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The Logical Role of the Liar Paradox in Titus 1:12,13: a Dissent From the Commentaries in the Light of Philosophical and Logical Analysis

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The proposition Cretans are always liars" is not a socio-contingent proposition about Cretans in Titus 1:12,13. It has nothing to do with stereotyping Cretans, but, placed as it is on the lips of a Cretan speaker, constitutes a purely logical or formal proposition which expresses a paradox. A careful tracing of the functions of logical paradox from Zeno and the other Greeks to modern mathematical logic demonstrates its frequent function as meta-language, to break out of a vicious circularity which may arise from within a single-level system of propositions. In Titus, the context substantiates the view which also emerges from philosophical analysis that paradox may expose a logical asymmetry between first-person utterances of a kind which are necessarily embedded in life through given commitments and third-person utterances which do not entail any given stake in life. The paradox of Titus 1:12 brings into focus the self-defeating and often fruitless escalation of claims in purely verbal exchanges which may be transposed to a constructive level if truth-claims made by the elders or bishops can be perceived as drawing currency from blameless conduct. They are not to be "empty talkers" who "profess to know God but deny him by their deeds" (1:8,10,16). A clumsy confusion arose in Patristic exegesis and thereafter between the logically necessary and logically contingent status of the proposition in Titus 1:12 for reasons which are explained here, including the blurring of two distinct traditions about "Epimenides" of Crete, with whom the paradox of the liar is strongly associated. Counterarguments to this proposal are considered and addressed, including the special function of the postscript "this testimony is true" (Titus 1:13a).

Affiliations: 1: University of Nottingham

10.1163/156851594X00222
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1994-01-01
2016-12-09

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