Seminar Series in Analytic Philosophy

Sanna Hirvonen

University of Oxford

The New Error Theory

24 March 2017, 16:00

Faculdade de Letras de Lisboa

Sala Mattos Romão (Departamento de Filosofia)

Abstract: An error theory for some particular expression holds that its semantics is truth-conditional and it is used in non-fictional assertoric judgments, but these systematically fail to be true. Most well-known cases are moral error theories, which hold that judgments like “Murder is wrong” can’t be true because the world doesn’t instantiate the property the moral expression attributes. Such error theories are normally defended for judgments which exhibit a clash between what speakers intend to talk about and which properties the world has. Let us call the view “the traditional error theory”. The debates on the semantics of knowledge claims and judgments of taste among others have brought up another way in which speakers might be in error: they might be mistaken about what certain expressions or judgments mean or what their truth- conditions are, a phenomenon known as “semantic blindness”. Let us call the view “the new error theory”. Under certain plausible assumptions judgments of taste, aesthetics, colour, morality and knowledge claims are candidates for either a traditional or new error theory. Roughly the assumptions are that those are relational phenomena but people don’t take them to be relational. We’ll presuppose this for the sake of the argument. This talk has two aims. The first is to discuss the metasemantic commitments that lead to the two kinds of error theories. The second is to argue for a particular externalist metasemantics which will tip the balance in favour of the new error theory for these expressions.