Donald Davidson

Biography of Donald Davidson

Donald Herbert Davidson (March 6, 1917 – August 30, 2003) was an American philosopher born in Springfield, Massachusetts, who served as Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley from 1981 to 2003 after having also held teaching appointments at Stanford University, Rockefeller University, Princeton University, and the University of Chicago. Davidson was known for his charismatic personality and the depth and difficulty of his thought. His work exerted considerable influence in many areas of philosophy from the 1960s onward, particularly in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and action theory. While Davidson is clearly an analytic philosopher, and most of his influence lies in that tradition, his work has attracted attention in continental philosophy as well, particularly in literary theory and related areas.

Although published mostly in the form of short, terse essays which do not explicitly rely on any overriding theory, his work is nonetheless noted for a strongly unified character—the same methods and ideas are brought to bear on a host of apparently unrelated problems—and for synthesizing the work of a great number of other philosophers. He developed an influential truth-conditional semantics, attacked the idea of mental events as governed by strict psychological laws, and rejected the conception of linguistic understanding as having to do with conventions or rules, concluding famously that "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." His philosophical work as a whole is said to be concerned with the way human beings communicate and interact with and understand each other.

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