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Radical interpretation and high-functioning autistic speakers: A defense of Davidson on thought and language

Philosophical Psychology 19 (5):639-662 (2006)
Donald Davidson argues in "Thought and Talk" that all speakers must be interpreters of other speakers: linguistic competence requires the possession of intentional concepts and the ability to attribute intentional states to other people. Kristin Andrews (in Philosophical Psychology, 15) has argued that empirical evidence about autism undermines this theoretical claim, for some individuals with autism lack the requisite "theory of mind" skills to be able to interpret, yet are competent speakers. In this paper, Davidson is defended on the grounds that the high-functioning autistic individuals in question have a more robust theory of mind than has been acknowledged, and that this is sufficient for them to be interpreters of other speakers. It is argued, further, that Davidson's theory would remain intact even if one or more autistic speakers lacking a theory of mind were to exist, as he makes conceptual claims about thought and language that are not vulnerable to empirical counterexamples
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