Counterfactually robust inferences, modally ruled out inferences, and semantic holism

AL-Mukhatabat (16):111-35 (2016)
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It is often argued that inferential role semantics (IRS) entails semantic holism as long as theorists fail to answer the question about which inferences, among the many, are meaning-constitutive. Since analyticity, as truth in virtue of meaning, is a widely dismissed notion in indicating which inferences determine meaning, it seems that holism follows. Semantic holism is often understood as facing problems with the stability of content and many usual explanations of communication. Thus, we should choose between giving up IRS, to avoid these holistic entailments, and defending holism against this charge, to rescue IRS. I try to pursue the second goal by analyzing certain patterns of counterfactual reasoning. Wilfrid Sellars and Robert Brandom claim that, to defend IRS, content-constitutive inferences are those counterfactually robust. While it is difficult to assess the goodness of such a view, it nonetheless entails that counterfactually non-robust inferences (which I call “modally ruled out inferences”) are not content-constitutive. If this is true, and if we take certain remarks about the grasp of concepts on board, there is a way to restrict the scope of the holism entailed by IRS to the extent of reshaping problems with the stability of content.

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Pietro Salis
Universita di Cagliari


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