider the proposition “X.”
  • Consider the proposition “X and Y.”
the fatal flaw
The Fatal Flaw
  • Analytic-legal traditions assume that every symbol must be true or false, regardless of whether that truth is actually determinable.
  • The law is actually not concerned with actual truth, but is more concerned with assigning truth.
  • The analytic-legal tradition cannot create room for new concepts – it can only attempt to define those by classifying them into the existing set.
  • If a set is too limited to introduce new concepts, however, it fails to do what it is supposed to do – describe our world.
semiotic legal truth analysis
Semiotic-Legal Truth Analysis
  • Instead of the limited analytic tradition, where a sign/symbol must be true or false, the semiotic tradition allows for the indeterminacy of truth to play into truth analysis.
  • This concept requires an acceptance of firstness, the initial condition where “the mode of being which consists in its subject’s being positively such as it is regardless of aught else.” (Peirce)
husserl and the einstellung nderung
Husserl and the Einstellungänderung
  • Einstellungänderung = “attitude change”
  • One may have an infinite number of attitudes towards a particular stimulus.
  • Attitude changes towards that stimulus create new meaning, and since that attitude may change in an infinite number of ways, infinite meaning may result.
peirce and firstness
Peirce and Firstness
  • Peirce uses a similar idea in his conception of firstness.
  • Peirce makes it absolutely clear that firstness exists only in a theoretical concept, because “as long as things do not act upon one another, there is no sense or meaning in saying that they have any being.”
  • Firstness is the awareness of attitude change, which expresses itself as feeling
difficulties in firstness
Difficulties in Firstness
  • In contrast to logical analysis, which is mechanical and rigid with no real conception of firstness (as a result of verification consisting of a set), Peirce’s conception of the process of feeling and firstness is necessarily whole, with the expectation of rupture
    • However, with the whole of firstness being continually ruptured, which means that the whole must necessarily change!
  • Peirce must yoke the mercurial nature of firstness to objects for some consistency, without diminishing the importance; thus arises secondness and thirdness.
    • Remember, we want to have some idea of what we’re eating!
how can firstness be expressed in truth
How can Firstness be Expressed in Truth?
  • The concept of firstness plays into truth-analysis by allowing logical symbols to be analyzed as semiotic signs.
  • Signs must acknowledge that truth or falsity may be expressed as a quality of a sign, but signs must also be able to designate truth as indeterminate.
    • This is because the sign must remain true to the concept of firstness as an infinite whole.
  • We must then introduce a NEW truth-value.
the l value
The L-Value
  • The L-value indicates indeterminate truth, or a “unknown.
  • So to explain the right table, when X is true, not-X is false, and vice-versa.
  • However, if the truth of X is unknown, or L, then the truth of not-X must also be unknown.
an expanded relation
An Expanded Relation
  • Consider the relation “X and Y.”
another relation
Another Relation
  • Consider “X or Y.”
what the l value does
What the L-value Does
  • The L-value, because it signifies an unknown truth-value, must allow for an equal chance of the sign-quality “true-false” – which means that the sign can be BOTH true or false, consistent with the infinite quality of firstness.
  • An example:
    • Consider an individual who has only seen the colors red and blue, and has no other experience with color.
    • This individual now is presented with a color that is equal parts red and blue.
    • If he is constrained to determining whether it is true that the color is red, or that it is true that the color is blue, as he would be by an analytic set, then “purple” cannot arise as an independent sign. The subject must make a choice – red or blue.
    • If the individual is semiotically guided, then his conception of “purple” may exist (because he can assign the L value in his truth-conception), and he can evaluate the statement “It is true that this shade is red (or blue)” in accord with reality.
why the l value is important
Why the L-value is Important
  • Analytic-legal analysis assumes a 1:1 ratio.
    • The sign must have ONE definition that is present in the set, and correspond to ONE way that the world actually is.
  • The L-value allows for flexibility, on the other hand, and acknowledges infinite attitude changes – a ∞:1:∞ ratio.
    • The sign may have INFINITE definitions, before being tied to one object through semiosis.
    • The “attitude change” in firstness then returns the sign to the previous infinite potential.
can semiotic truth analysis adequately describe legal discourse
Can Semiotic Truth Analysis Adequately Describe Legal Discourse?

In short, no – not because of any fault in the semiotic process, but because the institutional structure of legal discourse will not allow interpretations that it does not finitely determine.

