Revisiting Quine on Truth by Convention

Journal of Philosophical Logic 46 (2):119-139 (2017)
In “Truth by Convention” W.V. Quine gave an influential argument against logical conventionalism. Even today his argument is often taken to decisively refute logical conventionalism. Here I break Quine’s arguments into two— the super-task argument and the regress argument—and argue that while these arguments together refute implausible explicit versions of conventionalism, they cannot be successfully mounted against a more plausible implicit version of conventionalism. Unlike some of his modern followers, Quine himself recognized this, but argued that implicit conventionalism was explanatorily idle. Against this I show that pace Quine’s claim that implicit conventionalism has no content beyond the claim that logic is firmly accepted, implicit rules of inference can be used to distinguish the firmly accepted from the conventional. As part of my case, I argue that positing syntactic rules of inference as part of our linguistic competence follows from the same methodology that leads contemporary linguists and cognitive scientists to posit rules of phonology, morphology, and grammar. The upshot of my discussion is a diagnosis of the fallacy in Quine’s master critique of logical conventionalism and a re-opening of possibilities for an attractive conventionalist theory of logic.
Keywords Conventionalism  Quine  Logic  Linguistic rules
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DOI 10.1007/s10992-016-9396-8
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