12 May 2008

A Davidson Interview

While Googling to doublecheck a quote, I found a Davidson interview I'd never come across before. It's from some sort of rhetoric & composition journal, from 1993. The introduction is pretty wild; the way they lay out Davidson's significance, he's Derrida with minor differences (differances?).

Since he's talking to someone from another field, Davidson gets asked a lot of questions I'd not seen him address square-on before. For instance, he has to explain the internalist/externalist distinction:

The internalist says that the contents of our thoughts—our beliefs, our desires, our intentions, and what we mean by what we say—are determined wholly by what is in the head. Generally speaking, this is a Cartesian position, and there are lots of internalists around. The externalist, however, maintains that there are factors external to the person which are determinants of the contents of our thoughts, and not just causal determinants—because that's obvious—but, so to speak, logical determinants, too. For example, from an externalist perspective, you can't have a thought about an apple if you haven't had at some point in your life some contact—indirect or direct—with apples. So, externalism has to do with your history and things that exist outside of you that make a difference to what you can think or what you are thinking at a given moment. Now, beyond this description, externalism takes a number of forms, but unlike Saul Kripke, Hilary Putnam, or Tyler Burge, I don't limit the extent to which the contents of our thoughts are fixed by external objects. I think externalism applies universally; there are connections everywhere between the world and the contents of our thoughts. It's not limited to a few words but is true of a very large number of them. So, I am an all-out externalist.
I'm actually curious why he hedges that last claim at all -- I'm not immediately sure what words he would want to deny as having been given their content by the world. I suppose it might just be a cautionary hedge; he's talking pretty loosely throughout the interview.

(It occurs to me that Rorty doesn't say things like "there are connections everywhere between the world and the contents of our thoughts". I can't even imagine a way to paraphrase it that wouldn't make him bristle.)

Davidson also gets asked things like "Would you say that language is so marked by gender that women think differently about the world than men do?"

The Lepore interview from "Problems of Rationality" is also online (PDF), for those who haven't read it or don't have the book handy. The contrast between the two interviewers is pretty radical.


Duck said...

Thanks, I'll check it out. As to what words aren't given their content by the world, maybe he's thinking of things like "or" or "if". Who knows.

As you know, Rorty's okay with causal contact, and doesn't that happen everywhere? Put that way it might not make him bristle.

N. N. said...

Thanks for that. This bit sounds really interesting:

"A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs" was published along with two attacks, one by Ian Hacking and one by Michael Dummett. I recently attended a conference in Sicily with Dummett, and I finally produced my answer to his concerns. He is about to produce his answer to my answer, so this will go on, no doubt. He is strongly opposed to the idea that conventions are crutches. He thinks speaking as others do is not just a convenience but absolutely essential. He, like Tyler Burge, thinks that what we mean depends very much on what other people mean by the same words. There's a big issue here, for philosophers anyway, because were on the edge of Wittgenstein's private language discussion. You know Saul Kripke's book? Kripke attributes the following argument to Wittgenstein and seems to endorse it himself, although he doesn't absolutely commit himself. The idea is that a certain element of objectivity — which is essential to meaning something by what you say — is injected only by there being a social custom or a habit. The question whether you, for example, are meaning the same thing from moment to moment by some given word depends upon whether I use that word in a certain way. And, in fact, it's only that confluence or convergence on a usage, custom, or habit that provides an objective test of whether somebody is going on in the same way or not. This is not my account of objectivity; my doctrine of triangulation is an alternative account that doesn't depend upon people doing the same thing.

I need to get my hands on those exchanges with Dummett. No doubt, I'll find myself in the Dummett camp.

Concerning words getting their content from causal interactions with the world, I got around to reading Hacker's "Davidson on Externalism and Intentionality," and I think the Wittgensteinian criticism that Hacker makes is spot on. Perhaps we can discuss it sometime.

Daniel Lindquist said...

"I need to get my hands on those exchanges with Dummett. No doubt, I'll find myself in the Dummett camp."

Davidson's response to Dummett was published as "The Social Aspect of Language" in "Language, Truth, and History". I haven't read Dummett's part of the conversation, partly because I don't have it ready to hand and partly because I didn't like what I read of "Truth and Other Enigmas".

Kripkenstein gets discussed a few places, including in "The Social Aspect"; "Three Varieties of Knowledge", in "Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective", is where I recall it figuring most promimently. There, Davidson makes himself out as closer to Kripkenstein than not, rather than being basically opposed as he does here.

I'll try to get the Hacker article read sooner rather than later.

Duck said...

Just to get it on the record, should anyone not know this: the "attacks" on "Nice Derangement" Davidson refers to here were published in Lepore, ed., Truth and Interpretation (1986), under the titles "The Parody of Conversation" (Hacking) and "'A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs': Some Comments on Davidson and Hacking" (Dummett). The subsequent exchange with Dummett appears in B. McGuinness & G. Oliveri, The Philosophy of Michael Dummett (1994). When I first (and second) read that latter exchange, I got the impression (although of course I did not think of it in the following terms) that Davidson had totally pwned Dummett, who clearly did not get what was going on. Now (without rereading Dummett's article, which I have here somewhere) I think that's a bit harsh. Given how different their projects are, and the point Davidson is making there, there's no reason for Dummett to get what Davidson is saying. It's really an intramural dispute among externalist semanticists. Why should Dummett, of all people, have an opinion on whether Davidson improves on Kripke and Burge? Now I'm no fan of the latter, but I actually think Davidson is being a bit dogmatic on one point (i.e. that of semantic normativity in the relevant sense). See also R. Stocker, ed., Reading Davidson, for A. Bilgrami's article on the matter and Davidson's enthusiastic agreement w/ same (and Akeel's whole book, Belief and Meaning).

Daniel Lindquist said...

"Now I'm no fan of the latter, but I actually think Davidson is being a bit dogmatic on one point (i.e. that of semantic normativity in the relevant sense)."

Could you expand on that? I can't immediately think of what you're complaining about, though I recall thinking the Burge bits one of the weaker parts of "Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective". Burge's own position strikes me as so hopeless that I haven't worried much about it.

Duck said...

Okay, but now I want to go back and do some reading so I get it right. I agree, Burge is hopeless; but my point is not that D. is too harsh on B. but that since B. is hopeless anyway, there's no real pressure to go as far as D. does to avoid that. Sorry, I'm being vague...

J said...
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J said...
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J said...

It's ye olde "Problems of Empiricism Rag".

Yet the resident geniuses on S-dan don't seem to quite understand the real problem: Jr. might learn what the word "apple" is by association: what about learning what, say, "association" is by association?

Moreover, since philo-bots, even Davidsons, generally know as little about the bio-mechanics of perception as they do about particle physics, they really can't offer any final word on the problems of associationism......Chomsky vs Skinner? a draw due to ineptness