Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson)

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Imagine that you have encountered a group of people in an unfamiliar land who display what appear to you to be shared verbal and non-verbal behavior. Interpreting their behavior by assigning meaning to their actions of which linguistic utterances is a subclass is the task of Radical Interpretation. The principles and techniques we would apply in the above described situation are not unlike the principles and techniques we commonly apply in interpretation of other people's actions and utterances whose language we already share.

Radical Interpretation, according to Davidson, is guided by normative principles and must proceed holistically:. This method is intended to solve the problem of the interdependence of belief and meaning by holding belief constant as far as possible while solving for meaning. This is accomplished by assigning truth conditions to alien sentences that make native speakers right when plausibly possible, according, of course to our own view of what is right. In physical theory the movement of one ball is explained by the movement of the other.

Having a belief that pressing on a lever will stop the flow of water doesn't just explain my action of stopping the flow of water. This belief together with the desire to stop the flow of water also justifies my action in the sense that it makes it reasonable in the light of the above belief.

Intentional states justifying other intentional states will be discussed further in the second part of this article. Davidson is explicit that it is a part of what it is for something to be a propositional attitude like a belief that it be subject to these normative principles. This makes these principles a priori and necessary constitutive of the concept of propositional attitudes. In contrast, our knowledge of things physical is a posteriori and contingent in nature. So far, we have spent time explaining the normative character of the mental and have discussed that the interpretation must proceed holistically:.

There is no assigning beliefs to a person one by one on the basis of his verbal behavior, his choices, or other local signs no matter how plain and evident, for we make sense of particular beliefs only as they cohere with other beliefs, with preferences, with intention, hopes, fears, expectation, and the rest. It can be seen from the above remark that interpretation is holistic in the sense that the attribution of each individual mental state to another person must be made against the background of attribution of other mental states. In addition, the attribution to an agent of the entire system of propositional attitudes is further constrained by considerations that involve maximization of coherence and rationality.

Davidson is quite aware of the fact that holism and interdependence are common to physical theory. In physical theory such a priori facts as the transitivity of "longer than" is what makes physical measurements possible. Thus, the physical realm is also characterized by the a priori laws constitutive of our conception of the physical.

What sets the realms of the mental and the physical apart is the disparate commitments of each realm. Rationality and the governing normative principles are essential characteristics of the mental. Thus, the absence of rationality and normative principles is a characteristic of the physical.

If there were bridging laws, we would find, unhappily, that the characteristics of the mental that have "no echo in physical theory" would be transmitted to the physical and vice versa. In the first of the above scenarios we would have to apply the Principle of Charity with its rule of maximization of coherence and rationality to the physical, which, according to Davidson, is plainly absurd. In the second scenario we would have the principles governing the attribution of the mental be preempted by the merely physical constraints. This happens for the following reason: if there were bridging laws of the type BL , then neural states of the brain would be nomologically coextensive with certain intentional states.

But neural states being theoretical states of physical theory are governed by conditions of attribution that in turn are regulated by the constitutive rules of the physical theory. Thus, constitutive rules of the mental are ignored in this scenario. Davidson concludes that:. There are no strict psychophysical law because of the disparate commitments of the mental and physical schemes. It is a feature of physical reality that physical change can be explained by laws that connect it with other changes and conditions physically described.

It is a feature of the mental that the attribution of mental phenomena must be responsible to the background of reasons, beliefs, and intentions of the individual. There cannot be tight connections between the realms if each is to retain allegiance to its proper source of evidence. It is important for Davidson to note that the mental does have its own laws, for instance, the laws of rational decision making.

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The crucial difference between such laws and the laws that could be counted as psychophysical is the difference between the normative character of the former and the predictive power of the latter. When anomalism of the mental denies the existence of psychophysical and psychological laws, the sense of "law" is taken to involve strict nomological predictions and explanations of behavior.

Thus, normative "laws" are quite compatible with anomalism of the mental. The claim of the anomalism of the mental consists of two subsidiary claims. Thus far we have considered the support for the claim that there are no psychophysical laws. Davidson also defends the claim that there could be no precise psychological laws, that is, there are no precise laws that relate mental states and events to other mental states and events.

The argument for this claim can be found in "Psychology as Philosophy. One point deserves special attention before we proceed to the exegesis of Davidson's argument against psychological laws. Actions, although undeniably physical under some descriptions, are considered to be mental by Davidson. This is so because, when we state which action someone is performing versus merely describing the physical movement his body is undergoing, we are contributing an interpretation of him and interpretation, as we have seen, is guided by certain normative constraints. Thus, the laws that could relate an agent's mental states to his actions would count as psychological laws.

