The Significance of Radical Interpretation for Understanding the Mind

In J. Malpas (ed.), The Hermeneutic Davidson. MIT Press (2011)
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Abstract

In Davidson's philosophy, one finds a wide variety of rich, provocative, and influential arguments concerning the nature of the mind—that mental states emerge only in the context of interpretation, that belief is "in its nature" veridical, that mental events are physical events, and so on. Most, if not all, of Davidson's conclusions about the mind have their source in discussions about the project of "radical interpretation." They rely upon arguments concerning the conditions on the successful interpretation of a speaker by an interpreter who knows nothing initially about the speaker's language or mental states. But what is the relevance of this activity of radical interpretation? Why should the conditions on succeeding at it illuminate anything about the nature of the mind in general? In this paper, I explore these issues. In particular, I will argue that Davidson's confidence in the relevance of radical interpretation for understanding the mind ultimately depends upon a prior and quite substantive view of the mind. Moreover, it is a view of the mind for which Davidson provides little support. Indeed, the little support Davidson does provide appears to depend itself on the very relevance of radical interpretation.

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Jonathan Ellis
University of California, Santa Cruz

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