Friday, June 09, 2006

Absolute terms are absolute nonsense

Unger has an argument that nothing is flat. He thinks this because 'flat' is an absolute term, meaning that something is flat iff there is nothing flatter than it, or there is no way it could be flatter. Since we can be pressed into saying that there is something flatter than whatever object we are talking about, we can never truthfully say that something is flat. This mixes semantics and metaphysics in an unfortunate way. Somehow we determined the meaning of a word such that we can never use the word to assert a simple, positive truthful proposition, i.e. not a negated proposition or an embedded proposition. This is kind of mystifying. It is like one of the problems I have with Cappelen and Lepore's ideas. We can never mean what we say, since we mean truthful things but most of what we say will end up false. Of course, their response is that we express truthful things in the total speech act content of an utterance, but this isn't particularly convincing. This route also isn't open to Unger because I don't think he buys into the speech act pluralism of C&L.

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