Ideas of Donald Davidson, by Theme

[American, 1917 - 2003, Born at Springfield, Massachusetts. Pupil of Willard Quine. Professor at the University of Chicago.]

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1. Philosophy / F. Analytic Philosophy / 5. Linguistic Analysis
The best way to do ontology is to make sense of our normal talk
2. Reason / A. Nature of Reason / 5. Objectivity
Objective truth arises from interpersonal communication
Truth and objectivity depend on a community of speakers to interpret what they mean
There are no ultimate standards of rationality, since we only assess others by our own standard
3. Truth / A. Truth Problems / 1. Truth
A sentence is held true because of a combination of meaning and belief
3. Truth / A. Truth Problems / 2. Defining Truth
Truth cannot be reduced to anything simpler
A comprehensive theory of truth probably includes a theory of predication
3. Truth / A. Truth Problems / 3. Value of Truth
Without truth, both language and thought are impossible
Truth can't be a goal, because we can neither recognise it nor confim it
Plato's Forms confused truth with the most eminent truths, so only Truth itself is completely true
Antirealism about truth prevents its use as an intersubjective standard
3. Truth / A. Truth Problems / 5. Truth Bearers
Davidson takes truth to attach to individual sentences [Dummett]
3. Truth / A. Truth Problems / 8. Subjective Truth
'Epistemic' truth depends what rational creatures can verify
3. Truth / B. Truthmakers / 12. Rejecting Truthmakers
Saying truths fit experience adds nothing to truth; nothing makes sentences true
3. Truth / C. Correspondence Truth / 1. Correspondence Truth
Correspondence can't be defined, but it shows how truth depends on the world
Names, descriptions and predicates refer to things; without that, language and thought are baffling
3. Truth / C. Correspondence Truth / 3. Correspondence Truth critique
Correspondence theories can't tell you what truths correspond to
Neither Aristotle nor Tarski introduce the facts needed for a correspondence theory
There is nothing interesting or instructive for truths to correspond to
The Slingshot assumes substitutions give logical equivalence, and thus identical correspondence
Two sentences can be rephrased by equivalent substitutions to correspond to the same thing
3. Truth / D. Coherence Truth / 1. Coherence Truth
Coherence with a set of propositions suggests we can know the proposition corresponds [Donnellan]
Coherence truth says a consistent set of sentences is true - which ties truth to belief
3. Truth / F. Semantic Truth / 1. Tarski's Truth / b. Satisfaction and truth
Satisfaction is a sort of reference, so maybe we can define truth in terms of reference?
We can explain truth in terms of satisfaction - but also explain satisfaction in terms of truth
Axioms spell out sentence satisfaction. With no free variables, all sequences satisfy the truths
3. Truth / F. Semantic Truth / 1. Tarski's Truth / c. Meta-language for truth
When Tarski defines truth for different languages, how do we know it is a single concept?
The language to define truth needs a finite vocabulary, to make the definition finite
3. Truth / F. Semantic Truth / 2. Semantic Truth
Many say that Tarski's definitions fail to connect truth to meaning
Tarski does not tell us what his various truth predicates have in common
To define a class of true sentences is to stipulate a possible language
Truth is the basic concept, because Convention-T is agreed to fix the truths of a language
3. Truth / G. Axiomatic Truth / 1. Axiomatic Truth
We can elucidate indefinable truth, but showing its relation to other concepts
3. Truth / H. Deflationary Truth / 1. Redundant Truth
Truth is basic and clear, so don't try to replace it with something simpler
3. Truth / H. Deflationary Truth / 2. Deflationary Truth
Disquotation only accounts for truth if the metalanguage contains the object language
Tarski is not a disquotationalist, because you can assign truth to a sentence you can't quote
5. Theory of Logic / E. Structures of Logic / 1. Logical Form
There is a huge range of sentences of which we do not know the logical form
5. Theory of Logic / G. Quantification / 2. Domain of Quantification
Davidson controversially proposed to quantify over events [Engelbretsen]
5. Theory of Logic / I. Semantics of Logic / 4. Satisfaction
'Satisfaction' is a generalised form of reference
7. Existence / B. Change in Existence / 4. Events / a. Nature of events
