The Limits of Realism

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2013-08-24
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press

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Tim Button explores the relationship between words and world; between semantics and scepticism.

A certain kind of philosopher--the external realist--worries that appearances might be radically deceptive; we might all, for example, be brains in vats, stimulated by an infernal machine. But anyone who entertains the possibility of radical deception must also entertain a further worry: that all of our thoughts are totally contentless. That worry is just incoherent.

We cannot, then, be external realists, who worry about the possibility of radical deception. Equally, though, we cannot be internal realists, who reject all possibility of deception. We must position ourselves somewhere between internal realism and external realism, but we cannot hope to say exactly where. We must be realists, for what that is worth, and realists within limits.

In establishing these claims, Button critically explores and develops several themes from Hilary Putnam's work: the model-theoretic arguments; the connection between truth and justification; the brain-in-vat argument; semantic externalism; and conceptual relativity. The Limits of Realism establishes the continued significance of these topics for all philosophers interested in mind, logic, language, or the possibility of metaphysics.

Author Biography

Tim Button completed his PhD in Cambridge. From 2010 to 2012 he was a research fellow at St. John's College, Cambridge. In 2012, he was appointed to the position of University Lecturer at Cambridge, where he remains a fellow of St John's. He has also recently been a visiting scholar at the University of Texas Austin, and a visiting fellow at Harvard University.

Table of Contents

A External realism
1. The picture of external realism
2. The model-theoretic arguments
3. Attempts to constrain reference
4. The just-more-theory manoeuvre
5. Empiricism and empirical content
6. Sceptical veils of various fabrics
7. From Cartesian to Kantian angst
B The tenacity of Cartesian angst
8. How the serpent entered Eden
9. Nonrealism
10. Natural realism
11. Justificationism
C Dissecting brains in vats
12. Putnam's brain-in-vat argument
13. The resilience of the brain-in-vat argument
14. Davidson's Cogito
15. Vat variations
16. Mitigated aporia
D Realism within limits
17. Semantic externalism
18. Conceptual relativism
19. Conceptual cosmopolitanism
I. Model theory primer
II. Fitch-style reasoning

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