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A Davidsonian Completion of Wittgenstein: Two Pictures of Language
[continued from Part I, here is Part III]
The second part of this paper seeks to answer the vexing question: Given the widest of views that Augustine’s description offers, that of a panpsychic reality understood and filtered through our linguistic capacities to describe as real, how do we get our footing in the kinds of relations which make up our capacity to language in the first place? Wittgenstein’s critique, designed as it was to level certain Cartesian assumptions, as they had been preserved in the language of philosophy in his day, seems lacking in the ability to be applied beyond the ends of their means. Appeals to images of games played and rules followed only seem to take us so far. This is not due to any failing on his part, but rather to the nature of his project, and the kinds of discourse that he was rebutting. Here I will be concerned with approaches to languaging, and what they imply, such as to more fully embrace Augustine’s deeper vision, that of an active and affective world, in communication. And here will be presented prospective thoughts, not wholly in argument, but in illustration of what is occurring when we speak, both about ourselves and about the world, working towards the possibility of a theory, if only in the widest sense of the Greek word theōrein.
If there is a way to sketch out the bounds of Wittgenstein’s thought, perhaps it can be found in his illustrative examples, the nature of which are designed to bring forth certain aspects of language which he would like to emphasize. They do not really work so much as arguments, but rather conceptual signposts, thought-experiments, highlighting important characteristics of language which otherwise might be missed. In their very nature they must also in their emphasis suppress, or cause to fall into the background, other features not germane to his line of thinking. One could not say that Wittgenstein has brought out every salient point of language in his examples; rather, in taking his method seriously, one must assume that there are other ways of picturing and thinking about language than those he considered. It is my hope to take up just such a position, not as to say that Wittgenstein was wrong in the picture he painted of language, but rather that his explication is necessarily incomplete. By considering alternate pictures of language, a further light may be cast upon Wittgenstein’s own. Hopefully, by bringing into some relief the illustrative choices he made, so too will be made clear the nature and limits of the arguments they supported. So the ambition is to supplement an already rich oeuvre, so as to turn its explanatory power towards something more than what it already has achieved.
If Wittgenstein’s later philosophy could be characterized by a single picture of language, it seems to be that “rule-following” pictures would carry the day. Of course no philosophy can be summed in this manner, but certain thought-pictures can express the kernel of thinking which larger, over-arching arguments then explicate. In Philosophical Investigations, the picture of language that comes to mind, are those presented in the first sections of the book. It is they that establish a conceptual base from which he works. It is that they are not meant to be full or complete explanations of how language works, but as Ur-presentations, they suitably set the reader off in a direction. Perhaps one could say that they form the “ancient city” around which the more straight-lined suburbs of Wittgenstein’s descriptions of language and meaning will be built. Among these are the Five Red Apples game of section one, the Language of the Builders of section 2 (and 8-10, and 19-21). These are both designed to point up the rule-following dimension of language use, and lead up to the general concept of “language game” itself. What they present is a wholly public, and learned-by-rule picture of language. This is central to Wittgenstein’s conception. The question is: Are there other, fundamentally different pictures of language, thought experiments, which might shed other light upon the nature of language itself? And what is it that such pictures, as effective as they are, lose in their emphasis?
What I have in mind to contrast with these is the primary language picture used by Donald Davidson, taken from his professor, Quine: that of the field linguist, which shall be summarized shortly. Like Wittgenstein’s use of elemental language games, such as the Language of the Builders, such a thought-experiment is not here meant to be an argument per se; that is, one that proves Wittgenstein wrong, and Davidson right. Rather, it should be meant to be set beside Wittgenstein’s, so as to draw out the delineations of his thought, as it is presented in such examples that begin his work. As Freud once said of analogies, the do not prove anything, but they help us feel more at home. In proposing an alternate thought-picture of language, one can suggest that there is more than one way to feel more at home, in language.
