Antirealism: a Hazard of Philosophy
Michael Devitt (City University of New York)

September 25, 2014, 2:30pm - 3:30pm
Philosophy Department, University of Melbourne

Theatre A, Elisabeth Murdoch Building
Masson Road
Melbourne 3010

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According to “realism about the external world”, the known physical world of stones, trees, cats, and the like exist independently of our minds. This seems to be the very heart of commonsense and yet most of the great philosophers, and many of the most influential contemporary ones, have been antirealists in one way or another. Antirealism was also rife in the twentieth century among intellectuals of a philosophical bent, including postmodernists, social scientists, literary theorists, and feminists. Why is antirealism a hazard of philosophy?

A clear answer shines through from the history. A realist metaphysics leaves a “gap” between our minds and the physical world. The gap is then thought to make our knowledge of that world impossible. Realism, Berkeley thought, is “the very root of scepticism”. In recent times, this epistemological line of thought has spawned a semantic one: realism makes reference to the known world impossible. The response to these alleged problems for realism has been “idealism”: the known world is held to be mind-dependent, whether in a way first proposed by Berkeley or, much more commonly, a way first proposed by Kant. Yet these idealist metaphysics are truly bizarre. Something has gone seriously wrong. What?

Devitt shall argue that the alleged problems for realism arise from starting in the wrong place. Rather than starting with epistemology or semantics and deriving antirealist metaphysics, we should start with realism and derive realist epistemologies and semantics.

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September 24, 2014, 4:00am +10:00

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