Numbers, the World, and God: Varieties of Semantic Anti-Realism

June 22, 2023

Abstract: In this talk, I illustrate some of the key ideas of the distinctively Grammatical Thomist kind of apophaticism developed by Simon Hewitt, in his book Negative Theology and Philosophical Analysis: Only the Splendour of Light. In particular, I explore the kind of semantic anti-realism at the heart of the work, contrasting and complementing Hewitt’s use of ideas from Wittgenstein, Dummett and McCabe with some themes from the recent work of the normative pragmatism of Robert Brandom. I use the prosaic examples of properly semantically antirealist ways to understand the semantics of our talk of numbers and of the world, to illustrate the general strategy. Then, using Brandom’s distinction between sense dependence and reference dependence, I show how the proponent of such a non-referential semantics can respond to the criticism that any commitment to semantic anti-realism for some topic (whether numbers, the world or God) is to conceive of the subject matter of that topic as dependent on or subservient to our own interests, concerns or concepts.

I end this talk with some questions for Hewitt, concerning the behaviour of kind talk and the concept of identity invovled in his explanation of why God is totally unlike any other thing, and concerning what else may be distinctive about the God concept.


I’m Greg Restall, and this is my personal website. I am the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and the Director of the Arché Philosophical Research Centre for Logic, Language, Metaphysics and Epistemology I like thinking about – and helping other people think about – logic and philosophy and the many different ways they can inform each other.


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