Dialetheism, for those not in the know, is the thesis that that some contradictions are true. It is platitudinous that some of the things people say are true and others false—and some, dialetheists add, are both true and false. At first sight, this is an odd yet intriguing view. But why believe it?

Dialetheism is usually motivated by considerations involving logical and semantic paradoxes, most famously by the Liar paradox. One of the most basic versions of the Liar is (1):

(1) This statement is false.

Is (1) true? If it is, then what it says is the case, and since what (1) says that it’s false, it’s false. But if (1) is false, then what it says is not the case, and since (1) says that it is false, it is false that it is false, and hence (1) is true. So if (1) is true, it’s false, and if it’s false, it’s true. Contradiction.

There are various things one could say at this point, but the important thing is what the dialetheist says, and what the dialetheist says is that (1) is both true and false. There are many things which can be said in favor of this view, some of them very compelling. There are also many things which can be said against it that are equally compelling. My aim, however, is not to argue either that dialetheism must be accepted or rejected as a matter of principle, but rather to show that the dialetheic treatment of logical and semantic paradoxes cannot be extended to all versions of the Liar. Consider for a moment (2):

(2) This statement has the same truth value as “0 = 1”.

Assume (2) is false. If so, it must have a different truth value than “0 = 1”, for what (2) says is that they have the same value. Since “0 = 1” is false, (2), if it has a different value, must be true. But if (2) is true, it has the same truth value as “0 = 1”, for that they have the same truth value is precisely what (2) says. Now if (2) is true, and it has the same truth value as “0 = 1”, then “0 = 1” must also be true, and hence we can conclude that 0 = 1 ![2]

We cannot give (2) a dialetheic treatment—holding that it is both true and false— for we can substitute any falsehood we like for “0 = 1” and use the paradox to show it must be true as well as false. We would then end up with trivialism—the view everything is both true and false! Since (2) cannot be solved by dialetheic means, it must have a different, consistent solution. There are many avenues we could pursue, such as tweaking the T-schema, holding that (2) expresses no proposition, adopting some form of the theory of types, etc. , but the point is that at least one of them must be successful. Granting this, why can’t we solve more traditional variants of the Liar in the same way? Dialetheism might still be true—in some attenuated epistemic sense of “might”—but even so it is not a perfectly general solution to all Liar-like paradoxes. If other kinds of Liar statements can be given the same treatment as (2), whatever that may be, dialetheism loses much of its motivation. If other reasons can be found for believing in true contradictions, well and good—but so long as consistent solutions are on the table, I think they ought to be preferred.

[1] “A Critique of Dialetheism”, in

*The Law of Non-Contradiction: New Philosophical Essays*, Oxford University Press 2006. In particular I was inspired by their sentence (Z):

(Z) has the same complete and correct evaluation as the sentence ‘1+1=3’.

(Z) can be found in footnote 26 on page 333 (Paperback version).

[2]If we had started out by assuming (2) is true, we could have reached the same conclusion in half the time.