Quine on the Indeterminacy of Translation: A Dilemma for Davidson

Dialectica 72 (1):101-120 (2018)
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Davidson has always been explicit in his faithful adherence to the main doctrines of Quine’s philosophy of language, among which the indeterminacy of translation thesis is significant. For Quine, the indeterminacy of translation has considerable ontological consequences, construed as leading to a sceptical conclusion regarding the existence of fine-grained meaning facts. Davidson’s suggested reading of Quine’s indeterminacy arguments seems to be intended to block any such sceptical consequences. According to this reading, Quine’s arguments at most yield the conclusion that there are always different ways of representing the facts about meaning, rather than the sceptical conclusion that there are no such facts. It is, however, puzzling how Davidson can endorse the main premises of Quine’s arguments, i.e. his general physicalistic view and his thesis of the indeterminacy of translation, and yet resist the arguments’ sceptical outcome. I will argue that Davidson’s construal of Quine’s thesis of the indeterminacy of translation is unjustified and faces a problematic dilemma.



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Ali Hossein Khani
Iranian Institute of Philosophy (IRIP)

References found in this work

Two Dogmas of Empiricism.Willard V. O. Quine - 1951 - Philosophical Review 60 (1):20–43.
Word and Object.Willard Van Orman Quine - 1960 - Les Etudes Philosophiques 17 (2):278-279.
On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme.Donald Davidson - 1973 - Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 47:5-20.
Knowing One’s Own Mind.Donald Davidson - 1987 - Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 60 (3):441-458.
Mental Events.Donald Davidson - 1970 - In L. Foster & J. W. Swanson (eds.), Experience and Theory. Humanities Press.

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