Term papers writing service


An introduction to davidsons theory of meaning

Starting with what he does not mean, it is no part of his project to define the concept of meaning in the sense in which Socrates asks Euthyphro to define piety.

Theories of Meaning and Learnable Languages

Davidson writes that it is folly to try to define the concept of truth Davidson, 1996and the same holds for the closely related concept of meaning: Davidson, therefore, pursues neither a theory of what meaning is nor a theory of what meanings are.

As Davidson sees the matter, though, only theories of truth satisfy certain reasonable constraints on an adequate theory of meaning. Compositionality The first of these constraints is that a theory of meaning should be compositional. The motivation here is the observation that speakers are finitely endowed creatures, yet they can understand indefinitely many sentences; for example, you never before heard or read the first sentence of this article, but, presumably, you had no difficulty understanding it.

To explain this phenomenon, Davidson reasons that language must possess some sort of recursive structure. A structure is recursive if it is built up by repeatedly applying one of a set of procedures to a result of having applied one of those procedures, starting from one or more base elements.

But how does this work?

  • Davidson proposes that this account can be extended to treat other opaque constructions in the object language, such as the propositional attitudes Davidson 1975 and entailment relations Davidson 1976;
  • But this seems strikingly implausible;
  • Primary Works by other Authors Carnap, Rudolf;
  • One advantage that Davidson sees is that this approach does not refer to meaning.

One might solve these difficulties faced by traditional accounts by assigning to different types of expressions different types of entities as their meanings, where these types differ in ways that make the entities amenable to combining in patterns that mirror the ways their corresponding expressions combine.

If we read Frege as a Platonist, then his mature semantics is such a theory, since it divides expressions and their meanings, or Bedeutungen, into two types: All the work is being done by the rule we have formulated, and none by the ontology.

Donald Davidson

People acquire a language by observing the situated behavior of other people, that is, by observing other people speaking about objects and occurrences in their shared environment; in turn, when they speak, what they mean by their words generally reflects the causes that prompt them to utter those words. These causes are usually mundane sorts an introduction to davidsons theory of meaning natural things and events, such as other people, grass, people mowing the grass, and the like.

The semantic theory of truth is not a metaphysical theory of truth in the way that the correspondence theory of truth is. This should sound familiar: At best, a Tarski-style theory of truth is a part of a theory of meaning, with additional resources being brought into play. Davidson, therefore, dispenses with translation and rewrites Convention T to require that an acceptable theory of truth must entail, for every sentence s of the object language, a sentence of the form: Sentences are materially equivalent if they contingently have the same truth-value; sentences are logically equivalent if they necessarily have the same truth-value.

But since they are materially equivalent, it turns out that: T1 is true if and only if T2 is true. The root of this problem is that when it comes to distinguishing between sentences, truth is too coarse a filter to distinguish between materially equivalent sentences with different meanings. Davidson has a number of responses to this objection in Davidson 1975. The important difference here is that as empirical laws and not simple statements of chance correlations, T-sentences support counterfactual inferences: This has often been taken to be a fatal concession, inasmuch as Davidson is understood to be committed to giving an extensional account of the knowledge someone possesses when she understands a language.

Davidson: Philosophy of Language

Formal languages are well-behaved mathematical objects whose structures can be exactly and an introduction to davidsons theory of meaning described in purely syntactical terms, while natural languages are anything but well-behaved. They are plastic and subject to ambiguity, and they contain myriad linguistic forms that resist, to one degree or another, incorporation into a theory of truth via the methods available to the logical semanticist.

Davidson has written on the problems posed by several of these linguistic forms in Davidson 1967a, 1968, 1978, and 1979 including indexicals, adverbial modifiers, indirect discourse, metaphor, mood, and the propositional attitudes. Indexicals It is instructive to see how Davidson handles indexicals.

The key insight here is that truth is properly a property of the situated production of a sentence token by a speaker at a certain time, that is, it is a property of an utterance, not a sentence. We define, therefore, an utterance to be an ordered triple consisting of a sentence token, a time, and a speaker.

