Davidson, first-person authority, and the evidence for semantics

Steven Gross

in Donald Davidson on Truth, Meaning, and the Mental

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199697519
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191742316 | DOI:
Davidson, first-person authority, and the evidence for semantics

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Davidson holds that the evidence available to a radical interpreter exhausts the semantic facts. Lepore and Ludwig, like others, object that (1) Davidson’s position is in tension with first-person authority, and (2) it gives rise to a problematic indeterminacy. The chapter argues that their version of objection (1) fails to sufficiently distinguish two claims: (i) that the evidence available to a radical interpreter suffices for her recovering all the semantic facts, and (ii) that for someone to ascribe with warrant an attitude or meaning to a speaker or the speaker’s words, he/she must do so on the basis of such evidence. Lepore and Ludwig, to close their case, must provide reason to think that an accurate first-person ascription could conflict with a radical interpreter’s third-person ascription. Their objection (2) provides such grounds, but then we have no independent objection from first-person authority. After discussing whether an appeal to first-person authority plays any essential role in the indeterminacy objection, the conclusion briefly suggests that there are other sources of information concerning the semantic facts, available neither to the radical interpreter nor first-personally to the subject, that do provide a challenge to Davidson’s claim: namely, non-readily observable, non-first-person-accessible evidence of the sort sometimes drawn upon, for example, in psycholinguistics and the cognitive neuroscience of language.

Keywords: Davidson; first-person authority; radical interpretation; indeterminacy; semantics; evidence

Chapter.  10987 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

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