Philosophical Studies

, Volume 161, Issue 3, pp 349–366 | Cite as

Pragmatic antirealism: a new antirealist strategy



In everyday speech we seem to refer to such things as abstract objects, moral properties, or propositional attitudes that have been the target of metaphysical and/or epistemological objections. Many philosophers, while endorsing scepticism about some of these entities, have not wished to charge ordinary speakers with fundamental error, or recommend that the discourse be revised or eliminated. To this end a number of non-revisionary antirealist strategies have been employed, including expressivism, reductionism and hermeneutic fictionalism. But each of these theories faces forceful objections. In particular, we argue, proponents of these strategies face a dilemma: either concedes that their theory is revisionary, or adopt an implausible account of speaker-meaning whereby the content of certain types of utterance is opaque to their speakers. In this paper we introduce a new type of antirealist strategy, which is thoroughly non-revisionary, and leaves speaker-meaning transparent to speakers. We draw on work on pragmatics in the philosophy of language to develop a theory we call ‘pragmatic antirealism’. The pragmatic antirealist holds that while the sentences of the discourses in question have metaphysically contentious truth conditions, ordinary utterances of them are pragmatically modified in context in such a way that speakers do not incur commitment to those truth conditions. After setting out the theory, we show how it might be developed for both mathematical and ethical discourse, before responding to some likely objections.


Realism Pragmatics Semantics Ethics Mathematics 



Thanks to David Liggins and Michael Ridge for comments on an earlier draft of this paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy, School of Social SciencesThe University of Manchester, Arthur Lewis BuildingManchesterUK

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