A very large fly in the ointment: Davidsonian truth theory contextualized

In Richard Schantz (ed.), Prospects for Meaning (2012)
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Abstract
one hand, it raises fundamental doubts about the Davidsonian project, which seems to involve isolating specifically semantic knowledge from any other knowledge or skill in a way reflected by the ideal of homophony. Indexicality forces a departure from this ideal, and so from the aspiration of deriving the truth conditions of an arbitrary utterance on the basis simply of axioms which could hope to represent purely semantic knowledge. In defence of Davidson, I argue that once his original idea for dealing with the familiar indexical expressions is suitably implemented, in terms of theorems expressing conditional truth-conditions, the contrast between semantic and nonsemantic knowledge occurs in an appropriate place: between knowledge of the conditional truth conditions themselves (semantic), and knowledge of their antecedents (non-semantic). For example, a simplified version of a conditional truth condition for an utterance u of “That is a cat” will say that for all x, if the utterer in uttering “that” in u thereby referred to x, u is true iff x is a cat. The conditional fact belongs to semantic knowledge; non-semantic knowledge is required to work out what the utterer referred to; the two kinds of knowledge conspire to enable a truth condition to be detached. The other kind of worry relates to difficult technical questions, relating to specific idioms, raised by context-dependence. I consider whether an argument by Travis (2006), designed to establish that there can be no correct truth conditional semantics, can be turned on its head, and used to establish a general method for bringing all forms of context-dependence within Davidsonʼs framework (using quantification into the qualifier “on understanding U”). I argue that this will not work, and that we are committed to a piecemeal examination of various cases, of which I give some examples. One of these relates directly to Travisʼs argument concerning the context-dependence of “grunt”. In addition, Davidsonians need to have a sharp eye for the distinction between pragmatic and semantic content, to be specified by a test akin to Griceʼs notion of cancelability; they should treat sentences like “Itʼs raining” by the conditional truth-condition method; and they should treat possessives as semantically very unspecific. It is part of the thesis of the paper that this list of examples by no means exhausts the cases a Davidsonian needs to address
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