Instead of a Language of Builders, Davidson, ala Quine, imagines as a fundamental picture of what goes on in language use, the occasion of a field linguist who is exposed to a native speaker whose language he knows nothing about. The reason for taking up such an example for Davidson is simple, we have no defendable account of how language is acquired, so we must make due with something more:
It might help if we knew how language came into existence in the first place, or at least could give an account of how an individual learns his first language, given that others in his environment are already linguistically accomplished. Failing such a knowledge or account, what we can do is instead ask how a competent interpreter (one with adequate conceptual resources and a language of his own) might come to understand the speaker of an alien tongue. An answer to this question should reveal some important features of communication, and throw indirect light on what makes possible a first entry into language (“Three Varieties of Knowledge.” 210)
When comparing these pictures of language, it is important to note that Wittgenstein’s language pictures of rule-followers operates somewhat rhetorically as mythic “primitive roots” of language use. He asks us for instance to understand The Language of the Builders as a “language more primitive than ours,” which nonetheless is “complete” (PI §8 ). In this way, such an imagined language operates in a mythical domain, one which conflates our unfortunate stereotype of one-word aboriginals who merely point, gesture and shout, with the very process we might ourselves undergo as children in a sufficient account of how we acquire language in the first place: how we might move from “training” to “thinking”. Apart from the cultural bias against such natives seen as “savages,” (perhaps ancient monument stone-stackers), upon which this example builds some of its satisfactory value, it is the way in which it subtly stands as a picture for aspects of language acquisition itself, that makes it both problematic, and effective. Davidson too returns to an idea of primitiveness, a seductive scene, but this time with the idea that whomever the interpreter is listening to (and in Wittgenstein’s example, we are invited to be interpreters, to understand how such a language is both like ours and not like ours, PI § 20), indeed has a complete and functioning, non-”primitive” language, just as we do.
As stated, the picture of language that Davidson begins from is that of a field linguist visiting a land with native speakers whose language is utterly unknown. It imagines a newly arrived anthropologist confronted with a native, who, in the presence of a rabbit which has just run by, shouts the word “gavagai” (Quine 52). Davidson is concerned, much like Quine before him but to much different ends (α), with what is it that is necessary to successfully interpret such a behavior/word. Quine will problematize even the translation of such a word “gavagai” into the one word sentence “Rabbit!,” but only insomuch as show the nature of an essential interdependence that does not rely on rule-following as a grounds for meaning (γ). There can be no appeal to rules between these languages. Davidson will find that what is necessary is not a specific training in language of the native, that is, an ostensive or rule-following pedagogy such that the field linguist can then justify his interpretations according to those rules, within that language, but rather, a generally assumed correspondence and coherence between his own speech (language) and that of the speaker’s (language), and the world it describes or responds to. He will follow a Tarksi-like conception of truth, such that the veracity of a sentence logically relies upon the veracity of another sentence in another language, such as in the classic example: “Snow is white” is true iff schnee ist weiß.
It is this fundamental co-incidence of sentences and effects in the world, which produces translation and meaning (β). What is important for our discussion here are not the immediate details of the justification of such an claim, but rather the elementary divergence between these two fundamental pictures of language. Each picture, those of a primitive language composed of orders and actions, and that of two language users coming to understand each other across the bounds of each of their languages, brings into clarity specific aspects of the nature of language use itself, as each thinker conceived them. Primarily, Wittgenstein’s Builders are rule-followers, Davidson’s linguist is an interpreter. These core pictures in this way allow us to see how much we are like each, rule-follower or interpreters.
Davidson in his “Three Varieties of Knowledge” thus offers a different sort of picture of what is going on at the primitive level of language use. What Davidson sees is that language use itself, even within languages that speakers share, is an occasion of interpretation. We are all, under Davidson’s picture of language, interpreters of others. All field linguists, by analogy. It is important that it be understood, much as Wittgenstein examples of rule-follower and game-players, that it is meant as an illumination, and not as a reduction, something that will “cast light” onto the nature of what we are doing (although Davidson’s example has the advantage of being something that actually occurs). What Davidson presents is a world in which people are not bound together in uses by the reference to shared rules or conventions which fix meanings and provide the sole process of justification, but rather one in which social relations are composed of a kind of immanent rationality, which displaces itself across a triangle of three domains. What Davidson will argue is that there is a trinity of knowledges of which or knowledge itself is composed: knowledge of ourselves, others, and that of the world; and that no one (or two) legs of this triangle can stand on its/their own. Any two assumes the third.
