The Essential Davidson

The Essential Davidson

The Essential Davidson

The Essential Davidson


The Essential Davidson compiles the most celebrated papers of one of the twentieth century's greatest philosophers. It distils Donald Davidson's seminal contributions to our understanding of ourselves, from three decades of essays, into one thematically organized collection. A new, specially written introduction by Ernie Lepore and Kirk Ludwig, two of the world's leading authorities on his work, offers a guide through the ideas and arguments, shows how they interconnect, and reveals the systematic coherence of Davidson's worldview. Davidson's philosophical program is organized around two connected projects. The first is that of understanding the nature of human agency. The second is that of understanding the nature and function of language, and its relation to the world. Accordingly, the first part of the book presents Davidson's investigation of reasons, causes, and intentions, which revolutionized the philosophy of action. This leads to his notable doctrine of anomalous monism, the view that all mental events are physical events, but that the mental cannot be reduced to the physical. The second part of the book presents the famous essays in which Davidson set out his highly original and influential philosophy of language, which founds the theory of meaning on the theory of truth. These fifteen classic essays will be invaluable for anyone interested in the study of mind and language. Fascinating though they are individually, it is only when drawn together thatthere emerges a compelling picture of man as a rational linguistic animal whose thoughts, though not reducible to the material, are part of the fabric of the world, and whose knowledge of his own mind, the minds of others, and the world around him is as fundamental to his nature as the power of thought and speech itself.


Ernie Lepore and Kirk Ludwig

Donald Davidson’s philosophical program, one of the most influential of the second half of the twentieth century, can be seen as organized around two connected projects. the first is that of understanding the nature of human agency. the second is that of understanding the nature and function of language, and its relation to thought and the world. After a brief overview of Davidson’s life and the intellectual background of his work, we will develop these two themes in the context of the present selection of essential papers from Davidson’s corpus.

Life and intellectual background

Born on 6 March 1917, in Springfield, Massachusetts, Davidson attended Harvard University in 1935, studying English literature for two years before turning to classics and comparative literature. On graduating in 1939, he was awarded a fellowship to pursue graduate studies in classical philosophy at Harvard. During his first year he took a course from W. V. Quine on the logical positivists. He reported later that it changed his view of philosophy. “What mattered to me,” Davidson said, “was not so much Quine’s conclusions (I assumed he was right) as the realization that it was possible to be serious about getting things right in philosophy—or at least not getting things wrong” (Davidson 1999: 23). Quine was to remain a central influence on Davidson’s work. Davidson’s graduate studies were interrupted by the Second World War. Davidson volunteered for the navy, and returned to graduate work at Harvard in 1946 after being discharged. He took up a teaching position at Queens College in New York the following year, and after a year on a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, completed his dissertation on Plato’s Philebus in 1949 (Davidson 1990). He left Queens for Stanford University in 1951 where he taught for sixteen years before moving to Princeton University in 1967. Subsequently, Davidson taught at Rockefeller University from 1970 until the philosophy unit at Rockefeller was disbanded, at which point he moved in 1976 to the University of Chicago. in 1981, he moved to the philosophy department at the University of California at Berkeley. He died on 30 August 2003.

The years at Stanford, during which he taught a wide range of subjects, from logic, ancient and modern philosophy, epistemology, philosophy of science, and . . .

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