Document Type

Thesis

Publication Date

2012

Abstract

Donald Davidson was one of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th century. His work is extensive, dense, and controversial. This paper seeks to look at one part of Davidson’s philosophy: his philosophy of language, and in particular, his ideas about meaning. My first aim in this project is to present Davidson’s proposals about meaning as a unified meaning theory – a theory that can specify the meaning of any expression in a language. This theory contains two major parts: the proposal that a properly constrained truth theory can serve as a meaning theory, and the process of radical interpretation, by which one can in theory construct such a properly constrained truth theory based on purely behavioral evidence. My second aim is to add to the critical analysis of Davidson’s proposals. I do this by focusing on one particular issue that arises during the process of radical interpretation. During radical interpretation, certain ambiguities can arise for the interpreter that, if unresolved, would prove fatal to the project. I argue that we can resolve these ambiguities via Davidson’s own triangulation thesis – the idea that communication between two individuals is necessary for these speakers’ utterances to be meaningful. The communication provides a constraint on what a speaker can be taken to be talking about, or meaning, which resolves the problematic ambiguities. Finally, I seek to strengthen the position that triangulation can solve the ambiguity problem by defending it against three objections.

Comments

Advisor: Stephen Wagner

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Philosophy Commons

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