In a certain sense, Wittgenstein can be said to be, because he is arguing against a Cartesian framework of knowledge, still caught in the picture of Self/world, or Self/other, as he uses rule-following to upend one leg of the triangle or another. Adequately he plays one aspect of contiguity against another, but is yet unable to take them up into a whole, partly because he is not concerned with doing so. Philosophy has long found itself run aground upon the reefs of skepticism, either of other minds, or of the world itself, and Wittgenstein points clear of such reefs, articulating the wholeness of our communications, their fabriced interweave of interpenetrations. But perhaps because he seeks to bring out certain features of language, against mistakes made due to Cartesian pictures of bewitchment, he is confined within the space in which he engages others. The triangle cannot be taken as a whole. In a sense, Davidson’s view, when put besides Wittgenstein’s, subsumes it, and makes it more clear. It may be that within Davidson’s conception of triangulation, Wittgenstein’s standard of rule-following makes the most sense (δ).
Again, Davidson, like Wittgenstein, will turn to examples of learning, but here how one learns by what others are reacting to. Much as Wittgenstein’s primitive Five Red Apples language (PI §1) is meant to point up the poverty of ostensive definition explanations, and at the same time illustrate the kinds of elementary rule-following that indeed does appear to go on in language acquisition, Davidson will question, more conceptually, what happens when someone learns the use of words as meaningful in the world. The question is: Is there a fundamental acuity in interpretation, which is not reducible to rule-following? This will hopefully expose a primary facility of triangulation which will underlie rule-following itself.
Davidson begins with a larger description, when speaking about how objects and “aspect of the world’ get classified. All creatures indeed do classify objects, under our description, as one kind or another, but do so without language, in that they “treat stimuli as more alike than others” (212); a wolf is able to react to a sheep, as a kind of thing, just as an amoeba is able to react to either another predator amoeba, or a nutrient grade as a kind of thing. Davidson asks, what is the criterion for us saying that this is so, as observers?
The criterion of such a classifying activity is similarity of response. Evolution and subsequent learning no doubt explain these patterns of behavior. But from what point of view can these be called patterns? The criterion on the basis of which a creature can be said to be treating stimuli as similar, as belonging to a class, is the similarity of the creature’s responses to those stimuli (212)
This should be plain enough. What makes us call the behaviors of these creatures, “classification” is our observation that their behaviors before such stimuli have a similarity about them. When an amoeba is in the presence of what we might call a “predator” it behaves in a certain way, it “flees” or “hides,” but when it is in the presence of a nutrient grade, it “approaches” and “feeds”. But Davidson asks the further question, what is the “criterion of a similarity of responses” themselves? What is the standard by which we can say that their responses are similar to each other?
This criterion cannot be derived from a creature’s responses; it can only come from the response of an observer to the responses of the creature. And it is only when an observer consciously correlates the responses of another creature with objects and events in the observer’s world that there is any basis for saying the creature is responding to those objects or event rather than any other objects and events (212)
Our own classification of the similarity of another creature’s behavior, that is our own similarity of responses to that behavior, and its cause, grounds our interpretation of their behaviors, such that we can at the very least say that they are reacting to something that we too are. We are, in the most primitive sense, in agreement. And this sets up the fundamental conception of triangulation which Davidson uses to illuminate what is happening in language. An event or object in the world is taken to affect both us and another in such a way that we are able to make sense of the behavior of that other, as responding to that shared-world event. Thus there is a primary causal picture wherein the world is seen to affect both us and others.