Truth is thus a property of such a triple, and in constructing a Tarski-style theory of truth for a language L the goal is to have it entail T-theorems such as: This T-theorem captures two distinct indexical elements. Indirect Discourse The philosophy of language is thick with proposals for treating the anomalous behavior of linguistic contexts involving intensional idioms, including especially indirect discourse and propositional attitude constructions.

By the Principle of Extensionality, Co-referring terms can be exchanged without affecting the truth-value of contexts in which those terms occur, we can infer that The planet on which D.

An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.

As Davidson sometimes puts it, Galileo and I are samesayers: Finally, a careful semantical analysis of 6 should look something like this: Thus, the Principle of Extensionality is preserved.

Davidson proposes that this account can be extended to treat other opaque constructions in the object language, such as the propositional attitudes Davidson 1975 and entailment relations Davidson 1976. A question, then, is what an introduction to davidsons theory of meaning this something that Galileo believed? Instead, Davidson proposes in Davidson 1975 that 3 is to 6 as 8 is to: Historically, of course, Galileo did say such a thing, but let us suppose that he did not.

Intuitively, this seems right: Davidson examines interpretation and the construction of theories of meaning by drawing extensively on the work of his mentor, W. Radical Interpretation Taking his inspiration from Quine, Davidson holds that a radical interpreter thus begins with observations such as: In turn, then, she takes 14 as support that partly confirms the following T-sentence of a Tarski-style truth theory for K: Of course, she uses her own sentences in making these assignments, but her sentences are directed upon extra-linguistic reality.

Thus, unlike a Quinean radical translator, who does mention sentences of his home language, a Davidsonian radical interpreter adopts a semantical stance: It is in this sense that a Davidsonian linguist is an interpreter, and Davidson calls the project undertaken by his linguist the construction of a theory of interpretation.

Coherence Like any empirical scientist, a Davidsonian radical interpreter relies on methodological assumptions she makes to move from her observations 13 to her intermediate conclusions 14 and to the final form of her theory 15.

Taken together these canons of interpretation are known, somewhat misleadingly, as the Principle s of Charity. Since a Davidsonian theory of interpretation is modeled on a Tarski-style theory of truth, one of the first steps an interpreter takes is to look for a coherent structure in the sentences of alien speakers. The assumption that someone is rational is a foundation on which the project of interpreting his utterances rests. Both of these factors bear on making sense of his verbal behavior, however, for which sentences a speaker puts forward as true depends simultaneously on the meanings of those sentences and on his beliefs.

The interpreter thus faces the problem of too many unknowns, which she solves by performing her own thought experiment: This solves the problem of her not knowing what the speaker believes since she knows what she would believe were she in his situation, and hence she knows what her subject does believe if he believes what she thinks he ought to believe.

The Principle of Correspondence is the methodological injunction that an interpreter affirm the if-clause. These are the points of immediate causal contact between the world shared by speakers and interpreters, on the one hand, and the utterances and attitudes of speakers, on the other.

Thus, she routes attributions of beliefs to the speaker through what she knows about his beliefs and values. An interpreter will still export to her subject a great deal of her own world view, but if there are grounds for attributing to him certain beliefs that she takes to be false, then she does so if what she knows about him makes it more reasonable than not.

One reason for this is that Davidson denies that conventions shared by members of a linguistic community play any philosophically interesting role in an account of meaning. Shared conventions facilitate communication, but they are in principle dispensible. This point is implicit in the project of radical interpretation.

This implies, according to Davidson, that what we ordinarily think of as a single natural language, such as German or Urdu, is like a smooth curve drawn through the idiolects of different speakers. Indeterminacy of Interpretation Davidson, following Quine, argues that although the methodology of radical interpretation or translation, for Quine winnows the field of admissible candidates, it does not identify a unique theory that best satisfies its criteria.

