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Donald Davidson : A Short Introduction

Sign in to use this feature. Rather different in emphasis, but equally invigorating, is Marga Reimer's "Davidsonian holism in recent philosophy of psychiatry". Reimer challenges the view, which has had some currency among philosophers of psychiatry, that psychiatric delusions undermine the basic Davidsonian principle that rationality is constitutive of thought.


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Careful attention to the details of the cases and to what is involved in taking rationality as a constitutive norm of thought shows, she argues, that subjects can be consistent, rational, and delusional. Psychiatric delusions can be integrated into more or less coherent sets of beliefs otherwise -- how could they act upon them?

There are two interesting papers that do not engage with Davidson directly, although they are clearly on Davidsonian topics.

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The line of argument is interesting, but certainly familiar. William Lycan's "A truth predicate in the object language" also tackles a foundational issue relevant to Davidson's semantic theory -- namely, the possibility of developing a non-contradictory truth theory for a natural language that like English contains its own truth predicate. His proposal, which he offers as an alternative to Lepore and Ludwig's reading of Davidson's compressed remarks on the Liar Paradox, is an intriguing variant on the hierarchical approach proposed by Kripke and others.

Standard versions of the hierarchical approach deny that the truth predicate is univocal, maintaining instead that 'true' is ambiguous among an infinite number of truth predicates, each of which is appropriate to sentences of a given level. Lycan, in contrast, holds the truth predicate to be univocal, but maintains that English is contrary to appearances really an infinite hierarchy of languages, with the truth predicate relativized within the hierarchy. What blocks the paradoxes, Lycan claims, is restricting grammatical applications of the truth predicate to sentences in languages lower in the hierarchy than the sentence in which the truth predicate is applied.

Donald Davidson : Kathrin Gluer :

The analysis is ingenious, and Lycan applies it to both Liar cycles and Revenge sentences. It does seems a bit of a stretch, though, to include it in a volume on Davidson. One aspect of Davidson's thought that continues to receive considerable discussion is his claim that "nothing can count as a reason for holding a belief except another belief" -- a claim that, if true, would seem to prevent perceptions and other non-doxastic states from playing any justificatory role.

On her view, perceptual experience is really a species of belief with a distinctive content -- phenomenal beliefs, whose propositional contents ascribe phenomenal properties to objects. So, for example, my perceptual experience might ascribe the phenomenal property of looking-blue to an object.

This is, she claims, sufficiently belief-like to provide warrant for my perceptual belief that the object is indeed blue, while still being sufficiently distinct from the perceptual belief for the perceptual belief to be defeasible. On the face of it, though, it does seem to run into problems with many of the aspects of perceptual experience pointed to by proponents of nonconceptual content particularly the way in which both the phenomenology and representational content of perception typically outstrip the conceptual, and hence doxastic, repertoire of the perceiving subject.

It would have been nice to see this obvious challenge discussed. Two of the papers by Bruce Aune and by Steven Gross are devoted to Davidson's view of first-person authority. Aune focuses on his view that the context of radical interpretation creates a presumption that the interpretee knows what she means by the sentences that she holds true.

Gross offers a lengthy discussion of the putative tension that Lepore and Ludwig identify between Davidson's claim that semantic facts are exhausted by evidence available to the radical interpreter, on the one hand, and his belief in first-person authority, on the other. Both papers face an uphill struggle, in my view, given the implausibility and poorly worked out nature of Davidson's thinking in this area -- particularly when contrasted with the many extensive and subtle discussions that there have been of self-knowledge and privileged access in the last twenty or so years.

Externalism is discussed in Nathaniel Goldberg's "Swampman, response-dependence, and meaning", but from a different perspective -- namely, the apparent tension between the externalist lessons that Davidson draws from the Swampman thought experiment and the general commitment to response-dependence about meaning that seems integral to his understanding of radical interpretation.