One of the key tools of analysis in classical semantics is the concept of truth value. The content of a proposition, when contextualized in a particular world and a particular time, should have a truth value: it is either true or false, tertium non datur.

However, the study of certain important classes of expressions, e.g., belief, reports, indirect discourse, hearsay evidentials, have raised some issues. While the problem of logical omniscience has been recognized, more recent work has challenged the fundamental distinction between content and context.

What I am curious about specifically is the issue of whether truth value can meaningfully be attributed to a proverb. To better direct the discussion and provide a common point of reference, let's take the presumably contentful proverb ``spare the rod and spoil the child," contextualized within the fictional universe of Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations, I'd like to examine the question of whether a proverb can and should have truth value. If, for example, the proverb is considered as a belief report, do an individual's actions serve as data for demonstrating a contradiction between the reported belief and the individual's true beliefs? Or on the other hand, if the proverb is treated as a universal generalization about the world in which it is contextualized, which types of facts about this world would demonstrate its falseness?

  • Does the new wording answer your original concern fully? I'd like to know your answer on this.
    – Alenanno
    Oct 18, 2012 at 13:18
  • You might consider the Philosophy Stack Exchange beta since logic and truth are among their topics. Oct 18, 2012 at 15:03
  • The question, as it stands, is relevant for this SE. Discourse representation is part of a few grammar formalisms too.
    – prash
    Oct 18, 2012 at 15:25
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    @Alenanno, don't worry, I never felt criticized. good job of moderating so far.
    – user483
    Oct 18, 2012 at 16:55
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    I think you're treating proverbs as being componential and so amenable to lexical semantics? I think they're better treated as fixed expressions wherein the whole proverb is thought of as a unit with an understood meaning that's not necessarily built up out of the meanings of the parts. For example, the term 'spare the rod' probably doesn't mean much to most people (ie they wouldn't be sure how to analyse it). Oct 18, 2012 at 23:17

1 Answer 1


Discourse Representation Theory can be used for modelling the universe of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.

I don't know if you want to treat "spare the rod, and spoil the child" as a belief within this universe or as a hypothesis. If you want to have it as a hypothesis, I suppose you'd have to add the following to the universe:

generated by Boxer

I generated the DRS by first paraphrasing the sentence as "if a child is not disciplined , the child will be bad ." and then feeding it to appropriate field in the C&C+Boxer demo page.

Since the outermost component of this is a material implication, you can disprove it by finding an instance where the child was not disciplined and was still good.

Also refer to Belief in Discourse Representation Theory, by Nicholas Asher.

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