The role of disagreement in semantic theory

Australasian Journal of Philosophy (1):1-18 (2013)
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Arguments from disagreement often take centre stage in debates between competing semantic theories. This paper explores the theoretical basis for arguments from disagreement and, in so doing, proposes methodological principles which allow us to distinguish between legitimate arguments from disagreement and dialectically ineffective arguments from disagreement. In the light of these principles, I evaluate Cappelen and Hawthorne's [2009] argument from disagreement against relativism, and show that it fails to undermine relativism since it is dialectically ineffective. Nevertheless, I argue that an alternative challenge to relativism based on disagreement is available. More generally, I argue that semantic theory is not answerable to data stemming from ‘loaded’ philosophical principles regarding the nature of disagreement. Rather, semantic theorists will exhaust their dialectical responsibilities regarding disagreement if they can demonstrate consistency with a minimal account of the concept.

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Carl Baker
University of Leeds (PhD)


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