About this topic
Summary Putnam attempted to refute metaphysical realism by the use of a model-theoretic argument (or perhaps arguments, in the plural). For the most part, the required model theory was very simple. The easiest model theoretic argument involved the idea of a permutation over the objects of the world, so that (for example) my word "cat" does not apply to all and only cats, but to cats*, where cats* might just be cherries. (Another model theoretic argument involved appeal to the Completeness Theorem of first-order logic, or the Löwenheim-Skolem Theorem.) The aim of these arguments was to threaten the metaphysical realist with radical indeterminacy of reference (which Putnam did not himself embrace, but took to be a reductio of metaphysical realism). In response to the claim that causation (for example) fixes reference, Putnam always responded by maintaining that this was just more theory. Much of the subsequent literature has turned on the acceptability (or otherwise) of Putnam's just more theory manoeuvre.
Key works Although there were some anticipations, the model-theoretic argument(s) are most famous from Putnam 1977, 1980 and 1981 (ch.2). Several suggestions have been made, in an effort to rule out the deviant interpretations generated by the use of elementary model theory: Putnam himself considered appealing to causation; Lewis 1984 advanced the idea that some properties are more "referentially magnetic" than others; in a more mathematical context, Shapiro 1991 (ch.8) appealed to second-order (rather than first-order) logic; and McGee 2005 highlighted the fact that certain expressions should be (Kripkean) rigid designators. Putnam's response to all of these considerations was his just-more-theory manoeuvre (which he always presented alongside his model-theoretic arguments). Many authors (including Devitt 1983, Hale & Wright 1997 and Bays 2001) found this manoeuvre entirely question-begging; but Putnam was undeterred. His fullest explanation of why is provided in his 2000; and Putnam's position here -- and the model-theoretic arguments, more generally -- are defended by Button 2015.
Introductions Putnam 1977; Putnam 1981 (ch.2); Lewis 1984; Hale & Wright 1997; Button 2015 (chs.1-7).
Related categories

104 found
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  1. added 2018-10-10
    More on Skolem's Paradox.Michael David Resnik - 1969 - Noûs 3 (2):185-196.
  2. added 2018-06-08
    A Critique of Metaphysical Thinking.T. Parent - manuscript
    This is a rough draft of the front matter and ch. 1, for a new book manuscript on metametaphysics.
  3. added 2018-05-15
    Arguing About Realism: Adjudicating the Putnam-Devitt Dispute.Fletcher Jade - 2016 - European Journal of Analytic Philosophy 12 (2):39-53.
    In this paper I want to adjudicate the dispute between those philosophers who do and those who do not think that the philosophy of language can illuminate metaphysical questions. To this end, I take the debate between Devitt and Putnam as a case study and diagnose what I take to be illuminating about their disagreement over metaphysical realism. I argue that both Putnam and Devitt are incorrect in their assessment of the significance of the model theoretic argument for realism. That, (...)
  4. added 2018-02-18
    Review of Putnam's Realism, Truth, and History. [REVIEW]Michael Devitt - 1984 - Philosophical Review 93 (2):274--7.
  5. added 2017-05-05
    Newman’s Objection is Dead; Long Live Newman’s Objection!Sebastian Lutz - manuscript
    There are two ways of reading Newman’s objection to Russell’s structuralism. One assumes that according to Russell, our knowledge of a theory about the external world is captured by an existential generalization on all non-logical symbols of the theory. Under this reading, our knowledge amounts to a cardinality claim. Another reading assumes that our knowledge singles out a structure in Russell’s (and Newman’s) sense: a model theoretic structure that is determined up to isomorphism. Under this reading, our knowledge is far (...)
  6. added 2017-02-27
    Von einem realistischen Standpunkt. [REVIEW]Alex Burri - 1995 - Erkenntnis 42 (3):403-404.
  7. added 2017-02-15
    Can Realism Be Naturalized?Christopher Norris - 2000 - Principia: Revista Internacional de Epistemologia 4 (1):89-140.
    Hilary Putnam has famously undergone some radical changes of mind with regard to the issue of scientific realism and its wider epistemological bearings. In this paper I defend the arguments put forward by early Putnam in his essays on the causal theory of reference as applied to natural-kind terms, despite his own later view that those arguments amounted to a form of 'metaphysical' realism which could not be sustained against various lines of sceptical attack. I discuss some of the reasons (...)
