Pragmatism, semantics, and the unknowable

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 81 (3):340 – 354 (2003)
Pragmatism in semantics is hampered by its proponents' tendency to tie understanding too closely to our mastery of epistemic practice. Both Brandom's inferentialist semantics and the anti-realist semantics championed by Dummett and Tennant amply illustrate this tendency. As a consequence, neither theory can successfully handle cases of the innocuously unknowable in which two sentences, though mutually consistent, nonetheless cannot be known to be true together. On Brandom's account, such sentences are treated as being mutually inconsistent after all. According to both Dummett's and Tennant's version of anti-realist semantics, we cannot know that there are any true sentences of this kind. Neither result is the least acceptable, whence either theory fails. The lesson to be learnt from this failure is that understanding should not be identified with the ability to reach warranted verdicts, but with the ability to think, where thinking is constitutively involved in, but nonetheless distinct from judging.
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