Donald Davidson (philosopher)

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Donald Herbert Davidson (March 6, 1917 – August 30, 2003) was an American philosopher, whose work exerted considerable influence in many areas of philosophy from the 1960s onward, particularly in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and action theory.


  • The methodological advice to interpret in a way that optimizes agreement should not be conceived as resting on a charitable assumption about human intelligence that might turn out to be false. If we cannot find a way to interpret the utterances and other behaviour of a creature as revealing a set of beliefs largely consistent and true by our standards, we have no reason to count that creature as rational, as having beliefs, or as saying anything
    • Donald Davidson. "Radical interpretation." Dialectica 27.3‐4 (1973): p. 324; as cited in; Herman Parret, ‎Jacques Bouveresse (1981) Meaning and Understanding, p. 186
  • In quotation not only does language turn on itself, but it does so word by word and expression by expression, and this reflexive twist is inseparable from the convenience and universal applicability of the device. Here we already have enough to draw the interest of the philosopher of language.
    • Donald Davidson. "Quotation" in: Theory and Decision, March 1979, Vol. 11, Iss. 1, pp 27-40; Cited by Willis Goth Regier, Quotology, (2010), p. 4
  • The dominant metaphor of conceptual relativism, that of differing points of view, seems to betray an underlying paradox. Different points of view make sense, but only if there is a common co-ordinate system on which to plot them; yet the existence of a common system belies the claim of dramatic incomparability.
    • Donald Davidson. "On the Very Idea," p. 184; as cited in: Johannes Brandl, Wolfgang Leopold Gombocz. The Mind of Donald Davidson. Rodopi, 1989, p. 152
  • I conclude that there is no such thing as a language, not if a language is anything like what many philosophers and linguists have supposed. There is therefore no such thing to be learned, mastered, or born with. We must give up the idea of a clearly defined shared structure which language-users acquire and then apply to cases. And we should try again to say how convention in any important sense is involved in language; or, as I think, we should give up the attempt to illuminate how we communicate by appeal to conventions.
  • I thought... that the fact that in characterizing truth for a language it is necessary to put words into relations with objects was enough to give some grip for the idea of correspondence; but this now seems to me a mistake. The mistake is in a way only a misnomer, but terminological infelicities have a way of breeding conceptual confusion, and so it is here. Correspondence theories have always been conceived as providing an explanation or analysis of truth, and this, a Tarski-style theory of truth, certainly does not do.
    • Donald Davidson (1990, p. 135), as cited in: Simon Evnine (1991) Donald Davidson. p. 137
  • There are three basic problems: how a mind can know the world of nature, how it is possible for one mind to know another, and how it is possible to know the contents of our own minds without resort to observation or evidence. It is a mistake, I shall urge, to suppose that these questions can be collapsed into two, or taken into isolation.
    • Davidson. Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective, (2001) p. 208, as cited in: Dermot Moran (ed). The Routledge Companion to Twentieth Century Philosophy, (2008), p. 681

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