Answering to the world language and normativity in Gadamer and Davidson

Gregory Allen Lynch, Fordham University


As a number of recent articles have shown, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Donald Davidson articulate accounts of human cognition that are surprisingly similar given their different backgrounds. For both thinkers, subjectivity, intersubjectivity, and objectivity are mutually interdependent, and for both it is in language that these three streams converge. However, there are also deep differences between Gadamer and Davidson, differences that have received considerably less attention in the literature. This project focuses on a central point of divergence between the two: their accounts of the place of normativity in the intentional relationship that unites our thoughts and words with the world. Davidson endorses a causal account of intentionality, one that he is aware cannot, of itself, explain the normative dimension of the mental. He attempts to supply the needed norms by locating them in the procedure of the 'radical interpreter' whose task it is to attribute beliefs and meanings to speakers. This attempt, however, fails. Because he grounds meaning in interpretation, Davidson's position cannot but lead to a pragmatist account of truth—one that is not only deeply problematic, but also in direct conflict with Davidson's own realist position. Recognizing this tension in Davidson's thought serves to motivate the alternative picture of intentionality that Gadamer articulates in Truth and Method. On Gadamer's account, the world to which our beliefs and utterances are directed is not a mere collection of stimuli, and our relationship to it is more than simply causal. The world is a horizon of inherently meaningful and independently existing states of affairs, and as such it can exert a rational, not merely causal, influence on our beliefs about it. Because Gadamer locates the normativity that characterizes the mental in the intentional relationship itself, rather than in communicative interactions, he can avoid the troubling pragmatist conclusions to which Davidson's account ultimately leads.

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Recommended Citation

Lynch, Gregory Allen, "Answering to the world language and normativity in Gadamer and Davidson" (2013). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3563428.