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August 21, 2008

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re: 3: I understand Davidson here to be conceiving the speaker as speaking to himself about his words. This is why the usual "-in-L" clause is dropped from the Tarski-style truth definition for his sentence.

This is made clear by the next sentence, which you did not quote: "An interpreter has no reason to assume that this will be his best way of stating the truth conditions of the speaker's utterance."

Presumably, the interpreter's best go at saying what the speaker meant will involve putting a sentence they understand on the right side of the biconditional: Perhaps they think "Wagner died happy" is too ambiguous as worded, and so regard the speaker's utterance as true IFF Richard Wagner died happy, or some other way of putting what she thinks the speaker meant by "Wagner died happy".

In general, the interpreter gets the truth-conditions of the sentences of the speaker by translating them into a language she understands. The speaker has no need of this; he knew what he meant in the first place, and has no need to use another language to give the truth-conditions of his utterance. He can simply disquote it, since the language he uses remains his language. (If he doesn't understand what he says himself, then he's suffering from a moment of irrationality, and hence can adopt the interpreter's standpoint towards his own utterances, putting them in words he understands if he can make sense of the problematic utterance at all. But he can only do this by using his own words, hence he can't be irrational at all times without it becoming impossible for him to understand what he says.)

I think your remarks about the conversational ineptness of "My utterance of Wagner died happy is true if and only if Wagner died happy" are thus irrelevant. (Though I grant that that it would be inept and/or rude to so speak.) For if the speaker is trying to help his interpreter understand his utterance, then he has to speak in terms she understands. If she didn't understand "Wagner died happy" when she heard it the first time, repeating it probably won't help; he will have to find another way to put it, or find some other way to make clear what he intended to have been taken to mean by the sentence. Which is the sort of thing you have going on in your imagined scenario.

On 2: I do not have anything nice to say about the Swampman mess, except to note that Davidson regretted ever writing it later on. Though I don't think that presuming knowledge of the causal history of the speaker causes the skeptical problem you pose: It merely makes the demand that if one claims to understand a speaker, one must also presume some knowledge of the speaker's causal history (such as that the waiter calls glasses "glasses" and houses "houses"). I think you're simply wrong when you say we haven't the foggiest where a waiter learned to speak, in most cases: I am sure that the vast majority of waiters who have served my table learned English as children, in more or less the usual manner children learn English -- or if they didn't, then they anyway learned in a way that still issued in a normal sort of fluency in English. (Any such case would distinguish them from Swampman, who never learned anything from anywhere because he's only been around for a few minutes, and one can't learn when one isn't around.) I don't know (nor do I claim to know) many details about how they learned to use the words they use when asking me what I'd like to drink this evening, but the details aren't important -- the broad, general descriptions of their causal history are those which are relevant for determining the meanings of their words. I don't need to know of any specific instances in which a waiter handled glasses to be able to know that they have, on some occasion or other, had some sort of causal link to glasses. (For if they hadn't, they wouldn't be able to speak intelligibly about glasses. So if they appear to be speaking intelligently about glasses, this is evidence of such a causal history.)

I think your skeptical worry can only come up if one presumes that we are generally ignorant of the histories of our interlocutors. I think that's simply false -- two speakers generally know (in a broad sense) where each of them comes from; when this is less true, communication becomes more difficult -- and when it is entirely false, communication is impossible.

Hey, it worked.

I don't think Davidson is thinking of the speaker as speaking to himself about his words (and, obviously, I don't think the next sentence makes that clear). The situation is one in which the speaker is "bending whatever knowledge and craft he can to the task of saying what his words mean"; saying this, I take it, to his listener. But even if you're right about the imagined circumstances of the utterance of this sentence, it still strikes me as bizarre.

I wonder when you might actually say to yourself My utterance of Wagner died happy is true iff Wagner died happy. Perhaps you can't make yourself understood to anyone around you, and you're trying to assure yourself that, anyway, you know what you mean, you're sensible, not crazy, etc. (Or maybe you are speaking gibberish, but it's not gibberish to you.) Because plainly you couldn't answer any real question about meaning through such self-assurance, which amounts to little more than saying "whatever I meant, that's what I meant". This schema is utterly unproductive; you can't get anywhere with it. First-person authority ought to amount to more than each person's being able confidently to aver that "A" denotes A in his idiolect.

I deny both that if one doesn't understand (in something like the sense of understanding that the teacher who does not want regurgitated phrases is looking for) what one says, one is being irrational, and that in instances where this T-schema fails (which aren't the same as cases of in which one doesn't understand oneself or one is being irrational; neither of those conditions obtains in the case of verbal flubs, which would invalidate the schema) one acts towards oneself as an interpreter towards another. I am not to myself, when I say that by "movie" I meant "plane", as I would be to Rev. Spooner, when I say that by "shoving leopard" he meant "loving shepherd"—I see no reason to invoke a passing theory here and, on the contrary, think that thinking one did need to invoke one would amount to a denial of any interesting thesis of first-person authority. (Especially since the most natural explanation, if you thought a passing theory was involved, for why I don't think one is employed is that I just don't notice because I'm really familiar with myself.)

I haven't said anything about the second part of your comment or given any reason to think that my first denial is justified or even read over the first two paragraphs of this comment again, but it's late (not as late here as where you are, but I'm made of unstern stuff), so I'll return to those things tomorrow, Lord willing.

The <q> tags seem to have been stripped from my comment, but it's probably pretty obvious where they would have gone.

Some situations in which I or another might not understand what I or that other my or himself say or says:

1. A pink laser originating in a Soviet satellite, or perhaps god, strikes me and I say "θελω να παω στην Αεγινα". Only later do I discover that I have expressed a desire to go to Aegina. Arguably here attributing the utterance to me is problematic, but in any case I'm not being irrational.

2. We are conversing intermittently in the sort of environment that encourages aphoristic moods and I say "A happy man is, perhaps, a kind of strawberry", feeling pleased with this formulation. You ask me what that means and I confess that I'm not sure. I have clearly uttered something unusual, but I'm not being irrational.

3. That woolly-minded dirty little tease Hans Sepp claims that "The Germanic people will never be redeemed until the transcendent Gothic ego replaces the naturalistic ego", and you ask him what on earth he means by that. He attempts to explain his meaning in various ways but as he elaborates each in turn disclaims it as not being right. You conclude (and he may agree, though he might also take refuge in some sort of ineffability, and find fault with you) that he doesn't know what, if anything, he means. But he's not being irrational. (Indeed, if you're reasonably certain that you won't be called on it, coming out with high-falutin' phrases like that can be instrumentally quite rational.)

4. Same as above except in a more mathematical or scientific context. Say I'm shooting the shit, talking about the calculus (which is what I do when I shoot the shit), and come out with the delta-epsilon definition of continuity. Merely uttering the words doesn't mean I understood what I said, as math teachers are no doubt aware: this could be revealed, perhaps, by my not actually being able to use the definition to discriminate continuous from noncontinuous functions. (That particular definition might be a bad example, but.) But I'm not being irrational.

5. I say something that has the look and feel of an English predicative sentence while baby-talking at a baby. "Who's a [baby talk predicate goes here—I don't talk to babies, I stick my tongue out at them, so I don't have a good example handy]?", I "ask", and you ask me what I mean by that ("what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a [baby talk predicate]?"). I look at you as if you're crazy.

You might say that only one and five really count, since they're the only cases in which I couldn't instantiate the T-schema, since neither the Greek nor the babytalk is part of my idiolect; in all the others, the speaker could instantiate it: "My utterance of 'a happy man is, perhaps, a kind of strawberry' is true iff a happy man is, perhaps, a kind of strawberry." But as I've said, that doesn't cut it; it amounts to saying "I meant what I meant, 100%", and leads directly to the response, "very well, but what was that?". (Even in soliloquy.)

If you don't understand what you're saying because you've come down with a fit of Tourette's, or glossolalia, or something of that sort, that's unfortunate, but irrational?

It merely makes the demand that if one claims to understand a speaker, one must also presume some knowledge of the speaker's causal history (such as that the waiter calls glasses "glasses" and houses "houses")

My claim that I understand the waiter, and that I specifically understand him to be saying "Ah, monsieur, you left your glasses at the bar, here they are" (I having relocated to a table thence), and that I understand him to be referring to the glasses he proffers me when he says "glasses", does not depend on any knowledge I have or presume to have of his causal history, nor can I really imagine where one would get the idea that it does.

More to the point, knowledge that the waiter calls glasses "glasses" isn't knowledge of his causal history.

I just met the guy! I don't know where he got the idea that that combover would be discreet, much less the gory details that would go into anything that deserves the name "his causal history".

