In the mental fiction, mental fictionalism is fictitious

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Author: T. Parent
Date: Oct. 2013
From: The Monist(Vol. 96, Issue 4)
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Document Type: Essay
Length: 6,650 words
Lexile Measure: 1200L

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'I am not speaking' is a truth I cannot speak. Similarly, when 'I am not thinking' is true, I cannot think it without rendering it false. But consider a world where eliminativism obtains, where no one can strictly speak or think of anything at all. In that world, are there truths that I* (my counterpart) cannot speak or think? The answer may seem trivially "yes," since I* cannot speak or think anything. But suppose, as is plausible, that "truths" are representational items, meaningful sentences or thoughts. Then the answer is "no." For there would be no truths, hence no unspeakable or unthinkable truths. Though there would still be facts of which I* cannot speak or think.

In particular, I* would be unable to speak or think of the very fact I* cannot speak or think. Suppose I* nonetheless utter the sounds 'I am not speaking or thinking'. Imagine, moreover, that my* cohorts are behaviorally conditioned to respond with 'That's false, since you say that you are not speaking, yet you are speaking when you say that.' Still, in an eliminativist world, these things are meaningless, so none of it would be true or false.

But suppose we project the English meaning onto my* utterance 'I am not speaking or thinking.' Under that pretense, my* utterance would then be false. For according to that pretense, I* am indeed speaking. So if we impose the fiction that my* utterance has its English meaning, then I* speak falsely in uttering 'I* cannot speak or think anything'--even though I* cannot speak or think anything!

Eliminativism is often said to be self-refuting, much in the manner of 'I am not speaking'. But eliminativism may be self-refuting only if we adopt the "meaning pretense." And if eliminativism is false under that pretense, it does not follow that it is false. Or rather, it still could be a fact. My aim is to make all this clearer, but in doing so, I do not mean to endorse eliminativism. My aim is instead to show merely that certain objections against eliminativism are nondemonstrative, once the very idea of "self-refutation" is seen as part of a pretense.

Nonetheless, there is a price incurred by such pretense-theoretic eliminativism or "mental fictionalism." The mental fictionalist must reject the language of mental fictionalism, and will be forced into a kind of quietism.

1. What is Mental Fictionalism?

Fictionalism, broadly speaking, is a nonrealist stance toward ontologically suspicious entities (numbers, possible worlds, morals, etc.). However, beyond the differences in entities, there is still a surprising variety among views that are called "fictionalist." (For a general overview, see Kalderon 2005a; Eklund 2011; Kroon 2011.) Many apply the label 'fictionalist' even to van Fraassen's (1980) view of scientific unobservables. That is so, even though van Fraassen does not describe unobservables as "mere fictions;" he is rather agnostic about their existence. (1)

Even among nonagnostic fictionalisms, there are further key differences. Thus, Field's fictionalism regards mathematical discourse as literally false (even though mathematics remains a rational activity,...

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