Linguistic practice and its discontents: Quine and Davidson on the source of sense

Philosophers' Imprint 4 (1):1-37 (2004)
Abstract
A rich tradition in philosophy takes truths about meaning to be wholly determined by how language is used; meanings do not guide use of language from behind the scenes, but instead are fixed by such use. Linguistic practice, on this conception, exhausts the facts to which the project of understanding another must be faithful. But how is linguistic practice to be characterized? No one has addressed this question more seriously than W. V. Quine, who sought for many years to formulate a conception of use that makes sense of certain key features of meaning. The nature, development, and adequacy of his formulations are here explored. All are found to fall short of what he wanted to achieve. Donald Davidson has introduced significant variations on Quine's project. The resulting position is also examined, but likewise found to be problematic. Finally, a neo-Quinean conception is sketched, as are some of the problems such a view would have to surmount.
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