Meaning relativism and subjective idealism

Synthese 197 (9):4047-4064 (2020)
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The paper discusses an objection, put forward by - among others - John McDowell, to Kripke’s Wittgenstein’s non-factualist and relativist view of semantic discourse. The objection goes roughly as follows: while it is usually possible to be a relativist about a given domain of discourse without being a relativist about anything else, relativism about semantic discourse entails global relativism, which in turn entails subjective idealism, which we can reasonably assume to be false. The paper’s first section sketches Kripke’s Wittgenstein’s ideas about semantic discourse and gives a fully explicit formulation of the objection. The second section describes and briefly discusses the formal apparatus needed to evaluate the objection - which is basically equivalent to John MacFarlane’s recent development of David Kaplan’s classic semantic framework. Finally, the third section explains in detail why the objection fails. I show that even though relativism about semantic discourse does entail a form of global relativism, the relativism in question does not entail anything like Berkeleyan or Fichtean idealism. This particular kind of relativism holds that which character (in Kaplan’s sense) is associated to a given utterance depends on what MacFarlane calls “the context of assessment”.
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First archival date: 2018-08-12
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