If anything, the dependence goes in the opposite direction. Given that he's obviously calling my glasses glasses, I might speculate that he must, at some point in the past, have been caused to refer to spectacles that way, but the apparent lesson of the Swampman is that I have to know that he's been so caused before I can make any use of the manifest fact that he is so calling.

(Maybe he thinks that "glasses" refers to the lenses. Someone who doesn't actually wear glasses could, I suppose, go quite a while with that idea. Does that mean that for him, "glasses" was not learned in a context that would give it the right meaning? I suppose so, but it won't stop me from (justly) attributing glasses-thoughts and glasses-meanings to him; there's no due diligence here. If it comes up, in future interactions, that he uses "glasses" to refer to lenses (I'm back at the bar, and a villain punches me; one of the lenses pops out of the frame, which, though bent, remains on my face. After things calm down, the waiter approaches me and says that he found "one of my glasses" on the floor), I can deal with that then—I don't need to wait until the waiter's dead, when all the evidence will be in, to start attributing thoughts and meanings etc to him. And while, in this case, it's probably true that I'll think something like "ah, so he never really called glasses 'glasses'! It was all because, having once gotten the wrong idea, he never encountered any circumstances in which he'd be corrected. He was wrong all along!", there will also be cases where I learn that my usage and another's diverge, there will be others where the revision is less drastic, and I won't conclude that the other never really meant $x by "$x".)

if they didn't, then they anyway learned in a way that still issued in a normal sort of fluency in English.

Really? How do you know? You know this because obviously they are fluent. But the Swampman is equally obviously fluent—he'll never make systematic conjugation errors, or stress his words oddly, or utter literal translations of foreign idioms ("so to say" is one I hear occasionally), or whatever (or at least not enough to disqualify him from fluency, since Davidson himself was fluent)—prior to actually investigating how your waiter, or the Swampman, use (not "came to use") the word "house", you have exactly as much cause to think that, in one way or another, the one has attained fluency as you have to think the other has.

(Any such case would distinguish them from Swampman, who never learned anything from anywhere because he's only been around for a few minutes, and one can't learn when one isn't around.)

Says who he didn't learn, or doesn't know, anything? He just learned really fast. Or: Davidson did the learning for him; the knowledge was transferred along with the physical form.

Why think you can settle in advance what the acceptable means for learning a language, or a word, are? People can come to know individual words in all kinds of eccentric ways. (You overhear it being used and guess at the meaning, and it serves well enough. You're told one meaning at one age, then instructed otherwise later, and still otherwise later, and when you're forty you do some digging in the OED and start using it yet differently, though here the difference is subtle. (Wilson is good, incidentally, at least on the thesis that you learn a word and then it's more or less set; his discussions of such esoteric terms as "weightless", "hard", "rainbow" and "filbert" are nice here.) You're reading something in a different language and make a connection based on cognates, or the translation given for some word, or whatever. You read the ingredients list for a bottle of bitters. (Thus did I, at 23 or 24, learn what the noun "rue" meant; I also (wrongly) thought that it and the verb "rue" were related, and this seemed quite meaningful to me, and I don't doubt it affected my usage at least a little, and that my usage was again affected when I finally looked up the etymologies.) Or whatever. Some head injuries lead people to have accents they've never encountered before; I wouldn't put the existence of head injuries that grant people new vocabulary items that they happen to both use and reason about correctly past the world, which is, after all, a funny place.)

If you encounter someone using a word correctly, and, to pass the time, ask him where he learned it (maybe it's remarkable, because it's an obscure word and he's very young—like in the joke about the pedophile), and he tells you some utterly strange story, it makes much more sense to say, "well, it would never have occurred to me that that might work, and I'll be damned if I can see why it works, but it obviously does work", than to say, "huh, I guess you never actually learned that word at all, and don't know what it means".

One reasonable thing to conclude from the Swampman example is that being struck by lightning while Donald Davidson is nearby is a perfectly good way for trees to learn English.

After all, it can't have been an accident that Davidson was so close, and that the tree ends up exactly like Davidson instead of anyone else, can it? I hypothesize that there must have been some causal link… And had Davidson been otherwise caused, and used the sound /aʊs/ (that is, unaspirated), to refer to houses, why then, so would the Swampman!

"I wonder when you might actually say to yourself My utterance of Wagner died happy is true iff Wagner died happy."

I don't think anyone would say it to themselves unless they were reminding themselves of Tarski-inspired facts about how language works.

"Perhaps you can't make yourself understood to anyone around you, and you're trying to assure yourself that, anyway, you know what you mean, you're sensible, not crazy, etc."

If one really doubted one's sanity, then why would one trust one's own judgement on the matter? No, I don't think the disquotational instances of the T-scheme would do any work here. If one wants to satisfy oneself that one's attitudes are not crazy, I think one has to do this by reminding oneself of all the attitudes one holds which one regards as sane, and seeing that these do not conflict with the suspicious attitudes. Which is the sort of thing a third party might also do: it involves adopting the interpreter's standpoint towards one's own attitudes.

"(Or maybe you are speaking gibberish, but it's not gibberish to you.)"

I don't see how this can happen. If it's gibberish, it's gibberish; if someone thinks it isn't, they're wrong. Even if that someone happens to be the one speaking gibberish. They might have spoken gibberish while intending to speak sensibly, but if they spoke gibberish, then their intention failed.

"Because plainly you couldn't answer any real question about meaning through such self-assurance, which amounts to little more than saying "whatever I meant, that's what I meant". This schema is utterly unproductive; you can't get anywhere with it."

I think that's right: Davidson doesn't think that a speaker can intelligibly ask himself what his words mean, since there can't be a gap between speaker's language and interpreter's language here. That's what first-person authority comes to: There's no room for doubt.

A Davidsonian theory of meaning does not issue in things called "meanings" or "senses" which can be assigned to sentences. Davidson denies that there are any such things. So if his theory of meaning & interpretation does not answer the question "But what does this string mean?", in a way which is satisfactory to a certain sort of inquirer, that might well be a feature, not a bug. Davidson thinks that the indeterminacy of translation is trivially true: there is nothing which is "the" meaning of a sentence. There are always lots of ways to say what a sentence means, and none of them is The Right Way.

"A pink laser originating in a Soviet satellite, or perhaps god, strikes me and I say "θελω να παω στην Αεγινα". Only later do I discover that I have expressed a desire to go to Aegina. Arguably here attributing the utterance to me is problematic, but in any case I'm not being irrational."

I would indeed be inclined to deny attributing an utterance to you in this sort of case. You were caused to produce sounds, but you didn't speak. And so you didn't express a desire, or anything else. You were just used a speaker for a Soviet/divine broadcast of some sort. You didn't intend to say anything, and so you didn't speak normally, nor did you speak from akrasia or any such irrational motivation.

"We are conversing intermittently in the sort of environment that encourages aphoristic moods and I say "A happy man is, perhaps, a kind of strawberry", feeling pleased with this formulation. You ask me what that means and I confess that I'm not sure. I have clearly uttered something unusual, but I'm not being irrational."

I think this is fairly clearly a case of discussing "metaphorical meaning", which as a good Davidsonian I regard as very different from the sort of meaning to which one can have first-person authority. To say that you don't know what your aphorism meant would just be to say that nothing in particular struck you when you considered it. (That is: "A happy man is a kind of strawberry" is not a very fruitful metaphor.)

"But he's not being irrational. (Indeed, if you're reasonably certain that you won't be called on it, coming out with high-falutin' phrases like that can be instrumentally quite rational.)"

Indeed he's not been irrational here: He's uttered some nonsense (and a T-sentence here would be nonsense), but it's nothing but reasonable to utter nonsense in some situations. Or perhaps he's simply said something which you don't understand, and he's having difficulties paraphrasing it (and eventually just gives up trying). But in no case did he have to translate his utterance into another language to make sense of it: Either he realizes there's no sense to be made of it (and thus it is translated by nothing), or he's able to understand it as it stands (and makes some claim about ineffability to make pissants who don't like his wording go away), in which case the disquotational schema works.

"Merely uttering the words doesn't mean I understood what I said, as math teachers are no doubt aware: this could be revealed, perhaps, by my not actually being able to use the definition to discriminate continuous from noncontinuous functions. (That particular definition might be a bad example, but.) But I'm not being irrational."

Well you might know that that string of symbols is what is called the delta-epsilon definition of continuity: you know how the sequence goes, and you know its name. You might even be able to spell out "in words" what the definition is saying. Both of these are compatible with your lacking the relevant sort of mathematical skill to satisfy a teacher that you understand the thing you've memorized. For the sort of understanding they're looking for is not the sort that comes merely from knowing what your words mean, but from knowing how to carry on in certain sorts of activities.

You didn't understand by the words what you hoped your teacher would take you to have understood by them, perhaps -- you wanted them to be fooled. Or perhaps you really don't understand your words at all, and merely vocalize in a way that you hope will satisfy the teacher's desire for an answer, without asserting anything by so doing (though you hope to be taken as asserting something).

