On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme

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)

 On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme

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Davidson attacks the intelligibility of conceptual relativism, i.e. of truth relative to a conceptual scheme. He defines the notion of a conceptual scheme as something ordering, organizing, and rendering intelligible empirical content, and calls the position that employs both notions scheme‐content dualism. He argues that such dualism (the ‘third, and perhaps, last dogma of empiricism’) is untenable since: (1) not only can we not parcel out empirical content sentence per sentence (as Quine's rejection of the analytic‐synthetic distinction had shown) but also (2) the notion of uninterpreted content to which several schemes are relative, and the related notion of a theory ‘fitting the evidence’, can be shown to lack intelligibility too. Davidson argues further that belief in incommensurable schemes or non‐intertranslatable languages is possible only on violating a correct understanding of interpretability (developed in Essays 9 and 10): if we succeed in interpreting someone else then we have shown there is no need to speak of two conceptual schemes, while if we fail ‘there is no ground for speaking of two.’

Keywords: analytic‐synthetic distinction; conceptual relativism; conceptual schemes; empirical content; empiricism; Quine; scheme‐content dualism

Chapter.  6764 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

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