Radical Interpretation

Discipline: Philosophy

A notion similar to that of Willard Van Orman Quine (1908-2000) (indeterminacy of translation), thought of primarily in connection with Donald Davidson (1930-2003) and his truth-conditional theory of meaning (see convention t).

To construct axioms suitable for deriving a theory of meaning for an alien language, we must interpret the utterances of its speakers. It is here that we have to engage in radical interpretation, aided now in choosing (but never conclusively) between the alternatives by the principle of charity, to which was later added that of humanity.

Unlike Quine, however, Davidson does not envisage different speakers having radically different conceptual schemes (see perspectivism). Rather, radical interpretation requires one to choose (upon occasion) between attributing false beliefs to one's interlocutor and taking his utterances to mean something different from what they seem to mean at first sight; neither of these involves attributing to him a different conceptual scheme.

D Davidson, 'Radical Interpretation', Dialectica (1973); reprinted in D Davidson, Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (1984)


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