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258Philosophy and Literature communicative action that is based on a standard rather than a "natural right." According to Habermas, "a claim can ... be made for a cognitive foundation for the power of common convictions." It follows — and this is the gist of his own theory defined and refined in the light of others' — that power, "moored in fundamentally criticizable claims to validity," can be resolved discursively (p. 184). In the critique of ideology, theory and practice are one. The collection also includes profiles of Karl Lowith, Ernst Bloch, and Herbert Marcuse; missing from this otherwise excellent translation are seven more found in the (second) German edition. On the whole, the volume is as much an invitation to reconsider the physiognomies of major recent thinkers as it is a chance to observe the hand that drew them with such clarity and commitment. University of OregonKarla Lydia Schultz Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation, by Donald Davidson ; 292 pp. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984, $10.95. In these eighteen brief articles — written during a period of as many years — Donald Davidson has done something considerable: he has developed a comprehensive program for the study of language-meaning and the explanation of linguistic behavior. In a field where the work of even the most distinguished practitioners has tended to be confined to analyzing isolated aspects of language use (e.g., Russell's account of describing expressions, Austin's of speech acts, Wittgenstein's of elementary "language games"), the great merit of Davidson's program is that it is the first one which is capable of detailed elaboration and testing. Now, to praise the program in this way is precisely not to imply that it has been fully elaborated or shown to be correct. But it remains that all work in philosophy of language needs to be reconsidered in relation to the theory outlined by Davidson. Given the aims of philosophical analysis, the special difficulty with the concept of meaning is this: it is hard to see how to give an explanation of the concept which does not presuppose most of what it is intended to elucidate. Davidson starts from Gottlob Frege's insight that it may be possible to give a "groundupwards " account of the meaning of a sentence by appealing to its truth-conditions. It remained for Alfred Tarski, however, to provide a logical theory of truth sufficiently explanatory to play the required part in a theory of meaning along these lines. In Davidson's first crucial article, "Truth and Meaning" (1967 — essay 2 Reviews259 here), he suggests a way of converting Tarski's semantic theory for formal languages into one for natural language. This is the core of Davidson's program, but with a phenomenon as complex as that of a natural language in actual use by a speech-community, the periphery of such an account must be adequate to show how behavioral specifics can be connected in a uniform way to the overall theory which purports to explain them. In a second crucial paper, "Radical Interpretation" (1973 — essay 9), Davidson offers a generalization of W.V.O. Quine's ideas about radical translation between languages so that, given a group of speakers whose utterances are uninterpreted, only a truth-theory and a sufficiently large body of observations of speakers' behavior in utterance situations are needed to arrive at an interpretation of what they say. The other articles in the collection explore various philosophical problems related to the employment and understanding of linguistic expressions in light of these complementary notions of truth and interpretation. Everyone interested in topics which are essentially language-related should read, or at least read in, these Inquiries: besides philosophers, this would include social scientists and students of the humanities. For literary critics, most of whom are used to linguistic, semiotic approaches to the study of language, this material will present an overall difficulty, in that it will force them to adjust to a logical, semantic viewpoint; balancing this, though, will be the overall benefit of a perspective on language wider than that of the Saussurian tradition, with its localistic bias toward conceiving problems of signification as relative to individual sign systems (English, French, Chinese, or for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 258-259
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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