Barry Taylor Memorial Lecture
Tuesday, 3 August 2010
6.00-7.30 Copland Theatre, Economics & Commerce Building (Buliding 148 370kb pdf)
The University of Melbourne, Parkville Melbourne University
Reception to follow, RSVP: Laura.Schroeter@unimelb.edu.au
'The truth in antirealism' (50kb pdf)
Professor John Bigelow, Monash University
Barry Taylor's philosophical stance was like an inversion of the myth of the Cave, from Plato's dialogue, The Republic. No, Taylor thought, ordinary folk are not prisoners chained up with their backs to the light, seeing only shadows and mistaking them for the real things. On the contrary, they are walking about in broad daylight, seeing the real things. But they are being pestered by "realist" philosophers who tell them that what they see out here is only a puppet show – "… and if you just come down into this Cave, over here, you can see the true realities, which are the true source of the mere projections that you can see out there in that realm of mere appearances".
One of the key insights in Taylor's antirealism is the recognition of how much work we have to do, in order to give our words meanings. Words do not just refer, magically, to real things: it is only by connecting words to things we do, in investigating the world, that they come to mean what they do. And it is only by attending closely to the ways in which words have been given meanings that we can determine whether what they refer to is real or only imaginary, and whether the things we say are true or false.
I will argue that realists should be willing to agree with Taylor about what gives words meanings, and about the limitations on what we can say, and what we can know about the world. Hence, I say, nearly all of what Taylor argued for should be incorporated as part of "realism", not "antirealism". But there is still one important issue over which Barry Taylor and the realists must agree to differ – and it has something to do with an issue that Plato raised in one of his other dialogues, the Euthyphro.
This lecture is dedicated to the memory of Associate Professor Barry Taylor, who died suddenly on January 15th of this year. Barry had a long and distinguished career in the philosophy department at the University of Melbourne. He started out as a brilliant undergraduate at Melbourne, taking a first in both his BA and MA. After completing a DPhil at Oxford, he returned to join the department as a lecturer in 1974. His contribution in all areas was exceptional: he was an outstanding researcher and teacher, a popular and respected colleague, and a very amusing man. After 33 years of service he retired at the end of 2007. His family and his many friends hoped that his retirement would be long and happy. As things turned out, it was happy but not long. He is deeply mourned.
Barry's philosophical research focused on philosophy of language and metaphysics. One of his abiding concerns, and the topic of his most recent book, was the viability of realism: 'whether an ideal theory constructed on the basis of all past, present and future human observation, using the best epistemology, might fail to be objectively true'. Barry's considered view was that realism is untenable.