Putnam on Truth: Metaphysical Realism Vs. Kantian Constructivism

Dissertation, University of Washington (1990)

Ann Baker
University of Washington
This dissertation concerns Putnam's objections to the realist conception of truth and his alternative, "internal realist," conception. I evaluate two main kinds of argument that Putnam advances against the realist conception of truth. First, the realist conception requires that we are talking about a kind of world we could never, according to Putnam, be talking about, namely a world that exists in itself, independent of minds. He argues that our powers of representation could never establish the right kind of connection to such a world. I argue that while Putnam's arguments against the "moderate" version of metaphysical realism are successful, his arguments against the more extreme, "rationalist" version of metaphysical realism are not. ;Second, the realist conception of truth requires that we are talking about a kind of world that we could, in yet another way, never be talking about, not now because of limitations on our powers of representation, but rather because the world that we do in fact talk about has the character of being conditioned by our interests in a way that is incompatible with it existing in itself, independent of mind. Since Putnam's arguments on this point are strongly verificationist, without an independent defense of verificationism, they are weak. But since verificationism cannot be easily dismissed, these arguments have some intuitive appeal. Thus, while they do not refute the realist conception of truth, they raise important doubts about it. ;The final part of the dissertation explores Putnam's alternative conception, appealing to "idealized rational acceptability," as a kind of correspondence theory of truth, according to which a belief is true just in case it corresponds to constructed, not mind-independent, reality. Making clear sense of how reality can be mind-dependent, but still real is a difficult problem. Putnam rejects rationalism for its "magical" assumptions. I have argued that Putnam is committed to the existence of a world which is real and external to our minds, yet still somehow dependent on minds. This too begins to look magical.
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