Department of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy

Gurpreet Rattan (University of Toronto) ‘Relativism and Austere Nonsense’

Fri, April 21, 2017 | David L. Miller Conference Room, WAG 316

3:30 PM - 5:30 PM

In this talk, I argue that relativism is a view about the possibility of a certain kind of limit rational engagement between thinkers – relativistic engagement – in which thinkers treat nonsense like sense. Arguing for this requires getting clear on notions of relativism, sense, nonsense, and treating nonsense like sense. Donald Davidson glimpses the connection between relativism and nonsense but does not locate the role of nonsense at the right level, at the level of the rational significance of the thoughts about other minds involved in relativistic engagement. Bernard Williams and Carol Rovane recognize that relativism is a matter of the rational significance of the thoughts about other minds involved in relativistic engagement, but they do not pause to consider the underlying theory of thought in terms of which such thoughts are to be explained. Frege’s sense/reference framework supplies such a theory of thought, but Williams’s and Rovane's views about the thoughts about other minds involved in relativistic engagement are incoherent on the Fregean theory of thought. A better account runs in terms of the attribution of nonsensical thinking, with the relevant notion of nonsensical thinking adapted, with one significant correction, from the austere conception of nonsense that figures in Cora Diamond’s reading of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s claim that the propositions of his TRACTATUS are nonsensical. I close by arguing that the temptation to treat nonsense like sense in relativistic engagement is fuelled by a confusion about intersubjective and objective perspectives on other minds.

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