Davidson goes on, and extends this essential relation to language use and interpretation itself, drawing forth what happens when we as language users encounter a foreign tongue we are attempting to translate:
As would be interpreters of the verbal behavior of the speaker of an alien language, we group distinct verbal acts of the speaker together: ‘Mother’, ‘Snow’, ‘Table’, when repeated as one-word sentences, sound similar if we are appropriately attuned. When we discover kind of objects or events in the world we can correlate with the utterances of the speaker, we are on the way to interpreting in the simplest of linguistic behavior (212)
Note how this picture subtly diverges from the kernel of Wittgenstein’s imagined picture of rule-following. It is not simply a matter of learning to repeat actions under command, but a larger idea of understanding that the world itself causes certain reactions, so much as to set up a connection between them. Like our interpretation of the behavior of an amoeba, what we do is correlate the behavior of the creature with events in the world assumed to be shared. In this view the events in the world have a causal relation to the behavior we are interpreting, even linguistic behavior. This is something that even non-linguistic beings do, in fact it seems, must necessarily do, and something that hence must lie very near the roots of what we do in language. When we interpret the occasions of the pronouncement of an alien word for “Table” in the presence of a regularity of an object of a recognizable kind, we are not just being given a “rule” for how to use the word “table”, as a Wittgensteinian might say. Although descriptively we can call the results of such learned behavior “rule-following” what is involved it is not reducible to such a description; rather, it is perhaps better to say that one is experiencing a causal relationship to the world and others, one in which events in the world are experienced to effect both the speaker and the interpreter. Just as we are able to correlate and interpret the behavior of an ameba as caused by the presence of an object to which we are both oriented, so too we are able to correlate the presence of an object in the world, especially in occasions of learned ostensive definition, such that object causes in some sense the behavior of the speaker. Against such a backdrop, rule-following gains stronger footing.
Davidson then turns to the supposed instance of actual language instruction, showing how as instructors we are governed by this sense of causal triangulation, such that the very orientation to a common cause in the world is the thing that helps one understand that behavior as meaningful:
If we are teaching someone a language, the situation become more complex, but more clearly interpersonal. What seems basic is this: an observer (or teacher) finds (or instills) a regularity in verbal behavior on the informant (or learner) which he can correlate with events and objects in the environment…For until the triangulation is completed connecting two creatures, and each creature with common features in the world, there can be no answer to the question whether a creature, in discriminating between stimuli, is discriminating between a stimuli at the sensory surfaces or somewhere further out, or further in (212).
In this way a causal relation to the world becomes principal in our understanding of the behavior of other creatures. The final sentences are paramount. The only thing that tells us that a creature (or speaker) is reacting to things in the world, and not to events occurring on the surface of his/her/its skin, or things below its skin (descriptions of which are readily available in science), is our correlation of their behavior with a causal connection to a shared world. What makes behavior, “behavior,” is that is can shed light upon the nature of the world itself, as an objective thing. And this stems from fundamental triangulation. It is the conceptual triangulation which at its basis gives our thought any content in the first place. Un-triangulated thought would not be “about” anything:
Without this sharing of reactions to common stimuli, thought and speech would have no particular content-that is, no content at all. It takes two points of view to give a location to the cause of a thought, and thus to define its content. We may think of it as a form of triangulation: each of two people is reacting differently to sensory stimuli streaming in from a certain direction. Projecting the incoming lines outward, the common cause is at their intersection (213)
Thus what gives thought its shape and form, and the world its confirmed substantiality is the triangulation of effects between the world, others and ourselves.
This triangulating approach to the nature of thinking, perceiving and interpreting, leads Davidson to a conception of belief that is causal. That is, because we understand others primarily through our ability to see their behavior as in some sense caused by the same things that cause our reactions as well, we come to understand the contents of the thoughts we attribute to others, as caused by events that surround them in the world. Programmed by language, events in the world can cause us to hold beliefs, fears, desires, and reasons (what can be classified as “mental predicates”). It is because we employ these predicates in our ability to get around in the world, and to understand others, this causal connection is fundamental to our knowledge of anything. And in this way, the same mental predicates conceptually act as causes of interpretable behavior themselves. To take one example of a myriad of those available, the fear I had of bees caused me to run into the house. It is core to our interpretations of mental predicates that they be understood as both caused by the world and the causes of our intentional behavior.
