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Davidson, Dualism, and Truth

DOI: 10.4148/jhap.v1i7.1590

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Abstract:

Happy accidents happen even in philosophy. Sometimes our arguments yield insights despite missing their target, though when they do others can often spot it more easily. Consider the work of Donald Davidson. Few did more to explore connections among mind, language, and world. Now that we have critical distance from his views, however, we can see that Davidson’s accomplishments are not quite what they seem. First, while Davidson attacked the dualism of conceptual scheme and empirical content, he in fact illustrated a way to hold it. Second, while Davidson used the principle of charity to argue against the dualism, his argument in effect treats the principle as constitutive of a conceptual scheme. And third, while Davidson asserted that he cannot define what truth ultimately is—and while I do not disagree—his work nonetheless allows us to saymore about truth than Davidson himself does. I aim to establish these three claims. Doing so enriches our understanding of issues central to the history of philosophy concerning how, if at all, to divvy up the mental or linguistic contribution, and the worldly contribution, to knowledge. As we see below, Davidson was right in taking his work to be one stage of a dialectic begun by Immanuel Kant.1 He was just wrong about what that stage is. Reconsidering Davidson’s views also moves the current debate forward, as they reveal a previously unrecognized yet intuitive notion of truth—even if Davidson himself remained largely unaware of it. We begin however with scheme/content dualism and Davidson’s argument against it.

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