Davidson: Normativist or Anti-normativist?

Acta Analytica 30 (1):67-86 (2015)
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This paper contests the standard reading, due to Bilgrami and Glüer, that Davidson is an anti-normativist about word-meaning. Their case for his anti-normativism rests on his avowed anti-conventionalism about word-meaning. While not denying Davidson’s anti-conventionalism, I argue in the central part of the paper devoted to Bilgrami that the constitutive role that charity must play in interpretation for Davidson puts pressure on his anti-conventionalism, ultimately forcing a more tempered anti-conventionalism than Bilgrami allows. Simply put, my argument is that two central doctrines of Davidson’s—constitutive charity and anti-conventionalism—do not sit easily together in the project of interpreting speakers of our home language and that if they are to be made compatible, it is his anti-conventionalism that gets weakened. This ushers a certain meaning normativism into Davidson’s view. To strengthen my case for reading Davidson as a normativist about word-meaning, I respond to two important arguments against his alleged normativism: first, that meaning normativity is incompatible with the truism that the relation between a word and its meaning is arbitrary and, second, that constitutive charity far from ushering in meaning normativity is incompatible with it



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John Fennell
Grinnell College

Citations of this work

Davidson’s Wittgenstein.Ali Hossein Khani - 2020 - Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy 8 (5):1-26.
Explaining Away Kripke’s Wittgenstein.Derek Green - 2023 - Erkenntnis 88 (3):991-1011.

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References found in this work

Individualism and the mental.Tyler Burge - 1979 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 4 (1):73-122.
On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme.Donald Davidson - 1973 - Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 47:5-20.
Philosophical grammar.Ludwig Wittgenstein - 1969 - Oxford [Eng.]: Blackwell. Edited by Rush Rhees.
Radical interpretation.Donald Davidson - 1973 - Dialectica 27 (1):314-328.
Individualism and the Mental.Tyler Burge - 1979 - In John Heil (ed.), Philosophy of Mind: A Guide and Anthology. Oxford University Press.

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