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 / 4. Ordinary Language
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
There are no ultimate standards of rationality, since we only assess others by our own standard
Truth and objectivity depend on a community of speakers to interpret what they mean
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
A comprehensive theory of truth probably includes a theory of predication
3. Truth / A. Truth Problems / 3. Value of Truth
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
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
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
There is nothng interesting or instructive for truths to correspond to
Two sentences can be rephrased by equivalent substitutions to correspond to the same thing
The Slingshot assumes substitutions give logical equivalence, and thus identical correspondence
3. Truth / D. Coherence Truth / 1. Coherence Truth
Coherence with a set of propositions suggests we can know the proposition corresponds
Coherence truth says a consistent set of sentences is true - which ties truth to belief
3. Truth / F. Semantic Truth / 1. Tarski's Truth / a. Tarski's truth definition
Tarski enumerates cases of truth, so it can't be applied to new words or languages
Tarski define truths by giving the extension of the predicate, rather than the meaning
3. Truth / F. Semantic Truth / 1. Tarski's Truth / b. Satisfaction and truth
Axioms spell out sentence satisfaction. With no free variables, all sequences satisfy the truths
Tarski gave axioms for satisfaction, then derived its explicit definition, which led to defining truth
We can explain truth in terms of satisfaction - but also explain satisfaction in terms of truth
Satisfaction is a sort of reference, so maybe we can define truth in terms of reference?
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
Tarski defined truth for particular languages, but didn't define it across languages
Truth is the basic concept, because Convention-T is agreed to fix the truths of a language
To define a class of true sentences is to stipulate a possible language
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
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
5. Theory of Logic / I. Semantics of Logic / 5. 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
Language-learning is not good enough evidence for the existence of events
7. Existence / B. Change in Existence / 4. Events / b. Events as primitive
Varied descriptions of an event will explain varied behaviour relating to it
Events can only be individuated causally
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
We need events for action statements, causal statements, explanation, mind-and-body, and adverbs
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
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
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 / 3. Belief / a. Beliefs
Having a belief involves the possibility of being mistaken
11. Knowledge Aims / A. Knowledge / 3. 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 / 3. 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
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
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
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
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
Anomalous monism says causes are events, so the mental and physical are identical, without identical properties
Davidson claims that mental must be physical, to make mental causation possible
Mental entities do not add to the physical furniture of the world
Obviously all mental events are causally related to physical events
There are no strict psychophysical laws connecting mental and physical events
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
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. Physicalism / 5. Causal Argument
Davidson sees identity as between events, not states, since they are related in causation
Cause unites our picture of the universe; without it, mental and physical will separate
18. Thought / A. Modes of Thought / 1. Thought
Thought depends on speech
18. Thought / A. Modes of Thought / 6. 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
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 / 4. Concepts and Language / a. Concepts and language
Concepts are only possible in a language community
19. Language / A. Language / 1. Language
Davidson aimed to show that language is structured by first-order logic
19. Language / A. Language / 5. Metaphor
We indicate use of a metaphor by its obvious falseness, or trivial truth
Metaphors just mean what their words literally mean
Understanding a metaphor is a creative act, with no rules
We accept a metaphor when we see the sentence is false
19. Language / A. Language / 6. Predicates
Modern predicates have 'places', and are sentences with singular terms deleted from the places
The concept of truth can explain predication
19. Language / A. Language / 7. 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 / B. Meaning / 1. Meaning
A minimum requirement for a theory of meaning is that it include an account of truth
19. Language / B. Meaning / 2. Meaning as Mental
If we reject corresponding 'facts', we should also give up the linked idea of 'representations'
19. Language / B. Meaning / 4. Meaning as Use
An understood sentence can be used for almost anything; it isn't language if it has only one use
Meaning involves use, but a sentence has many uses, while meaning stays fixed
19. Language / B. Meaning / 6. Meaning as Truth-Conditions
Utterances have the truth conditions intended by the speaker
You only understand an order if you know what it is to obey it
Sentences held true determine the meanings of the words they contain
A theory of truth tells us how communication by language is possible
Davidson rejected ordinary meaning, and just used truth and reference instead
19. Language / B. Meaning / 8. Meaning through Sentences
We recognise sentences at once as linguistic units; we then figure out their parts
19. Language / B. Meaning / 9. Meaning Holism
The pattern of sentences held true gives sentences their meaning
19. Language / C. Semantics / 2. Fregean Semantics
Davidson thinks Frege lacks an account of how words create sentence-meaning
A theory of meaning comes down to translating sentences into Fregean symbolic logic
19. Language / C. Semantics / 4. Truth-Conditions Semantics
You can state truth-conditions for "I am sick now" by relativising it to a speaker at a time
Top-down semantic analysis must begin with truth, as it is obvious, and explains linguistic usage
19. Language / C. Semantics / 8. Compositionality
Compositionality explains how long sentences work, and truth conditions are the main compositional feature
If you assign semantics to sentence parts, the sentence fails to compose a whole
19. Language / D. Theories of 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 / D. Theories of 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 / E. Propositions / 1. Propositions
If propositions are facts, then false and true propositions are indistinguishable
19. Language / E. Propositions / 4. Support for Propositions
'Humanity belongs to Socrates' is about humanity, so it's a different proposition from 'Socrates is human'
19. Language / E. Propositions / 5. Propositions Critique
Propositions explain nothing without an explanation of how sentences manage to name them
19. Language / G. Interpretation / 2. Indeterminacy
Should we assume translation to define truth, or the other way around?
Criteria of translation give us the identity of conceptual schemes
19. Language / G. Interpretation / 3. Charity
Davidson's Cogito: 'I think, therefore I am generally right'
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
20. Action / B. Motives for Action / 3. Acting on Reason / c. Reasons as causes
Davidson claims that what causes an action is the reason for doing it
Reasons must be causes when agents act 'for' reasons
Deviant causal chain: a reason causes an action, but isn't the reason for which it was performed
20. Action / C. Preliminaries of Action / 3. Willed Action / c. Weakness of will
The causally strongest reason may not be the reason the actor judges to be best
20. Action / D. Explaining an Action / 2. Causes of Actions
The notion of cause is essential to acting for reasons, intentions, agency, akrasia, and free will
25. Society / E. State Functions / 5. Education / c. Teaching
Without a teacher, the concept of 'getting things right or wrong' is meaningless
26. Natural Theory / B. Concepts of Nature / 6. Natural Kinds / f. Reference to natural kinds
The cause of a usage determines meaning, but why is the microstructure of water relevant?
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 2. Particular Causation / b. Causal relata
Either facts, or highly unspecific events, serve better as causes than concrete events
Causation is either between events, or between descriptions of events
Whether an event is a causal explanation depends on how it is described
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 2. Particular Causation / c. Conditions of causation
Full descriptions can demonstrate sufficiency of cause, but not necessity
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 3. General Causation / b. Nomological causation
A singular causal statement is true if it is held to fall under a law
Cause and effect relations between events must follow strict laws