On the Conceptual Foundations of Anti-Realism
Shieh (Sanford)
Source: Synthese, Vol. 115, No. 1 (1998), pp. 33-70
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Author’s Abstract

  1. The central premise of Michael Dummett's global argument for anti-realism is the thesis that a speaker's grasp of the meaning of a declarative, indexical-free sentence must be manifested in her uses of that sentence. This enigmatic thesis has been the subject of a great deal of discussion, and something of a consensus has emerged about its content and justification. The received view is that the manifestation thesis expresses a behaviorist and reductive theory of meaning, essentially in agreement with Quine's view of language, and motivated by worries about the epistemology of communication.
  2. In the present paper I begin by arguing that this standard interpretation of the manifestation thesis is neither particularly faithful to Dummett's writings nor philosophically compelling. I then continue by reconstructing, from Dummett's texts, an account of the manifestation thesis, and of its justification, that differ sharply from the received view. On my reading, the thesis is motivated not epistemologically, but conceptually. I argue that connections among our conceptions of meaning, assertion, and justification lead to a conclusion about the metaphysics of meaning: we cannot form a clearly coherent conception of how two speakers can attach different meanings to a sentence without at the same time differing in what they count as justifying assertions made with that sentence. I conclude with some suggestions about how Dummett's argument for global anti-realism should be understood, given my account of the manifestation thesis.

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