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Department of Philosophy

Forthcoming Research Seminars and Lectures

(For past seminars and lectures see here)

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06th December 2012: Daniel Isaacson (Oxford) - Dummett on Theories of Meaning, Realist and Anti-Realist

(10 July 2012)

Weekly Research Seminar

This seminar will be held in room 005, 48/49 Old Elvet, Durham.  Refreshments will be served from 11am with the talk commencing  at 11.30am.

Title:  Dummett on Theories of Meaning, Realist and Anti-Realist


Understanding the meaning of a declarative sentence is knowing what that sentence can be used to say, i.e. that things (referred to by words or symbols in the sentence) are thus and so (as expressed by words or symbols in the sentence).  If those things are thus and so, the sentence is true; otherwise false.  This observation points to a prima facie connection between meaning and truth.  For Michael Dummett, the connection is via knowing how one could go about determining whether or not the truth conditions for that sentence obtain.  This dependence of truth on justification is, in Dummett’s terminology, anti-realist, as against a realist conception of truth independent of our capacities to determine what’s true.  Dummett articulated and developed his justificationist conception of meaning over more than fifty years, beginning with his seminal paper “Truth”, published in 1959.  In this talk I shall focus on these ideas of Dummett as he distilled them in a late statement of his position, “Meaning and justification”, his Coimbre Lecture (1997, published 1998), which I will consider in light of John McDowell’s criticisms of Dummett’s position, as expressed in that paper, in the Library of Living Philosophers volume on Dummett, and Dummett’s reply to McDowell.  


Michael Dummett, “Meaning and justification” (Coimbre Lecture, 1997), Brian McGuiness (ed.), Language, Logic and Formalization of Knowledge, Bibliotheca di Gabriele Chiusano, Gaeta, 1998, pp. 11-30,


John McDowell, “Dummett on truth conditions and meaning”, Randall E. Auxier and Lewis Edwin Hahn (eds), The Philosophy of Michael Dummett, Library of Living Philosophers Volume 31, Open Court, Chicago and La Salle, Illinois, 2007, pp. 351-366.


Michael Dummett, “Reply to McDowell”, op. cit. pp. 367-381.

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