  8. added 2017-01-28
    Putnam's Transcendental Argument.Paul Coppock - 1987 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 68 (1):14.
  9. added 2017-01-28
    Set Theoretic Realism.Penelope Jo Maddy - 1979 - Dissertation, Princeton University
  10. added 2017-01-26
    On Putnam and His Models, Timothy Bays.On Sense & John Reflexivity - 2001 - Journal of Philosophy 98 (7).
  11. added 2017-01-26
    Referential Indeterminacy: A Response to Professor Putnam.Robert Barrett - 1973 - In Glenn Pearce & Patrick Maynard (eds.), Conceptual Change. Boston: D. Reidel. pp. 222--232.
  12. added 2017-01-17
    Putnam's Model-Theoretic Argument.Max De Gaynesford - unknown
  13. added 2017-01-16
    On Putnam and His Models.Timothy Bays - 2001 - Journal of Philosophy 98 (7):331.
  14. added 2017-01-16
    Putnam's Model-Theoretic Argument Reconstructed.Igor Douven - 1999 - Journal of Philosophy 96 (9):479.
  15. added 2017-01-15
    More on Putnam’s Models: A Reply to Belloti.Timothy Bays - 2007 - Erkenntnis 67 (1):119-135.
    In an earlier paper, I claimed that one version of Putnam's model-theoretic argument against realism turned on a subtle, but philosophically significant, mathematical mistake. Recently, Luca Bellotti has criticized my argument for this claim. This paper responds to Bellotti's criticisms.
  16. added 2017-01-15
    6. The Model-Theoretic Argument.Mark Quentin Gardiner - 2000 - In Semantic Challenges to Realism: Dummett and Putnam. University of Toronto Press. pp. 157-182.
  17. added 2016-12-08
    Putnam and Constructibility.Luca Bellotti - 2005 - Erkenntnis 62 (3):395-409.
    I discuss and try to evaluate the argument about constructible sets made by Putnam in ‘ ”Models and Reality”, and some of the counterarguments directed against it in the literature. I shall conclude that Putnam’s argument, while correct in substance, nevertheless has no direct bearing on the philosophical question of unintended models of set theory.
  18. added 2016-12-08
    Replies.Hilary Putnam - 1992 - Philosophical Topics 20 (1):347--408.
  19. added 2016-08-29
    Tim Button , The Limits of Realism . Reviewed By.J. T. M. Miller - 2014 - Philosophy in Review 34 (3-4):151-154.
  20. added 2016-08-28
    Hilary Putnam (1926-2016): A Lifetime Quest to Understand the Relationship Between Mind, Language, and Reality.David Leech Anderson - 2016 - Mind and Matter 14 (1):87-95.
  21. added 2016-04-20
    Proxy Functions and Inscrutability of Reference.Steven L. Reynolds - 1994 - Analysis 54 (4):228 - 235.
  22. added 2016-02-29
    The Limits of Realism.Tim Button - 2015 - Oxford University Press UK.
    Tim Button explores the relationship between minds, words, and world. He argues that the two main strands of scepticism are deeply related and can be overcome, but that there is a limit to how much we can show. We must position ourselves somewhere between internal realism and external realism, and we cannot hope to say exactly where.
  23. added 2015-10-09
    Hilary Putnam: Von einem realistischen Standpunkt, Schriften zu Sprache und Wirklichkeit.Vincent C. Müller (ed.) - 1993 - Rowohlt.
    Einleitung - 1 Erklärung und Referenz (1973) - 2 Sprache und Wirklichkeit (1975) - 3 Was ist ‹Realismus›? (1975) - 4 Modelle und Wirklichkeit (1980) - 5 Referenz und Wahrheit (1980) - 6 Wie man zugleich interner Realist und transzendentaler Idealist sein kann (1980) - 7 Warum es keine Fertigwelt gibt (1982) - 8 Wozu die Philosophen? (1986) - 9 Realismus mit menschlichem Antlitz (1988/90) - 10 Irrealismus und Dekonstruktion (1992) - -/- Bibliographie der Schriften von Hilary Putnam - -/- (...)
  24. added 2015-10-08
    Einleitung: Hilary Putnam.Vincent C. Müller - 1993 - In Hilary Putnam: Von einem realistischen Standpunkt, Schriften zu Sprache und Wirklichkeit. Rowohlt. pp. 9-26.
