Truth, meaning, and translation

In Douglas Patterson (ed.), New essays on Tarski and philosophy. O.U.P. 247 (2008)
Philosopher’s judgements on the philosophical value of Tarski’s contributions to the theory of truth have varied. For example Karl Popper, Rudolf Carnap, and Donald Davidson have, in their different ways, celebrated Tarski’s achievements and have been enthusiastic about their philosophical relevance. Hilary Putnam, on the other hand, pronounces that “[a]s a philosophical account of truth, Tarski’s theory fails as badly as it is possible for an account to fail.” Putnam has several alleged reasons for his dissatisfaction,1 but one of them, the one I call the modal objection (cf. Raatikainen 2003), has been particularly influential. In fact, very similar objections have been presented over and over again in the literature. Already in 1954, Arthur Pap had criticized Tarski’s account with a similar argument (Pap 1954). Moreover, both Scott Soames (1984) and John Etchemendy (1988) use, with an explicit reference to Putnam, similar modal arguments in relation to Tarski. Richard Heck (1997), too, shows some sympathy for such considerations. Simon Blackburn (1984, Ch. 8) has put forward a related argument against Tarski. Recently, Marian David has criticized Tarski’s truth definition with an analogous argument as well (David 2004, p. 389-390).2 This line of argument is thus apparently one of the most influential critiques of Tarski. It is certainly worthy of serious attention. Nevertheless, I shall argue that, given closer scrutiny, it does not present such an acute problem for the Tarskian approach to truth as many philosophers think. But I also believe that it is important to understand clearly why this is so. Moreover, I think that a careful consideration of the issue illuminates certain important but somewhat neglected aspects of the Tarskian approach.
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