Davidson on properties

Dialectica 52 (1):13–22 (1998)
Donald Davidson claims that, by studying the most general aspects of natural language, we will also be studying the most general aspects of reality.In particular, this means that, through the application of a systematic truththeory to natural language, we will be able to reveal its basic structure, its true logical form. Once this logical form has been spelled out, we will be able to determine the finite stock of important constituents of which sentences are built, and also the specific roles these “atoms” play in the relevant structure. Since the structure of language can be said to “mirror” the structure of reality, this also means that we can now say something about the basic constituents of the world. We will be able to tell which kinds of entities exist and which do not. If, by spelling out the logical form, we find that there is a sentence (or several sentences) committing us to the existence of a certain (kind of) object (i.e. a sentence where an object (of this kind)serves as the value of a quantified variable) and, if we know the sentence to be true, then we have good reason to suppose that there is an object (of that kind) rather than not. This will hold given that there is no other way of spelling out the logical form of the sentence in question that is compatible with the nonexistence of that (kind of) object. So what exists is what, according to the (complete) theory, functions as values of the quantified variables, once thelogical form, the basic structure, of all the sentences of the language has been spelled out. Davidson has claimed that what all this quantificational structure will demand from ontology is the existence of objects and particular events. This should be taken somewhat at faith. In order to reach valid conclusions concerning the logical form of natural language, Davidson would have to examine allof its true sentences, and state allof their truth conditions, which he has not done. For practical reasons he has only been able to look at small segments of language, to consider how they normally function, to attempt to exhibit their logical structure by looking at entailment-relations, etc., and it is from this that he has drawn his ontological conclusions. In this paper, I concentrate on some of the likely consequences of the adoption of this method of reaching ontological conclusions. In particular, I will try to show that Davidson’s own way of arguing for the existence of events can be applied to cases where he seemingly would have to commit himself to the existence of properties too. To demonstrate this, I begin by considering whether the fact that Davidson spells out the logical form of natural language in first-order logic raises a serious objection to my claim or not. I then proceed by making a case for properties using an argument based on what Davidson has to say about the existence of events. What I will try to show is that, if Davidson is to be true to his general method of reaching conclusions regarding existence, which he claims to be, then he must go where this method leads him. This means that he has to keep his mind open as to the kinds of entities he should or should not allow. Finally, assuming that I have shown properties to be one of the different kinds of entities that a Davidsonian would have to allow, I conclude the paper by indicating what the consequence(s) of this may be.
Keywords Davidson  Properties  Events  Logical Form
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DOI 10.1111/j.1746-8361.1998.tb00037.x
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