Rationality, Language, and the Principle of Charity

Kirk Ludwig

in The Oxford Handbook of Rationality

Published in print February 2004 | ISBN: 9780195145397
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:
 Rationality, Language, and the Principle of Charity

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This article deals with the relations between language, thought, and rationality, and especially the role and status of assumptions about rationality in interpreting another's speech and assigning contents to her psychological attitudes—her beliefs, desires, intentions, and so on. Some large degree of rationality is required for thought. Consequently, that same degree of rationality at least is required for language, since language requires thought. Thought, however, does not require language. This article lays out the grounds for seeing rationality as required for thought, and it meets some recent objections on conceptual and empirical grounds. Furthermore, it gives particular attention to Donald Davidson's arguments for the Principle of Charity, according to which it is constitutive of speakers that they are largely rational and largely right about the world, and to Davidson's arguments for the thesis that without the power of speech one lacks the power of thought.

Keywords: language; thought; rationality; psychological attitudes; Donald Davidson

Article.  9160 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language ; Epistemology

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