Radical Interpretation and Decision Theory

Synthese:1-22 (forthcoming)
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Abstract
This paper takes issue with an influential interpretationist argument for physicalism about intentionality based on the possibility of radical interpretation. The interpretationist defends the physicalist thesis that the intentional truths supervene on the physical truths by arguing that it is possible for a radical interpreter, who knows all of the physical truths, to work out the intentional truths about what an arbitrary agent believes, desires, and means without recourse to any further empirical information. One of the most compelling arguments for the possibility of radical interpretation, associated most closely with David Lewis and Donald Davidson, gives a central role to decision theoretic representation theorems, which demonstrate that if an agent’s preferences satisfy certain constraints, it is possible to deduce probability and utility functions that represent her beliefs and desires. We argue that an interpretationist who wants to rely on existing representation theorems in defence of the possibility of radical interpretation faces a trilemma, each horn of which is incompatible with the possibility of radical interpretation.
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Archival date: 2021-02-04
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2021-02-04

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