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Charity, Supervenience, and Skepticism

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In a number of articles Donald Davidson has argued that the charitable nature of his method of radical interpretation rules out the possibility of massive error and thus refutes Cartesian skepticism. The diversity of such arguments and the suggestions that are all being made under the name of the principle of charity have prompted a large body of conflicting responses, adding only to the obscurity of the issues that are generally associated with the question of skepticism. In this paper I propose to consider the debate in a new light by reconstruing the principle of charity as a supervenience constraint on belief attribution. This would help explain some of the puzzling features of Davidson's arguments, like the idea of an omniscient interpreter, and the ensuing commentaries. Having provided an analysis of the limitations of Davidson's arguments, I shall then suggest an alternative explanation of the purported necessity of the principle of charity. Finally, having construed the principle of charity as a supervenience constraint, I shall examine what consequences this construal has for the logical status of the principle itself and its alleged epistemic potentials.

Keywords: belief attribution; charity; skepticism; supervenience

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-9973.00190

Affiliations: Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics, P.O. Box 19395-1795, Tehran, Iran

Publication date: April 1, 2001

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