Semantic Determinants and Psychology as a Science

Erkenntnis 49 (1):57 - 91 (1998)
Abstract
One central but unrecognized strand of the complex debate between W. V. Quine and Donald Davidson over the status of psychology as a science turns on their disagreement concerning the compatibility of strict psychophysical, semantic-determining laws with the possibility of error. That disagreement in turn underlies their opposing views on the location of semantic determinants: proximal (on bodily surfaces) or distal (in the external world). This paper articulates these two disputes, their wider context, and argues that both are fundamentally misconceived. There is no special tension between error and strict semantic-determining laws; moreover, the purported bearing of that issue on the dispute over the location of semantic determinants depends upon a mistaken conception of the relation between the nomic status of generalizations and degree of distance between explanans and explananda. Finally, the wider significance of these conclusions for related contemporary debates is noted. And independent considerations about the possibility of communication, also present in Quine's and Davidson's thinking, are brought to bear on the question of the location of semantic determinants
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