29 Dec 2014

Tarski (§3) of “The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics”, entitled ‘3. The Meaning of the Term “True”’

by Corry Shores

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[The following is summary. All boldface, underlying and bracketed commentary are my own.]

Alfred Tarski

The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics

Part I. Exposition

3. The Meaning of the Term “True”



Brief Summary:
Truth often is defined using the ‘correspondence theory’ in the following way: “A sentence is true if it designates an existing state of affairs.” But this and similar correspondence theory definitions are not clear and precise enough to suffice as definitions for truth, and thus we must seek something better.


Previously Tarski discussed the extension of the term true. We will now encounter more difficulties with the term’s meaning (or intension).

We use the term “ true” with many meanings and usages. So as philosophers we must specify the meaning we want to give it. (333)

Tarski will follow in the tradition of Aristotle, who wrote in his Metaphysics

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.
(Aristotle, qt in Tarski, 333; Aristotle, gamma 7, 27)

Tarski reformulates this using modern terminology to say:

The truth of a sentence consists in its agreement with (or to) reality.

This is sometimes called the “correspondence theory of truth.” (333)

[Normally we might use the term ‘ designate’ to mean that some name or term stands for some object of reference. But also] we can think of whole sentences as designating states of affairs, and thus we could say:

A sentence is true if it designates an existing state of affairs.

Yet none of these definitions is precise and clear enough to suffice to define truth. Thus “It is up to us to look for a more precise expression of our intuitions. “ (334)


Tarski, Alfred. The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics”. In The Nature of Truth: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. Michael P. Lynch, ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts / London: MIT, 2001, pp.331-363.

A hyperlinked online version can be found here:


The Lynch edited book writes this in the acknowledgments:

Alfred Tarski. “The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 4 (1944). Copyright 1992 by the Estate of Alfred Tarski. Reprinted by permission of Jan Tarski.

Further bibliographical information from

Alfred Tarski (1944) The semantic conception of truth and the foundations of semantics (Reprinted as Chapter 4 of Martinich’s anthology). This is an abridged and updated version of his 1935 long paper Der Wahrheitsbegriff in den formalisierten Sprache (The concept of truth in formalized languages), itself a translation from his book in Polish of 1933.

And yet further bibliographical information from the German wiki page for Tarski


Der Wahrheitsbegriff in den formalisierten Sprachen. In: Studia Philosophica. [Lemberg] 1 (1936), S. 261–405 (Vorabdruck datiert 1935).[4] Der Artikel ist eine deutsche Übersetzung der erstmals 1933 gedruckten polnischen Arbeit, die aber schon 1931 der Öffentlichkeit präsentiert wurde. Nachdruck in Karel Berka, Lothar Kreiser (Hrsg.): Logik-Texte. Kommentierte Auswahl zur Geschichte der modernen Logik. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1983, S. 445–546, in englischer Sprache in Tarski: Logic, Semantics and Metamathematics - papers from 1923 to 1938 by Alfred Tarski. Oxford 1956, 1983.

The German text can be found here:



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