Donald Davidson (philosopher)



Donald Herbert Davidson (March 6, 1917 – August 30, 2003) was an
American philosopher This is a list of American philosophers; of philosophers who are either from, or spent many productive years of their lives in the United States. {, border="0" style="margin:auto;" class="toccolours" , - ! {{MediaWiki:Toc , - , style="text-al ...
. He served as Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the
University of California, Berkeley The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley, Berkeley, Cal, or California) is a public land-grant research university in Berkeley, California. Established in 1868 as the University of California, it is the state's first land-grant u ...
, from 1981 to 2003 after having also held teaching appointments at
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, Rockefeller University,
Princeton University Princeton University is a private university, private research university in Princeton, New Jersey. Founded in 1746 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Elizabeth as the College of New Jersey, Princeton is the List of Colonial Colleges, fourth-oldest ins ...
, and the
University of Chicago The University of Chicago (UChicago, Chicago, U of C, or UChi) is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois. Its main campus is located in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. The University of Chicago is consistently ranked among the b ...
. 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 mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology and nature of the mind and its relationship with the body. The mind–body problem is a paradigmatic issue in philosophy of mind, although a number of other issues are addre ...
philosophy of language In analytic philosophy, philosophy of language investigates the nature of language and the relations between language, language users, and the world. Investigations may include inquiry into the nature of meaning, intentionality, reference, ...
, and action theory. While Davidson was an
analytic philosopher Analytic philosophy is a branch and tradition of philosophy using analysis, popular in the Western world and particularly the Anglosphere, which began around the turn of the 20th century in the contemporary era in the United Kingdom, United ...
, and most of his influence lies in that tradition, his work has attracted attention in
continental philosophy Continental philosophy is a term used to describe some philosophers and philosophical traditions that do not fall under the umbrella of analytic philosophy. However, there is no academic consensus on the definition of continental philosophy. Pri ...
as well, particularly in literary theory and related areas.

Personal life

Davidson was married three times. His first wife was the artist Virginia Davidson, with whom he had his only child, a daughter, Elizabeth (Davidson) Boyer. Following his divorce from Virginia Davidson, he married for the second time to Nancy Hirschberg, Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and later at Chicago Circle. She died in 1979. In 1984, Davidson married for the third and last time, to philosopher Marcia Cavell.


Swampman is the subject of a
philosophical Philosophy (from , ) is the systematized study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence, reason, knowledge, values, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. Some ...
thought experiment A thought experiment is a hypothetical situation in which a hypothesis, theory, or principle is laid out for the purpose of thinking through its consequences. History The ancient Greek ''deiknymi'' (), or thought experiment, "was the most anc ...
introduced by Donald Davidson in his 1987 paper "Knowing One's Own Mind". In the experiment, Davidson is struck by lightning in a swamp and disintegrated; simultaneously, an exact copy of Davidson, the Swampman, is made from a nearby tree and proceeds through life exactly as Davidson would have, indistinguishable from Davidson. The experiment is used by Davidson to claim that thought and meaning cannot exist in a vacuum; they are dependent on their interconnections to the world. Therefore, despite being physically identical to himself, Davidson states that the Swampman does not have thoughts nor meaningful language, as it has no causal history to base them on. The experiment runs as follows:


Jean Nicod Prize The Jean Nicod Prize is awarded annually in Paris to a leading philosopher of mind or philosophically oriented cognitive scientist. The lectures are organized by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique as part of its effort to promote int ...


* ''Decision-Making: An Experimental Approach'', co-authored with
Patrick Suppes Patrick Colonel Suppes (; March 17, 1922 – November 17, 2014) was an American philosopher who made significant contributions to philosophy of science, the theory of measurement, the foundations of quantum mechanics, decision theory, psychology ...
Sidney Siegel Sidney Siegel (4 January 1916 in New York City – 29 November 1961) was an American psychologist who became especially well known for his work in popularising non-parametric statistics for use in the behavioural sciences. He was a co-developer o ...
. Stanford:
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. 1957. * "Actions, Reasons, and Causes," ''Journal of Philosophy'', 60, 1963. (Reprinted in Davidson, 2001a.) * "Truth and Meaning," ''Synthese'', 17, 1967. (Reprinted in Davidson, 2001b.) * "Mental Events," in ''Experience and Theory'', Foster and Swanson (eds.). London: Duckworth. 1970. (Reprinted in Davidson, 2001a). * "Agency," in ''Agent, Action, and Reason'', Binkley, Bronaugh, and Marras (eds.), Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1971. (Reprinted in Davidson, 2001a.) * "Radical Interpretation," ''Dialectica'', 27, 1973, 313–328. (Reprinted in Davidson, 2001b.) * ''Semantics of Natural Languages'', Davidson, Donald and Gilbert Harman (eds.), 2nd ed. New York: Springer. 1973. * ''Plato's ‘Philebus’'', New York: Garland Publishing. 1990. * ''Essays on Actions and Events'', 2nd ed. Oxford:
Oxford University Press Oxford University Press (OUP) is the university press of the University of Oxford. It is the largest university press in the world, and its printing history dates back to the 1480s. Having been officially granted the legal right to print books ...
. 2001a. * ''Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation'', 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2001b. * ''Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective''. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2001c. * ''Problems of Rationality'', Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004. * ''Truth, Language, and History: Philosophical Essays'', Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2005. * ''Truth and Predication''. Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press Harvard University Press (HUP) is a publishing house established on January 13, 1913, as a division of Harvard University, and focused on academic publishing. It is a member of the Association of American University Presses. After the retir ...
. 2005. * ''The Essential Davidson''. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2006.


