Putnam, equivalence, realism

Damian Cox*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Hilary Putnam has advanced an argument against meta- physical realism which takes its cue from a phenomenon he calls “conceptual relativity.” The argument is both simple and perplexing. My first aim in this paper is to understand the ar- gument. My second aim is to show that it does not work. Here is a recent description of the argument from Putnam, one of many he has offered.

[An idea I have defended] is that all situations have many dif- ferent correct descriptions, and that even descriptions that, taken holistically, convey the same information may differ in what they take to be “objects”; this was part of my case against the idea of a Totality of All Objects. If there isn’t one single privileged sense of the word “object” and one privileged totality of “intrinsic properties,” but there’is only an inherently extend- able notion of “object” and various properties that may be seen as “intrinsic” in different inquiries, then the very notion of a to- tality of all objects and of the one description that captures the intrinsic properties of those objects should be seen to be non- sense from the start. I subsequently referred to this idea, the idea that there are many usable extensions of the notion of an object, and many alternative ways of describing objects, as “con- ceptual relativity”

... The notion that there is a totality of all objects and only one true, complete and “intrinsic” description of these objects is an essential part of Putnam’s account of metaphysical realism.2 The argument, then, is an argument from the truth of concep- tual relativity to the falsity of metaphysical realism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-170
Number of pages16
JournalSouthern Journal of Philosophy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1997
Externally publishedYes


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