Against Conventional Wisdom

Philosophers' Imprint 20 (22):1-27 (2020)
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Abstract

Conventional wisdom has it that truth is always evaluated using our actual linguistic conventions, even when considering counterfactual scenarios in which different conventions are adopted. This principle has been invoked in a number of philosophical arguments, including Kripke’s defense of the necessity of identity and Lewy’s objection to modal conventionalism. But it is false. It fails in the presence of what Einheuser (2006) calls c-monsters, or convention-shifting expressions (on analogy with Kaplan’s monsters, or context-shifting expressions). We show that c-monsters naturally arise in contexts, such as metalinguistic negotiations, where speakers entertain alternative conventions. We develop an expressivist theory—inspired by Barker (2002) and MacFarlane (2016) on vague predications and Einheuser (2006) on counterconventionals—to model these shifts in convention. Using this framework, we reassess the philosophical arguments that invoked the conventional wisdom.

Author Profiles

Alexander W. Kocurek
Cornell University
Ethan Jerzak
National University of Singapore
Rachel Etta Rudolph
Auburn University

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