Yet there is a distinction to be made, for it does not seem that the way in which we speak of billiard balls is not the same way that we speak of fears and beliefs. Davidson explains that indeed there is a fundamental difference in the way that we relate to causes in the world, and the causal conception of mental predicates which govern our ability to understand the intentional actions of others (ε). Because we read the behaviors of others as interpretations of the world itself, our ability to causally connect those behaviors (the beliefs, desire and reasons) to the world presents a disjunction that makes our concepts about the world distinct from those that govern intentionality. To show how the causes of the world and the causal conceptions we have of beliefs and desires are distinct, he takes up the difference in the kinds of descriptions that may be thought of as causal, for instance those of physical properties such as “the rigidity of the wing caused its failure” and those of mental states, such as “his desire to be healthy caused him to go on a diet”:
In the case of causal properties like elasticity, slipperiness, malleability, or solubility, we tend to think, rightly or wrongly, that what they leave unexplained can be (or already has been) explained by the advance of science…Mental concepts and explanations are not like this. They appeal to causality because they are designed, like the concept of causality itself, to single out from the totality of circumstances which conspire to cause a given event just those factors that satisfy some particular explanatory interest. When we want to explain an action, for example, we want to know the agent’s reasons, so we can see for ourselves what it was about the action that appealed to the agent (216)
In this way, there is a divide in the manner in which we interpret the events of the world, and events of intention, though both are causally understood. “Descriptions of objects, states and events” fall under the capacity for “strict, exceptionless laws,” yet do not contain “causal concepts” (216). Another way of putting this is that our language games about what occurs outside of us is fundamentally different than that which occurs within or between us, and with this Wittgenstein would have no problem at all-in many senses this is his main point. What Davidson adds to this though, is that these two ways of speaking, that of how the world is, and how we are, are related in that one employs causal laws in one (for instance the Newton’s Law of Gravity), and for the other, causal concepts (that is that our mental states can cause us to act in one way or another, and that these states can be caused by the world).
It is here that we stumble upon a very deep divide between the thinkers, for Wittgenstein makes a rather strong distinction between a reason and cause, in some sense vital to his criterion for what makes a language a language. In his rule-following vision, what is linguistic is the reference to an independent standard for correctness, without which we would not even have the idea of correctness in play. This lies that the core of his so-named Private Language argument. So when envisioning the possibility of a private language, he questions how a distinction one makes for oneself, in a wholly private way, could even be considered a distinction:
But “I impress it on myself” can only mean: this process brings it about that remember the connexion right in the future. But in the present case I have no criterion of correctness. One would like to say: whatever is going to seem right to me is right. And that only means that here we cannot talk about ‘right’ (PI §258 )
Davidson agrees with the impossibility of a private language, but grounds his perspective not on a question of rule-following, and justification, but upon an overall coherence of knowledge about the world and others, one such that enables language to get off the ground in the first place. What Wittgenstein importantly tries to do, instead, is place within the domain of the privately inner, a possible world of causation, events that may or may not happen in the head in a patterned manner, reference to which would only be like “buying several copies of the morning newspaper” to check for error (PI §265), or an empty “ceremony” (PI §258), or “a wheel that can be turned though nothing moves with it, is not part of the mechanism” (PI §271), which is distinct from the world of reasons, that which appeals to an outside, independent standards of use. It is upon this independent criterion of use that the possibility of a private language is foreclosed. In this sense, both thinkers agree that it is the connection with the outside world which makes linguistic distinctions linguistic, but in Davidson’s case it is the entire causal connections between world and fellow users, while for Wittgenstein the argument is narrowed to the idea of rule-following alone, something that requires him to entertain a primary difference between reasons (independently confirmed) and causes (internal events).
Wittgenstein puts forth his most clear conception of the difference between a cause and reason in the first pages of The Blue Book. The difference is between something that just happens to happen in one’s head, in a causal fashion, and the appeal to a rule that has been taught you to:
Suppose I pointed to a piece of paper and said to someone: “this colour I call ‘red’”. Afterwards I gave him the order: “now paint me a red patch”. I then ask him: “why, in carrying out my order, did you paint just his colour?” His answer could then be: “This colour (pointing to the sample) which I have given him was called red; and the patch I have painted has, as you see, the colour of the sample.” He has now given me a reason for carrying out the order in the way he did. Giving the reason for something one did or said means showing a way which leads to this action (11).
Notice the distinct difference in language-picture Wittgenstein holds from Davidson, at this level. Where Wittgenstein imagines an elementary use of “samples” and “rules”, serving as a kind of template for how language operates, Davidson sees a causal picture wherein, for instance, in the presence of the color red, that similarity of stimuli, the subject is caused, due to being conditioned by language, to holding the belief that “that is red,” and hence led to proposing a rule to be followed. The student of red, who in Wittgenstein’s case is merely learning a rule, in Davidson’s case might still be said to be learning a rule, but a rule that is grounded in a larger triangulation of causes, which gives the world its objective appearance, (and also implies a necessary knowledge of other minds).
