Sunday, June 21, 2015
On Davidson (continued)
This series of posts about contextualism (or “occasion-sensitivity”) was inspired by Sanjit Chakraborty’s request that I say more about what I call the “truth-evaluable content” of sentences on occasions of utterance. Formulating what I want to say in response led me back to Davidson’s “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs” (NDE), a paper I discuss for its own sake, as well.
In a short paper I published in 1974, just two years after “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’”. I wrote that, like Sellars (not to mention Wittgenstein, Quine, and many others) I didn’t think that meanings are objects. And I added that my reason isn’t that one couldn’t identify them with objects, but that the identification would be even more arbitrary than the identification of the number one with the unit set of the null set. In sum, the question as to the nature of meanings shouldn’t be understood an ontological question (what sort of object is “a meaning”), it should rather be “What information should a good semantic theory provide about the words and constructions of a language?” Davidson agreed with this throughout his career.
However, a significant difference between my views and those of the Davidson of NDE is that for me (1) there are such things as languages, and there is such a thing as good description of the grammar and semantics of a natural language, but it does not have the form of a Tarskian truth-theory, and it does not pretend to specify the truth-evaluable content of the sentences of a language on a particular occasion of utterence, while for NDE the meaning of a sentence must by given by a truth theory, and what we learn from a lexicon (our “prior theories”) and what we might take ourselves or someone else to mean on a particular occasion (our “passing theories”) are both occasion-sensitive. It is because I identify the meaning of sentence (i.e. the information provided by a good lexicon) with a description of such things as the semantic markers and the stereotypes associated with the words, and not with a set of recursively specified truth conditions (as Davidson does, before and after NDE) and Davidson identifies it with the latter, that for me “truth-evaluable content” and “meaning” come apart, while for Davidson they are the same. Thus for him the occasion-sensitivity of truth-evaluable content is ipso facto the occasion-sensitivity of meaning, and hence the non-existence of socially shared meanings..
(To be continued)
My discm pleased to join the happy chorus of those who don't think meanings are objects. Not that one couldn't identify them with ob-
jects, just that the identification will be even more arbitrary and uncon- vincing than, say, the identification of the number 1 with singleton the nullpleased to join the happy chorus of those who don't think meanings are objects. Not that one couldn't identify them with ob-
jects, just that the identification will be even more arbitrary and uncon- vincing than, say, the identification of the number 1 with singleton the null set.
 “Comment on Wilfrid Sellars”, Synthese 1974.
 ““As speaker and interpreter talk, their prior theories become more alike””, quoted in my previous post, and “…knowing a passing theory is only knowing how to interpret a particular utterance on a particular occasion.”, NDE 260 (in The Essential Davidson)