The Status of Charity II: Charity, Probability, and Simplicity 1

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Treating the principle of charity as a non‐empirical , foundational principle leads to insoluble problems of justification. I suggest instead treating semantic properties realistically, and semantic terms as theoretical terms. This allows us to apply ordinary scientific reasoning in meta‐semantics. In particular, we can appeal to widespread verbal agreement as an empirical phenomenon, and we can make use of probabilistic reasoning as well as appeal to theoretical simplicity for reaching the conclusion that there is a high rate of agreement in belief between speakers who have a high rate of verbal agreement. Although this does not by itself imply that the beliefs agreed upon are generally true, it does imply that any single speaker who is party to such a verbal agreement is justified in taking the other speakers to have mostly true beliefs. She is so justified because of the fact that it is incoherent to take her own beliefs not to be mostly true. Indirectly, this justifies a version of the principle of charity as an empirically correct principle.

Keywords: Davidson; agreement; belief; charity; probability; simplicity

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2006

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