Repository logo

Donald Davidson: meaning, triangulation, and convention




Thompson, Jesse Arlis, author
Losonsky, Michael, advisor
McShane, Katie, committee member
Trembath, Paul, committee member

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


This thesis examines a narrow portion of Donald Davidson's work in the philosophy of language, specifically his theory of utterance meaning put forward in the essay "The Second Person". In light of certain counterexamples I first attempt to adjust Davidson's theory, guided by a comment that suggests Davidson's awareness of the problem. When no satisfactory means of amending Davidson's proposal is found, I turn to the alternative proposals rejected by Davidson in the hopes of finding motivation to continue pursuing Davidson's arguments. The second chapter is devoted to Davidson's rejection of what I call the "subjectivist" position. I contend that while Davidson provides a strong argument against subjectivism, that argument entails further complications that Davidson fails to resolve. Since an adequate rejection of a position should involve an alternative that reduces or eliminates difficulties rather than simply transforms them, I conclude that Davidson has failed to motivate his move away from subjectivism. The third chapter is a discussion of Davidson's arguments against what I call "conventionalism". Here I show that while Davidson argues convincingly against a particular role that conventions might play, he does not motivate a move away from a broader understanding of conventionalism. At best, Davidson's arguments show that the conventionalist position should be amended, but not that it should be rejected. The result is that Davidson's theory enjoys a rather deflated place among theories of utterance meaning. The alternatives, while suffering from their own defects, are no more problematic than Davidson's theory. Consequently, we ought to consider each of these theories possible solutions to the problem of utterance meaning.


Rights Access


The Second Person


Associated Publications