Saturday, May 31, 2008

Who is to say?

How many times have you heard the phrase "Who is to say?" What could it possibly mean? Is it a commitment to the "someone to say" theory of truth: "p is true just in case there is someone to say that p." But that seems clearly false.


Ilíon said...

Doesn't "Who is to say?" in its most general mean: "I don't *care* (at this moment, or about this topic) what is true."

Mike Darus said...

It seems to relate to a reverse appeal to authority, meaning there is no authority to appeal to.

Timmo said...

I think it is obvious what "Who is to say means?" It means that nobody knows, or nobody is capable of knowing, or that nobody is a competent authority to judge that it is so. It's just a way of professing something is beyond our ability to know -- not some crazy theory of truth! Just imagine what it would be like if were the case that, for any proposition p, p if and only there is an agent S and S asserts that p. The I-say-so theory of truth!

Ilíon said...

Yes, the pseudo-question "Who is to say?" appears to be "not some crazy theory of truth," but rather the *assertion* that the truth of the matter simply cannot be known. At least on the surface. But, at the same time, ironically, it does frequently *function* as "some crazy theory of truth."

Here's how it works:

Person A asserts "X."

Person B asserts "Y."

Person A tries to argue "not-Y" and possibly also argue for the why of "X."

Person B triumphantly "argues" "Well, who is to say, really?"

Or, as I said in the first response, the (most general) truth about what Person B is saying is that he *doesn't care* about the actual/objective truth of the matter.

Now, in some specific situations the phrase may really mean "I don't care to go into it right now (or with you)," and there may be good reasons for that. For instance, perhaps Person B knows from experience that Person A simply will not reason rationally and logically, and so decides to spare them both the frustration of trying to do the impossible.

But, generally speaking, when a person deploy that phrase he means that he doesn't care what the truth is or whether it can be rationally discovered -- and NO argumentation is going to disuade him from the belief or assertion he has already settled upon to assert.

But, at the same time, ironically, it does frequently function as "some crazy theory of truth."

In the scenario I described, Person B is probably asserting the "my-truth" theory of truth. Person B asserts "Y" is true ... and *nothing* will sway him, for the "my-truth" card trumps everything. Or so the crazy thinking goes.


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