Against Spalletti’s Deflationism and the Wilsonian Analysis of Tactical Modality

August 23, 2012

Part one in our serialisation of:

“They Could Have Been Three-­Nil Up Inside The First Half”: An Enquiry Into Footballing Modality by Dez Quartz

1: Against Spalletti’s Deflationism and the Wilsonian Analysis of Tactical Modality.

Since the 2006/­7 season at the Stadio Olimpico, where Spalletti first developed a theory of the position that would come to be known as the ‘false nine’ [1], those amongst us of a philosophical bent have been (for better or worse) quite sceptical of his metaphysics. Our concerns are twofold: is his position truly the false nine? If so, is it necessarily false or only contingently false?

Assume that the match unfolds within a single light cone. We derive nine-­falsity by means of a novel Boolean transformation [2] of the traditional nine, such that he, in the folk parlance, ‘drops into midfield’, rather than leading the line in the manner of a conventional forward. While consistency with ordinary language is no doubt a theoretical virtue, we should conceive of the position more formally as a sum of temporal parts occupying the definite region of Minkowski space­time between the central midfielders (relative to the goalkeeper’s inertial frame of reference, I hardly need point out). Note that while the position can be rendered consistent with neo-­Lorentzian space­time [3], I will not be vexed here by that particular conundrum.

An initial worry: truth is a property only of propositions, and by all accounts 9 is not a proposition. Plausibly, 9 is a number [4]. How then can a number be true or false?

I am not alone in supposing that Spalletti himself held a deflationary theory of truth, indeed, this assumption accords quite well with certain of his remarks in Four­Four­Two, Wiley Journals, Q3, 1998. In brief, the deflationist school holds that the proposition ‘X is true’ is nothing other than a reassertion of ‘X’. That is, if one can competently assert some proposition, one need take on no further metaphysical baggage in asserting the truth of that proposition.

Now, as will become clear, I do not think that the deflationist theory can solve the modal question at issue, but pace Spalletti, I make the further claim that it cannot even account for the truth of ‘true nine’, the position defended by Andrew Thomas Carroll, Chair of Bayesian epistemology at Liverpool FC. That position requires a more robust theory of truth, in particular a coherentist one, according to which a proposition is true if it is consistent with some non­maximal set of wider ordinary language propositions. In this way “Andy Carroll is a true nine” coheres unproblematically with “Andy Carroll is an old­-fashioned English centre­forward” and “Andy Carroll is dangerous in the air”. The first because “old-­fashioned English centre­forward” is co­extensional with ‘true nine’, and the second because Andy Carroll has been accused of plotting drone strikes in the Kashmir.

So the deflationist theory of truth cannot help us here: we speak of the false nine, and, this minimalist solution (i.e. “the false nine is true”) leads us into the sort of gross semantic paradox I have seen only twice before, in 1974, 1988, and 2005.

But this argument is not a knock down objection, nor even an objection on the half volley. Spalletti’s innovation merits sustained inquiry, and since I cannot countenance a foray into eliminativism, I must therefore take the falsity of ‘false nine’ as a brute fact of the universe. To be clear, there can be no fruitful reduction of that term, and so we must regard it as a conceptual primitive.

I therefore say that the false nine really is false, though our toils are not ended with that admission. Metaphysics is a game of two halves (more properly, a collection of simples arranged two halves­wise), and at the end of the day, Geoff, just as the keeper is made to work by the unexpectedly flighted corner, so I am made to work by the unexpectedly fraught nature of what I have come to think of as Spalletti’s Question [5].

The nine is false. I have said that we must take this as a brute fact of the universe. But is it necessarily false? Or is it only contingently false? The distinction is an important one in the present context, for if the false nine is necessarily false, I can see no method of reasoning from its negation.


S1: if he (the false nine) is playing as a nine then Hobbes will have been amazed [6]

S2: if the triangle had four sides then Hobbes would have been amazed

If the false nine is false necessarily, we shall have to regard sentences of the kind S1 as being utterly unintelligible, and yet, since no-­one is prepared to give up the practice of constructing counterfactual conditionals relating singular propositions about wholly past objects with those about tactical formations (and why should they be?), we had better find a plausible defense of contingent nine­-falsity.

The question, then, is whether there are any false nine counterparts [7] which are not false. In effect, whether ‘false nine’ is a Kripkean rigid designator. That is, whether ‘false nine’ picks out the same referent in each world where it refers. If ‘false nine’ is not rigid in this sense, then our problem is only a conceptual one: the ontological status of the false nine is not troubling, all we are left with is the issue of deciding the appropriate rules for ascriptions of nine­-falsity.

But how confident can we be that ‘false nine’ is not a Kripkean rigid designator? The canonical defense of that claim is found in Wilson’s uncommonly lucid Why Are Teams So Tentative About False Nines?:

P1: “They were not false nines so much as orthodox 10s”­   The Guardian (October 27th, 2009)

If Wilson’s radical premise is true, if false nines really are only orthodox tens, then the metaphysical problem is dissolved at a stroke, and all we are left with is the conceptual one. In other words, there will be no mystery about how false nines exist, insofar as they are identical to orthodox tens. Nine-­falsity becomes, as it were, ontologically unremarkable.

Nonetheless, I remain unconvinced. Wilson’s proposal is unsatisfactory, in particular, he displays quite a profound ignorance of events since the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. I must be clear, I do not say that some of the false nines were not Orthodox 10s, indeed I am sure that a few of them must have been, but it is patently absurd to hold, as Wilson seems to, that all of them were. Cantona himself often railed against the diaphysite consensus of the Eastern Communion, and very plausibly would have counted himself among the membership of the monophysite Assyrian Church; the Antiochene rite was well observed by Bergkamp in his time at Arsenal, as evidenced by his reluctance to travel by air (air being the holiest of gases); and it is not so outlandish to suppose that Zola and certain of his teammates congregated with the Old Believers, divided in the raskol of 1666 over both the number of Prosphorae in the Liturgy and the direction of procession.

The last point is fatal. Ignorance of the theology of the Eastern Church has done for this defense of contingent nine­-falsity (as it will surely do for others). Whether a defense is in principle available is a matter on which, prudently, I shall reserve judgement. Suffice to say that this one has failed, and so the vexed question of tactical modality remains bereft of satisfactory resolution.

Dez Quartz,


 June 2012

[1] Not to be confused with the ‘false nein’, of course, a gambit which, though once popular in the GDR, has since fallen out of favour.

[2] We substitute the standard modal operators of Kripke semantics for their Boolean equivalents in the usual way, first by constructing the appropriate Ramsey­-Lewis sentence and then by informing the fourth official.

[3] See ST. Blayney’s 2001 paper, They Think It’s All Over, But It’s Still Happening Somewhere In The Block Universe. 

[4] Nombre, in the original French.

[5] Distinct of course from Fermi’s Question: “Where are they?”; and Balotelli’s question: “Why always me?” (“Me Quid Semper?” in the original Latin).

[6] An absurdity, though a prima facie meaningful one.

[7] I use the Lewisian modal framework (extreme realism, as Stalnaker calls it, though in which direction its extremity lies I do not know):

1. The modal operators ‘possibly’ and ‘necessarily’ will be taken as quantifiers over possible worlds. 2. Possible worlds are concrete, spatiotemporally isolated entities. 3. Any object spatiotemporally related to a world W is part of W. 4. To avoid violations of the isolation constraint, modality in the de re case will be analysed in terms of the counterpart relation: a counterpart of A in W1 is an object in W1 relevantly similar to A, and more similar to A than any other object in W1


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