"I "ask", and you ask me what I mean by that ("what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a [baby talk predicate]?"). I look at you as if you're crazy."

Which strikes me as the right sort of thing to do, if I was asking in seriousness. Baby-talk is like sticking your tongue out, not like asserting. (This is why nonsense syllables make perfectly good baby-talk. Ah-whoo-whoo-whoo~)

"If you don't understand what you're saying because you've come down with a fit of Tourette's, or glossolalia, or something of that sort, that's unfortunate, but irrational?"

In those sorts of cases, I'm simply disinclined to class the sounds I hear coming from so-and-so's mouth as his saying anything. And so he can't be doing something irrational by saying things he doesn't understand.

"More to the point, knowledge that the waiter calls glasses "glasses" isn't knowledge of his causal history.

I just met the guy! I don't know where he got the idea that that combover would be discreet, much less the gory details that would go into anything that deserves the name "his causal history"."

I don't think anything much is needed to deserve the name "his causal history". If it involves causal relations involving him that have occurred, I'm happy to use the title, details be damned. And "calls" is a causal verb: one has to stand in some sort of causal relation to a thing (perhaps an extended one) to call it anything.

"If anything, the dependence goes in the opposite direction. Given that he's obviously calling my glasses glasses, I might speculate that he must, at some point in the past, have been caused to refer to spectacles that way, but the apparent lesson of the Swampman is that I have to know that he's been so caused before I can make any use of the manifest fact that he is so calling."

Yes, I agree that this seems to be the point of Swampman. Which is part of why it's a bad thought-experiment: it had a bad intent. What I want to say is that the dependency goes both ways: knowing what someone means by some utterance depends on knowing other things about them, and much of what one knows about others comes from knowing what they say. It is a hermeneutical, holistic affair.

It is not clear to me how your story about the waiter who calls lenses "glasses" is supposed to speak against me. I agree with everything in that paragraph, except for the claim that he didn't learn the "right" meaning of "glasses". He learned to speak differently than his teachers intended, probably, but no sin in that. (Unless it popped up when he was writing something for a class -- there, variance from the received style counts as vice.) (And why can't he refer to glasses as "glasses" by synecdoche, if he thinks the term properly applies to lenses? Though it would still be clear that he was speaking a bit oddly compared to normal Englishish types.)

"Really? How do you know? You know this because obviously they are fluent."

Yes, I'll grant that. But I will not grant that Swampman is fluent: he merely appears fluent, as he merely appears to speak intelligently. He can form grammatical sentences, but so can any number of random text generators.

"prior to actually investigating how your waiter, or the Swampman, use (not "came to use") the word "house", you have exactly as much cause to think that, in one way or another, the one has attained fluency as you have to think the other has."

Yes -- Swampman would fool pretty much everyone into thinking he was Davidson.

"He just learned really fast."

No he didn't. He picks up no relevant abilities at any point: he acts on instinct, as it were.

And I don't think anyone can learn for someone else, any more than they can think for them.

"Why think you can settle in advance what the acceptable means for learning a language, or a word, are?"

I don't think I can do this -- I don't think I could do it in retrospect, either. But if nothing was learned, a fortiori it wasn't learned in the right way.

"If you encounter someone using a word correctly, and, to pass the time, ask him where he learned it (maybe it's remarkable, because it's an obscure word and he's very young—like in the joke about the pedophile), and he tells you some utterly strange story, it makes much more sense to say, "well, it would never have occurred to me that that might work, and I'll be damned if I can see why it works, but it obviously does work", than to say, "huh, I guess you never actually learned that word at all, and don't know what it means"."

Yes, I deny that saying the latter would make any sort of sense. It'd be daft. (Unless I can't see how the story ends up with his learning the word, in which case I take issue with it really saying how he learned the word, rather than just being some odd story. No reason the kid has to know how he learned the word, in a sense strong enough to make for a story.)

"One reasonable thing to conclude from the Swampman example is that being struck by lightning while Donald Davidson is nearby is a perfectly good way for trees to learn English."

That hardly seems right. For Davidson might've been nowhere nearby when the lightning-bolt created Swampman; it would eventually be strange for there to be two of him, but Swampman would be none the worse for wear before his dopplegangery was discovered. And lightning bolts are only good for this purpose in silly science-fiction stories. So, the most reasonable version of your point I can see it possible to maintain is that if lightning bolts made things into beings that appeared to speak English, this would be a good way for them to learn to speak English. (Which I still think is wrong, but which is at least worse as prose.)

"After all, it can't have been an accident that Davidson was so close, and that the tree ends up exactly like Davidson instead of anyone else, can it? I hypothesize that there must have been some causal link… And had Davidson been otherwise caused, and used the sound /aʊs/ (that is, unaspirated), to refer to houses, why then, so would the Swampman!"

I deny that magical lightning bolts work this way.

And "calls" is a causal verb: one has to stand in some sort of causal relation to a thing (perhaps an extended one) to call it anything.

I can agree with this if it means that if someone is calling something a glass, he stands in some (causal, why not?) relationship to that thing, and this relationship might well be extended in some sense (Joe sees the unknown object and telephones Bob, who copies down the description and brings it to me: "Ah, that's a glass", I say); I don't see why I need to suppose, much less know, anything much beyond that (anything about his history beyond the last few minutes). Saying "hermeneutical" and "holistic" doesn't help your case, as far as I can tell. I might well use everything that I do know about him in determining that the waiter is calling such and such glasses, but nowhere in that set is knowledge of the context in which he learned the word "glasses".

(Malpas, somewhere in his unfinished by me book, rebuts Dummett's objection that holism requires solving for everything simultaneously with the reasonable point that interpretation is local; this is fine (indeed, reasonable) as a point about interpretation even if lends a funny tint to the term "holism". The line you're pursuing presently seems to me to open up Dummettish accusations.)

I deny that magical lightning bolts work this way.

That's odd, since it clearly follows from Davidson's description of how the magical lightning bolt works (the point about pronunciation, anyway, and I don't see why we shouldn't think that there's some causal link between his presence and the tree's becoming like him). If you really want to make the lightning bolt magical (which I suppose means outside the causal order?), some prescinding from conclusions about what would or would not follow as regards the language-use abilities of the resulting doppelganger seems advisable. I mean, magic!

(As for the two-Davidsons case: I meant, though did not say, for Davidson's own vaporization to be part of the story. If there were two Davidsons, that would certainly put a crimp on the Swampman-as-continuation-of-Davidson-by-other-means picture, but that doesn't really bother me; he can be Davidson's photocopy, and still have Davidson's old wine in his new bottle.)

Unless I can't see how the story ends up with his learning the word, in which case I take issue with it really saying how he learned the word, rather than just being some odd story.

But this is just the sort of confidence that I don't understand. The claim that, if he were telling you how he really learned the word, you would be able to recognize it as a case of having learned the word, seems to set implausibly high store by your intellectual capacities, as if you've located an area of human endeavor in which befuddlement just isn't possible: either you understand how it happens, or it didn't really happen that way after all. True: no one need know the actual way he learned a word. But your own inability to see how it works doesn't establish that it didn't.

As for the earlier bits: I'm not after "things" called "meanings", either, and I don't know where one might get the idea that I am.

I think that's right: Davidson doesn't think that a speaker can intelligibly ask himself what his words mean, since there can't be a gap between speaker's language and interpreter's language here. That's what first-person authority comes to: There's no room for doubt.

Regardless of whether this is an accurate characterization of one's experience of one's own language use, this is a totally weaksauce conception of first-person authority. (It sort of reminds me of Wittgenstein's picture of Russell, standing before an object repeating "this" innumerable times.) FPA with fangs would be able to explain why I can rephrase my utterances—why I can, in conversation, do better than repeating T-sentences. If doing that requires taking up the interpreter's stance toward myself, then the authority I have is idle. There isn't anyway way of getting from "Wagner died happy" to "Cosima Wagner died happy" if FPA consists in being able to say (while reminding myself of the way the T-schema gets instantiated, a pursuit not often encountered and one even further from any concrete situation of interpretation than even Davidson's somewhat austere situation, which does at least involve a speaker, a hearer, and a disparity between them—the speaker in his scenario is not just going over the structure of T-sentences in his head, he has a purpose in doing so) "my utterance of 'Wagner died happy' is true iff Wagner died happy" (label this "(W)"), because one will need to flesh out, to get to Cosima rather than Richard, when it really will be true that Wagner died happy—and here it seems one's choices are to take up the interpreter's stance to oneself or to repeat (W). If this appearance is wrong, and you actually can get to Cosima from (W), it would be nice to have an explanation for that.

None of this should make you think that I want there to be a The Meaning or The Sense for a sentence.

