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Davidson, Donald. Truth, Language, and History.

DAVIDSON, Donald. Truth, Language, and History. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005. Cloth, $24.95--When Donald Davidson died in August 2003, this collection of essays (except for the introduction) was already contracted for and was ready to go to Oxford University Press. His wife, Marcia Cavell, supplied the introduction. The twenty or so essays cover quite diverse material. Hence it is not possible to provide a unified review based on some single central theme. The essays are almost exclusively from the 1990s and have all appeared elsewhere. The volume is organized around four topics: Truth, Language, Anomalous Monism, and Historical Thoughts.

In the six essays on truth, Davidson states and defends his view of truth. He maintains that while it is a substantive concept, it is not the correspondence relation, nor some epistemological concept, and it is not definable in terms of some other semantic primitive. As a substantive concept it stands in opposition to deflationary views. While truth is substantive on correspondence accounts, Davidson will have nothing to do with such correspondence and the problematic facts that are the supposed relata of the correspondence relation. Though his view depends most heavily on Tarski, unlike Tarski truth for Davidson is primitive and undefined. It is not an epistemological notion in either the sense of the coherence, pragmatist, or some other theories.

As for Quine, ontological concerns go hand in hand with "realist-objectivist" (this reviewer's expression) conceptions of truth. While he shares Quine's view of ontological commitment, the two differ over issues such as the inscrutability of reference. Davidson finds it less of an issue than Quine does. Another crucial difference is their view of triangulation. Triangulation is the relation between communicating speaker and hearer in the presence of some other factor. Davidson and Quine differ over that third factor. In the latter of the essays in this section Davidson argues for distal objects in the world and against Quine's choice of proximal stimulus conditions as the factor. Davidson appeals to rabbits and Quine to rabbit stimulations.

One of the strands that connects some of the essays in the section on language is Davidson's defense of the claim he makes in the first essay, "A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs." In it he says that "[t]here is no such thing as language." Part of his intention is to argue that in a sense language is more a matter of idiolect than of language as philosophers conceive of "language." He is opposed to the view that language-users share a set of conventions and rules which define language. Davidson puts shared information in place of such shared rules. His picture is captured in the notion of triangulation. So, for example, communication consists of speaker and hearer in relation to objects in the world with the two sharing background information and the distal objects accessed in the world. In that essay and later ones Davidson makes his point by focusing on cases where successful communication occurs but where words (language in the philosopher's sense) are used incorrectly. Malapropisms are a case in point. We all understand what Mrs. Malaprop was saying when she spoke of allegories on the bank of the Nile. Davidson also applies these thoughts to literary language such as metaphor and fiction. In these essays he mentions his "causal theory" (this reviewer's expression) of metaphor. Metaphor works because blatant truths ("No man is an island") and blatant falsehoods cause us to have some thoughts. On fiction Davidson relies on the importance of shared background information for processing/following/understanding a story. Both the author and readers of Anna Karenina make the ordinary background assumptions about the characters, and so forth, in the novel.

In the section on anomalous monism, Davidson's solution to the mind-body problem receives amplification. His famous linguistic dualism is offered to supplant Cartesian ontological dualism. In the place of the mind-body split we are provided with a split between mentalistic sentences and bodily physicalistic ones. The underlying ontology for this linguistic dualism is materialist, including only bodies and events. In the two essays in this section Davidson defends his anomalous monism against a criticism and in doing so clarifies how he uses the concepts of causality, law (physical and psycho-physical), and supervenience.

The remaining chapters on historical thoughts are divided between the first three, which take up the question of what the task of philosophy is, and the last two, which deal with two historical figures, Aristotle on action and how Spinoza's views relate to his own anomalous monism. In the first three Davidson pursues the question of the nature of philosophy via a historical route. He turns to Plato and the role of the Socratic Elenchus in philosophy. This special form of conversational dialectic or give-and-take encapsulates one of Davidson's themes, that truth emerges from special forms of the social interchange of information.--Alex Orenstein, City University of New York.
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Author:Orenstein, Alex
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Words:811
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