But let us turn to Wittgenstein’s example of what is not a reason:
[if you ask] “Why did you pain just this colour when I told you to paint a red patch?” you may give the answer: “I have been shown a sample of this colour and the word “red” was pronounced to me at the same time; and therefore this colour now always comes to my mind when I hear the word ‘red’”, then you have given a cause for your action and not a reason (15)
From this distinction one can plainly see the same distinction which works in Wittgenstein’s argument against private languages. The domain of the inner, is that of mental events seems to circulate without justification, or appeal to an outside standard. There is no sense of right or wrong, no difference between merely thinking you are following a rule, and actually following a rule.
And Wittgenstein clarifies the reasons why he is not concerned with statement of the kind “this colour now always comes to my mind”, a description of causes, that is, because he is not interested in science or natural history: “But our interest does not fall back upon these possible causes of the formation of concepts; we are not doing natural science; nor yet natural history…” (PI p 195). Quite rightly, Davidson would agree with not wanted to do science, for such an approach would be attempting to speak of the intentional, in the language of strict laws which mark out the way we speak of the world. There is a quintessential dividing line there, but such a line, for Davidson, does not cover mental predicates.
Wittgenstein’s strong distinction between reason and cause seems to cover over their relation. We would agree that saying that the this is the color that pops into my mind when I hear the word “red” tells us next to nothing, yet, we should also agree that “His belief that this color is ‘red’ caused him to paint such a color” not only makes sense (ζ), but also is illuminative. This is because, Davidson would tell us, there is a holism of beliefs, that is, we attribute beliefs (and other mental predicates) to others and ourselves in a rational manner, such that they cohere together in such a way that assumed beliefs shed light on other beliefs also attributed or expressed, and these beliefs are largely taken to be true about the world. Assumed beliefs is what positions us in a field of knowledge of others and the world. He puts it this way:
Any particular belief may indeed by false; but enough in the framework and fabric of our beliefs must be true to give content to the rest. The conceptual connections between our knowledge of our own minds [that is, to possess a first person authority] and our knowledge of the world of nature are not definitional but holistic. The same is true of the conceptual connections between our knowledge of behavior and our knowledge of other minds (214)
In the simplest of examples, the mental predication ”I fear bees” may be thought of as coherent with other beliefs such as “Bees exist”, “That is a bee”, “Bees will sting me”, “It is difficult to escape bees”, “Bee are unpredictable” and a panoply of unstated others. In principle, it is this shift from definition to holism which allows Davidson to indeed say that our connections between ourselves, others and the world are not fully enough explained by any reference to “sample” and “rule”. Rather, it is the way that we indeed do understand others as having expressed, and very much non-expressed beliefs (desires, fears, etc.), such that they hang together, that gives us to understand “reasons” as caused. We may very well exercise the processes of justification which Wittgenstein champions, pointing to samples, evoking rules which justify our actions, but this can only be done in the larger context of a triangulation in which our beliefs and reasons are seen to be caused by a shared world, and cause (explain) our actions, for only in such a determination are the proper aspects of the world picked out between speakers.
Davidson finalizes his triangulation as an incorporation of both a Correspondence Theory and a Coherence Theory, wherein each plays its indispensable part in stabilizing discourse, an assumption which is regularly and necessarily made in the spirit of charity, maximizes the interpretability of speech.
The Principle of Coherence prompts the interpreter to discover a degree of logical consistency in the thought of the speaker; the Principle of Correspondence prompts the interpreter to take the speaker to be responding to the same features of the world that he (the interpreter) would be responding to under similar circumstances. Both principles can (and have been) called principles of charity (211)
We understand the world, and we understand others because we have formed, within the capacities of language, the possibility to hold beliefs about the world, and attribute beliefs about the world to others, even those with whom we share no language at all (in the case of the field linguist). Indeed there need not be reference to any rule (or sample) at all to understand others (though it can always help). This coherence of beliefs indeed provides something more than knowledge, either of ourselves, or others or the world. It has a normativity, in fact an inescapable normativity, which governs the interpretability of our actions. Apart from our ability to point to samples and rules, in occasions of justification, it is over all our ability to appear relatively coherent in our beliefs, such as others can ascribe them to us, that provides the backdrop for all our communicative action.