I think one has to do this by reminding oneself of all the attitudes one holds which one regards as sane, and seeing that these do not conflict with the suspicious attitudes

If one really doubted one's sanity, then why would one trust one's own judgement on the matter?

Quite.

But you may be taking me over-literally when I mentioned sanity. I was imagining some scenario in which you just can't get across to someone something that you take to be obvious—you've made some banal observation report about nearby furniture or whatever and they quite obstinately, and seemingly quite sincerely, don't get it. Not that they disagree with you. They just don't understand your claim. You try paraphrase after paraphrase, and make no headway (NB these are paraphrases with which you are satisfied). In this situation you might, shortly before giving up, be beset by all sorts of doubts about what exactly is going on here, doubts which you might phrase by asking if you've lost your mind or your linguistic competence and which you might assuage by reässuring yourself that at least you know what you mean. (Reminding yourself of your other beliefs is unlikely to help.)

Indeed he's not been irrational here: He's uttered some nonsense (and a T-sentence here would be nonsense), but it's nothing but reasonable to utter nonsense in some situations. Or perhaps he's simply said something which you don't understand, and he's having difficulties paraphrasing it (and eventually just gives up trying). But in no case did he have to translate his utterance into another language to make sense of it: Either he realizes there's no sense to be made of it (and thus it is translated by nothing), or he's able to understand it as it stands (and makes some claim about ineffability to make pissants who don't like his wording go away), in which case the disquotational schema works.

The case isn't that he's having difficulty paraphrasing it in a way which satisfies me; he's having difficulty paraphrasing it in a way which satisfies himself (nor does he take himself to have uttered nonsense, but rather a deep truth), possibly because of things that come up in conversation regarding successive paraphrases. If, at the end of this process, he concludes that what he said was nonsense, then, at the beginning, he uttered something which he did not understand to be nonsense; it seems fair to say, then, that he said something he didn't understand. (And that was not irrational.) If, on the other hand, he still maintains, at the end, that he does understand it, his claim will be hard to credit. (This is part of what would be so distressing about the case above.) I'll modulate the earlier claim and say that this doesn't establish that he definitely doesn't understand his own claim, but if no rephrasing satisfies you, one should at least reserve judgment. The T-sentence yields no understanding. It doesn't, if there is no translation, even provide truth conditions.

agree with everything in that paragraph, except for the claim that he didn't learn the "right" meaning of "glasses".

All I meant by that is that he didn't learn what I call the right meaning of "glasses". I think* the point was supposed to be this: with no knowledge of how he learned the word "glasses", and therefore no knowledge that it "was not learned in a context that would give it the right meaning" (clearly Davidson, at least, thinks it makes sense to talk about right meanings, though I'm not, as ever, sure what he means by this phrase) (at least what I call the right meaning), I justly attribute glasses-thoughts to him. If I go on to suppose that he learned "glasses" in a context that would give it the right meaning, I'm wrong; he didn't. (In fact, I don't make such suppositions.) (Maybe this doesn't actually speak against you.)

* Its having been some time since I wrote it, I am no longer certain what the purpose might have been in the way that I would have been had I received the question as I was writing even though in the past n hours I have not begun to understand anything different by the component words or sentences; this seems like an interesting phenomenon to me.

I, too, don't take the pink laser, or baby talk, or glossolalia, really to be sayings in the relevant sense, but I thought I'd toss them out anyway. I am curious what you would consider an example of saying something without understanding it, since you seem to think that's possible. I didn't really understand this:

You didn't understand by the words what you hoped your teacher would take you to have understood by them, perhaps -- you wanted them to be fooled. Or perhaps you really don't understand your words at all, and merely vocalize in a way that you hope will satisfy the teacher's desire for an answer, without asserting anything by so doing (though you hope to be taken as asserting something).

I think the point about what I hoped my teacher would take me to understand has to be carefully phrased. I did understand, of my words, that they were a definition of continuity (that's the title under which I memorized them as best I could), and I wanted my teacher to take me to understand that; of course, I also wanted my teacher to take me to understand the definition, and I don't understand that. The question is, what did I mean, or understand, by my words?

Let's say that my teacher would accept a description "in words" of the meaning of the definition---if I could say not just "a function f is continuous at point p in its domain iff for all epsilon greater than zero there exists a delta greater than zero such that for all x in f's domain if the absolute value of p minus c is less than delta, then the absolute value of f of x minus f of c is less than epsilon", but also say, for example, "that is, a function is continuous at point p if, if you want to get the values of f of x to be within a certain range of f of p, you need only pick the x's to be within a certain (different!) range around p, and you can do this no matter how tight you want the range around f of p to be", and I can't provide this, either. Does this suffice for my not understanding my words at all, and (therefore?) merely vocalizing? I can, after all, provide the relevant T-sentence, which is after all trivially generable. Is the problem that the T-sentence is nonsense in my idiolect? But can that be determined? If that doesn't suffice for my not understanding my words at all, what would?

(This is, at this point, a total tangent, but how does this stuff generalize to my knowing what I asked you? Also, god damn, these replies are getting long—I wrote this in emacs since the stupid comment box is so small, and I kept writing "\textit{" instead of "<em>".)

I am curious what you would consider an example of saying something without understanding it, since you seem to think that's possible

Wernicke aphasia

"I might well use everything that I do know about him in determining that the waiter is calling such and such glasses, but nowhere in that set is knowledge of the context in which he learned the word "glasses"."

Certainly not of the specific context in which he learned the word, if there is any such specific context. But I deny that you are ignorant of everything whatsoever about the history of his use of the word before this moment: if you didn't know that he uses (has used) it as English-speakers normally do (and has had normal sorts of relations to glasses in the past), then to go from the fact that he used it as an English-speaker would to the fact that he was using a word of English as you would use the word is unmotivated, for Kripkenstein-ish reasons. (If you want to say you merely presume this sort of continuity, then fine: I don't think it makes a difference. If what is presumed is true, then presumption lead to knowledge in this case.)

You might, of course, be wrong in what you presume about his history of word-usage -- perhaps by "glasses" he means "lenses", or perhaps he speaks an utterly unknown language which happens to employ strings phonetically identical to English ones which seem relevant in this context but actually mean something entirely different in his mouth. In such a case, you'd simply misunderstand what he'd said (in a probably-inconsequential manner, in this example). But if not knowing things about his history, the way in which he normally uses words, could cause you to misunderstand him, then ignorance of this sort of history generally cannot be irrelevant to understanding.

"The line you're pursuing presently seems to me to open up Dummettish accusations."

I don't see how. I am perfectly happy to say that understanding is local, if that makes you dislike the term "holism" less.

"That's odd, since it clearly follows from Davidson's description of how the magical lightning bolt works (the point about pronunciation, anyway, and I don't see why we shouldn't think that there's some causal link between his presence and the tree's becoming like him)."

Because he didn't say there was any, and it's his story. His death and the creation of Swampman just happen coincidentally. It's not as his his mind was "transplanted" into plants. And since he's explicit that he doesn't think Swampman has the right sort of causal history (due to his recent creation), it's implausible that he meant us to understand some sort of weird causal connection between Davidson and the tree and the lightning bolt (which provide Swampman with a weird causal history which ends up irrelevant to the thought-experiment/science-fiction story).

"I mean, magic!"

Yes, this was my point: I think trying to work out counterfactuals in the Swampman universe is silly, as is trying to decide if there are causal relations which are not made explicit in Davidson's account of the creature.

"But this is just the sort of confidence that I don't understand. The claim that, if he were telling you how he really learned the word, you would be able to recognize it as a case of having learned the word, seems to set implausibly high store by your intellectual capacities, as if you've located an area of human endeavor in which befuddlement just isn't possible: either you understand how it happens, or it didn't really happen that way after all. True: no one need know the actual way he learned a word. But your own inability to see how it works doesn't establish that it didn't."

If I can't see how his story ends up with his learning how to use the word, then for me that settles the matter: the story doesn't make sense as ending up with his learning how to use the word. In which case I'm more inclined to take issue with the story's claim to be what it purported to be. If the story really did recount the way he learned to use the word, and I'm simply being dim in not seeing how it reasonably leads to such a conclusion, then I'm simply in error about this. But his assurance that this is the case would hardly be a good reason for me to change my mind about the matter. (Note that rejecting his story as an account of how he learned to use the word doesn't entail that I reject the notion that he learned to use the word somehow. Though I might, upon hearing the story, decide that he had in fact learned to use a different word, and I'd misunderstood him earlier when I took him to be using the word I thought he was using.)

"FPA with fangs would be able to explain why I can rephrase my utterances—why I can, in conversation, do better than repeating T-sentences."

This would be stronger than what I think we have: I don't think one can always rephrase oneself without changing the meaning of what one said (though of course one often can -- and others can often do this with one's utterances). So I'm not bothered by not having an account of "FPA with fangs".