    Hilary Putnams Biographie und philosophische Entwicklung spiegeln die Geschichte der angelsächsischen Philosophie in den letzten 40 Jahren. Beinahe ebenso lange hat Putnam diese Geschichte wesentlich beeinflußt und so kann John Passmore über Putnam schreiben: «Er ist die Geschichte der gegenwärtigen Philosophie im Umriß»1. In der vorliegenden Einleitung soll vor allem der Kontext dargestellt werden, in dem Putnam steht und aus dem heraus verständlich wird, was er philosophisch zu sagen hat. Dieser Kontext ist sicherlich ein Grund dafür, daß Putnam hierzulande noch (...)
  25. added 2015-09-11
    Referenz Und Fallibilismus Zu Hilary Putnams Pragmatischem Kognitivismus.Axel Mueller - 2001
    This is a two tiered investigation. On the one hand, the author presents a systematic account of the philosophy of Hilary Putnam. Being the first comprehensive account to be published in the German-speaking world, the author traces the development of Putnam's realism and philosophy of language and their connections from the early 1950's to 2000. Contrary to the popular view of the discontinuity of Putnam's philosophy, he demonstrates that Putnam maintains certain semantic, pragmatic and epistemological foundations for the rational confirmability, (...)
  26. added 2015-09-08
    Realism Behind the Veil.Nicholas K. Jones - 2014 - Analysis 74 (4):721-730.
    This is a critical notice of Tim Button's book "The Limits of Realism".
  27. added 2015-04-08
    Elgin on Lewis's Putnam's Paradox.Bas C. van Fraassen - 1997 - Journal of Philosophy 94 (2):85-93.
    In "Unnatural Science"(1) Catherine Elgin examines the dilemma which David Lewis sees posed by Putnam's model-theoretic argument against realism. One horn of the dilemma commits us to seeing truth as something all too easily come by, a virtue to be attributed to any theory meeting relatively minimal conditions of adequacy. The other horn commits us to "anti-nominalism", some version of the ancient doctrine that language must "carve nature at the joints": that there are natural kinds or classes which alone qualify (...)
  28. added 2015-04-05
    Reference and Realism in Philosophy of Language and Philosophy of Mathematics.Malcolm Foye Macfail - 1998 - Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley
    Most realists accept some version of the correspondence theory of truth, and most hold that reference is not subject to much indeterminacy. My central project is to defend these semantic doctrines against some influential recent attacks. ;The body of my dissertation consists of exposition and criticism of sample members of two groups of arguments: Hilary Putnam's model theoretic arguments against mathematical realism, and Donald Davidson's arguments for the thesis that reference in natural language is inscrutable. I also discuss in detail (...)
  29. added 2015-04-05
    Putnam's Indeterminacy of Reference.J. GrÜnfeld - 1980 - International Logic Review 22:136.
  30. added 2015-04-04
    The Infirmities of Externalism: Putnam and Dummett on the Realist Programme in Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Language.David Alan Davies - 1988 - Dissertation, The University of Western Ontario (Canada)
    The traditional "realist" programme in metaphysics and the philosophy of language--what Hilary Putnam has termed "metaphysical realism" or "externalism", on the one hand, and "semantic realism" as an account of the workings of language that draws essentially on the externalist notions of truth and reference, on the other--has been attacked, on independent but closely related grounds, by Putnam and Michael Dummett. I attempt to clarify their arguments against the realist programme, and to assess the force of the various strategies that (...)
  31. added 2015-03-28
    A Critique of Putnam's Antirealism.Mario Alai - 1989 - Dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park
    Many philosophers have shown great interest in the recent anti-realist turn in Hilary Putnam's thought, whereby he rejects "meta-physical realism" in favor of "internal realism". However, many have also found it difficult to gain an exact understanding, and hence a correct assessment of Putnam's ideas. This work strives for some progress on both of these accounts. ;Part one explicates what Putnam understands by "metaphysical realism" and considers to what extent Putnam himself formerly adhered to it. It reconstructs Putnam's arguments for (...)
  32. added 2015-03-24
    Anthony Brueckner/Contents Just Aren't in the Head 1–6 Byeong D. Lee/Douven on Putnam's Model-Theoretic Argument 7–12 Giorgio Volpe/Ideal Epistemic Situations and the Access-Ibility of Realist Truth 13–31. [REVIEW]Der Staudacher - 2003 - Erkenntnis 58 (1):417-418.
