Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


The traditional "realist" programme in metaphysics and the philosophy of language--what Hilary Putnam has termed "metaphysical realism" or "externalism", on the one hand, and "semantic realism" as an account of the workings of language that draws essentially on the externalist notions of truth and reference, on the other--has been attacked, on independent but closely related grounds, by Putnam and Michael Dummett. I attempt to clarify their arguments against the realist programme, and to assess the force of the various strategies that realists have proposed in defence of that programme.;In the opening chapters, I trace the development of Putnam's thinking on these matters, and the influence of Dummett on that development. I then focus upon: (1) Putnam's "brain in a vat" argument; (2) Putnam's "model-theoretic" argument, and (3) Dummett's "manifestation" argument. I argue that realist responses to these arguments have generally rested upon misinterpretations either of their details or of their intended dialectical role. More specifically, I argue that: (A) The "brain in a vat" argument admits of a valid formulation, though not as a dilemma; but the argument is not plausibly read as an attack on skepticism, nor as an independent argument against metaphysical realism; (B) The "model-theoretic" argument cannot be satisfactorily countered by either the presentation of "counter-examples" to the arguments's conclusion, or the appeal to constraints on reference furnished by the embedding of linguistic practice in our more general commerce with the world; but the argument fails to demonstrate the incoherence of externalism, though it does bring out certain of its epistemological infirmities; (C) The secondary literature on the "manifestation" argument reveals serious misreadings of the antirealist project: in particular, there is a tendency to conflate "semantic realism" and "ontological realism", and to misconstrue the motivation underlying central features of the anti-realist arguments.;I conclude that the arguments of Putnam and Dummett raise serious doubts about the capacity of the realist programme to answer to our cognitive interests as philosophers, and that the burden rests upon the realist to show that we should continue to pursue that programme.



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