Three Varieties of Knowledge- a Critque

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Donald Davidson- Three Varieties of Knowledge
Submitted By: Nathan Copeland- 500349268
Submitted to: Prof. Checkland
PHL550
April 15, 2013

In Donald Davidsons Three Varieties of Knowledge, he sets out to more or less prove that “A community of minds is the basis of knowledge; it provides the measure of all things." (Davidson, 218). This is done by first categorizing knowledge into three distinct categories. There is knowledge of ones own mind, knowledge of another’s mind, and knowledge of the shared physical world around us. He argues that no one could exist without the others. According to Davidson, knowledge of ones own mind differs from the other two types of knowledge in the sense that one knows the contents of their own mind without any study or evidence in most cases. On the other hand, the minds of others and the physical world may only be interpreted through the senses, at least initially. He also notes that certain aspects of our physical world can be interpreted almost instantaneously, our example being distinguishing colours, while many aspects of another’s mind contents are done through physical observation of actions and words, which we then reconcile with our own knowledge to make inferences. This makes the latter two types of knowledge open to a degree of uncertainty that is rarely experienced in matters of your own mind. He also acknowledges the asymmetry that is apparent between coming about knowledge of our own minds and knowledge of other minds. They are both minds, yet we come to understand our own in a very unique way. He criticizes the solution that the actions and behavior or others is sufficient for inferring certain mental states to others, but those same actions and behaviours carried out by our selves are irrelevant when we attempt to describe ourselves. An issue being- If both types of knowledge come about so differently, how can we believe that others mental states are comparable to our own. He sets out to paint a picture that includes all three types of knowledge, and shows how they are related in hopes of solving these issues.

Davidson claims that “what we could not do is get along without a way of expressing, and thus communicating, our thoughts about the natural world” (Davidson, pg.208). He also proposes that in order for a creature to have a belief, they must also posses the idea of objective truths. He then draws on Wittgenstien to say that “the source of the concept of objective truth is interpersonal communication” (Davidson, pg. 209). This is based on the assumption that thought cannot exist without language. Davidson argues that without the distinction between objective truth and what one thinks to be the case, there is no thought at all, and since there cannot be objective truth without the confirmation on the correct use of words through communicating, there cannot be thought without communicating, in his example language. It is argued that in order for communication to work, the speaker and interpreter must share an understanding of what is meant by what is being said. Davidson then uses an example of how one would go about learning a new language to illustrate how we come about having an understanding of the words we use. In this case, we assign words and sentences we know in our native tongue to the utterances and actions made by a foreign speaker. With trial and error we come to understand what is meant by these utterances and how they relate to ‘reality’. This process of connecting ones own thoughts with the thoughts of another through some aspect of the external world is regarded by Davidson as triangulation. “it takes two points of view to give a location to the cause of a thought, and thus define its content” (Davidson, pg.213). He believes this to be the only way that one can know another’s mind or the external world, making the two mutually dependent. He points out that there is the limitation of perception at play here, with no way to look in from outside the...
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