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on November 27, 2002
As the previous reviewer says, the book contains many of Davidson's seminal papers in the philosophy of language. This book, however, cannot be used as an introduction to anything, not to philosophy of language and not even to Davidson's. His style is extremely compressed, and sometimes he merely intimates what should be carefully explained. What it ideally takes two paragraphs to say, Davidson says in two lines; each sentence is therefore crammed up with thoughts; at some places the author becomes oracular.
I would love to say that Ramberg's book on Davidson can be of help for the beginner, but I must confess instead that I find Davidson's "Inquires" an excellent commentary on Ramberg.

This book will be understood only by those who are already trained in philosophy of language and who understand some logic too. I said "only by", not "by all".

For critical comments on the contents of the book, I refer the reader to a rather harsh and carping review by Jonathan Bennett, I think it was in "Mind", 1985.

As one reviewer in the backcover says, "struggle and learn". Here you have a great book by a great philosopher of language.
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on September 8, 2011
Originally published in 1984 `Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation' is a compilation of Donald Davidson essays pertaining to the philosophy of language. For those unfamiliar with the author Davidson is one of the best known American philosophers of the late twentieth century, he has made noteworthy contributions in the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and epistemology.

Readers would be well advised to check the table of context prior to purchasing this text given that many of the essays have been previously published. Essays in this collection are largely concerned with the notions of meaning and truth essays, Davidson's writing on the philosophy of mind can be found in the companion volume `Essays on Actions and Events". In the present text there is considerable overlap between the essays, this, is not per se a bad think for either Davidson connoisseurs or newcomers seeking to get their head around his thought. For the former group the repetition allows one to follow the progression of his thought while for the latter group given that Davidson's prose is notoriously abstruse and awkward, repetition can be helpful. I read this text in conjunction with `Meaning, Truth, Language and Reality' by Lepore and Ludwig. And while Ludwig and Lepore are leading Davidson scholars the text is difficult and probably only of value for dedicated student of Davidson.

Overall, this is a handy collection of essays that I would recommend for readers interested in Davidson. Be forewarned, however, Davidson is an acquired taste. Readers new to philosophy are likely to find him tedious and pedantic.
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Donald Herbert Davidson (1917-2003) was an American philosopher who taught at UC Berkeley from 1981 to 2003, who previously taught at Stanford University, Rockefeller University, Princeton University, and the University of Chicago. He wrote other books, such as, Essays on Actions and Events.

He wrote in the Introduction to this 1984 collection, "What is it for words to mean what they do? In the essays collected here I explore the idea that we would have an answer to this question if we know how to construct a theory satisfying two demands: it would provide an interpretation of all utterances, actual and potential, of a speaker or group of speakers; and it would be verifiable without knowledge of the detailed propositional attitudes of the speaker. The first condition acknowledges the holistic nature of linguistic understanding. The second condition aims to prevent smuggling into the foundations of the theory concepts too closely allied to the concept of meaning. A theory that does not satisfy both conditions cannot be said to answer our opening question in a philosophically instructive way."

He states in the third essay, "In this paper I defend a version of the correspondence theory. I think truth can be explained by appeal to a relation between language and the world, and that analysis of that relation yields insight into how, by uttering sentences, we sometimes manage to say what is true." (Pg. 37-38)

In the ninth essay, he says, "What follows is a defence of the claim that a theory of truth, modified to apply to a natural language, can be used as a theory of interpretation. The defence will consist in attempts to answer three questions: 1. Is it reasonable to think that a theory of truth of the sort described can be given for a natural language? 2. Would it be possible to tell that such a theory was correct on the basis of evidence plausibly available to an interpreter with no prior knowledge of the language to be interpreted? 3. If the theory were known to be true, would it be possible to interpret utterances of speakers of the language?" (Pg. 131)

In the tenth essay, he says, "Theory of interpretation is the business jointly of the linguist, psychologist and philosopher. Its subject matter is the behavior of a speaker or speakers, and it tells what certain of their utterances mean. Finally, the theory can be used to describe what every interpreter knows, namely a specifiable infinite subset of the truths of the theory. In what follows, I shall say a little, and assume a lot, about the form a theory of interpretation can take. But I want to focus on the question how we can tell that any such theory is true." (Pg. 141-142)

In an essay on "The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme," he comments, "Since charity is not an option, but a condition of having a workable theory, it is meaningless to suggest that we might fall into massive error by endorsing it. Until we have successfully established a systematic correlation of sentences held true with sentences held true, there are no mistakes to make. Charity is forced on us; whether we like it or not, if we want to understand others, we must count them right in most matters. If we can produce a theory that reconciles charity and the formal conditions for a theory, we have done all that could be done to ensure communication. Nothing more is possible, and nothing more is needed." (Pg. 197)

In an essay on "What Metaphors Mean," he notes, "For the most part I don't disagree with Max Black, Paul Henle, Nelson Goodman, Monroe Beardsley, and the rest in their accounts of what metaphor accomplishes, except that I think it accomplishes more and that what is additional is different in kind. My disagreement is with the explanation of how metaphor works its wonders. To anticipate: I depend on the distinction between what words mean and what they are used to do. I think metaphor belongs exclusively to the domain of use. It is something brought off by the imaginative employment of words and sentences and depends entirely on the ordinary meanings of those words and hence on the ordinary meanings of the sentences they compose." (Pg. 246-247)

In the final essay, he states, "I conclude that it is not an accidental feature of language that the ulterior purpose of an utterance and its literal meaning are independent, in the sense that the latter cannot be derived from the former: if is of the essence of language. I call this feature of language the principle of the AUTONOMY OF MEANING." (Pg. 274)

Davidson's work is growing in its influence in analytical philosophy; and this book gives a good idea of his ideas.
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on June 28, 2000
Excellent book. A must read for everyone interested in philosophy of language. This book contains all of Davidson's important articles concerning philosophy of language.
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