Constituting assertion: a pragmatist critique of Horwich’s ‘Truth’

Synthese 195 (3):935-954 (2018)
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In his influential book Truth, Paul Horwich deploys a philosophical method focused on linguistic usage, that is, on the function(s) the concept of truth serves in actual discourse. In doing so Horwich eschews abstract metaphysics, arguing that metaphysical or ontological conceptions of truth rest on basic misconceptions. From this description, one might reasonably expect Horwich's book to have drawn inspiration from, or even embodied philosophical pragmatism of some kind. Unfortunately Horwich relies upon Russell's tired caricature of pragmatism about truth (''p' is true if and only if it is useful to believe p' (Ibid., p. 34, p. 47)), and as a result underestimates the challenge it poses to Minimalism. This paper develops a pragmatist critique of minimalism that focuses on the seemingly central, plausibly constitutive role played by the concept of truth in the speech-act of assertion. The critique suggests that Horwich's Minimalism does not and cannot accomplish its stated goal of explaining all of the facts involving truth. Indeed, the kind of thorough-going deflationism sought by Horwich and others (including pragmatist sympathizer Bob Brandom) is incompatible with an adequate account of assertion, and perhaps other concepts (like belief, judgement and inquiry) as well.

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Andrew Howat
California State University, Fullerton


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