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The Status of Charity I: Conceptual Truth or A Posteriori Necessity?

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Abstract:

According to Donald Davidson, linguistic meaning is determined by the principle of charity. Because of Davidson's semantic behaviourism, charity's significance is both epistemic and metaphysical: charity not only provides the radical interpreter with a method for constructing a semantic theory on the basis of his data, but it does so because it is the principle metaphysically determining meaning. In this paper, I assume that charity does determine meaning. On this assumption, I investigate both its epistemic and metaphysical status: is charity a priori or a posteriori? And what kind of necessity does it have? According to Davidson himself, charity is an a priori truth and its necessity is conceptual: it is essential to, or constitutive of, our common concepts of meaning and belief. Not only does this generate tension within Davidson's own, Quine‐inspired epistemology, but there is independent reason to think of charity as an empirical truth. Even so, charity might be essential to belief and meaning in the sense of being an a posteriori necessity. I conclude that our ordinary modal intuitions might well support charity's psychological‐nomological necessity, but that they do not reach all the way to metaphysical necessity.

Keywords: Davidson; meaning determination; principle of charity; principle of charity: epistemic and modal status; radical interpretation; semantic behaviourism

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09672550600858320

Publication date: September 1, 2006

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