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Title: Semantics, meta-semantics, and ontology : a critique of the method of truth in metaphysics
Author: Ball, Brian A.
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2008
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In this thesis, Semantics, Meta-Semantics, and Ontology, I provide a critique of the method of truth in metaphysics. Davidson has suggested that we can determine the metaphysical nature and structure of reality through semantic investigations. By contrast, I argue that it is not semantics, but meta-semantics, which reveals the metaphysically necessary and sufficient truth conditions of our claims. As a consequence I reject the Quinean (semantic) criterion of ontological commitment. In Part I, chapter 1, I argue that the metaphysically primary truth bearers are not propositions, but rather concrete representations, either beliefs or sentences. I show, in chapter 2, that we can give sense to a truth predicate applying to sentences, given a truth operator and quantification into sentence position. I argue that this strategy does not commit us to the existence of propositions serving as truth bearers. In Part II I argue that although we must assign semantic values to sentences and/or predicates, the meaningfulness of these expressions is not thereby explained. In chapter 3 I articulate Davidson’s problem of predication and his solution, but argue that he was wrong to attribute this solution to Tarski. In chapter 4 I examine the semantics of modal languages; I conclude that although they require semantic values for predicates and/or sentences we should be instrumentalists about these theories. In Part III I consider the relationship between truth and existence. In chapter 5, I defend Pluralism about truth: in some (though not all) domains of discourse, I claim, semantic reference plays a merely instrumental role in explaining truth. In chapter 6, I show that Hume’s Principle, which is committed by the Quinean criterion to the existence of numbers, can be true even though numbers do not exist. In doing so, I appeal to meta-semantic and diachronic considerations. In the conclusion I compare my views on ontology and commitment to Jody Azzouni’s; and in the appendix I suggest how one might pursue diachronic linguistics.
Supervisor: Edgington, Dorothy ; Hawthorne, John Sponsor: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Metaphysics ; semantics ; ontology ; philosophy of language ; metaphysics