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Putnam and Truth


When Putnam wrote Reason, Truth and History, he thought that whatever the truth was, it could not entirely outrun justification. He moved away from this epistemic conception of truth—of truth as idealized rational acceptability—and his later view appears to recognize the fact that there are truths that may well be recognition transcendent. Wright (J Philos 97(6):335–364, 2000) has correctly observed that this change in Putnam’s views raises the question of how his current natural realism is different from metaphysical realism, a view that Putnam has always been at pains to distance himself from. After all, metaphysical realism is the admission of the fact that truths can be recognition transcendent. In this paper, I will reflect on the distinction between metaphysical realism and natural realism, hoping to lay out certain aspects of Putnam’s later views on truth which underwrite this crucial distinction.

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  1. Richard Rorty (1992) argues that Putnam held the view that truth was something substantively free of the interfaces even in the period of “internal realism.” He quotes a paper Putnam wrote titled “On Truth,” published in 1994, where Putnam seems to think that the truth that we had breakfast is independent of whether we have memory traces of it. That is, Putnam already had “natural realist” leanings during his “internal realist” days.

  2. For an overview, with various criticisms, of alethic pluralism, see Nikolaj Pederson’s (2012) discussion of the subject. Pederson writes that “the alethic pluralist contends that differences in subject matter go hand in hand with differences in truth.” (2012:488).

  3. I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for pointing out to me the error in the idea that “correctness” may be an epistemic notion.

  4. I thank an anonymous reviewer for making me see that falsification is not related to the issue of effacement of the interface, not obviously at least.

  5. I thank an anonymous reviewer for pressing me to clarify the difference between correctness and justification, if any, and also for pointing out the errors of conflating the two notions.

  6. I thank an anonymous reviewer for making me wonder about the connection between natural realism and pragmatism about truth in Putnam’s philosophy. I don’t think Putnam’s views on truth are pragmatist, though he was a pragmatist in other areas, especially with his concern with the applicability of philosophy to contemporary social issues and his commitment to falsification instead of verification.


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I thank Keya Maitra for guiding me in the right direction when I started writing about Putnam’s notion of truth. I also thank two anonymous referees whose comments have hugely improved this paper and saved me from many an error.


The writing of this article was not funded by any institution.

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Correspondence to Nilanjan Bhowmick.

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Bhowmick, N. Putnam and Truth. J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res. 39, 223–235 (2022).

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