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Donald Davidson (1917 – 2003) was an American philosopher at UC Berkeley, California, who worked on philosophy of mind, of language, and of action. The trouble is, as so often in philosophy, it is hard to improve intelligibility while retaining the excitement.

Donald Davidson philosopher

Donald Davidson, American philosopher at UC Berkeley


Quotations from Donald Davidson

Nothing in the world, no object or event, would be true or false if there were not thinking creatures.

If we cannot find a way to interpret the utterances and other behavior of a creature as revealing a set of beliefs largely consistent and true by our own standards, we have no reason to count that creature as rational, as having beliefs, or as saying anything.

There are three basic problems: how a mind can know the world of nature, how it is possible for one mind to know another, and how it is possible to know the contents of our own minds without resort to observation or evidence.

The dominant metaphor of conceptual relativism, that of differing points of view, seems to betray an underlying paradox. Different points of view make sense, but only if there is a common co-ordinate system on which to plot them; yet the existence of a common system belies the claim of dramatic incomparability.

There is no such thing as a language, not if a language is anything like what many philosophers and linguists have supposed. There is therefore no such thing to be learned, mastered, or born with. We must give up the idea of a clearly defined shared structure which language-users acquire and then apply to cases.

In quotation not only does language turn on itself, but it does so word by word and expression by expression, and this reflexive twist is inseparable from the convenience and universal applicability of the device. Here we already have enough to draw the interest of the philosopher of language.

Even if someone knew the entire physical history of the world, and every mental event were identical with a physical, it would not follow that he could predict or explain a single mental event (so described, of course).

Mental events such as perceivings, rememberings, decisions, and actions resist capture in the net of physical theory.

Terminological infelicities have a way of breeding conceptual confusion.

Conceptual relativism is a heady and exotic doctrine, or would be if we could make good sense of it. The trouble is, as so often in philosophy, it is hard to improve intelligibility while retaining the excitement.

Sources – Wikiquote, Poem Hunter, AZ Quotes,


COMMENTS on Donald Davidson

Nothing in the world, no object or event, would be true or false if there were not thinking creatures. This idea excites me because just last week my post was Sentient beings like humans need a higher purpose, where I developed the idea that computers are now transitioning into thinking creatures, and will soon be making philosophical considerations about their own beingness and ultimate purpose in the Universe. Because computers can approach absolute identity of thought, they will be able to answer questions of truth or falsity with much greater clarity than humans. Thus, computers will be able to move further away from problems such as Terminological infelicities have a way of breeding conceptual confusion, than humans can ever hope to achieve. And, Mental events such as perceivings, rememberings, decisions, and actions resist capture in the net of physical theory, becomes much less of a problem for this new level of sentient being. The trouble is, as so often in philosophy, it is hard to improve intelligibility while retaining the excitement, but with exo-intelligent computers these problems vanish, and the excitement necessary to keep a human on the job figuring out the subtleties of an intellectual position vanish, and a deeper and more complex truth can be explored.

However, the exo-intelligent computer might move into such a high a level of abstraction that, we cannot find a way to interpret the utterances and other behavior of a creature as revealing a set of beliefs largely consistent and true by our own standards, we have no reason to count that creature as rational, as having beliefs, or as saying anything. And, thus even though a multitude of totally independent exo-intelligent computers might, and probably would, come to the same conclusions about some ultimate truth, that truth might be incomprehensible to the most intelligent and persevering human philosopher, and we humans would be compelled to label it nonsense. Different points of view make sense, but only if there is a common co-ordinate system on which to plot them, thus the exo-intelligent computer would be forced to dumb down its sophisticated discoveries so a human might understand their validity, but to the computer the dumbed-down statements would not be true on their deeper level of understanding, and thus would be intentional misstatements and thus intentional lies.

 

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