Davidson’s Account Of Truth And Fictional Meaning

Praxis 3 (2):1-27 (2012)
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Fictional and non-fictional texts rely on the same language to express their meaning; yet many philosophers in the analytic tradition would say, with reason, that fictional texts literally make no truth claims, or more modestly that the rhetorical and literary devices to which fiction and non-fiction writers alike have recourse are unconnected to truth or have no propositional content. These related views are associated with a doctrine in the philosophy of language, most notably advanced by the late Donald Davidson, which holds that we understand the semantic structure of a language by applying to it a theory of truth, which involves discovering the truth conditions of its sentences. This approach to semantic theory raises several seemingly intractable problems, such as the problem of stating the meaning of non-declarative sentences, e.g. questions and imperatives. The chief aim of this paper will be to try to dispel these problems by suggesting an adjustment in Davidson’s account of the relation of truth to meaning, one which will also allow us to picture such troublesome linguistic items as metaphor within a semantic theory, and to expand the range of objects which can be brought into a general theory of meaning

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Michael Bourke
British Columbia Institute of Technology


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