18 pa c s 3921
18 Pa.C.S. § 3921
  • “A person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully takes, or exercises unlawful control over, movable property of another with intent to deprive him thereof.”
    • Some elements here are relatively easy to define as “true” or “false” within a set
      • Movable property (referring to an object)
    • Others are more difficult
      • Unlawfully takes? Control? (referring to a state)
    • Others virtually cannot be
      • Intent?? (a feeling)
      • Can we really see into a person’s soul and determine intent?
      • Intent relies on much more than legal reasoning - it relies on surrounding relations.
18 pa c s 3921 cont
18 Pa.C.S. § 3921 (cont.)
  • In legal discourse, when theft occurs, there must be “unlawfully takes” AND “movable property” AND “intent to deprive.”
    • Keep in mind that this is a closed set.
  • In semiotic discourse, theft is “unlawfully takes-movable property-intent to deprive…”
    • The ellipsis is important because those individual elements are linked to an entire web of relations.
    • Acknowledging the entire web of relations necessarily relegates “theft” to the L-value, which legal discourse cannot tolerate.
fec v citizens united
FEC v. Citizens United
  • In general discourse, a corporation may be thought of as an entity that exists apart from its shareholders and also as property that is held in trust for the shareholders.
    • Semiotically, a corporation is “entity-property” in the general discourse.
  • However, the majority in the Supreme Court eviscerated the property-relation from the sign “corporation,” and declared that it was true that a corporation was an “entity,” only self-referentially examining those legal facts that supported the entity conception of a corporation.
fec v citizens united cont
FEC v. Citizens United (cont.)
  • The sign “corporation” is no longer a ∞:1 ratio sign whose truth is indicated by the potentiality of the L-value. “Corporation” is now merely a 1:1 ratio symbol of the entity, classified as “true” or “false.”
  • In this way, analytic-legal discourse has made a Procrustean bed, forcing the definition to conform to legal precepts.
why the law must squelch the l value
Why the Law Must Squelch the L-Value.
  • The legal institution paints itself as an arbiter of truth, rendering decisions that are absolute and measured in order to maintain its power over the public.
  • The order that law imposes upon the social structure breaks down in the face of the unknown.
  • Legal discourse must necessarily transmute general signs into legal symbols for the sake of maintaining power over the populace.
  • Jacques Lacan
    • Psychoanalyst
    • Psychiatrist
    • Linguist
  • The Master Discourse
  • Master signifier = judge (or lawyer? or E.J. Cyran?)
master discourse
Master Discourse
  • A dynamic where a master signifier, who is a dominating party, imposes a version of events upon a secondary signifier such that the secondary signifier’s version of events becomes the master signifier’s version of events
    • The master dominates the slave, who must abide by the master’s definition or be subjected to the lash
    • Sound familiar?
the law as a master discourse
The Law as a Master Discourse
  • If a perpetrator attempts to put forth a conception of his crime that is different than that of the legal community, his version will not be accepted and he will be punished.
  • Judges (and juries), who are the real master-signifiers, create symbols using analytic-legal discourse to decide cases brought before them and punish those whose actions do not conform to the rules of the legal institution.
  • Lawyers, the pseudo-master-signifiers, also use analytic-legal reasoning to compel the judge or jury to accept their interpretation as the singular interpretation, guilty or not-guilty.
one example of how law is a master discourse
One Example of How Law is a Master Discourse
  • In general discourse the idea of “theft” can take on a number of connotations.
    • “Theft” could simply be someone taking something that is yours even though you have no claim to it, it could be someone who simply wins something by chance, and so forth.
  • However, once the event called “theft” in the general discourse is subjected to the legal process, like through the Pennsylvania statute above, the meaning of “theft” is condensed into only one interpretation.
    • The “theft” that at one time held several meanings now only has one for the purposes of general discourse.
    • Think about law school bantering.
the hope
The Hope
  • As long as the interpreter recognizes the law as wielding institutional, not actual, power over signs and that the law is forced to conform to its own axioms, the interpreter is free to recognize legality as an interpretant of a sign and its related object.
  • Even though the law cannot allow itself to recognize interpretants outside of its institutional boundaries, the individual can.
  • Perhaps the individual’s actions must conform to legal standards to avoid punishment, but the mind does not.