Revisiting Quine on Truth by Convention

Journal of Philosophical Logic 46 (2):119-139 (2017)
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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.



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Jared Warren
Stanford University

Citations of this work

Functionalism About Inference.Jared Warren - forthcoming - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy.
Change of Logic, Change of Meaning.Jared Warren - 2018 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 96 (2):421-442.
Against Logical Inferentialism.Nick Zangwill - 2021 - Logique Et Analyse 255 (255):275-287.

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References found in this work

Writing the Book of the World.Theodore Sider - 2011 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Aspects of the Theory of Syntax.Noam Chomsky - 1965 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
The logical basis of metaphysics.Michael Dummett - 1991 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Truth and objectivity.Crispin Wright - 1992 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

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