The Method of Verbal Dispute

Philosophical Topics 35 (1-2):83-113 (2007)
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The idea that disputes which are heated, and apparently important, may nonetheless be 'merely verbal' or 'just semantic' is surely no stranger to any philosopher. I urge that many disputes, both in and out of philosophy, are indeed plausibly considered verbal, and that it would repay us to more frequently consider whether they are so or not. Asking this question is what I call ‘The Method of Verbal Dispute’. Neither the notion nor the method of verbal dispute is new. What I do here is to urge its wider application, to suggest how widespread is the phenomenon of verbal disputes, and to clarify certain misconceptions about what is, or needs to be, involved in a verbal dispute. One central claim is that verbal disputes need not be ‘merely’ verbal disputes – that often, there is a real disagreement to be had, but it is not the one suggested by the surface form of the disagreement. I also discuss the relation between verbal disputes, relativism and cases in which ‘there is no fact of the matter’



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Alan Sidelle
University of Wisconsin, Madison

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