April 12, 2004

Karen Green (Monash)

A Dummettian response to Armstrong and Martin

To infer A from B is, roughly, to be disposed, in any circumstance which inclines one to accept the truth of A, to be similarly inclined to accept the truth of B. Thus characterised, inference is a kind of disposition. Enriched by a behavioural characterisation of the acceptance of truth, an account of inference along these lines might make up part of a behaviourist program of explaining mental acts in behavioural terms. Similarly, at least part of what it is to understand the meaning of a sentence S is that one who understands the sentence will be disposed to accept the truth of S in circumstances which warrant its assertion. An account of the understanding of meaning along these lines might also make up part of a behaviourist program of explaining mental states in behavioural terms. Within the philosophy of mind, however, behaviourism has become a relatively unpopular doctrine, which many (at least in Australia) take to have been superseded by central state materialism. In this paper I examine David Armstrong’s original argument for replacing a behaviourist reduction of the mental with a central state materialist one. Developing an argument of Michael Dummett’s, I offer, in the earlier parts of the paper, a Dummettian response to Armstrong’s argument. In the later parts I use the insights of the earlier discussion to respond directly to an argument of Charles Martin’s. Martin’s argument attempts to show that the style of reasoning developed by Armstrong (which was in fact originally inspired by Martin) can be used to show that a Dummettian characterisation of the understanding of meaning must collapse. I argue by contrast that there is a simple reply to be made to Martin’s argument and that the reply enhances the plausibility of Dummett’s position.

Posted by Greg Restall at April 12, 2004 09:49 AM