"If this appearance is wrong, and you actually can get to Cosima from (W), it would be nice to have an explanation for that."

Your W-sayer knew who the "Wagner" in her sentence was (and the same goes for her original utterance of the sentence treated of in W). Adding a way for her to get to "Cosima Wagner" wouldn't help her get to Cosima, since there might be any number of people with that name.

"In this situation you might, shortly before giving up, be beset by all sorts of doubts about what exactly is going on here, doubts which you might phrase by asking if you've lost your mind or your linguistic competence and which you might assuage by reässuring yourself that at least you know what you mean."

I don't think these are real doubts, and so don't need assuaging. (They are like the anxieties some people feel after watching a science-fiction movie, that maybe aliens really are about to invade. Normal people are not actually afraid of that happening, which doesn't mean they don't get jumpy after a good, scary flick. They have no rational reason to be jumpy, but it's part of the fun.) But this is probably just me being over-literal again.

It occurs to me that I would not say things in quite the way Davidson said them (in the passage you originally quoted in your post). I take Davidson's point in using the T-schema here to have been to reiterate that there is nothing for a speaker to know about the meanings of his utterances beyond what is shown by a Davidsonian/Tarskistyle approach to the matter (which makes ample use of T-sentences). Which doesn't imply that a speaker would say what an utterance of his meant by uttering a T-sentence: Nobody would do that. It would be weird to encounter it.

"The case isn't that he's having difficulty paraphrasing it in a way which satisfies me; he's having difficulty paraphrasing it in a way which satisfies himself (nor does he take himself to have uttered nonsense, but rather a deep truth), possibly because of things that come up in conversation regarding successive paraphrases."

If the case is just that he can't find any other string that says just what his Deep Truth Sentence says, then I don't see where there's any problem. No reason everything should be succeptible to ready paraphrase.

"If, on the other hand, he still maintains, at the end, that he does understand it, his claim will be hard to credit. (This is part of what would be so distressing about the case above.)"

Hard to credit, I can grant. It may very well be. But his claim might still be true. He just can't paraphrase what he's said; his linguistic capacities give out short of being able to put what he said in some other way. (I don't see what's supposed to be distressing about this. I certainly think there are claims which are more difficult to paraphrase, and if one is lacking in time or intellect this could simply result in their being impossible for that speaker to paraphrase on some particular occasion.)

"I'll modulate the earlier claim and say that this doesn't establish that he definitely doesn't understand his own claim, but if no rephrasing satisfies you, one should at least reserve judgment."

I'm not sure if you just slipped up in your pronouns here or not: I agree that if someone can't rephrase their purported Deep Truth, it's generally a good idea to not credit them with having uttered any such thing. But I deny that the same holds for the speaker: if he thinks some utterance of his expresses a Deep Truth, his inability to rephrase it doesn't give him a reason to doubt its import. If someone says "The only way I can think of to say this is..." then this doesn't imply that they have any doubts about what they proceed to say. Nor should it, says I.

"The T-sentence yields no understanding. It doesn't, if there is no translation, even provide truth conditions."

The second sentence here confuses me. If the object language and metalanguage coincide, then there's no need for a translation of a sentence to be ready-to-hand for a T-sentence to provide truth-conditions (since nothing is translated when forming the T-sentence -- if the metalanguage is L, you simply disquote). And if the object language and metalanguage do not coincide, then without a translation there can be no T-sentence. (Which means, I suppose, that it doesn't provide truth conditions, being nonexistent and all. But you seemed to be suggesting there could be a T-sentence which doesn't provide truth conditions. Which would be weird.) (There can, of course, be "instances" of the T-schema, generated mad-lib style by putting nonsense for the 'S' in ""S" is true-in-L IFF S", which do not give truth-conditions for anything. But this would be because they aren't instances of the T-schema. The variables in the T-schema stand for sentences, not strings.)

"* Its having been some time since I wrote it, I am no longer certain what the purpose might have been in the way that I would have been had I received the question as I was writing even though in the past n hours I have not begun to understand anything different by the component words or sentences; this seems like an interesting phenomenon to me."

I find this happening often in blog-comment sorts of discussions/arguments/conversations. I generally chalk it up to my own flightiness, or some other such thing I can feel bad about. If I could follow the train of thought up to that point in the past, then why can't I do it again? Surely it's because I have gotten stupider in the past day or so -- Stupid, stupid, stupid! (Your footnote is thus a comfort to me.)

"I think* the point was supposed to be this: with no knowledge of how he learned the word "glasses", and therefore no knowledge that it "was not learned in a context that would give it the right meaning" (clearly Davidson, at least, thinks it makes sense to talk about right meanings, though I'm not, as ever, sure what he means by this phrase) (at least what I call the right meaning), I justly attribute glasses-thoughts to him."

Here I would disagree with you: If it was an open question for you whether or not he had learned to use "glasses" in the way you take him to have used it presently, then you could not justly attribute glasses-thoughts to him based upon what he said. You would be simultaneously holding open the issue of what his words mean (how he uses them) and closing the matter (he uses them to express glasses-thoughts).

(You might justly attribute glasses-thoughts to him without understanding what he said at all, for instance if he picked up your glasses, looked at them while turning them over in his hand, and then handed them to you while saying something foreign. But I take this to be a separate issue, for this sort of attribution of thoughts can happen without knowing anything as to how to translate so-and-so's utterances.)

If Davidson said something like that, then I think it would have to mean "the right meaning for it to mean what I take him to mean by it" -- the right meaning is just its actual meaning. Something which would preclude a word "having the right meaning" would then just be something which conflicted with the interpretation of the speaker's utterance which I presently hold. (I might be wrong in my present interpretation, but no matter: then I would be wrong about what the right meaning was.)

"Does this suffice for my not understanding my words at all, and (therefore?) merely vocalizing? I can, after all, provide the relevant T-sentence, which is after all trivially generable."

I think I have been misunderstood: When I spoke of "merely vocalizing" I had in mind someone just spouting out letters/numbers/whatever that sounded like they might be some sort of formula. They are trying to luck into saying something which happens to be a "right answer" (that is, one which gets the teacher to go back to ignoring them). In this sort of case, they would not be able to contruct a T-sentence for their utterance, for they don't regard their utterance of "Epsilon greater than zero in its domain etc." as having been a sentence. They know they were spouting gibberish (even if the gibberish, by a stroke of luck, happened to be something which satisfied the teacher that the student knew what they were talking about).

"Is the problem that the T-sentence is nonsense in my idiolect? But can that be determined?"

I don't think there can be nonsensical T-sentences. Or at least, I don't think nonsensical sentences can be plugged into the T-schema. "Nonsense sentences" are not sentences. They are just strings that look kinda like sentences. (In any case, employing the T-schema requires writing in a language I understand. But there are no nonsense sentences in languages I understand. Nonsense sentences aren't sentences of any language.)

"(This is, at this point, a total tangent, but how does this stuff generalize to my knowing what I asked you? Also, god damn, these replies are getting long—I wrote this in emacs since the stupid comment box is so small, and I kept writing "\textit{" instead of "[em]".)"

I think you can know what you asked me because you can remember things that happened recently. After all, you can be wrong about what you just asked me if your memory is particularly bad.

And yeah, I sympathize about the length thing. I am writing this in Wordpad. So if you've noticed your italics have disappeared from whatever I've quoted, that's why. (Does [em] work differently from [i]? It looks to me like all you've done to your text in these comments has been to italicize quotations.)

TypePad really needs a way to follow comment threads. If you hadn't had a new post in the RSS feed I probably would not have thought to check to see if you'd responded to my comment.

"<em>" and "<i>" generally do the same thing, but "em" supposedly has a more semantic interpretation: "em" means "emphasize this text" (which in browsers for sighted people, say, will probably take the form of italicizing it, but it wouldn't be an error to emphasize it otherwise); "i" means "put this text in italics"; you might suppose that someone put the text in italics to emphasize it, and therefore do something else with it, but that would technically be doing something more, or different, than what you've been asked to do, and someone might be using "i" for the name of a book, for instance, which is not emphasized. (Of course in practice I use "em" whenever I want italics, including in name-of-book contexts, so ...)

I was reading your comment from the bottom up and haven't gotten any further than what you can imagine based on the above, so I'll take this opportunity to say that the stuff about befuddlement in my last comment is poorly phrased and goes far too far as it currently stands; you probably picked up on that and gave me what-for for it anyway.

But I deny that you are ignorant of everything whatsoever about the history of his use of the word before this moment: if you didn't know that he uses (has used) it as English-speakers normally do (and has had normal sorts of relations to glasses in the past), then to go from the fact that he used it as an English-speaker would to the fact that he was using a word of English as you would use the word is unmotivated, for Kripkenstein-ish reasons. (If you want to say you merely presume this sort of continuity, then fine: I don't think it makes a difference. If what is presumed is true, then presumption lead to knowledge in this case.)

