Systematic Philosophy

to know what can be known

What Is A Statement?

When an argument is presented in numbered format, every proposition needs to be expressed in the form of a statement. What is a statement?

What a statement is

A “statement” is a unit in physical or mental language that we would judge from our pre-theoretical perspective to be capable of truth or falsity. Is it an instance of language? Would we pre-theoretically say it can be true or false? If so, then it is a statement.


The following are examples of statements:

  • “The sky is blue.”
  • “All people are happy.”
  • “Nothing exists.”
  • “Pegasus exists.”
  • “You should not lie.”
  • “I want you to win.”
  • “Two plus two equals four.”
  • “Caesar is a prime number.”
  • “It is not the case that the sky is blue.”
  • “The sky is blue and two plus two equals four.”
  • “I want you to win or I want you to tie.”
  • “If Pegasus exists, then it is not the case that nothing exists.”
  • “This statement is false.”

Each of the examples here is an instance of language. Before reflecting a lot, we would judge each of these examples to be capable of truth or falsity. Thus each is a statement.

A caption might be redundant.

What a statement is not

We have explained what statements are. It may be helpful to note some things that are not statements. First, questions are not statements. Questions can be good or bad, helpful or unhelpful, clear or confused. But they are not the sort of thing we pre-theoretically think can be true or false. Suppose someone asks “When was the Internet invented?” It does not make sense, pre-theoretically, to respond “True!” or “False!”

Second, commands are not statements. Commands can be right or wrong. They can be appropriate or inappropriate. But they are not the sort of thing we pre-theoretically think can be true or false. Suppose someone says “Fetch some water.” From our pre-theoretical perspective, it does not make sense to answer “True!” or “False!”

Third, a large number of physical objects are not statements. Rabbits, boxes and trees, for instance, are not statements. They are not units of language and we do not pre-theoretically believe they can be true or false.

Not a statement.

Why we say “pre-theoretically”

We have been using expressions like “pre-theoretically” and “from our pre-theoretical perspective”. Why? The answer is that once people start theorizing, people often come to hold very different views about many of the examples we gave above. Some come to believe that statements with proper names that do not refer to anything, statements like “Pegasus exists”, cannot be true or false. Some conclude that statements that attribute the wrong sorts of properties to things, statements like “Caesar is a prime number”, cannot be true or false. Some argue that the statement in the Liar’s Paradox (“this statement is false”) cannot be true or false, lest there be a contradiction. Some maintain for various reasons that no statements are capable of truth or falsity.

But whatever we discover while investigating, before we begin investigating there are bits of language we believe to be capable of truth or falsity. We will call those things “statements”, whether or not we eventually decide that all of them are capable of truth or falsity.

The quotation marks convention

When we mention specific statements, we will use quotation marks (“…”). This will allow us to distinguish between statements, which we mark with quotation marks, and propositions, which we mark with angle brackets (<…>).

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Written by Geoff Anders

May 22, 2011 at 3:49 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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