It is an error, because in the latter case, but not the former, we can tell in advance whether the condition holds, and we know what allowance to make if it doesn't. If the above truism were a psychological law, then for the antecedent to obtain, the agent must want to eat an acorn omelette. But our knowledge of an agent's desires crucially depends upon our attribution of other mental states to him or her. In addition, knowing his action subsequent to his desire will help us interpret whether the agent had the desire in the first place.

Thus both the antecedent and the consequent of the supposed psychological law are related to each other through the holism of interpretation. What is needed in the case of action, if we are to predict on the basis of desires and beliefs, is a quantitative calculus that brings all relevant beliefs and desires into the picture. There is no hope of refining the simple pattern of explanation on the basis of reasons into such a calculus. Since no such hope exists, any psychological generalization purporting to be law must rely upon generous escape clauses such as "if no other desire overrides," ceteris paribus , and so forth.

The necessity of such fail-safe clauses is dictated by the fact that for Davidson there is no "underlying mental reality whose laws we can study in abstraction from the normative and holistic perspectives of interpretation. Actions, according to Davidson, are events.

Events , in his ontology, are particular dated occurrences; the essential feature of which is susceptibility to redescription. In order to admit an entity into one's ontology, one must specify the conditions of individuation for that entity. On Davidson's view:. This criterion may seem to have an air of circularity about it, but if there is circularity it certainly is not formal.

For the criterion is simply this: where x and y are events,. It is important to keep in mind that for an event to be an action, the event must be describable in a specific way. Actions are events that people perform with intentions and for reasons. One and the same action can be specified as intentional under some description and as purely physical under another description. But in order to be an action an event must have at least one description under which it is specified as intentional.

The above requirement for an action hinges on the larger distinction between specifying the whole of an event with wholly specifying it. The distinction comes up in the context of the discussion of causation and causal explanation:. The salient point that emerges so far is that we must distinguish firmly between causes and the features we hit on for describing them, and hence between the question whether a statement says truly that one event causes another and the further question whether the events are characterized in such a way that we can deduce, or otherwise infer, from laws or other causal lore, that the relation was causal.

In the case of one event causing another, any description that picks out the right event specifies the whole of the cause. Some descriptions, of course, will be richer in the information they disclose about an event. This richness should not affect in any way how much of a cause they refer to.

Davidson, Donald Herbert | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The story is quite different when it comes to what Davidson calls "the further question" of causal explanation. Causal explanations are by their very nature attempts to explain events in terms of the causes of these events. But, according to Davidson, causal explanations are, in addition, sensitive to how the events in question are described. For instance, the two descriptions "Jack's walking in the room" and "Jack's stomping in the room" may refer to the same event that caused Jill to wake up.

However the latter may serve as a causal explanation of Jill's waking up, whereas the former may not. One of Davidson's major contributions to philosophy of action is his claim that explanation via reasons is a form of causal explanation. Seller Inventory think Ships with Tracking Number! Buy with confidence, excellent customer service!.

Donald Davidson

Seller Inventory n. Items related to Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation. Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation. Donald Davidson. Publisher: Oxford University Press , This specific ISBN edition is currently not available. View all copies of this ISBN edition:. Synopsis About this title This book is intended for all philosophers, linguists, and psychologists interested in philosophy; anyone else interested in language and mind.

Review : "Essential for any philosophical library Buy New Learn more about this copy. Quine , whom he often credited as his mentor, he began to gradually turn toward the more formal methods and precise problems characteristic of analytic philosophy. In the s, Davidson worked with Patrick Suppes on developing an experimental approach to Decision Theory. They concluded that it was not possible to isolate a subject's beliefs and preferences independently of one another so there would always be multiple ways to analyze a person's actions in terms of what they wanted or were trying to do or valued.

That result was comparable to Quine's thesis on the indeterminacy of translation and figured significantly in much of Davidson's later work on philosophy of mind. His most noted work see below was published in a series of essays from the s onward, moving successively through philosophy of action into philosophy of mind and philosophy of language, and dabbling occasionally in aesthetics, philosophical psychology, and the history of philosophy.

Davidson was widely traveled and had a great range of interests he pursued with enormous energy. Apart from playing the piano, he had a pilot's license, built radios, and he was fond of mountain climbing and surfing. He was married three times. His first wife was the artist Virginia Davidson, with whom he had his only child, a daughter, Elizabeth Davidson Boyer. She died in In , he was awarded the Jean Nicod Prize.

Davidson's most noted work began in with an essay, "Actions, Reasons, and Causes," which attempted to refute the prevailing orthodox view, widely attributed to Ludwig Wittgenstein [ according to whom? Instead, Davidson argued that, "rationalization the providing of reasons to explain an agent's actions is a species of ordinary causal explanation" , p.

