Metasemantics, moderate inflationism, and correspondence truth

Dissertation, University of British Columbia (2023)
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Abstract

An object-based correspondence theory of truth holds that a truth-bearer is true whenever its truth conditions are met by objects and their properties. In order to develop such a view, the principal task is to explain how truth-bearers become endowed with their truth conditions. Modern versions of the correspondence theory see this project as the synthesis of two theoretical endeavours: basic metasemantics and compositional semantics. Basic metasemantics is the theory of how simple, meaningful items (e.g. names and concepts) are endowed with their contributions to truth conditions, and compositional semantics is the theory of how the meanings of simple items compose to generate (among other things) the truth conditions of sentences. Understanding truth along these broad lines was once popular; it was first championed by Field (1972). However, the once-popular conception of its tasks included an over-ambitious view of basic metasemantics. It was thought that reference needed to be analyzed (or reduced a posteriori) in terms of more fundamental, non-semantic relations (e.g. causal relations, indication, or teleological relations, in the case of mental representation). Obstacles in providing such an analysis engendered skepticism towards this understanding of truth and eventually gave way to its deflationary competitors. This dissertation aims to defend the modern, object-based correspondence theory against its rivals—especially deflationism. Chapter one provides a historically-grounded overview of the theory. Chapter two identifies two points of contrast between the correspondence theorist and the deflationist: they employ different orders of explanation for the variety of semantic phenomena, and they (traditionally) take different attitudes towards the prospects of reduction. Situating the dialectic in this way allows me to develop a middle ground: a moderate version of inflationism that takes the inflationary explanatory structure and combines it with a non-reductive, pluralist approach to basic metasemantics. Chapter three expands on the details of this pluralist account of reference. Chapter four contrasts the view with another rival approach to basic metasemantics: metasemantic interpretationism. And finally, chapter five applies the theory to answer another question of broad philosophical interest: what role does our conception of truth play in inquiry about the world?

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Graham Seth Moore
University of British Columbia, Okanagan

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