I'm imagining something like the following:

Scene: a swanky restaurant. BEN is seated at a table bedecked with an empty wineglass, an empty teacup which is next to its empty saucer, an empty mug, an empty soup bowl with an empty ladle on its skirt, and a nearly-empty plate, from which he is eating intently. A WAITER approaches.

Waiter: [snootily] Your glass is empty, sir.

Ben looks up at the table.

Ben: That's so.

The waiter sniffs and moves off. KRIPKE'S SKEPTIC, who turns out to look exactly like post-haircut Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, approaches from the bar.

Skeptic: How do you know that the waiter was talking about your glass when he said "glass"? Look at all the empty things here! And that's assuming, of course, that he meant empty by "empty".

Ben: Well, I know that he's referred to glasses by that word in the past. Note, incidentally, that we're now talking about past behavior, and not the context of learning.

Skeptic: [Confused] What are you talking about? Anyway, you certainly have no such knowledge. Whence might you have acquired it?

Ben: [Crossly] Fine; I don't know that. I presume it. Now are you satisfied?

Skeptic: I'll have to think about that.

The skeptic muses while Ben finishes his meal.

Skeptic: The presumption will do. I am satisfied.

Ben: And I'm finished.

Ben removes his thick, girthy billfold from his pants and peels off several hundreds—far more than the cost of the meal—and places them on the table. He and the skeptic rise to leave simultaneously, and something private, and significant, seems to pass between them. They embrace and quus passionately. Exeunt arm in arm. Curtain.

I'm sure we can both agree that this little scene is completely realistic through and through, especially at the end. Nevertheless, one might have some questions about it.

(a) Why would the skeptic be satisfied so easily?
(b) What role did my presumption play in justifying my interpretation of the waiter as having meant my glass?
(c) How does the presumption lead to knowledge? Let's say I never see the waiter again. Is there a gestation period, or something?
(d) Wasn't this presumption completely idle except as a tool to silence a beautiful but annoying stranger? It doesn't seem that anything would have been different had I not made the presumption, had the skeptic not come along to challenge me. This is not a difference that is frequently salient.

I would certainly resist any suggestion to the effect that since, if I learned that not-p, I would retract my claim that φ, I must, when making the claim, have known or at least presumed that p. I don't think I've said thus far that one does make such a presumption or supposition or whatever; hopefully all I've said is that one might, in certain circumstances. I don't think it's necessary to get the interpretive process off the ground, or for scaffolding once it's underway, or as support in the finished product, or whatever.


This would be stronger than what I think we have: I don't think one can always rephrase oneself without changing the meaning of what one said (though of course one often can -- and others can often do this with one's utterances). So I'm not bothered by not having an account of "FPA with fangs".

So your account of how I can go from "Wagner died happy" to "Cosima Wagner died happy" is that I do it the same way an interpreter would, through observation? Of course others can also often do it (and one may not always oneself be able to); that's not at issue: the issue is how.

Your W-sayer knew who the "Wagner" in her sentence was (and the same goes for her original utterance of the sentence treated of in W). Adding a way for her to get to "Cosima Wagner" wouldn't help her get to Cosima, since there might be any number of people with that name.

This is like saying that she couldn't help you get to Cosima Wagner by telling you that she meant Cosima Wagner, since there might be any number of people by that name. (If she tells you she meant Cosima, and you're still puzzled, because there are so many Cosimas, she will tell you: the daughter of Richard—the composer Richard—etc. We have to assume that you're in some specific confusion.) There are even more people named Wagner than named Cosima Wagner, so I'm still not sure how the W-sayer knew that she meant Cosima.

I want to reïterate that saying what her words mean is supposedly a task which the W-speaker might undertake, to which she might bend "whatever knowledge and craft [she] can". She's not reminding herself of certain facts about language; Davidson explicitly sets us in a social context here. So it seems to me that what you say in the paragraph above the one I quote immediately below (yes, that's confusing, but I think we're the only ones following this exchange) is rather different from what Davidson's getting at, since he really does seem to be saying that one might profitably utter, to oneself or another, a T-sentence. It's even telling that he gives a specific T-sentence; your point can be made (as you make it) just by referring to T-sentences en masse. It seems as if there's supposed to be some point to this funny, nontranslational T-sentence W, though. But (as I've already said) insfoar as it comes down to basically saying "whatever I meant, that's what I meant", it's powerless to settle an specific questions about what I meant here. (That I'm completely repeating myself is probably a sign that we're talking at cross purposes or at an impasse.)

Normal people are not actually afraid of that happening, which doesn't mean they don't get jumpy after a good, scary flick

Nor does it mean that they don't reässure themselves: "it was only a movie". "Werewolves don't really exist". Not having a rational reason to be jumpy isn't not being jumpy. Maybe you think these aren't real reässurances or assuagings. Not really important.

I'm not sure if you just slipped up in your pronouns here or not

I did.

(I'm skipping over a bunch of stuff.)

Here I would disagree with you: If it was an open question for you whether or not he had learned to use "glasses" in the way you take him to have used it presently

Well, I don't know that I would say it is an open question "for me".

I don't think there can be nonsensical T-sentences. Or at least, I don't think nonsensical sentences can be plugged into the T-schema.

Well, consider your hypothetical student who "knows" he's spouting gibberish ("lnows" quoted because if what he spouts is the delta-epsilon definition I've quoted, its status as gibberish is surely relative). He doesn't consider the delta-epsilon stuff to have been sensical. What's the force of this "can't"? Ghouls won't close his windpipe if he tries to plug what he thinks of as gibberish into the t-sentence, and he just might, if someone asks him when what he just uttered is true (it would be a lame reply, granted). The claim that the sentence isn't in his language is confusing to me, since as far as I can tell he can still pull the "whatever I meant, that's what I meant" trick.

What makes the nonsense pseudosentence nonsense? (Example? ("he peached me delta"? I can give the T-sentence for this, though I don't understand it. I can also give the T-sentence for "Wagner died happy", and I do understand that. What's the difference?))

Since I'm totally flagging and am no longer certain how much sense or salience anything I'm writing has or whether I've left thoughts totally unfinished, I'm going to just post this (that's a reasonable thing to do, right? Waiting a bit and reading it over: crazy!).

First off: I have a sinus infection and feel really lousy, which is why I have not responded sooner. I have been trying to relax and take it easy. But having things I know I need to respond to at some point makes it harder to take it easy! So I am not taking it easy by way of taking it easy.

Man, thinking is hard.

Also I require visuals to remind me of what post-haircut Audrey Hepburn looked like. GIS did not help enough. If you do not have relevant pics ready-to-hand, related irrelevant pics would also be acceptable.

I agree that Fictional Ben's response to Adorable Skeptic is not a good one. Talking to The Skeptic is tricky -- I think a better response would be for Fictional Ben to ask Adorable Skeptic what she thought the waiter was referring to (if she thought he was referring to anything). Suppose she says she thinks he meant the teacup. Fictional Ben might then respond "You think he calls teacups "glasses"? What do you think he calls glasses?" But this sort of response would surely be anticipated by Adorable Skeptic, and so she wouldn't make it, because she is Adorable Cunning Skeptic. So she claims that she just doesn't know what he was referring to. Then Fictional Ben can press the point -- if she had been in Fictional Ben's place, how would she have responded to the waiter? If she had wanted some more wine, surely she would have asked for her glass to be refilled (for she is Adorable Skeptic Who Does Not Waste The Time Of The Waitstaff Or Make Demands Which Are Non Sequitur To Their Comments, for she is Adorable Refined Skeptic). And so she does not really puzzle herself over what the waiter was referring to; she thinks he was mentioning Fictional Ben's glass, too. Or if it's really not clear what the waiter meant -- for instance, if he waved his hand over the table-full of empty dishes while saying "your glass", or if he seems like someone who's not at home in English -- then Fictional Ben should simply admit that the matter ain't clear: maybe Fictional Ben misunderstood the waiter (but no matter, for he didn't need a refill on anything anyway). In no case will appealing to the sorts of thoughts the Swampman story tries to dredge up lead to anything Adorable Skeptic is going to find particularly compelling.

"(a) Why would the skeptic be satisfied so easily?"

Because Fictional Ben is a picture of manliness, and her judgement was overcome by her desire to get dinner over with and move to the quusing part of the evening.

"(b) What role did my presumption play in justifying my interpretation of the waiter as having meant my glass?"

If it seemed a reasonable sort of thing to presume, to Fictional Ben, then it is something he can appeal to as evidence. Which is why Adorable Skeptic was not convinced by it, but merely told a white lie so she could get into Fictional Ben's... company. For Adorable Skeptic doesn't think it's something reasonable to presume. She thinks there's no way you could know anything about how the waiter uses his words normally.

