Can the Pessimistic Induction be Saved from Semantic Anti-Realism about Scientific Theory?

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 65 (3):521-548 (2014)
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Scientific anti-realists who appeal to the pessimistic induction (PI) claim that the theoretical terms of past scientific theories often fail to refer to anything. But on standard views in philosophy of language, such reference failures prima facie lead to certain sentences being neither true nor false. Thus, if these standard views are correct, then the conclusion of the PI should be that significant chunks of current theories are truth-valueless. But that is semantic anti-realism about scientific discourse—a position most philosophers of science, anti-realists included, consider anathema today. Therefore, proponents of the PI confront a dilemma: either accept semantic anti-realism or reject common semantic views. I examine strategies (with particular emphasis on supervaluations) for the PI proponent to either lessen the sting of this argument, or learn to live with it. 1 Introduction2 Designation Failure 2.1 Designation failure leads to truth-valueless sentences2.1.1 Direct reference theory2.1.2 Fregeanism2.1.3 Accounts of reference-fixing: why ‘phlogiston’ fails to designate 2.2 Objection: sentences exhibiting designation failure are false not truth-valueless 2.3 Avoiding truth-valuelessness via controversial semantic positions3 What to do? Closing the Gaps4 Conclusion.

Author's Profile

Greg Frost-Arnold
Hobart and William Smith Colleges


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