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Davidson, Donald - The Folly of Trying to Define Truth

Davidson, Donald - The Folly of Trying to Define Truth

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TheFollyofTryingtoDefineTruth
STOR
DonaldDavidson
TheJournalofPhilosophy,
Volume93,Issue6(Jun.,1996),263-278.
StableURL:http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0022-362X%28199606%2993%3A6%3C263%3ATFOTTD%3E2.0.CO%3B2-QYouruseoftheJSTORarchiveindicatesyouracceptanceofJSTOR'sTermsandConditionsofUse,availableathttp://www.jstoLorg/aboutiterms.html.JSTOR'sTermsandConditionsofUseprovides,inpart,thatunlessyouhaveobtainedpriorpermission,youmaynotdownloadanentireissueofajournalormultiplecopiesofarticles,andyoumayusecontentintheJSTORarchiveonlyforyourpersonal,non-commercialuse.EachcopyofanypartofaJSTORtransmissionmustcontainthesamecopyrightnoticethatappearsonthescreenorprintedpageofsuchtransmission.
TheJournalofPhilosophy
ispublishedbyJournalofPhilosophy,Inc..Pleasecontactthepublisherforfurtherpermissionsregardingtheuseofthiswork.Publishercontactinformationmaybeobtainedathttp://www.jstor.org/joumals/jphil.html.
TheJournalofPhilosophy
©1996JournalofPhilosophy,Inc.JSTORandtheJSTORlogoaretrademarksofJSTOR,andareRegisteredintheU.S.PatentandTrademarkOffice.FormoreinformationonJSTORcontactjstor-info@umich.edu.©2002JSTORhttp://www.jstor.org/TueDec2417:50:372002
 
THEJOURNALOFPHILOSOPHY
VOLUME
xcm,
NO.6,JUNE1996
THEFOLLYOFTRYlNGTODEFINETRUTH*
I
he
Euthyphro,
Socratesaskswhatholinessis,what"makes"holythingsholy.Itisclearthatheseeksadefinition,adefinitionwithspecialproperties.Hespurnsthemereprovisionofexamplesorlists,askingineachcasewhatmakestheexamplesexamples,orputsanitemonthelist.Herejectsmerelycoextensiveconcepts("some-thingisholyifandonly
if
itisdeartothegods"):whatmakessome-thingdeartothegodsisthatitisholy,butnotviceversa.ThedialogueendswhenSocratesbegsEuthyphrotoenlightenhimbycomingupwithasatisfactoryanswer;Euthyphrodecideshehasan-otherappointment.Thepatternofattempteddefinition,counterexample,amendeddefinition,furthercounterexample,endingwithawhimperoffail-ure,isrepeatedwithvariationsthroughouttheSocraticandmiddlePlatonicdialogues.Beauty,courage,virtue,friendship,love,temper-anceareputunderthemicroscope,butnoconvincingdefinitionsemerge.TheonlydefinitionsPlatoseemshappywitharetenden-tiouscharacterizationsofwhatitistobeasophist.Healsogivesafewtrivialsamplesofcorrectdefinitions:ofatriangle;ofmud(earthandwater).Inthe
Theaetetus,
Platoattemptstodefineempiricalknowledge.Likemanyphilosopherssince,hetakesknowledgetobetruebeliefplussomethingmore-anaccountthatjustifiesorwarrantsthebe-lief.
It
is
thelastfeaturewhichstumpshim(againforeshadowingthesubsequenthistoryofthesubject).ItseemsnomoretooccurtoPlatothanithastomostothersthatthecombinationofcausalandrationalelementsthatmustenterintoananalysisofjustifiedbelief
~Amodifiedversionofthispaperwaswrittenfor,andwillappearin,a
FestschriftforProfessorPranabSen.
0022-362X/96/9306/263-78
©
1996ThejournalofPhilosophy,Inc.
263
 
264
THEJOURNALOFPHILOSOPHY
(asitmustintoaccountsofmemory,perception,andintentionalac-tion)mayinthenatureofthecasenotbeamenabletosharpformu-lationinaclearer,morebasic,vocabulary.Whatisimportantinthepresentcontext,however,isthefactthatinattemptingtodefineknowledge,itisonlywiththeconceptofwar-rantthatPlatoconcedesdefeat.Hedoesnotworrymuchabouttheequalinvolvementofknowledgewithtruthandbelief.Again,though,Platowassimplyblazingatrailthatotherphiloso-phersovertheageshavefollowed:youfollowhisleadifyouworryabouttheconcep
t
oftruthwhenitisthefocusofyourattention,butyoupretendyouunderstanditwhentryingtocopewithknowledge(orbelief,memory,perception,andthelike).WecomeacrossthesamepuzzlingstrategyinDavidHumeandothers,whoforgettheirskepticismabouttheexternalworldwhentheyformulatetheirdoubtsconcerningknowledgeofotherminds.Whenaphilosopheristroubledbytheideaofanintentionalaction,hewouldbehappyifhecouldanalyzeitcorrectlyintermsoftheconceptsofbelief,de-sire,andcausality,andhedoesnotforthemomentworrytoomuchaboutthose(atleastequallydifficult)concepts.Ifmemoryisupforanalysis,theconnectionswithbelief,truth,causality,andperhapsperception,constitutetheproblem,butthesefurtherconceptsareproterntakentobeclearenoughtobeusedtoclarifymemory,ifonlytheconnectionscouldbegotright.Itisallrighttoassumeyouhaveanadequatehandleonintentionandconventionifyourtargetismeaning.Icouldeasilygoon.Thereisalessontobelearnedfromthesefamiliar,thoughodd,shiftsinthefocusofphilosophicalpuzzlement.TheLessonItaketoheartisthis:howeverfeebleorfaultyourattemptstorelatethesevar-iousbasicconceptstoeachother,theseattemptsfarebetter,andteachusmore,thanoureffortstoproducecorrectandrevealingdef-initionsofbasicconceptsintermsofclearerorevenmorefunda-mentalconcepts.Thisis,afterall,whatweshouldexpect.Forthemostpart,theconceptsphilosopherssingleoutforattention,liketruth,knowl-edge,belief,action,cause,thegoodandtheright,arethemostele-mentaryconceptswehave,conceptswithoutwhich(Iaminclinedtosay)wewouldhavenoconceptsatall.Whythenshouldweexpecttobeabletoreducetheseconceptsdefinitionallytootherconceptsthataresimpler,clearer,andmorebasic?Weshouldacceptthefactthatwhatmakestheseconceptssoimportantmustalsoforecloseonthepossibil
ity
offindingafoundationforthemwhichreachesdeeperintobedrock.

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