* Rudolf Fara (host), ''In conversation: Donald Davidson'' (19 videocassettes), Philosophy International, Centre for Philosophy of the Natural and Social Sciences, London School of Economics, 1997.

See also

* List of Jean Nicod Prize laureates *
List of American philosophers This is a list of American philosophers; of philosophers who are either from, or spent many productive years of their lives in the United States. {, border="0" style="margin:auto;" class="toccolours" , - ! {{MediaWiki:Toc , - , style="text-al ...



Further reading

* Dasenbrock, Reed Way (ed.). ''Literary Theory After Davidson''. University Park: Pennsylvania University Press. 1993. * Hahn, Lewis Edwin (ed.). ''The Philosophy of Donald Davidson, Library of Living Philosophers'' XXVII. Chicago: Open Court. 1999. * Kotatko, Petr, Peter Pagin and Gabriel Segal (eds.). ''Interpreting Davidson''. Stanford: CSLI Publications. 2001. * Evnine, Simon. ''Donald Davidson''. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1991. * Kalugin, Vladimir. "Donald Davidson (1917–2003)," ''
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy The ''Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy'' (''IEP'') is a scholarly online encyclopedia, dealing with philosophy, philosophical topics, and philosophers. The IEP combines open access publication with peer reviewed publication of original pape ...
'', 2006.
* Lepore, Ernest and Brian McLaughlin (eds.). ''Actions and Events: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson''. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 1985. * Lepore, Ernest (ed.). ''Truth and Interpretation: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson''. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 1986. * Lepore, Ernest and Kirk Ludwig. "Donald Davidson," ''Midwest Studies in Philosophy'', September 2004, vol. 28, pp. 309–333. * Lepore, Ernest and Kirk Ludwig. ''Donald Davidson: Meaning, Truth, Language and Reality''. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2005. * Lepore, Ernest and Kirk Ludwig. ''Donald Davidson's Truth-Theoretic Semantics''. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2007. * Ludwig, Kirk (ed.). ''Donald Davidson''. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2003. * Ludwig, Kirk. "Donald Davidson: ''Essays on Actions and Events''." In ''Classics of Western Philosophy: The Twentieth Century: Quine and After'', vol. 5., John Shand (ed.), Acumen Press, 2006, pp. 146–165. * Malpas, Jeffrey. ''Donald Davidson and the Mirror of Meaning: Holism, Truth, Interpretation''. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1992. * Mou, Bo (ed.). ''Davidson's Philosophy and Chinese Philosophy: Constructive Engagement''. Leiden & Boston: Brill. 2006. * Preyer, Gerhard, Frank Siebelt, and Alexander Ulfig (eds.). ''Language, Mind and Epistemology: On Donald Davidson's Philosophy''. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. 1994. * Ramberg, Bjorn. ''Donald Davidson's Philosophy of Language: An Introduction''. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 1989. * Romaneczko, Marta E. ''The Role of Metalanguage in Radical Interpretation''. Journal of Consciousness Studies. 2007. * Stoecker, Ralf (ed.). ''Reflecting Davidson''. Berlin: W. de Gruyter. 1993. * Uzunova, Boryana
The ‘World’ of Donald Davidson: Some Remarks on the Concept
in: Philosophia: E-Journal of Philosophy and Culture – 1/2012. * Vermazen, B., and Hintikka, M. ''Essays on Davidson: Actions and Events''. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1985. * Zeglen, Ursula M. (ed.). ''Donald Davidson: Truth, Meaning and Knowledge''. London: Routledge. 1991.

External links

* *
"Donald Davidson"
– by Jeff Malpas, ''Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy'', 2005.

by Vladimir Kalugin, ''Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy'', 2006.
Guide to the Donald Davidson Papers
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