Donald Davidson: between compositionality and holism

Ağoğlu, Eser
Donald Davidson adopts both the principle of compositionality and holism in his earlier papers and keeps them intact through revisions he did in his philosophy through the years. This dissertation aims to clarify his position by showing that these principles are interdepended in his construal. The obstacle that could undermine this conclusion is the so-called learnability argument attributed to Davidson and said to justify the compositionality of natural languages. It will be shown that Davidson never attributes a justificatory role to it in the historical and argumentation contexts. The learnability argument will be reformulated as presupposing an informal account of compositionality to establish the finiteness of natural languages and to constrain the form of any semantic theory. Davidson proposes that Tarski style truth theory modified for a natural language satisfies the finiteness and gives an account of the compositionality. However, when the translation assumption is dropped and the theory goes empirical, the axioms of the theory are abstracted from the pattern of truth in language holistically. The principle of charity will be presented as a constitutive feature of language and communication that guides such a process and sheds light on Davidson’s informal account of compositionality.
Citation Formats
E. Ağoğlu, “Donald Davidson: between compositionality and holism,” Ph.D. - Doctoral Program, Middle East Technical University, 2023.