Authored by: Piers Rawling

The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Philosophy

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138933552
eBook ISBN: 9781315678481
Adobe ISBN:


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Donald Davidson was one of the foremost Anglo-American philosophers of the second half of the twentieth century. He made important contributions in several major areas of philosophy – including philosophy of language, philosophy of action, philosophy of mind, and metaphysics – and he is notable for his systematic approach. Piers Rawling begins by placing Davidson in the context of Quine and Wittgenstein, and sees them all as united in rejecting the ‘conventional’ account of language and meaning. In addition, a principle that is key to understanding many of Davidson’s views emerges: the manifestation principle. This states that there can be nothing more to the meaning of a speaker’s words than can be gleaned from observation, where this observation is necessarily guided by certain maxims of interpretation, collectively known as the ‘principle of charity’ (a principle of particular relevance to translators and translation theorists). But the principle of charity does not force unique interpretations. Indeed, interpretation, on Davidson’s view, is inevitably indeterminate: there are myriad interpretations of a given speaker that all account for the data equally well, and no one of them is uniquely ‘correct’. Other topics covered include ‘radical’ interpretation, Davidson’s application of Tarski’s definition of truth, his argument to the effect that thought requires ‘triangulation’, his denial that there is any such thing as a ‘conceptual scheme’, his ‘anomalous monism’, holism about meaning and thought, and his claim that there is no thought without talk. In the end, Rawling is sceptical of the manifestion principle. But, even if it fails, Davidson’s work in showing us where it leads is invaluable. We are left, perhaps, with a ‘modus ponens – modus tollens stand-off’: both sides agree that the manifestation principle has various consequences. One side denies at least some of these consequences, and thus rejects the principle; the other accepts the principle and hence its consequences.

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