Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Exploring Realism and Truth
by Gifford, Michael Lee, Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 2017, 220; 10620352
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation explores some important interconnections between the notions of Realism and Truth. Recently in analytic philosophy, there has been growing resistance to the idea that we might productively approach the realism issue via a consideration of the nature of truth. Michael Devitt, in particular, has argued forcefully and at length that realism is a metaphysical issue which ought to be settled before the semantical issue concerning the sorts of truth conditions our sentences may have. One goal of this dissertation is to establish that the realism issue may be fruitfully addressed through a study of language rather than metaphysics proper. The bulk of the dissertation is devoted to a careful study of one particular semantic approach to the realism question: That of Michael Dummett's.

The first chapter focuses on the dogmatic views of Michael Devitt. Devitt claims that we ought to "put metaphysics first," that is, answer metaphysical questions before semantical and epistemological questions. He also believes that we ought to put metaphysics first in the sense that our metaphysical conclusions should be given a certain kind of immunity from revision in light of what we may conclude in semantics and epistemology. Hence, Devitt argues, it would be a mistake to settle on an anti-realist conclusion based on the determination that our sentences have anti-realist (epistemic) truth conditions. I argue in the first chapter that Devitt's approach lacks sufficient motivation and furthermore requires us to take on a number of unsavory philosophical commitments.

Those who prefer a metaphysical, as opposed to semantic, approach to the realism issue are under special pressure to explain what exactly the nature of mind-independence is. This is because the metaphysical approach to the realism issue says that the question of realism comes down to the question whether what exists does so mind-independently. The second chapter of my dissertation is devoted to an analysis of the notion of mind-independence. I criticize some common statements of realism in terms of mind-independence and attempt to offer a better version of the view. One major issue of common statements of realism in terms of mind-independence is that they leave it a mystery how we might be realists about minds. I overcome this problem by framing mind-independence in terms of what I call our directed cognitive practices.

The third chapter consists of a detailed study of the anti-realist views of Michael Dummett. Dummett happens to be an anti-realist, but his approach to the realism issue is consistent with realism. For Dummett, the realism question comes down to the question as to what sorts of truth conditions our sentences have. His realist claims that our sentences have truth conditions in such a way that they could be true or false despite our inability to ever come to know whether they were true or false. Dummett's anti-realist claims that our sentences could never have such truth conditions, and instead have truth conditions such that we must be capable, at least in principle, of coming to know the sentences' truth values. I criticize various interpretations of Dummett and respond to some common objections. Understanding Dummett's philosophy requires understanding what he means by the term 'undecidable', since he takes the realism dispute to be a dispute as to whether "undecidable" sentences have determinate truth values. I argue that the best way to understand the notion of undecidability in the context of Dummett's philosophy is as the lack of an effective decision procedure, that is, the lack of a procedure which is guaranteed to deliver an answer as to whether the sentence is true or false in a finite amount of time.

The fourth chapter focuses on the question as to whether a Dummettian anti-realist is under any special pressure to reject classical logic in favor of an intuitionistic logic. I conclude that the Dummettian, who endorses a semantics in terms of proof-conditions rather than truth-conditions, must reject classical logic and instead endorse the logic of the intuitionists. The chapter is largely devoted to criticizing other attempts to discern in Dummett any particular argument for the conclusion that his anti-realist must reject classical logic.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Braun, David
Commitee: Beebe, James, Williams, Neil
School: State University of New York at Buffalo
Department: Philosophy
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 79/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Philosophy
Keywords: Antirealism, Dummett, Mind-independence, Realism, Truth, Undecidability
Publication Number: 10620352
ISBN: 9780355310108
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