Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Semantic Challenges to Realism

Semantic Challenges to Realism: Dummett and Putnam

  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Semantic Challenges to Realism
    Book Description:

    Although many philosophers espouse anti-realism, the only sustained arguments for the position are due to Michael Dummett and Hilary Putnam. Gardiner's unpretentious style and lucid organization make sense of Dummett's and Putnam's discourse.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7974-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-6)

    Frege is making two distinct claims: (i) fields, frogs, and the sunexist, and (ii) theirbeingis independent from theirbeing perceived. Thus, Frege captures the two main senses in which a position may be described as “realist.” A realism, in the first sense, is a position which makes positive existential claims – which asserts “There are X’s.” An anti-realism, in this sense, is a position which denies such claims. A realism, in the second sense, is a position which holds that ontology is completely independent of epistemology – that what there is has nothing to do with what...


    • ONE Dummett’s Constraints – Meaning and Metaphysics
      (pp. 9-19)

      Dummett’s overall goal is to demonstrate the inadequacies of a general realist metaphysics – the view that reality is, by and large, unconditioned by human conceptual scheming: that “our sense experiences are [not] constitutive of the world of macroscopic material objects,” that “a mathematical proposition describes, truly or falsely, a reality that exists independently of us,” that “a person’s observable actions and behaviour are [merely]evidenceof his inner states – his beliefs, desires, purposes, and feelings,” that “science progressively uncovers what the world is like in itself,” that “an ethical statement is as objectively true or false as one...

    • TWO Dummett’s Critique of Semantic Realism
      (pp. 20-53)

      We have so far outlined the essentials of what Dummett considers to be an adequate theory of meaning which contains, at its core, the concept of truth. Curiously, though, very little has been said about this most important concept. As mentioned, the realist and the anti-realist differ over their conception of reality. Given the intimate connection between reality and truth they must also disagree over the extension of ‘truth.’ I suggest that we can view the disagreement over the extension of ‘truth’ as tantamount to a disagreement over the nature of truth.

      Realists and anti-realists do notcompletelydisagree over...

    • THREE Responses to the Negative Program
      (pp. 54-105)

      Both the manifestation and acquisition arguments depend upon the realist being committed to sentences with unrecognizable truth-conditions. They do not, we should note, dependper seupon a commitment to sentences with recognition-transcendent truth-conditions. Thus, the arguments tacitly assume that a commitment to recognition-transcendence entails commitment to unrecognizability. Is that assumption acceptable?

      As argued, a truth-condition is recongnition-transcendent just in case it is wholly independent of any epistemic facts about humans: in particular, if it is independent of facts regarding the capacities of humans to recognize if and when it obtains. Thus, for the realist, it must remain an open...

    • FOUR Responses to the Positive Program
      (pp. 106-136)

      There are strong reasons for doubting that a semantic realism is in any serious difficulty. In this section, however, I will ignore the preceding results and assume that the anti-realist has made good on his attack on realism. The question remains, does an anti-realist theory of meaning constitute an acceptable semantics? Supposing that a realist theory of meaning ultimately fails, is only an anti-realist theory of meaning, with its epistemically constrained notion of truth, capable of harmonizing with an adequate account of understanding?

      I think not. In the first place, an anti-realist semantics harmonizes no better than a realist semantics...


    • FIVE Portraits: Metaphysical and Internal Realisms
      (pp. 139-156)

      Historically, there have been two Putnams. Putnam the Elder – the pre-Meaning and the Moral SciencesPutnam – espoused a form of metaphysical realism (then conceived as opposed to verificationism). Reference, he felt, was a correspondence relation (along the lines of Tarski’s satisfaction relations but faithful to causal constraints) between our language and extra-linguistic reality¹ which determined the meanings, and consequently the truth-values, of our sentences: “The essence of the relation is that language and thought do asymptotically correspond to reality, to some extent at least. A theory of reference is a theory of the correspondence in question.”²

      Putnam the...

    • SIX The Model-Theoretic Argument
      (pp. 157-182)

      Let T be a theory which is epistemically ideal (but is not assumed to be true in the metaphysical realist’s sense) in that it embodies two features: (i) it satisfies all theoretical constraints (i.e., it is “complete, consistent, … ‘beautiful’, ‘simple,’ ‘plausible’, etc.”)² and (ii) it satisfies all operational constraints (i.e., all of its sentences parallel certain experiential facts – e.g., “if ‘there is a cow in front of me at such-and-such at time’ belongs to T, then ‘there is a cow in front of me at such-and-such a time’ will certainlyseemto be true-it will be ‘exactly as...

    • SEVEN Brains in Vats
      (pp. 183-198)

      Putnam’s Brain-in-a-Vat argument is a curiosity. In the first place, it seems natural to read it as advancing an anti-sceptical position with respect to the external world, yet Putnam intends it to involve the metaphysical issues of realism and anti-realism. More specifically, Putnam sees it as somehow undermining metaphysical realism and somehow supporting his own preferred internal realism. In the second place, he uses it as an apparent springboard to his model-theoretic argument, which is more clearly aimed at metaphysical realism: “Why is it surprising that the Brain in a Vat hypothesis turns out to be incoherent,” he asks? “The...

    • EIGHT The Argument from Equivalence
      (pp. 199-218)

      Consider a possible world consisting of a line:

      and two theories concerning that world: T₁, which asserts that the line can be divided up into line segments and infinitely small ‘points,’ and T₂ which asserts that the line is composed only of line segments with extension. In other words, T₁ contains “There are points” while T₂ contains (or implies) “There are no points.”¹ There is a definite sense, then, in which T₁ and T₂ are incompatible. According to metaphysical realism’s Self-Identification Thesis, the world sorts itself into ontological categories. Either the world sorts its objects into line segmentsandpoints...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 219-224)

      Realism, I submit, is not in serious danger from the semantic arguments of Michael Dummett or Hilary Putnam. Regarding Dummett, suppose it is possible to construct a theory of meaning for a language. Suppose further that it could conclusively be shown that such a theory must take the form of a molecular axiomatic system in the manner proposed by Dummett. Suppose finally that such a theory must ultimately be grounded in a manifestable capacity to use sentences of the language in various communally accepted ways. Even granting all of these suppositions, it simply does not follow that we could never...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 225-252)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-262)
  9. Index
    (pp. 263-267)