  33. added 2015-03-22
    La prueba de Putnam contra el escepticismo radical: dos reinterpretaciones basadas en el autoconocimiento.Manuel Pérez Otero - 2012 - Critica 44 (132):35-63.
    Presento y defiendo dos reinterpretaciones de la prueba ideada por Putnam para demostrar que no somos cerebros en una cubeta. Ambas resaltan explícitamente el papel desempeñado por el autoconocimiento de nuestros propios pensamientos y por el externismo sobre el contenido. La primera asume que el externismo implica que un cerebro en una cubeta no puede pensar el contenido proposicional relevante (constituido por conceptos acerca de cerebros y cubetas). La otra versión invoca una tesis externista más débil, conforme a la cual (...)
  34. added 2015-03-20
    Realisme En Antirealisme.R. Vergauwen - 1991 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 53 (4):631 - 663.
    In this article the contemporary debate between realism and anti-realism in analytical philosophy is analysed and discussed. It is claimed that the nature of the reference relation which holds between language and the world is central in this discussion which has both logical, semantical, and epistemological aspects. In a first part A. Tarski's (semantic) theory of thru th is explained and it is shown how, amongst several theories of truth, Tarski's may be called a realist one. However, a Tarski-style semantics (...)
  35. added 2015-03-19
    Argument teoriomodelowy trzydzieści lat później.Krzysztof Czerniawski - 2010 - Filozofia Nauki 18 (3).
    The paper aims at describing the discussion about the model-theorethic argument of Hilary Putnam in the past thirty years. First of all it presents the view of Timothy Bays, who through scrupulous examination of the formal side of the argument demonstrates that in fact it has very little in common with the model-theory. It is rather a simple and purely philosophical argument, which isn't more reliable and conclusive than any other argument in philosophy. Putnam tries to block the answer of (...)
  36. added 2015-03-19
    Evaluating Fallacies: Putnam's Model-Theoretic Legacy.Louise Cummins - 2002 - Philosophica 69.
  37. added 2015-03-18
    The Return of Taylor's Putnam.Adam Kovach - 2009 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 87 (1):119 – 125.
    It is argued that the version of Hilary Putnam's model-theoretic argument developed by Barry Taylor in Models, Truth and Realism poses no threat to the realist claim that an ideal theory may be false.
  38. added 2015-03-18
    El Argumento de Teoria de Modelos de Putnam y la Metodologia para la Comprension de las Nociones Intencionales.José Tomás Alvarado - 2002 - Theoria 17 (3):541-561.
    Putnam's Model- Theoretic Argument has been generally held as invalid. In this work, attention is addressed to two broad facts understated by critics and commentators: (i) there are, at least, two different model-theoretic arguments. One is directed against realism and the other is directed to naturalistic semantics. The general rejection affects the former, but it is open to discussion if it affects the latter; (ii) on the other hand, the model-theoretic argument construed as a reductio argument has not - prima (...)
  39. added 2015-03-18
    Reasoning About Non-Actual Possibilities. Problems with the Douven-Putnam Model-Theoretic Argument Against Metaphysical Realism (Razonar Sobre Posibilidades Contrafácticas. Los Problemas Del Argumento Teórico-Modelista de Douven-Putnam Contra El Realismo Metafísico).Manuel Pérez Otero - 2002 - Critica 34 (102):29 - 45.
    Igor Douven has offered an original reconstruction and defence of Putnam's model-theoretic argument against metaphysical realism. Douven's construal has notable exegetical virtues, since it makes sense of some assumptions in Putnam's argument which his opponents have considered question-begging or puzzling. In this article I provide an indirect defence of metaphysical realism, by showing why this new version of the anti-realist argument should also be rejected. The main problems in the Douven-Putnam argument come from ascribing to the realist a distorted view (...)
  40. added 2015-03-17
    Ramseyfication and Theoretical Content.Joseph Melia & Juha Saatsi - 2006 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (3):561-585.
    Model theoretic considerations purportedly show that a certain version of structural realism, one which articulates the nvtion of structure via Ramsey sentences, is in fact trivially true. In this paper we argue that the structural realist is by no means forced to Ramseyfy in the manner assumed in the formal proof. However, the structural realist's reprise is short-lived. For, as we show, there are related versions of the model theoretic argument which cannot be so easily blocked by the structural realist. (...)
  41. added 2015-03-17
    The Place of Semantic Theory.Bernhard Weiss - 2004 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 85 (4):454–469.
