Quinean holism, analyticity, and diachronic rational norms

Synthese 195 (7):3143-3171 (2018)
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I argue that Quinean naturalists’ holism-based arguments against analyticity and apriority are more difficult to resist than is generally supposed, for two reasons. First, although opponents of naturalism sometimes dismiss these arguments on the grounds that the holistic premises on which they depend are unacceptably radical, it turns out that the sort of holism required by these arguments is actually quite minimal. And second, although it’s true, as Grice and Strawson pointed out long ago, that these arguments can succeed only if there isn’t any principled criterion for meaning change, such a criterion turns out to be hard to come by. David Chalmers has recently argued that such a criterion must exist, since the norms governing belief revision are subject to obvious exceptions that can be explained only by appeal to meaning change. But this, I argue, is incorrect: if choices about how to use language are themselves rationally assessable, then there are no such exceptions to be explained. To show that this is so, I formulate a new kind of coherence norm that may be useful for reasoning formally about the relationship between meaning and evidence.

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Brett Topey
University of Salzburg


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