We need 'events' to explain adverbs, which are adjectival predicates of events [Lycan]
Language-learning is not good enough evidence for the existence of events [Yablo]
7. Existence / B. Change in Existence / 4. Events / b. Events as primitive
Varied descriptions of an event will explain varied behaviour relating to it [Macdonald,C]
If we don't assume that events exist, we cannot make sense of our common talk
You can't identify events by causes and effects, as the event needs to be known first [Dummett]
Events can only be individuated causally [Schaffer,J]
We need events for action statements, causal statements, explanation, mind-and-body, and adverbs [Bourne]
7. Existence / B. Change in Existence / 4. Events / c. Reduction of events
The claim that events are individuated by their causal relations to other events is circular [Lowe]
7. Existence / D. Theories of Reality / 7. Facts / e. Facts rejected
If we try to identify facts precisely, they all melt into one (as the Slingshot Argument proves)
7. Existence / D. Theories of Reality / 10. Ontological Commitment / d. Commitment of theories
If the best theory of adverbs refers to events, then our ontology should include events [Sider]
8. Modes of Existence / B. Properties / 11. Properties as Sets
Treating predicates as sets drops the predicate for a new predicate 'is a member of', which is no help
10. Modality / B. Possibility / 6. Probability
Probability can be constrained by axioms, but that leaves open its truth nature
11. Knowledge Aims / A. Knowledge / 4. Belief / a. Beliefs
Having a belief involves the possibility of being mistaken
11. Knowledge Aims / A. Knowledge / 4. Belief / b. Elements of beliefs
The concepts of belief and truth are linked, since beliefs are meant to fit reality
11. Knowledge Aims / A. Knowledge / 4. Belief / e. Belief holism
The concept of belief can only derive from relationship to a speech community
A belief requires understanding the distinctions of true-and-false, and appearance-and-reality
12. Knowledge Sources / D. Empiricism / 1. Empiricism
Davidson believes experience is non-conceptual, and outside the space of reasons [McDowell]
12. Knowledge Sources / D. Empiricism / 5. Empiricism Critique
Without the dualism of scheme and content, not much is left of empiricism
Davidson says the world influences us causally; I say it influences us rationally [McDowell]
13. Knowledge Criteria / A. Justification Problems / 1. Justification / a. Justification issues
It is common to doubt truth when discussing it, but totally accept it when discussing knowledge
13. Knowledge Criteria / A. Justification Problems / 3. Internal or External / a. Pro-internalism
Reasons for beliefs are not the same as evidence
13. Knowledge Criteria / B. Internal Justification / 4. Foundationalism / f. Foundationalism critique
Sensations lack the content to be logical; they cause beliefs, but they cannot justify them
13. Knowledge Criteria / B. Internal Justification / 5. Coherentism / a. Coherence as justification
Coherent justification says only beliefs can be reasons for holding other beliefs
13. Knowledge Criteria / D. Scepticism / 6. Scepticism Critique
Skepticism is false because our utterances agree, because they are caused by the same objects
13. Knowledge Criteria / E. Relativism / 2. Knowledge as Convention
Objectivity is intersubjectivity
13. Knowledge Criteria / E. Relativism / 6. Relativism Critique
Different points of view make sense, but they must be plotted on a common background
14. Science / D. Explanation / 1. Explanation / a. Explanation
Explanations typically relate statements, not events
15. Nature of Minds / A. Nature of Mind / 1. Mind / a. Mind
There are no such things as minds, but people have mental properties
15. Nature of Minds / A. Nature of Mind / 4. Other Minds / b. Scepticism of other minds
If we know other minds through behaviour, but not our own, we should assume they aren't like me
15. Nature of Minds / A. Nature of Mind / 4. Other Minds / c. Knowing other minds
Knowing other minds rests on knowing both one's own mind and the external world [Dummett]
15. Nature of Minds / C. Capacities of Minds / 5. Generalisation by mind
Predicates are a source of generality in sentences
16. Persons / A. Concept of a Person / 1. Existence of Persons
Metaphysics requires the idea of people (speakers) located in space and time
17. Mind and Body / B. Behaviourism / 4. Behaviourism Critique
There are no rules linking thought and behaviour, because endless other thoughts intervene