    : Some twenty years since its publication Putnam's model‐theoretic argument is still much discussed. The present paper aims to defend a reconstruction of the argument but begins by attempting to clarify the form of the argument. Usually, and with good textual grounds, the argument is treated as a reductio argument against metaphysical realism. I argue instead that it should be treated as developing a paradox. I go on to claim that the most promising response to this paradox is to be (...)
  42. added 2015-03-17
    What is so Magical About a Theory of Intrinsic Intentionality?D. C. Smith - 2003 - Philosophical Papers 32 (1):83-96.
    Abstract Curiously missing in the vast literature on Hilary Putnam's so-called model-theoretic argument against semantic realism is any response from would-be proponents of what Putnam would call magical theories of reference. Such silence is surprising in light of the fact that such theories have occupied a significant position in the history of philosophy and the fact that there are still several prominent thinkers who would, no doubt, favor such a theory. This paper develops and examines various responses to Putnam's argument (...)
  43. added 2015-03-17
    Chambers on Putnam's Paradox.Frederick Kroon - 2001 - Mind 110 (439):703-708.
  44. added 2015-03-17
    Putnam's Argument Against Realism.John Koethe - 1979 - Philosophical Review 88 (1):92-99.
    Hilary putnam has tried to refute the realist doctrine that the operational verification of a theory never logically precludes its objective falsity by means of an argument involving model-theoretic considerations. in this paper it is first shown that this argument does not work if the theory in question is open to revision. next it is argued that a realist need not and should not admit the notion of the sort of unrevisable, ideal theory required for the purposes of putnam's argument.
  45. added 2014-11-12
    Putting Reference Beyond Belief.José Zalabardo - 1998 - Philosophical Studies 91 (3):221-257.
    The paper deals with Hilary Putnam's model-theoretic argument against metaphysical realism. It considers the objections to the argument raised by David Lewis, Mark Heller, James van Cleve, Anthony Brueckner and others, to the effect that Putnam's reasoning fails to undermine versions of metaphysical realism which construe reference along externalist lines. I argue that the version of Putnam's argument that his critics have attacked is indeed powerless against externalist accounts of reference, but that, on a different construal, the argument puts genuine (...)
  46. added 2014-04-03
    What is Realistic About Putnam's Internal Realism?David L. Anderson - 1992 - Philosophical Topics 20 (1):49-83.
    Failure to recognize the "realistic" motivations for Putnam's commitment to internal realism has led to a widely shared misunderstanding of Putnam's arguments against metaphysical realism. Realist critics of these arguments frequently offer rebuttals that fail to confront his arguments. Simply put, Putnam's arguments --the brains in a vat argument as well as the model-theoretic argument -- are "reductios" that are intended to show that "metaphysical realism itself is not sufficiently realistic". If that claim can be substantiated then Putnam can go (...)
  47. added 2014-03-31
    Semantic Supervenience and Referential Indeterminacy.James Van Cleve - 1992 - Journal of Philosophy 89 (7):344-361.
  48. added 2014-03-31
    'Just More Theory': A Manoeuvre in Putnam's Model-Theoretic Argument for Antirealism.Barry Taylor - 1991 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 69 (2):152 – 166.
  49. added 2014-03-30
    Operational Constraints and the Model-Theoretic Argument.Mark Q. Gardiner - 1995 - Erkenntnis 43 (3):395 - 400.
    Putnam's Model-Theoretic argument purports to show that, contrary to what the metaphysical realist is committed to, an epistemically ideal theory which satisfies all operational and theoretical constraints can be guaranteed to be true. He draws the additional antirealist conclusion that there can be no single privileged relation of reference. I argue that the very possibility of a so-called ideal theory satisfying all operational constraints presupposes a determinate relation of reference, and hence Putnam must assume precisely what he denies.
  50. added 2014-03-28
    Putnam's Model-Theoretic Argument(S). A Detailed Reconstruction.Jürgen Dümont - 1999 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 30 (2):341-364.
    Two of Hilary Putnam's model-theoretic arguments against metaphysical realism are examined in detail. One of them is developed as an extension of a model-theoretic argument against mathematical realism based on considerations concerning the so-called Skolem-Paradox in set theory. This argument against mathematical realism is also treated explicitly. The article concentrates on the fine structure of the arguments because most commentators have concentrated on the major premisses of Putnam's argument and especially on his treatment of metaphysical realism. It is shown that (...)
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