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Trains of thought: Roxana

Tetralogue is a philosophy book for the commuter age. In a tradition going back to Plato, Timothy Williamson uses a fictional conversation to explore questions about truth and falsity, knowledge and belief. During February, we will be posting a series of extracts that cover the viewpoints of all four characters in Tetralogue. What follows is an extract exploring Roxana’s perspective.

Roxana is a heartless logician with an exotic background. She would much rather be right than be liked, and as a result she argues mercilessly with the other characters.

Roxana: You appear not to know much about logic.

Sarah: What did you say?

Roxana: I said that you appear not to know much about logic.

Sarah: And you appear not to know much about manners.

Roxana: If you want to understand truth and falsity, logic will be more useful than manners. Do any of you remember what Aristotle said about truth and falsity?

Bob: Sorry, I know nothing about Aristotle.

Zac: It’s on the tip of my tongue.

Sarah: Aristotelian science is two thousand years out of date.

Roxana: None of you knows. Aristotle said ‘To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, or of what is not that it is not, is true’. Those elementary principles are fun­damental to the logic of truth. They remain central in contemporary research. They were endorsed by the greatest contributor to the logic of truth, the modern Polish logician Alfred Tarski.

Bob: Never heard of him. I’m sure Aristotle’s saying is very wise; I wish I knew what it meant.

Roxana: I see that I will have to begin right at the very beginning with these three.

Sarah: We can manage quite well without a lecture from you, thank you very much.

Roxana: It is quite obvious that you can’t.

Roxana: It is quite obvious that you can’t.

Zac: I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name.

Roxana: Of course you didn’t. I didn’t say it.

Zac: May I ask what it is?

Roxana: You may, but it is irrelevant.

Bob: Well, don’t keep us all in suspense. What is it?

Roxana: It is ‘Roxana’.

Zac: Nice name, Roxana. Mine is ‘Zac’, by the way.

Bob: I hope our conversation wasn’t annoying you.

Roxana: Its lack of intellectual discipline was only slightly irritating.

Bob: Sorry, we got carried away. Just to complete the introductions, I’m Bob, and this is Sarah.

Roxana: That is enough time on trivialities. I will explain the error in what the woman called ‘Sarah’ said.

Sarah: Call me ‘Sarah’, not ‘the woman called “Sarah” ’, if you please.

Bob: ‘Sarah’ is shorter.

Sarah: Not only that. We’ve been introduced. It’s rude to describe me at arm’s length, as though we weren’t acquainted.

Roxana: If we must be on first name terms, so be it. Do not expect them to stop me from explaining your error. First, I will illustrate Aristotle’s observation about truth and falsity with an example so simple that even you should all be capable of understand­ing it. I will make an assertion.

Bob: Here goes.

Roxana: Do not interrupt.

Bob: I was always the one talking at the back of the class.

Zac: Don’t worry about Bob, Roxana. We’d all love to hear your assertion. Silence, please, everyone.

Roxana: Samarkand is in Uzbekistan.

Sarah: Is that it?

Roxana: That was the assertion.

Bob: So that’s where Samarkand is. I always wondered.

Roxana: Concentrate on the logic, not the geography. In making that assertion about Samarkand, I speak truly if, and only if, Samarkand is in Uzbekistan. I speak falsely if, and only if, Samarkand is not in Uzbekistan.

Zac: Is that all, Roxana?

Roxana: It is enough.

Bob: I think I see. Truth is telling it like it is. Falsity is tell­ing it like it isn’t. Is that what Aristotle meant?

Roxana: That paraphrase is acceptable for the present.

Have you got something you want to say to Roxana? Do you agree or disagree with her? Tetralogue author Timothy Williamson will be getting into character and answering questions from Roxana’s perspective via @TetralogueBook on Friday 20 March 2015 from 2-3 p.m. GMT. Tweet your questions to him and wait for Roxana’s response!

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