Whereas Wittgenstein might turn to the idea of whether indeed someone did or did not follow a rule so as to ascertain whether they were “right,” Davidson would say that the vital difference is between true and false belief about the world, in that, “…an interpreter must separate meaning from opinion partly on normative grounds by deciding what, from his point of view, maximizes intelligibility” (215). It is not that one has incorrectly pointed to a sample, and played the rules of the game wrong, fundamentally so, but that one has expressed a belief in some way which has shown itself to be false or incoherent with others. Indeed there is an independent standard which justifies our actions, but this is the triangulation of the world, others and ourselves, as it plays out. And this shows itself in Davidson’s principal thought experiment about language, that of the field interpreter alone in a strange land. Missing are any of the recognizable references to rules which make up his own linguistic practices, but in fact he would be able to eventually understand the words and gestures of a native, across conventions. Interestingly, Wittgenstein himself alludes to such a capability at PI §206, “The common behavior of mankind is the system of reference by means of which we interpret an unknown language”. But Wittgenstein only has it partly right, Davidson would say. In invoking a “system of reference” found only in behavior, Wittgenstein is perhaps still a bit too much of a behaviorist, despite his self-inoculations against the position. There is no “system of reference” per se. Such a commonality is, rather than that of behavior alone, the linguistic capacity to hold beliefs, which hold together in a largely rational whole, such that others can ascribe them to us, and we to others; and such that they can be said to be caused by the world, and in turn cause our intentional actions. If Davidson is right, Wittgenstein’s behavioral “system of reference” is none other the capacity to triangulate the world.
α. It is important to note that Quine is an empiricist, and that his thought experiment is designed to isolate specific kinds of stimulus-meaning sentences, as privileged above others. Davidson see no such capacity, and attacks this empiricist line of thinking rather thoroughly in his “On The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme” (196).
β. “Consider ‘gavagai’. Who knows the objects to which the term applies are not rabbits after all, but mere stages, or brief temporal segments, of rabbits? In either event the stimulus situations that prompt assent to “Gavagai” would be the same for “Rabbit.” Or perhaps the objects to which “Gavagai” applies are all sundry and detached parts of rabbits: again the stimulus meaning would register no difference. When from sameness of stimulus meaning of “Gavagai” and “Rabbit” the linguist leaps to the conclusion that a gavagai is a whole enduring rabbit, he is just raking for granted that the native is enough like us to have a brief general term for rabbits and no brief general term for rabbit-stages or parts” (52).
γ. Davidson’s crystallization of truth as interpretation, which he calls “Radical Interpretation” runs as follows: “The intrepid interpreter, working without a bilingual trot, seeks to assign a propositional content to the utterances of a speaker. In effect he assigns a sentence of his own to each of the sentences of the speaker. To the extent that he gets things right, the interpreter’s sentences provide the truth conditions of the speaker’s sentences, and hence supply the basis for the interpretation of the speaker’s utterances. The result can be thought of as a recursive characterization of truth, by the interpreter, of the sentences, and hence actual and potential utterances, of the speaker” (210).
δ. Davidson himself addresses the Wittgenstein origin of such pursuits, but also suggests the incompleteness of that treatment: “Someone who has a belief about the world-or anything else-must grasp the concept of objective truth, of what is the case independent of what he or she thinks. We must ask, therefore, after the source of the concept of truth. Wittgenstein puts us on the track of the only possible answer to this question, whether or not his problem was as broad as ours, and whether or not he believed in answers to philosophical problems. The source of the concept of objective truth is interpersonal communication” (209).
ε. He stakes this difference upon Quine’s essential difference between the Underdetermination of Theory and the Indeterminancy of Translation, a specific argument of differences which I will not approach in detail here.
ζ. That is, sentences of this kind are part of the “grammar” of the word belief.
[Part III here]