Posts Chapter 11 The Challenge of Anti-Realism

Chapter 11 The Challenge of Anti-Realism


The traditional view holds that there is a mind-independent world which we form beliefs and make statements. The truth of such beliefs and statements is based on how they correspond to the world. Truth is a property that transcend our ability to determine whether or not it obtains.

Simple terms: There is a world outside our mind that exists independent of us. Truth is something corresponds to this world out there. Even though we may not be able to perfectly figure out that world, the truth corresponds to this world.

We call this traditional view Realism.

Anti-Realism is something that has become more popular over the last few centuries as a critique to Realism. There is the Michael Dummett approach that the semantical theory underlying Realism fails to provide an adequate account of the meaning of undecidable statements. Hilary Putnam extends Quine’s arguments for inscrutability of reference to show that the word-world relations presuppose by a Realist theory of truth do not obtain.

The big divide here, which wasn’t in the overview of this chapter is that the tradition metaphysics holds the characterization of being qua being. The modern conception is concerned with the cauterization of human conceptual structures.

Two Views about the Nature of Reality

Those that reject the idea of the traditional approach, reject the idea that reality exists independent of our means of conceptualizing and knowing it. The debate comes down to whether reality (the world and our place in it) is something that exists independent or is it something that is mental or at least conceptualized from the mental.

Simple: mind-independent structures versus construction whose materials include human forms of conceptual representation.

Anti-Realists come in a broad range of positions, only aligned by their critique of Realism. There are some that think that everything that exists is from some Absolute Spirit thinking. Other think that the external world is a construction of our sense content and impressions whose only existence is our mind, such as Berkeley believed. Also you have Kant who concedes a distinction between things as they are in themselves and things as they appear by our ways of experiencing them - that the “world” or “reality” is just exclusively the world of appearances.

Dummett’s Anti-Realism

Dummett’s claim is that the dispute between Realism and Anti-Realism is a dispute about the meaning appropriate for assertoric (asserting something is the case) or statemental discourse. Dummett claims that Realism has it’s root in truth-conditional theory of meaning. The theory basically says that a statement gets it’s meaning by being correlated with a particular situation or state of affairs in the world. The state of affairs is the statement’s truth condition. This correlation is secured by (1) the referential relations that individual terms bear to objects in the world, (2) by the ways they are combined with each other to form the relevant statemental sentence.

Dummett rejects this key part of Realism for another theory called the epistemic theory of meaning. He rejects the truth-conditional theory and that meaning is analyzed in terms of correlations between statements and mind-independent states of affairs. Dummett’s truth is simply warranted or justified assertability; for a statement to be true is for its assertion to be capable of being justified or warranted.

Essentially, for Dummett this comes down to philosophy of language.

The Inscrutability of Reference

According to Dummett, traditional Realism’s idea of a mind-independent world, that gets represented by our thought and language, has its expression in the view that our statements have a meaning that enables them to reach out to states of affairs whose obtaining transcends our power of detection. Dummett’s criticism is that the view cannot provide a satisfactory account of a speakers understanding of undecidable statements.

Putnam’s Anti-Realism

Putnam holds that the traditional Realism that we have two sets of objects, one consisting exclusively of linguistic items and the other involving mind-independent items, standing in a determinate referential relation is incoherent. He embraces the view that the very concept of an object is relative to a prior scheme of description and classification.

Putnam sees a sentence as having two kinds of constraints: what he calls the operational and the theoretical constraints.

Operational: The observational data available to the interpreter.

Theoretical Constraints: The standard methodological principles guiding theory selection.

Putnam views that these sentences leaves the referential force undetermined.

​ (1) The cat is on the mat

The “cat” and the “mat” are undetermined. Why? They can be interpreted in alternative ways: three dimensional objects, their temporal parts, etc.

Summing it up, even though when we talk about something we are making a relation between objects with a single conceptual scheme and that we can’t reference words to items outside all conceptual structures.

Realism or Anti-Realism?

When you get right down to it, anti-realism does show a challenge to realism, but does it actually present anything better. Realism is good.

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