Reality Without Reference

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)

 Reality Without Reference

Show Summary Details


Davidson replies to critics (in particular Hartry Field and Gilbert Harman) who have objected that truth theories cannot do the duty of meaning theories if they fail to elucidate the concept of reference on which they rely (Hartry Field, Gilbert Harman). In response, Davidson explains precisely why truth theories do not and need not explain or analyse the concepts of satisfaction and denotation (cf Essay 14) once these are characterized recursively (which requires that the basic vocabulary is finite, as Essay 1 had demanded on grounds of the language's learnability). He further shows how taking the relation of reference as being central when explaining the relation of language to world collapses into a discredited ‘building‐block theory’ of language (see Essay 1) and neglects the semantic primacy of the sentence. This primacy, argues Davidson, can only be acknowledged by making truth and sentential structure one's central semantic concepts; further, truth theories are testable only at the sentential level, not at that of subsentential reference.

Keywords: building‐block theory; Field; Harman; reference; semantic concept of truth; semantic primacy of sentence

Chapter.  4715 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.