17. Mind and Body / D. Property Dualism / 1. Reductionism critique
Reduction is impossible because mind is holistic and brain isn't [Maslin]
If the mind is an anomaly, this makes reduction of the mental to the physical impossible
17. Mind and Body / D. Property Dualism / 2. Anomalous Monism
Mind is outside science, because it is humanistic and partly normative [Lycan]
Anomalous monism says causes are events, so the mental and physical are identical, without identical properties [Crane]
If rule-following and reason are 'anomalies', does that make reductionism impossible? [Kim]
Davidson claims that mental must be physical, to make mental causation possible [Kim]
Anomalous monism says nothing at all about the relationship between mental and physical [Kim]
Obviously all mental events are causally related to physical events
There are no strict psychophysical laws connecting mental and physical events
Mental entities do not add to the physical furniture of the world
17. Mind and Body / D. Property Dualism / 3. Property Dualism
If mental causation is lawless, it is only possible if mental events have physical properties [Kim]
The correct conclusion is ontological monism combined with conceptual dualism
17. Mind and Body / D. Property Dualism / 5. Supervenience of mind
Supervenience of the mental means physical changes mental, and mental changes physical
17. Mind and Body / E. Mind as Physical / 5. Causal Argument
Davidson sees identity as between events, not states, since they are related in causation [Lowe]
Cause unites our picture of the universe; without it, mental and physical will separate
17. Mind and Body / E. Mind as Physical / 7. Anti-Physicalism / b. Multiple realisability
Multiple realisability was worse news for physicalism than anomalous monism was [Kim]
18. Thought / A. Modes of Thought / 1. Thought
Thought depends on speech
18. Thought / A. Modes of Thought / 5. Rationality / a. Rationality
Absence of all rationality would be absence of thought
18. Thought / A. Modes of Thought / 8. Human Thought
A creature doesn't think unless it interprets another's speech
18. Thought / B. Mechanics of Thought / 1. Psychology
In no important way can psychology be reduced to the physical sciences
18. Thought / C. Content / 6. Broad Content
External identification doesn't mean external location, as with sunburn [Rowlands]
It is widely supposed that externalism cannot be reconciled with first-person authority
It is hard to interpret a speaker's actions if we take a broad view of the content
Our meanings are partly fixed by events of which we may be ignorant
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 5. Concepts and Language / a. Concepts and language
Concepts are only possible in a language community
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 1. Meaning
A minimum requirement for a theory of meaning is that it include an account of truth
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 2. Meaning as Mental
If we reject corresponding 'facts', we should also give up the linked idea of 'representations'
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 4. Meaning as Truth-Conditions
Davidson rejected ordinary meaning, and just used truth and reference instead [Soames]
Davidson aimed to show that language is structured by first-order logic [Smart]
Sentences held true determine the meanings of the words they contain
A theory of truth tells us how communication by language is possible
Knowing the potential truth conditions of a sentence is necessary and sufficient for understanding
Utterances have the truth conditions intended by the speaker
You only understand an order if you know what it is to obey it
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 6. Meaning as Use
An understood sentence can be used for almost anything; it isn't language if it has only one use
It could be that the use of a sentence is explained by its truth conditions
Meaning involves use, but a sentence has many uses, while meaning stays fixed
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 7. Meaning Holism / a. Sentence meaning
We recognise sentences at once as linguistic units; we then figure out their parts
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 7. Meaning Holism / b. Language holism
The pattern of sentences held true gives sentences their meaning
19. Language / B. Reference / 1. Reference theories
Is reference the key place where language and the world meet?
