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Davidson, Donald (1917–2003)

DAVID E. COOPER


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405168908.2010.x


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One of the most influential of contemporary American philosophers, Davidson is best known for his work in the theory of meaning. The key problem here is the “creativity” of language, the ability of speakers to understand a potential infinity of sentences on the basis of a finite stock of words and constructions. Davidson takes his cue from the logician Tarski, who showed how to devise a semantics for an artificial language, enabling the determination of the truth conditions for each of the language's sentences. In “Truth and meaning” ( Davidson, 1984b , Essay 2), Davidson indicates how this may be done for natural languages and, crucially, claims that such a theory of truth is also a theory of meaning. Roughly, to understand a language is to grasp how its elements contribute to the truth conditions of the sentences in which they occur. This approach has interesting results for C ultural and C ritical theory . First, it rules out any cultural relativism according to which peoples differ radically as to how the world is. This is because translation of a foreign language presupposes not only our ability to recognize the conditions under which its speakers hold their sentences to be true, but also the “charitable” assumption that they succeed, by and large, in holding to be true what actually is (by our own lights) true ( Davidson, 1984b , Essay 9). Second, because the meaning (that ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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