Belief and the Basis of Meaning

Donald Davidson

in Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation

Published in print September 2001 | ISBN: 9780199246298
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191715181 | DOI:

Series: The Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson (5 Volumes)

 Belief and the Basis of Meaning

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Davidson continues the analysis of the evidential base required for radical interpretation from Essay 9 and extends it into a systematic methodology. The ascription of meanings to utterances and intentions to speakers must proceed simultaneously because we lack a prior grasp on either (Davidson illustrates this by appeal to Ramsey's work on subjective probability); by the same token, if interpreters are to get anywhere at all they must start by an interpretative ‘Principle of Charity’ on which they assume at the outset that the speaker's beliefs are mostly true and that his utterances are, for the most part, assertions of what he believes or ‘holds true’. Consequently, interpreters must avoid attributing inexplicable error to the speaker, but rather ‘maximize agreement’. Davidson explains how these assumptions operate independently of detailed knowledge of what the speaker believes or asserts, and why they are indispensable to the process of radical interpretation; in specific, how we can have no independent foothold on propositional attitudes or speaker meaning (see Appendix); and he discusses the degree to which his interpretative constraints leave it indeterminate what the speaker means.

Keywords: holding true; indeterminacy of translation; principle of charity; radical interpretation; Ramsey; subjective probability

Chapter.  6220 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

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