SCIENCE AND SANITY - online book

An Introduction To Non-aristotelian Systems And General Semantics.

Home | About | Philosphy | Contact | Search

HIGHER ORDER ABSTRACTIONS                   435
kind in question is the Epimenides. Epimenides the Cretan said that all Cretans were liars, and all other statements made by Cretans were certainly lies. Was this a lie? The simplest form of this contradiction is afforded by the man who says "I am lying"; if he is lying, he is speaking the truth, and vice versa....
'When a man says "I am lying", we may interpret his statement as: "There is a proposition which I am affirming and which is false." That is to say, he is asserting the truth of some value of the function "I assert p, and p is false." But we saw that the word "false" is ambiguous, and that, in order to make it unambiguous, we must specify the order of falsehood, or, what comes to the same thing, the order of the proposition to which falsehood is ascribed. We saw also that, if p is a proposition of the nth order, a proposition in which p occurs as an apparent variable is not of the nth order, but of a higher order. Hence the kind of truth or falsehood which can belong to the statement "there is a proposition p which I am affirming and which has falsehood of the nth order" is truth or falsehood of a higher order than the nth. Hence the statement of Epimenides does not fall within its own scope, and therefore no contradiction emerges.
'If we regard the statement "I am lying" as a compact way of simultaneously making all the following statements: "I am asserting a false proposition of the first order," "I am asserting a false proposition of the second order," and so on, we find the following curious state of things: As no proposition of the first order is being asserted, the statement "I am asserting a false proposition of the first order" is false. This statement is of the second order, hence the statement "I am making a false statement of the second order" is true. This is a statement of the third order, and is the only statement of the third order which is being made. Hence the statement "I am making a false statement of the third order" is false. Thus we see that the statement "I am making a false statement of order 2n+l" is false, while the statement "I am making a false statement of order 2n" is true. But in this state of things there is no contradiction.'5
Clearly, if we should apply the language of orders of abstractions to the above case, a similar outcome is reached more generally and more simply. If we should confuse the orders of abstractions, we might naturally have an endless argument at hand. This example shows how a confusion of orders of abstractions might lead to insoluble verbal problems, and how semantically important it is that we should not identify, and that we should be conscious of abstracting, with the resulting instinctive feeling for this peculiar structural stratification of 'human