With a holistic approach, we can give up reference in empirical theories of language
19. Language / B. Reference / 4. Descriptive Reference / b. Reference by description
To explain the reference of a name, you must explain its sentence-role, so reference can't be defined nonlinguistically
19. Language / C. Assigning Meanings / 3. Predicates
Modern predicates have 'places', and are sentences with singular terms deleted from the places
The concept of truth can explain predication
19. Language / C. Assigning Meanings / 4. Compositionality
Compositionality explains how long sentences work, and truth conditions are the main compositional feature [Lycan]
If you assign semantics to sentence parts, the sentence fails to compose a whole
19. Language / C. Assigning Meanings / 5. Fregean Semantics
Davidson thinks Frege lacks an account of how words create sentence-meaning [Miller,A]
A theory of meaning comes down to translating sentences into Fregean symbolic logic [Macey]
19. Language / C. Assigning Meanings / 6. Truth-Conditions Semantics
Top-down semantic analysis must begin with truth, as it is obvious, and explains linguistic usage
19. Language / C. Assigning Meanings / 9. Indexical Semantics
You can state truth-conditions for "I am sick now" by relativising it to a speaker at a time [Lycan]
19. Language / D. Propositions / 1. Propositions
'Humanity belongs to Socrates' is about humanity, so it's a different proposition from 'Socrates is human'
19. Language / D. Propositions / 6. Propositions Critique
Propositions explain nothing without an explanation of how sentences manage to name them
19. Language / F. Communication / 4. Private Language
Content of thought is established through communication, so knowledge needs other minds
Thought is only fully developed if we communicate with others
19. Language / F. Communication / 6. Interpreting Language / b. Indeterminate translation
Should we assume translation to define truth, or the other way around? [Blackburn]
Criteria of translation give us the identity of conceptual schemes
19. Language / F. Communication / 6. Interpreting Language / c. Principle of charity
Davidson's Cogito: 'I think, therefore I am generally right' [Button]
The principle of charity attributes largely consistent logic and largely true beliefs to speakers
There is simply no alternative to the 'principle of charity' in interpreting what others do
The principle of charity says an interpreter must assume the logical constants
19. Language / F. Communication / 6. Interpreting Language / d. Metaphor
We accept a metaphor when we see the sentence is false
Metaphors just mean what their words literally mean
Understanding a metaphor is a creative act, with no rules
We indicate use of a metaphor by its obvious falseness, or trivial truth
20. Action / A. Definition of Action / 2. Duration of an Action
If one action leads directly to another, they are all one action [Wilson/Schpall]
20. Action / B. Preliminaries of Action / 1. Intention to Act / a. Nature of intentions
We explain an intention by giving an account of acting with an intention [Stout,R]
An intending is a judgement that the action is desirable
20. Action / B. Preliminaries of Action / 1. Intention to Act / b. Types of intention
We can keep Davidson's account of intentions in action, by further explaining prior intentions [Stout,R]
20. Action / B. Preliminaries of Action / 1. Intention to Act / c. Reducing intentions
Davidson gave up reductive accounts of intention, and said it was a primitive [Wilson/Schpall]
20. Action / B. Preliminaries of Action / 2. Willed Action / d. Weakness of will
The causally strongest reason may not be the reason the actor judges to be best
20. Action / C. Motives for Action / 2. Acting on Beliefs / a. Acting on beliefs
Acting for a reason is a combination of a pro attitude, and a belief that the action is appropriate
20. Action / C. Motives for Action / 3. Acting on Reason / a. Practical reason
The notion of cause is essential to acting for reasons, intentions, agency, akrasia, and free will
20. Action / C. Motives for Action / 3. Acting on Reason / c. Reasons as causes
Early Davidson says intentional action is caused by reasons [Stout,R]
Davidson claims that what causes an action is the reason for doing it [Kim]
Reasons must be causes when agents act 'for' reasons [Lowe]
Deviant causal chain: a reason causes an action, but isn't the reason for which it was performed [Neta]
25. Social Practice / E. Policies / 5. Education / c. Teaching
Without a teacher, the concept of 'getting things right or wrong' is meaningless
26. Natural Theory / B. Natural Kinds / 5. Reference to Natural Kinds
The cause of a usage determines meaning, but why is the microstructure of water relevant?
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 1. Causation
Distinguish causation, which is in the world, from explanations, which depend on descriptions [Schaffer,J]
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 8. Particular Causation / b. Causal relata
Either facts, or highly unspecific events, serve better as causes than concrete events [Field,H]
Causation is either between events, or between descriptions of events [Maslin]
Whether an event is a causal explanation depends on how it is described [Maslin]
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 8. Particular Causation / c. Conditions of causation
Full descriptions can demonstrate sufficiency of cause, but not necessity
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 9. General Causation / b. Nomological causation
A singular causal statement is true if it is held to fall under a law [Psillos]
Cause and effect relations between events must follow strict laws