Here is how indeterminacy infects the task of the radical translator. In the Davidsonian version, these correlations take the form of interpretations rather than translations, but the point is the same. These additional hypotheses are essential to her project, an introduction to davidsons theory of meaning they are not backed by any direct behavioral evidence.

Indeterminacy, however, also infects the translation and interpretation of complete sentences. This is because the evidence for a translation manual or theory of interpretation does not, in fact, come at the level of sentences.

The radical translator or interpreter does not test her translations or T-sentences one-by-one; rather, what goes before the tribunal of evidence is a complete translation manual or theory of interpretation for the entire language Quine 1953. This means that in the case of sentences, too, there is slack between evidence and a translation or interpretation as the linguist may vary the translation or interpretation of a given sentence by making complementary changes elsewhere in her translation manual or theory of interpretation.

Thus the interpretation of sentences as well as terms is indeterminate. It is more modest because Davidson does not endorse the skeptical conclusion that Quine draws from the arguments that since there are no determinate an introduction to davidsons theory of meaning, there are no meanings. There are no determinate meanings, therefore, meaning is not determinate. That there is such a structure is implied by holism: Herein lies the Indeterminacy of Interpretation, for that theory does only at least as well as any other.

  • Clearly, one job of a proper name is to stand for equivalently, to refer to a particular object;
  • That is, this sentence has a meaning not at all like, "Tom runs to his house," thought they would seem to be similar in syntax Subject verb object;
  • If it's true it's false, if it's false it's true!

There is, therefore, no more an objective basis for choosing one theory of meaning over another than there is for preferring the Fahrenheit to the Celsius scale for temperature ascriptions. This conclusion, however, has no skeptical implications, for by assumption each theory does equally well at describing the same structure.

That structure is a property of a system of events, and hence the grounds for saying that it exists are the criteria for attributing those properties to those events; the skeptical conclusion would follow, therefore, only if there were no such criteria.

  • Coherence Like any empirical scientist, a Davidsonian radical interpreter relies on methodological assumptions she makes to move from her observations 13 to her intermediate conclusions 14 and to the final form of her theory 15;
  • That structure is a property of a system of events, and hence the grounds for saying that it exists are the criteria for attributing those properties to those events; the skeptical conclusion would follow, therefore, only if there were no such criteria;
  • If the pencil were invented by a committee, then even if everyone on the committee could dance, it would not be true that the inventor of the pencil can dance;
  • Let P and Q be any sentences.

The argument for the Indeterminacy of Interpretation does not prove that, however. On the contrary, the methodology of radical interpretation provides a framework for attributing patterns of properties to speakers and their utterances. This project may fail in practice, especially where the interpretation is genuinely radical and there is moral as well as linguistic distance separating an interpreter and a speaker; but in principle there is no linguistic behavior that cannot be interpreted, that is, understood, by another.

Meaning is essentially intersubjective. Further, meaning is objective in the sense that most of what speakers say about the world is true of the world. Her only path into his language is by way of the world they share since she makes sense of his sentences by discerning patterns in the relations between those sentences and the objects and events in the world that cause him to hold those sentences true.

  1. The Principle of Correspondence is the methodological injunction that an interpreter affirm the if-clause.
  2. Meaning is revealed by this theory, but not taken as a primitive. A structure is recursive if it is built up by repeatedly applying one of a set of procedures to a result of having applied one of those procedures, starting from one or more base elements.
  3. A question, then, is what is this something that Galileo believed? But this seems strikingly implausible.
  4. Thus we are lead to the following axioms for E3. Thus, if Jones says, "I do" at her wedding, we must analyze this as somehow true or false.

Finding too much unexplainable error in his statements about the world, therefore, is not an option, if she is going to interpret him. References and Further Reading a. Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation. Essays on Actions and Events. Truth, Language, and History. Individual Articles by Davidson Davidson, Donald. Primary Works by other Authors Carnap, Rudolf. University of Chicago Press. Anthologies De Caro, Marion.

Literary Theory After Davidson. The Philosophy of Donald Davidson. Open Court Publishing Company. Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson.