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Necessary truth and convention

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-X045-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 18, 2024, from

Article Summary

Necessary truths have always seemed problematic, particularly to empiricists and other naturalistically-minded philosophers. Our knowledge here is a priori - grounded in appeals to what we can imagine or conceive (or can prove on that basis) - which seems hard to reconcile with such truths being factual, short of appealing to some peculiar faculty of a priori intuition. And what mysterious extra feature do necessary truths possess which makes their falsity impossible? Conventionalism about necessity claims that necessary truths obtain by virtue of rules of language, such as that ‘vixen’ means the same as ‘female fox’. Because such rules govern our descriptions of all cases - including counterfactual or imagined ones - they generate necessary truths (‘All vixens are foxes’), and our a priori knowledge is just knowledge of word meaning. Opponents of conventionalism argue that conventions cannot ground necessary truths, particularly in logic, and have also challenged the notion of analyticity (truth by virtue of meaning). More recent claims that some necessary truths are a posteriori have also fuelled opposition to conventionalism.

Citing this article:
Sidelle, Alan. Necessary truth and convention, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-X045-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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