Hilary Putnam on Meaning and Necessity

University dissertation from Uppsala : Department of Philosophy

Abstract: In this dissertation on Hilary Putnam's philosophy, I investigate his development regarding meaning and necessity, in particular mathematical necessity. Putnam has been a leading American philosopher since the end of the 1950s, becoming famous in the 1960s within the school of analytic philosophy, associated in particular with the philosophy of science and the philosophy of language. Under the influence of W.V. Quine, Putnam challenged the logical positivism/empiricism that had become strong in America after World War II, with influential exponents such as Rudolf Carnap and Hans Reichenbach. Putnam agreed with Quine that there are no absolute a priori truths. In particular, he was critical of the notion of truth by convention. Instead he developed a notion of relative a priori truth, that is, a notion of necessary truth with respect to a body of knowledge, or a conceptual scheme. Putnam's position on necessity has developed over the years and has always been connected to his important contributions to the philosophy of meaning. I study Hilary Putnam's development through an early phase of scientific realism, a middle phase of internal realism, and his later position of a natural or commonsense realism. I challenge some of Putnam’s ideas on mathematical necessity, although I have largely defended his views against some other contemporary major philosophers; for instance, I defend his conceptual relativism, his conceptual pluralism, as well as his analysis of the realism/anti-realism debate.

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