"(c) How does the presumption lead to knowledge? Let's say I never see the waiter again. Is there a gestation period, or something?"

If the presumptiom seemed reasonable to Fictional Ben, then the fact presumed is something Fictional Ben regards as something he could appeal to as evidence for trying to figure out how to act & how he should modify his beliefs. Which is the role that what Fictional Ben takes himself to know plays. As far as Fictional Ben is concerned, he's not acting on a mere presumption: he knows what the waiter meant, it was obvious, and he's only speaking of "presuming" because Adorable Skeptic is playing one of her Not So Adorable Skeptical Games. "Fine, I don't know. But for the sake of getting through dinner, let's make believe that I do."

"(d) Wasn't this presumption completely idle except as a tool to silence a beautiful but annoying stranger? It doesn't seem that anything would have been different had I not made the presumption, had the skeptic not come along to challenge me. This is not a difference that is frequently salient."

Yes, making the presumption explicitly did nothing useful here. But even without Adorable Skeptic's presence, Fictional Ben would have been confident that the waiter meant "Your glass is empty" by what he said. And so, for Fictional Ben, it was not an open question how the waiter was using the words he employed at that moment. And so it was not an open question for Fictional Ben whether or not the waiter sometimes used those words in that way, or at least had the capacity to. And since Fictional Ben surely regarded his presence at the table at that moment as irrelevant to the waiter's linguistic capacities, Fictional Ben did not regard it as an open question whether or not the waiter would have had those capacities even had he not uttered something that sounded like "Your glass is empty" just then. And this is where what Fictional Ben's explicit presumed might find some connection to things that are relevant: If Fictional Ben presumed that the waiter had used the words in the same way previously, or if he presumed that the waiter had at least learned how to use them that way at some point, then it would follow that the waiter has the sort of linguistic capacities that Fictional Ben regards him to in fact have (assuming that the waiter's capacities had not been weakened by the passage of time, which he must presume if his other presumption is to have any point).

That Fictional Ben showed himself liable to make such bizarre explicit presumptions in the course of conversation shows just how much harm Swampman can do. Fictional Ben is just lucky that Adorable Skeptic really didn't care that he was saying silly things.

"I would certainly resist any suggestion to the effect that since, if I learned that not-p, I would retract my claim that φ, I must, when making the claim, have known or at least presumed that p."

But if you hold that the truth of phi excludes the truth of not-p, then if you hold that phi you can't hold the truth of not-p open as a serious possibility. For suppose you tried to decide whether or not not-p: The falsity of not-p follows from something you hold true (namely phi), and so not-p can't be true.

You certainly might have not explicitly presumed that p, or may not have believed that p (by way of believing neither p nor not-p). You might not have considered the relationship between p and phi at all (in which case the conditional states not something that you hold, but merely something which would be true about how you would revise your commitments if such-and-such came about). But if you hold that phi and not-p can't both be true, and you hold that not-p might be true, then you can't rationally hold that phi is true -- for you are commited to holding that phi might not be true. And what you think might not be true, you don't think is true -- you don't believe it to be the case, but are undecided at the moment. And so, if you have certain other commitments: Yes, I do think that you presume that p when you claim that phi, or else you act irrationally. If you later come to believe that not-p, then you'll have to revise your beliefs, but the same would hold for if you came to believe that not-phi. (And surely it would seem pointless to say that this showed that your claim that phi did not commit you one way or the other to not-phi.)

"I don't think I've said thus far that one does make such a presumption or supposition or whatever; hopefully all I've said is that one might, in certain circumstances."

Man, I am having enough trouble figuring out what I'm saying right now. I'm supposed to know what you said earlier, too? That shit sounds like work.

"I don't think it's necessary to get the interpretive process off the ground, or for scaffolding once it's underway, or as support in the finished product, or whatever."

I don't get this part, though. Those sorts of conditionals just make explicit the inferential connections between so-and-so's commitments. Which are the sorts of things you want to know to know what so-and-so thinks. Which are what you're wanting out of the interpretive process.

"So your account of how I can go from "Wagner died happy" to "Cosima Wagner died happy" is that I do it the same way an interpreter would, through observation? Of course others can also often do it (and one may not always oneself be able to); that's not at issue: the issue is how."

Well you do it through thinking up something to say that you think means the same (or close enough) as what you said a minute ago. Which is something you can share with an interpreter -- if you both know what you meant, neither of you has a special advantage at paraphrasing. Of course, how you know what you mean is different from how an interpreter knows what you mean (they know by observation, you know because you can't help but know). So your ability to paraphrase is related to something FPA-ish. You have to remember something you knew without observation (and have to be able to find more words in the semantic arena); the other guy has to remember something they learned through observation (and has to be able to find more words in the arena).

Again, I think the ability to paraphrase what you just said isn't something an account of FPA would have to handle. It's a side-issue.

"This is like saying that she couldn't help you get to Cosima Wagner by telling you that she meant Cosima Wagner, since there might be any number of people by that name. (If she tells you she meant Cosima, and you're still puzzled, because there are so many Cosimas, she will tell you: the daughter of Richard—the composer Richard—etc. We have to assume that you're in some specific confusion.) There are even more people named Wagner than named Cosima Wagner, so I'm still not sure how the W-sayer knew that she meant Cosima."

She can tell me these things about Cosima Wagner because she knows who "Wagner" was; she knows rather a lot of things about this Wagner. Her knowledge of Wagner isn't something FPA is needed to explain -- it's just normal knowledge about someone historical. So FPA doesn't need to explain how she can go from "Wagner" to "Cosima Wagner".

You're right that if she was trying to get me to go from "Which Wagner?" to realizing which Wagner she meant, I'd have to be in some specific confusion. For some confusions, leading me to get that Cosima Wagner was the relevant Wagner would solve the problem; for others, it wouldn't. But these sorts of confusion that I can be in, she can't be in. And so there's nothing that her being able to go from "Wagner" to "Cosima Wagner" would be able to clear up. Plain-old "Wagner" is as clear as could be desired for her, in her sentence "Wagner died happy" -- and so the T-sentence she writes, ""Wagner died happy" is true IFF Wagner died happy" is as clear as could be desired, for the right-hand sentence just sits undisturbed by the biconditional.

"So it seems to me that what you say in the paragraph above the one I quote immediately below (yes, that's confusing, but I think we're the only ones following this exchange) is rather different from what Davidson's getting at, since he really does seem to be saying that one might profitably utter, to oneself or another, a T-sentence. It's even telling that he gives a specific T-sentence; your point can be made (as you make it) just by referring to T-sentences en masse. It seems as if there's supposed to be some point to this funny, nontranslational T-sentence W, though. "

I continue to disagree that Davidson was getting at something other than I am. I will grant, though, that if you are right that there is supposed to be something special about the one little T-sentence by itself, that this odd little disquoational toy is supposed to somehow provide a reassurance or whatever that I know what I mean -- that's nuts. If Davidson held a view of that sort, he was wrong to do so. (Both because it's false and because I think it's something he should know better than to do -- his own work shows a better way to go.) "W", by itself, is useless and stupid and rubbish.

Again, I think the unfortunate sentences which you quoted in your post are supposed to remind us of the stuff he's told us elsewhere about T-sentences, Tarskistyle theories of truth as "theories of meaning", the indeterminacy of translation, etc. That stuff I think is important and relevant to FPA and meaning and truth and a lot of other things.

The bit you originally quoted (as I read it) has Davidson imagining a speaker trying to ask himself what he means, and answer it. Which is a silly thing to do -- a speaker already knows what he means, that's part of what FPA is. There's nothing he needs to "do" to know what he means, and so trying to say "what he does" (or what he might do, or what he should do) is just going to make you look silly. In Davidson's later essays, he gets better about this sort of thing. For instance, as to whether interpretation plays a role in first-person knowledge of what one means -- earlier on, he says it does and has some way of showing that FPA still holds (since the two languages that are in play in the interpretive process are identical, hence a lot of things can be cancelled out and the process becomes trivial); later on he notes that it doesn't, because there's no room for confusion and so nothing interpretation could be doing. (I don't think there's a substantive change of position here, but the presentation improves markedly.)

"(That I'm completely repeating myself is probably a sign that we're talking at cross purposes or at an impasse.)"

Or that one or both of us thinks one or both of us is getting confused about what the heck we're talking about. Blog comments (especially long ones) are not really like a conversation in this respect. In a conversation, remembering the last few things someone said involves remembering maybe a paragraph's worth of stuff; in a blog comment, the last few things someone said could easily amount to a few pages of monologue. So sometimes you repeat yourself just because otherwise stuff is liable to get forgot.

