Blinded By Words: Philosophy As The Mirror Of Confusion

Richard Sørli


In an autobiographical essay Donald Davidson (1999: 41) informs the reader about his
encounter with the manuscript for what was to become Quine's Word and Object. We are
told that Quine's central point, the idea that there can be no more to meaning than
what can be learned by being exposed to the linguistic behaviour of speakers, made a
great impression on Davidson. He regards the appreciation of this idea as
constituting the biggest step forward in our understanding of language since the
onset of 'the linguistic turn'. The idea has to do with how we should understand the
relationship between words and meaning, and Quine's way of monitoring the linguistic
behaviour of speakers is seen by Davidson as a contribution to detach our conception
of language from a mythology about meanings. After reading Quine, the idea that words
have some wonderful thing called a meaning to which those words have somehow become
attached, and, accordingly, that the learning process is seen as just putting the
learner in touch with that meaning, no longer has any strength. Davidson then adds
that the perspective fleshed out by Quine doesn't seem so startling to anyone who has
read the Wittgenstein of the Investigations.


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; use; practice; philosophy; dogmatism; teaching philosophy; therapy

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