Davidson, Analyticity, and Theory Confirmation

Dissertation, Georgetown University (2003)
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In this dissertation, I explore the work of Donald Davidson, reveal an inconsistency in it, and resolve that inconsistency in a way that complements a debate in philosophy of science. In Part One, I explicate Davidson's extensional account of meaning; though not defending Davidson from all objections, I nonetheless present his seemingly disparate views as a coherent whole. In Part Two, I explicate Davidson's views on the dualism between conceptual schemes and empirical content, isolating four seemingly different arguments that Davidson makes against the dualism; I demonstrate that, though the arguments fail, each is ultimately meant to rely on his account of meaning. ;In Part Three, I show that Davidson's extensional account of meaning gives rise to the analytic-synthetic distinction, while simultaneously needing to reject it. I then propose a resolution to Davidson's dilemma. Rather than treating interpretation of meaning as continuous with the holistic enterprise of science, as Quine treats translation, one should treat it as conceptually prior to science, as Kant treats epistemology. Nonetheless I recognize four reasons why Davidson himself would reject doing so. I therefore propose a view called 'transcendental semantics', based on Davidson's, that accepts my resolution. Further, transcendental semantics, like Kant's own transcendental idealism, posits a single conceptual scheme; nonetheless Kant's is concerned with Newtonian physics, transcendental semantics' with interpretation. ;Finally, in Part Four, I show how positing such a scheme allows transcendental semantics to complement a promising neo-Carnapian account of theory confirmation in science proposed by Michael Friedman. Scientists are first and foremost interpreters, a fact that allows transcendental semantics to help Friedman establish the possibility of rational continuity through scientific revolutions. In fact, transcendental semantics, by complementing Friedman's project, reunites two of Carnap's own concerns, philosophy of language and philosophy of science. I conclude that philosophy of language without philosophy of science is empty , while philosophy of science without philosophy of language is blind

Author's Profile

Nathaniel Goldberg
Washington and Lee University


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