Response to Commentators
Wright (Crispin)
Source: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 56, No. 4 (Dec., 1996), pp. 911-941
Paper - Abstract

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Notes


Author’s Section Introductions
  1. On the instability of classical deflationism
    • The 'inflationary' argument of chapter 1 of Truth and Objectivity – the argument that the classical deflationary conception of truth must, on its own assumptions, inflate into something more substantial – is puzzled over by James Van Cleve and, unsurprisingly, roundly rejected by Paul Horwich.
    • James Van Cleve wonders about the precise role in the argument of the normativity of the truth-predicate, and wonders what exactly it is about deflationism, in contrast with minimalism, which puts it in tension with the existence of distinct norms of truth and warranted assertibility.
    • Paul Horwich too complains that the argument is structurally unclear and unconvincing, charging that it turns on a non sequitur and that even if it could engage the traditional form of deflationism which holds that truth is not a property, it would pass by the version of the position which he himself has defended at length. And he too is puzzled about the role of normativity in the inflationary argument, since he thinks that those aspects of the truth-predicate which reflect its normativity may straightforwardly be accounted for by appeal to the Equivalence Schema (or, presumably, the Disquotational Scheme).
    • I shall first offer some remarks by way of clarification, hoping thereby to speak to James Van Cleve's queries, and then respond to Paul Horwich's objections.
  2. Superassertibility and related matters
  3. Alethic pluralism
    • As remarked earlier, one who takes the minimalist line about truth, that the concept is fixed by a set of basic platitudes about it, ought to be open to the possibility, prior to any demonstration of categoricity, that it may prove to have a variety of models, as it were. It is a central contention of Truth and Objectivity that the notion of truth is in just this situation. For instance, the core platitudes may consistently be supplemented both by the supposition that all truths are knowable, and by the supposition that some truths are quite beyond evidence. Under the former, superassertibility may be shown to be a model of truth; under the latter, it is not, and truth will presumably require interpretation in terms of some form of robust correspondence. It is a key suggestion of the book that this potential plurality reflects the distinctions that are relevant to realism / anti-realism debate: that the justification of a broadly realist or anti-realist view of a given discourse turns on the character of the local truth-predicate. A key thesis but, it would seem, one of the more contentious.
    • Three commentators – Paul Horwich, Philip Pettit and Mark Sainsbury – are expressly negative about it, though each allows that the broader framework of the book, and particularly the suggestion that there is no single, simple crux between realism and anti-realism but a variety of relevant considerations, could survive the reinstatement of the usual monism about truth.
  4. Cognitive Command
    • Outside professional philosophical circles it would pass for the merest common sense that there is a distinction between discourses in which disputes may answer to no real "fact of the matter" and discourses whose subject matter is substantial enough to guarantee the correctness, or incorrectness, of a contested claim. Truth and Objectivity proposes the exertion of Cognitive Command as a necessary condition for a discourse to fall in the latter camp. The idea is, roughly – though I nowhere put it quite this way in the book – that the presence of a real "fact of the matter" must impinge on the range of admissible explanations of a dispute, since one or another antagonist will have to have been imperfectly appreciative of it. Assuming that each has a cognitive endowment sufficient, in the best case, for the appreciation of such matters, the implication has to be that one or other has employed this endowment in a less than fully satisfactory way – something worth describing as a "cognitive shortcoming" has to be involved.
    • This simple line of thought needs to be complicated to allow for the role that vagueness, of one or another kind, may play in the generation of disputes. But we don't need to engage that complication now. It also assumes that the putative fact of the matter is within the cognitive reach of the disputants. But if it is not – if it is a potentially evidence-transcendent fact – then that will suffice in any case for the involvement of cognitive shortcoming in the dispute, since the best cognitive efforts of the disputants will then perforce come short. (That may sound sophistical but it isn't: the limitations of our cognitive powers are quite properly regarded as shortcomings).
  5. On the general framework
    • I have offered no proof that the general framework of my book – minimalism about truth and truth-aptitude, and pluralism about the ways to elucidate and argue for or against realist intuitions – represents the best way to look at these matters. The plausibility of its claims will depend partly on the extent to which my suggestions seem to make sense of actual debates, partly on the operational advantages that minimalism provides over other anti-realist paradigms, but ultimately on the outcome of the sort of critical discussion so usefully illustrated by my present commentators.
    • Since philosophers are notoriously conservative when it comes to entrenched ways of thinking about old problems, I find it extremely gratifying that four of the six seem to be broadly hospitable to the general reorientation I propose.
    • It is different with James Van Cleve and Timothy Williamson. Each canvasses a line of argument which, if sustained, would, by subverting altogether the contrast between a discourse's being minimally truth-apt and its satisfying further realism-relevant constraints, altogether block the programme of the book. I'll close by briefly commenting on these two lines of argument, though not in the detail they deserve.

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