In particular, action A is explained by what Davidson called a primary reason , which involves a pro-attitude roughly, a desire toward some goal G and an instrumental belief that performing action A is a means to attaining G. For example, someone's primary reason for taking an umbrella outside on a rainy day might be that wanting to stay dry and believing that taking an umbrella is a means to stay dry today.

This view, which largely conforms to common-sense folk psychology, was held in part on the ground that while causal laws must be strict and deterministic, explanation in terms of reasons need not. Davidson argued that the fact that the expression of a reason was not so precise did not mean that the having of a reason could not itself be a state capable of causally influencing behavior.

Several other essays pursue consequences of this view and elaborate Davidson's theory of actions. In "Mental Events" Davidson advanced a form of token identity theory about the mind: token mental events are identical to token physical events. One previous difficulty with such a view was that it did not seem feasible to provide laws relating mental states, like believing that the sky is blue or wanting a hamburger, to physical states, such as patterns of neural activity in the brain.

Davidson argued that such a reduction would not be necessary to a token identity thesis: it is possible that each individual mental event just is the corresponding physical event, without there being laws relating types as opposed to tokens of mental events to types of physical events.

Davidson argued that the fact that no such a reduction could be had does not entail that the mind is anything more than the brain. Hence, Davidson called his position anomalous monism : monism, because it claims that only one thing is at issue in questions of mental and physical events; anomalous from a- , "not," and homalos , "regular", also nomos law because mental and physical event types could not be connected by strict laws laws without exceptions.

Davidson argued that anomalous monism follows from three plausible theses.

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Firstly, he assumes the denial of epiphenomenalism , the denial of the view that mental events do not cause physical events. Secondly, he assumes a nomological view of causation , according to which one event causes another if and only if there is a strict, exceptionless law governing the relation between the events. Thirdly, he assumes the principle of the anomalism of the mental , according to which there are no strict laws that govern the relationship between mental event types and physical event types. By these three theses, Davidson argued, it follows that the causal relations between the mental and the physical hold only between mental event tokens, but mental events as types are anomalous.

In Davidson published "Truth and Meaning," in which he argued that any learnable language must be statable in a finite form even if it is capable of a theoretically infinite number of expressions, as may be assumed that natural human languages are, at least in principle. If it could not be stated in a finite way, it could not be learned through a finite, empirical method such as the way humans learn their languages. It follows that it must be possible to give a theoretical semantics for any natural language that could give the meanings of an infinite number of sentences on the basis of a finite system of axioms.

Following, among others, Rudolf Carnap Introduction to Semantics , Harvard , 22 Davidson also argued that "giving the meaning of a sentence" was equivalent to stating its truth conditions, so stimulating the modern work on truth-conditional semantics. To sum up, he proposed that it must be possible to distinguish a finite number of distinct grammatical features of a language, and for each of them explain its workings in such a way as to generate trivial obviously correct statements of the truth conditions of all the infinitely many sentences making use of that feature.

Inquiries Into Truth and Interpretation: Philosophical Essays

Thus, a finite theory of meaning can be given for a natural language; the test of its correctness is that it would generate if applied to the language in which it was formulated all the sentences of the form "'p' is true if and only if p" "'Snow is white' is true if and only if snow is white". They are called T-sentences : Davidson derives the idea from Alfred Tarski.

This work was originally delivered in his John Locke Lectures at Oxford and launched a large endeavor by many philosophers to develop Davidsonian semantical theories for natural language. Davidson himself contributed many details to such a theory, in essays on quotation, indirect discourse, and descriptions of action.

After the s Davidson's philosophy of mind picked up influences from the work of Saul Kripke , Hilary Putnam , and Keith Donnellan , all of whom had proposed a number of troubling counterexamples to what can be generally described as descriptivist theories of content. The views, which roughly originate in Bertrand Russell 's Theory of Descriptions , held that the referent of a name, which object or person the name refers to, is determined by the beliefs a person holds about that object.

Kripke et al. Davidson picked up this theory, and his work in the s dealt with the problems in relating first-person beliefs to second- and third-person beliefs. It seems that first person beliefs "I am hungry" are acquired in very different ways from third person beliefs someone else's belief, of me, that "He is hungry". How can it be that they have the same content? Davidson approached the question by connecting it with another one: how can two people have beliefs about the same external object?

He offers, in answer, a picture of triangulation: beliefs about oneself, beliefs about other people, and beliefs about the world come into existence jointly. Some logical positivists and some would say Wittgenstein, or Wilfrid Sellars held that people start with beliefs only about the external world.

Arguably, Friedrich Schelling and Emmanuel Levinas held that people start with beliefs only about other people. It is not possible, on Davidson's view, for a person to have only one of the three kinds of mental content; anyone who has beliefs of one of the kinds must have beliefs of the other two kinds.

Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson) Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson)
Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson) Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson)
Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson) Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson)
Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson) Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson)
Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson) Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson)
Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson) Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson)

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