Thursday, May 24, 2007

Davidson ends up agreeing with Gadamer on a great number of issues

Daniel Says: May 24th, 2007 at 3:55 am The main text for the attack on the scheme/content dualismis “On The Very Idea Of A Conceptual Scheme.” “A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge” and “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs” are also quite good, and deal with similar topics. (Davidson himself went a bit sour on “A Coherence Theory…”, but that’s mainly because the title is so bad — as he notes in “Afterthoughts” what he discusses there is not a theory of knowledge, nor is his understanding of truth a coherence theory.)
His later stuff is a lot more interesting than any of the essays in “Actions and Events.” Even “Mental Events” looks pretty lousy compared to “Three Varieties of Knowledge” (or most of the other essays in Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective). Actually, most of his work is unimpressive next to “Three Varieties of Knowledge.”
The dualism Davidson is concerned with is that between (conceptual) scheme and (empirical) content — the idea that there is something immediately given to us (raw feels, sense data, nerve stimulation) which we then filter through our “conceptual scheme” (language, point of view, culture), and that this mediated product is what we actually are able to think about, perceive, or in general have cognitive access to (consciously or unconsciously). He makes the point that what is supposed to be “immediate” here ends up playing no normative role; “what is a reason for what” is a conceptual matter. But then it makes no sense to say that in thought we “apply” our conceptual scheme to something given, since the “given” here has no say in what we do with our scheme — it’s not the sort of thing which can have a normative function. But then there’s no sense in claiming that our “scheme” is somehow mediating between us and reality; having the world in view is an exercise of our conceptual capacities.
Davidson’s immediate target in “On The Very Idea” is Quine, but he recognizes that he’s dealing with a lot of folk: he mentions Sapir & Whorf, Kuhn, and Kant as all party to the dogma of scheme and content, as well as most of the rest of modern philosophy. I take it that something similar is at work when Continental thinkers suggest that we are somehow “trapped” inside our language, our historical epoch, etc. rather than having actual access to “Being.” Deleuze does a better job of chasing away “Cartesian ghosts” than his Continental brethren.
Fully agreed in distrusting the analytic/continental divide; I was mostly joking when I suggested it would be wrong to bring Davidson into the picture here. Davidson ends up agreeing with Gadamer on a great number of issues, though they came to their conclusions through very different routes; John McDowell has also expressed a great admiration for Gadamer. McDowell is with Brandom in trying to rehabilitate Hegel, and has done a better job of it to my mind. And of course Rorty never so much as paid lip-service to the analytic/continental divide. Even Sellars was drawing pretty heavily on Hegel; it just didn’t show up because Sellar’s Hegelianism mainly showed up in how he made use of Kant.

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