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Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation$
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Donald Davidson

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780199246298

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0199246297.001.0001

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On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme

On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme

(p.183) 13 On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme
Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation

Donald Davidson

Oxford University Press

Davidson attacks the intelligibility of conceptual relativism, i.e. of truth relative to a conceptual scheme. He defines the notion of a conceptual scheme as something ordering, organizing, and rendering intelligible empirical content, and calls the position that employs both notions scheme‐content dualism. He argues that such dualism (the ‘third, and perhaps, last dogma of empiricism’) is untenable since: (1) not only can we not parcel out empirical content sentence per sentence (as Quine's rejection of the analytic‐synthetic distinction had shown) but also (2) the notion of uninterpreted content to which several schemes are relative, and the related notion of a theory ‘fitting the evidence’, can be shown to lack intelligibility too. Davidson argues further that belief in incommensurable schemes or non‐intertranslatable languages is possible only on violating a correct understanding of interpretability (developed in Essays 9 and 10): if we succeed in interpreting someone else then we have shown there is no need to speak of two conceptual schemes, while if we fail ‘there is no ground for speaking of two.’

Keywords:   analytic‐synthetic distinction, conceptual relativism, conceptual schemes, empirical content, empiricism, Quine, scheme‐content dualism

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