Quine and Davidson on Language, Thought, and Reality

Quine and Davidson on Language, Thought, and Reality

Quine and Davidson on Language, Thought, and Reality

Quine and Davidson on Language, Thought, and Reality


W.V. Quine and Donald Davidson are among the leading thinkers of the twentieth century. Their influence on contemporary philosophy is second to none, and their impact in disciplines such as linguistics and psychology is strongly felt. Questioning some of their basic assumptions, this text includes interesting comparisons of Quine and Davidson with other philosophers, particularly Wittgenstein. The text also offers detailed accounts of central issues in contemporary analytic philosophy.


Quine and Davidson are among the leading philosophers of the twentieth century, and their current influence on analytic philosophy is second to none. The reason for this judgement is not just that many contemporary philosophers accept their findings. It is first and foremost that they have fundamentally altered the terms of debate within analytic philosophy. Even those who resolutely reject their views often define their own positions in relation to them. No philosopher can afford to ignore them, and their impact is strongly felt in other disciplines, notably linguistics and psychology.

As far as I know, this is the first book devoted to both Quine and Davidson. It is an attempt to elucidate and critically assess their contributions to the philosophy of language, the philosophy of mind and metaphysics. I want to make out a case for the following claims:

First, these contributions are best seen in conjunction. Quine provides the acknowledged starting-point for Davidson. Davidson rejects aspects of Quine's position–especially his eliminativism, certain aspects of his extensionalism, his behaviourism and his empiricist invocation of neural stimulations. At the same time, he accepts many of Quine's fundamental claims–notably the rejection of the analytic/synthetic distinction, his thesis of the indeterminacy of translation, and his suspicion of the notion of meaning. He also develops other Quinean ideas in powerful and illuminating ways, such as the thought experiment of radical translation, the connection between meaning and communication, and the attack on linguistic conventions.

Secondly, Quine and Davidson can profitably be seen as logical pragmatists. They have been influenced by logical positivism on the one hand, and by American pragmatism on the other. What holds together the . . .

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