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- Putnam’s Conception of Truth
Pages: 5-22 | AbstractAfter stressing how the attempt to provide a plausible account of the connection between language and the world was one of Putnam’s constant preoccupations, this article describes the four stages his thinking about the concepts of truth and reality went through. Particular attention is paid to the kinds of problems that made him abandon each stage to enter the next. The analysis highlights how all the stages but one express a general non- epistemic stance towards truth and reality—the right stance, according to Putnam, in order to develop full-blooded realism. Since the last stage combines a version of direct realism with a pluralist conception of truth, the article proceeds by focusing on Putnam’s alethic pluralism, carefully distinguishing it from alethic deflationism. Finally a suggestion is made as to where Putnam’s alethic pluralism may be placed within the constellation of current pluralist positions about truth.
- Conceptual Relativity Meets Realism in Metaphysics
Pages: 23-37 | AbstractThe paper adresses the relationship between ontological realism and Putnam’s thesis of conceptual relativity. The paper divides into three parts. The first part aims to reconstruct the notion of conceptual relativity, focusing on Putnam’s example involving mereological principles of individuation of objects. The second part points to some major shortcomings of the mereological example of conceptual relativity and then moves to a different version of conceptual relativity, which targets objects posited by mature scientific theories. I claim that the mereological and the scientific version of conceptual relativity are different in important respects and that two main types of conceptual relativity therefore need to be distinguished. In the third part, I show that conceptual relativity is not in tension with realism. More specifically, conceptual relativity is not in tension with “realism in metaphysics” that Putnam adopted in the last decade before his death.
- Arguing about Realism: Adjudicating the Putnam-Devitt Dispute
Pages: 39-53 | AbstractIn this paper I want to adjudicate the dispute between those philosophers who do and those who do not think that the philosophy of language can illuminate metaphysical questions. To this end, I take the debate between Devitt and Putnam as a case study and diagnose what I take to be illuminating about their disagreement over metaphysical realism. I argue that both Putnam and Devitt are incorrect in their assessment of the significance of the model theoretic argument for realism. That, whilst Devitt is entitled to claim that truth does not have anything to do with realism, Putnam’s challenge can still gain traction and seriously call into question our ability to engage in realist metaphysics. I argue that even if a completely semantically neutral conception of realism can be successfully articulated, doing so has the potential to bankrupt the methodology of metaphysical realism. Having taken this debate as a case study, I then offer some brief remarks on how to understand the philosopher who claims that realist metaphysicians should care about discussions of metasemantics and truth. Whilst I want to be cautious about generalising on the basis on this case alone, I think there are important lessons to be learned about the way in which considerations to do with language can shed light on the concerns of metametaphysics.
- Deference and Stereotypes
Pages: 55-71 | AbstractIn this paper I discuss Hilary Putnam’s view of the conditions that need to be fulfilled for a speaker to successfully defer to a linguistic community for the meaning of a word she uses. In the first part of the paper I defend Putnam’s claim that knowledge of what he calls “stereotypes” is a requirement on linguistic competence. In the second part of the paper I look at two consequences that this thesis has. One of them concerns the choice between two competing formulations of consumerist semantics. The other concerns the notion of deference, and in particular the question whether deference can be non-intentional. Although the standard view is that deference is intentional, it has also been argued (Stojanovic et al. 2005) that most common forms of deference are not. I argue that deference is best understood as intentional, given the possibility of failures of deference. Cases in which the requirement that the speaker know the stereotypes associated with a particular word is not fulfilled are examples of unsuccessful attempts to defer.
- Brains in Vats and Semantic Externalism: New Hope for the Skeptic
Pages: 73-88 | AbstractDifferent thought experiments have been offered to argue for the skeptical claim that sound empirical knowledge is impossible. One of these thought experiments assumes that we are eternal brains in a vat with systematically delusory experiences. In (Putnam 1981), Putnam responds to the skeptical challenge that contrary to our initial assumption we can know a priori, i.e. independent from experience, that we aren’t eternal brains in a vat. Putnam argues that the skeptical hypothesis that we are eternal brains in a vat is inconsistent with the received view regarding reference and truth, semantic externalism, which says that a referential expression e refers to an object o if and only if e is appropriately causally related to o. There are different versions of Putnam’s argument. In this paper, I will discuss the three main versions of the argument; i.e. a reconstruction of Putnam’s original argument in (Putnam 1981), Brueckner’s simple argument (Brueckner 2003; 2016, Section 3 and 4), and a reconstruction of Brueckner’s disjunctive argument (Brueckner 2016, Section 4). It is generally assumed that Putnam’s original argument does not show that the skeptical hypothesis that we are eternal brains in a vat is inconsistent with semantic externalism. In this paper, I will argue that the same is true of Brueckner’s simple argument and of Brueckner’s disjunctive argument. Although from this it won’t follow that semantic externalism is consistent with the skeptical hypothesis, it will show that it is also not yet decided that it is not.
- Dreams in a Vat
Pages: 89-106 | AbstractPutnam’s semantic argument against the BIV hypothesis and Sosa’s argument against dream skepticism based on the imagination model of dreaming share some important structural features. In both cases the skeptical option is supposed to be excluded because preconditions of its intelligibility are not fulfilled (affirmation and belief in the dream scenario, thought and reference in the BIV scenario). Putnam’s reasoning is usually interpreted differently, as a classic case of deception, but this feature is not essential. I propose to interpret BIV’s utterances as cases of reference failure best captured by truth-value gaps. Both anti-skeptical strategies are then vulnerable to the same type of objections (how do we know what state we are in or how do we know what kind of language do we speak).
- In Defense of the Twin Earth–The Star Wars Continue
Pages: 107-126 | AbstractThe paper discusses the meta-philosophy of thought-experiments, in particular its neglected diachronic aspect, focusing on Putnam’s work as the paradigm case, and on the trail(s) that developed out of the Twin Earth thought-experiment. Putnam’s experiment is discussed from a perspective that combines metaphilosophy and actual history of analytic philosophy. Peter Unger has branded the whole debate around it as empty and fruitless. A meta- philosophical analysis shows him to be wrong. The experiment as originally proposed already appeals to a broad variation of examples and intuitive induction; the variation continues in other works addressing the issue, and produces interesting results. The second aspect is the search for reflective equilibrium, lasting till the present day. The internal logic of these processes is discussed, in order to show that the accusation for emptiness turns against Unger himself. In general, debates around thought-experiments, the already famous and also around new ones, make a large part of contemporary analytic philosophy. The way to understand a large part of this, and of debates surrounding it, is to link it to the internal understanding of a typical thought-experiment; stages of a particular experiment get discussed, developed and changed in the history of a particular trail produced by it. This is an important way in which a philosophical tradition is born, and we need to combine synchronic and diachronic approaches in order to understand it.