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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 32, 1998

Philosophy of Language

Fabrice Pataut
Pages 97-106

Realism, Modality and Truths about the Past

Anti-realists about the past claim that no one has yet manifested a knowledge of the truth of tensed instances of the realist schema '‡ (s is true · there is no evidence for s),' instances such as '‡ ('Caesar crossed the Rubicon' is true · there is no evidence for 'Caesar crossed the Rubicon'). It is true that we cannot decide specific instances of the realist schema and that, consequently, neither our understanding of these instances, nor our knowledge of their truth may be constituted by the recognitional and executive capacities which, according to Michael Dummett's antirealism, constitute grasp of meaning. Although we cannot decide these issues, we can meet Dummett's anti-realist's manifestability challenge by arguing for them from contingency. While no recognitional and decisional skills may constitute our knowledge that their truth-conditions are satisfied, we can, without begging the question, derive that knowledge from our folk and scientific theories of the workings of nature. The evidence we have in favor of the fact that evidential relations between us and past facts are naturally contingent allows us to infer tensed instances of the fundamental realist modal claim. The joint possibility of truth and undecideability pro tempora is a natural possibility and, thereby, a logical and metaphysical possibility.

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