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The Model Theoretic Argument and Descriptivist Metasemantics

The Model Theoretic Argument and Descriptivist Metasemantics

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Richard Teague. Originally submitted for Philosophy at None, with lecturer Professor Rowland Stout in the category of Philosophical Studies & Theology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Richard Teague. Originally submitted for Philosophy at None, with lecturer Professor Rowland Stout in the category of Philosophical Studies & Theology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 30, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
1
ABSTRACT
 The issue discussed in this essay is one in metasemantics - that branch of the philosophy of languagewhich tries to answer questions about how our words come to have the meanings/referents they do.Specifically, throughout the essay I examine some of the conceptual space surrounding the famous
‘model
-
theoretic argument’ presented by Putnam (1980 and 1981) and argue that the problems it poses
can be evaded. Central to the evasion tactics is the suggestion that the reference of the terms occurringin our best theory
must 
be fixed by sets of associated descriptions which, in turn, must have models insets of experiential conditions imposed upon an ideal observer. It will also be suggested that, in a
 position I will call ‘optimistic metaphysical realism’, certa
in plausible, recently discussed constraintson metaphysical realism can still be met while making these descriptivist manoeuvres inmetasemantics. Possible objections to these manoeuvres and recent alternative approaches to themodel-theoretic argument will also be discussed.
 
2
The Model-Theoretic Argument and Descriptivist Metasemantics
The model-theoretic argument traces its roots to Putnam (1980 and 1981) and results in aconclusion which supposedly presents a challenge for the metaphysical realist. The conclusion is thatthere is no sense in which an epistemically ideal theory can be false.
1
That is, no matter how themetaphysical realist wants to constrain the interpretation of the language in which her theory about theworld is expressed, that theory is guaranteed to have a model which meets those constraints. Call themodels which meet the constraints proposed for the interpretation of terms and expressions in our
theory’s
 
language, ‘intended models’
. In what follows I will argue that there can be a useful sense inwhich an ideal theory can only have
one
such intended model and so, if any theory is satisfied by thatmodel, it is,
ipso facto
, true of the world.To achieve this, I will suggest that the terms and expressions in
the theory’s
language must havetheir reference/semantic value fixed by particular types of descriptions. If the reference of our terms isconstrained by such descriptive expressions, which are themselves interpreted
non
-verbally, then ourtheory is guaranteed to have a model in sets of so-called operational constraints, viz. sets of 
‘conditions on experience’.
In addition, I argue that for our theory to have a model in operational
constraints, some form of Leibniz’
s principle of the identity of indiscernibles may have to beendorsed; I also suggest reasons why this overall approach is superior to alternative responses to themodel-theoretic argument, specifically those which stem from the work of Lewis (1984). Finally, Iargue that although much of the above will mean that the ideal theory is guaranteed to have a model,and so, in a restricted sense, is guaranteed to be true, this does
not 
lead to a full blown denial of realism.
1. The Model-Theoretic Argument:
Let us begin with some useful clarifications. Let a theory, T, be a set of sentences formulated in thefirst order predicate calculus. So, for example T could contain just the sentences A and B below(supposing of course that these sentences can be represented as sentences of the language of thepredicate calculus):A.
 
All cats sit on mats.B.
 
Some positrons love Dirac.We will then say that the theory is consistent only if it has a model, viz. an assignment from the bits of language being used, to a set of objects we have designated as our domain of discourse. Furthermore,
1
At least, this seems to be the canonical und
erstanding of the argument’s conclusion. See Lewis
(1984) p.56
 – 
 59; Gardiner pp.395
 – 
396.
 
3
we might be tempted to say that our theory is true just in case the assignment, or model, assigns thecorrect or
intended 
domain of discourse to the symbols of the language in the correct or intended way.
For example, we’re tempted to say that the theory, T, which contains only the sentences A and B
 above is true if and only if it is true in the intended model, that is, if and only if the assignment of members of the domain (and ordered sequences thereof) to the various linguistic items used in thesentences A and B is such that: the class, C
1
, of all cats is assigned
to ‘cats’, the class
, C
2
, of all
 positrons is assigned to ‘positrons’, the class
, C
3
,
of all mats is assigned to ‘mats’, the class
, C
4
, of allordered sequences of entities, <
x ,
 
 y
> , such that
 x
sits on
 y
,
is assigned to ‘sit on’, the class
, C
5
, of allordered sequences of entities, <
 x , y
>, such that
 x
loves
 y
,
is assigned to ‘loves’,
the individual,Dirac,
is assigned to ‘Dirac’,
and the domain of the model is such that it contains (i) the class, C
6
, of all sequences <
 x , y
>, where
 x
is any member of C
1
and
 y
is
at least one
member of C
3
, which is asubclass of the class C
4
and (ii) the class, C
7
, of all sequences, <
 x , y
>, such that
 x
is
at least one
 member of the class C
2
and
 y
is a member of the singleton class, C
8
, whose only member is Dirac.Building on ideas such as these,
Putnam’s
(1980) argument makes two key moves to show that
any
 consistent theory will have an intended model and so, in a sense, be trivially true of the world. Themoves in question are
(1) the ‘
 just more theory
’ (JM
T) move, and (2) the use of the Löwenheim-Skolem theorem.
2
The argument runs like this: Suppose I have a theory, T
1
, which I express in thelanguage of the first order predicate calculus. Then, straight-forwardly, if T
1
is consistent (in thesyntactic sense) then it is complete, and so has a model.
3
 
What’s more, by the Löwenheim
-Skolemtheorem, the theory will have other models with denumerable
and 
non-denumerable domains. Thus,
insofar as a theory’s being true is equivalent to
its having a model, T
1
is guaranteed to be true. Inessence, if the theory is consistent, it has a model and if it has a model then it has a countable model, anon-countable model and, indeed, a model of every infinite cardinality.At this point the metaphysical realist is supposed to demur, saying that the interpretation, orassignment, given in the model cannot be any old interpretation; rather it has to be the
intended 
one.Accordingly, we will place constraints upon our model
(i.e. ‘tentative rest
rictions on the class of 
admissible interpretations’
4
) and, of course, Putnam notes some obvious candidates: operational,theoretical and (perhaps) causal constraints. Let us consider these in turn: Operational constraints are
conditions on experience
5
,
sets of ‘observational sentences’ which also have to be true in order for 
the interpretation to be intended.
6
For our theory, T, above, which comprises only the sentences A andB, such operational constraints would be the conditions on experience we would expect to obtain werethe theory to be true. As such, they might be something like the following:
2
However, as Lewis (1984)
 points out, it’s not clear that this theorem is needed.
The simpler
IsomorphismTheorem
is capable of producing roughly the same effect (see section 2 below).
3
This follows from the completeness of the first-order predicate calculus, see Gödel pp. 104-124
4
 
Putnam (1981) p. 30
5
An expression used by Gardiner (1995).
6
 
Putnam (1980) p. 427
 

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