""Here I would disagree with you: If it was an open question for you whether or not he had learned to use "glasses" in the way you take him to have used it presently"

Well, I don't know that I would say it is an open question "for me"."

Then I don't see that there's any interesting reason to say you didn't think you "knew" the truth of the matter. For you, it wasn't something you took yourself to be ignorant of -- something you might need to inquire about, an open question. And what you ain't ignorant of you don't not know, as far as you judge the matter. (You might be wrong about what you think you know -- what you believe might not be true -- but that you believe it just is to have settled the matter by your own lights, at the moment. You might revise your beliefs in the future, but this would just be to revise what you take yourself to know, too.)

"He doesn't consider the delta-epsilon stuff to have been sensical. What's the force of this "can't"?"

The instructions for forming a T-sentence are something like this.

T-schema: "S" is true-in-L IFF P

S is a sentence of L. P is a translation of "S" into the metalanguage (the language being used to state the T-sentences), if L is not the metalanguage. If the metalanguage is L, then P=S.

So, if one follows the directions for forming T-sentences, P is a sentence. If one puts a non-sentence for P, one didn't follow the directions, and so one didn't produce a T-sentence. For T-sentences are just what the directions for forming T-sentences give you.

Again: One can form "T-sentences" (scare-quotes), mad-lib style, by plugging in strings instead of sentences for S and/or P. The fact that they will have been, in some sense, formed from the T-schema will not make them T-sentences anymore than this is:
http://img175.imageshack.us/img175/1531/whattarskiintendednn9.png

"Since I'm totally flagging and am no longer certain how much sense or salience anything I'm writing has or whether I've left thoughts totally unfinished, I'm going to just post this (that's a reasonable thing to do, right? Waiting a bit and reading it over: crazy!)."

You have found the breaking strategy. I am also not going to read over this before posting because, I mean, I just wrote "poop" in MSPaint, I clearly do not have the bar set all that high now.

I haven't been ill, but I have been ignoring this comment—I mean your comment—because I tend to get all het up and it's bad for my blood pressure. Or so I imagine. Here are two pictures so irrelevant that they don't even contain Audrey Hepburn: Myrna Loy (would you believe I couldn't find a picture of her moueing? ("mouing"?) shocking); Nora Zehetner.

As far as Fictional Ben is concerned, he's not acting on a mere presumption: he knows what the waiter meant

Well, I can consent to that.

I think that what you and I think about presuming not-p and holding phi might be reconcilable, for suitable partitionings of meanings—anyway if it comes down to the observation that for me the truth of not-p isn't a real possibilty so long as I hold on to phi, sure. But I would prefer to say that the truth of phi presumes the falsity of not-p (I think this is the way things are supposed to work here). This might seem obfuscatory (or just obfuscated, or just silly), but I prefer to keep the stock of things presumed by a person sorta close to what he explicitly presumes, lest, when I say that John will be along presently, I find myself having presumed all sorts of things I've never given a moment's thought to (that it's not the case that he's actually been a drug runner all this time and has recently been picked up by the feds, so he won't be able to make it)—though naturally should they arise, I will respond as you would predict.

(they know by observation, you know because you can't help but know).
[..]
Again, I think the ability to paraphrase what you just said isn't something an account of FPA would have to handle. It's a side-issue.

Hm, well, I dunno; I think this is the interesting stuff, whatever you call it.

I mean, I just wrote "poop" in MSPaint, I clearly do not have the bar set all that high now.

I bet that really is what Tarski intended, only he couldn't get it past those stuffy academical types.

"I haven't been ill, but I have been ignoring this comment—I mean your comment—because I tend to get all het up and it's bad for my blood pressure. Or so I imagine."

Yeah, I know how it goes. I think the only comments I check immediately upon receiving notification of them are the Troll of Sorrow's.

Nora Zehetner is pretty great. (Also pretty, great.)

"This might seem obfuscatory (or just obfuscated, or just silly), but I prefer to keep the stock of things presumed by a person sorta close to what he explicitly presumes, lest, when I say that John will be along presently, I find myself having presumed all sorts of things I've never given a moment's thought to (that it's not the case that he's actually been a drug runner all this time and has recently been picked up by the feds, so he won't be able to make it)—though naturally should they arise, I will respond as you would predict."

I suppose I can see that. Though I think since you already end up accruing commitments to things you've not given a moment's thought to, just by adopting a position as to whether or not John will be late, whether you've presumed various things (in your sense, where presumptions are kept close to what is explicitly presumed) seems to not be all that important. If someone hasn't considered what's implied by their commitments, then either this shouldn't add or subtract from the substance of their commitments (since they are coherent under deductive closure, like we generally hope for so-and-so's commitments to be) or they would show them to hold incoherent commitments (which is a problem by both their lights and our own). So, it seems to me like all that tracking (explicit-or-close-to-it) presumptions as distinct from commitments will do for you is help you make sense of behavior that is only superficially rational -- behavior that is guided by incoherent commitments whose full implications have not been discerned by their holder. Behavior that is guided by a coherent set of commitments is going to show up the same regardless of how far the implications of so-and-so's commitments have been considered by so-and-so, since what follows deductively from those commitments will not add anything to the informational content of so-and-so's beliefs. Which is not the case for incoherent commitments -- deductive closure on an incoherent set of commitments leads to contradictory commitments, which contract and thus alter the informational content of so-and-so's beliefs. (This is not my most natural idiom, but it seems like it might be useful for this sort of purpose. I'm getting it from Isaac Levi, whom Duck has turned me on to.)

Now, making sense of behavior backed by incoherent commitments is useful so far as it goes, I'm sure, but I'd not want to have to try to track just what deductive implications of so-and-so's commitments so-and-so is aware of at any moment.

"I think that what you and I think about presuming not-p and holding phi might be reconcilable, for suitable partitionings of meanings—anyway if it comes down to the observation that for me the truth of not-p isn't a real possibilty so long as I hold on to phi, sure. But I would prefer to say that the truth of phi presumes the falsity of not-p (I think this is the way things are supposed to work here)."

I don't like this "objective" way of talking about truth and falsity -- talking about truth, falsity, and implication separately from what anyone is committed to. For that the truth of phi presumes the falsity of not-p is only relevant for Fictional Ben if that is conditional expresses something he holds true. If Fictional Ben thinks that phi, but doesn't think that phi presumes the falsity of not-p, then Ben's commitment to phi does not rationally commit him to anything regarding the truth or falsity of not-p. And if Fictional Ben is committed to holding that the truth of phi presumes the falsity of not-p, then for Fictional Ben there's no difference between his commitment to it and its just being true that p and phi are related in that way (and the same holds for any of us who agree with Fictional Ben) -- they come to the same thing. And the converse also holds -- if p and phi are not related in this way, but Fictional Ben thinks they are, then it's irrational for him to hold phi true while also accepting not-p.

Now, it is true that Fictional Ben might hold that phi, and might hold that the truth of phi presumes the falsity of not-p, while not holding the falsity of not-p. He might either do this through "blatant" irrationality (by holding that not-p is not false), or by not having thought the matter through (by not holding any view as to the truth or falsity of not-p). It seems reasonable to me to not call the latter case "irrationality" -- since it's clearly different from the former case. But I think that treating Fictional Ben as a rational being requires treating him as being committed to the falsity of not-p, whether he's thought of it explicitly or not.

I do agree, though, that what each of us thinks about this sort of thing is probably reconcilable with what the other thinks.

"Hm, well, I dunno; I think this is the interesting stuff, whatever you call it."

Well, it could be interesting for all sorts of reasons. But I don't see why it would be a fault for an account of FPA to not give an account of it. Nor do I see why a "theory of meaning" (in a broad, Davidsonian sense) should have to mention the phenomena. It seems to me to just be something which we happen to be able to do in most cases: a psychological fact about humans, perhaps.

Now, like I said, it could be interesting for all sorts of reasons. But I don't think there's any way to flesh it out into a "theory of meaning", or to an objection to Davidsonian ways of handling meaning & truth &c. I just don't see how it's relevant to all that. There's no way to give an account for every expression in a language by way of sentences of the form "P means that Q", where Q is a rephrasing of P, without the account becoming circular ("and Q means that S, and S means that P"), or relying on a metalanguage which is expressively more powerful than the object language (so that the sentences which are paraphrased are numerically less than the sentences available for use in paraphrase). So it's not clear what advantage they could have over T-sentences, in that respect. And I'm not seeing how (therapeutically, so to speak) observing that we can often rephrase things shows that Davidson is Seriously Confused. (Though it does show that the bit you quoted in your post is a bad thing for Davidson to have said.)

"I bet that really is what Tarski intended, only he couldn't get it past those stuffy academical types."

We actually have bowdlerizing translators to blame. Tarski originally wrote "śnieg jest żółty". Which is true IFF snow isn't white anymore.

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