Absolute Generality 12: McGee on semantic scepticism

I was intending to look at the papers in Absolute Generality in the order in which they are printed. But Glanzberg’s piece is followed by a long one by Shaughan Lavine which is in significant part a discussion of Vann McGee’s views, including those expressed in the latter’s contribution to this book. So it seems sensible to discuss McGee’s paper first.

The first section of this paper addresses “semantic skepticism in general”. McGee writes

The prevalent skeptical view, which is sometimes called deflationism or minimalism, allows that a speaker can say things that are true, but denies that her ability to do so depends on the linguistic practices of herself and her community. … [D]isquotationalism doesn’t connect truth-conditions with patterns of usage. … The (T)-sentences for own language are, for the deflationist, an inexplicable brute fact.

And there is more in the same vein. Well, I thought I was a kind of deflationist, but certainly I don’t take myself to be wedded to the idea that truth-conditions aren’t connected to patterns of usage. Au contraire. I’d say that it is precisely because of facts about the way I use “snow is white” that I am interpretable as using it to say that snow is white. And because “snow is white” is used by me to say that snow is white, then indeed “snow is white” on my lips is true just in case snow is white. So, I’d certainly say that the truth of such a (T)-sentence isn’t inexplicable, it isn’t an ungrounded brute fact. But the core deflationist thought — that there is in the end, bells and whistles apart, no more to the content of the truth predicate than is given in such (T)-sentences (the notion, so to speak, lacks metaphysical weight) — is surely quite consistent with that.

Still, let’s not fuss about who gets to choose which position counts as properly “deflationist”. My point is merely that the sort of extreme position which McGee seems to talking about (though he is far from ideally clear) is remote from plausible versions of deflationism, is therefore to my mind not especially interesting, and in any case — the key point here — hasn’t anything particularly to do with issues about absolute generality. So exactly why does he think it is going to be illuminating to come at the topic this way? I’m rather stumped. So I propose just to pass over his first section with a rather puzzled shrug.

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