“On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme” by Donald Davidson

Citation: Davidson, Donald. “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme.” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association

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Summary

Davidson’s now-classic address to the APA disputes the idea that the use of “conceptual schemes” or “frameworks” by humans to process experience means that a kind of relativism inevitably creeps into the philosophy and history of science. Instead, Davidson places knowledge into the world by imagining a series of interpretive disputes between speakers, and pointing out the commonalities of belief that such disputes depend upon. This means that the distinction between ‘reality’ and ‘conceptual scheme’ is artificial; instead it is best to think of knowledge and interpretation into a variety of problem-situations wherein concrete speakers and writers are trying to communicate with each other, thus philosophy is able to “reestablish unmediated touch with the familiar objects whose antics make our sentences and opinions true or false.”

Although Davidson writes in the idiom of analytical philosophy, thus rendering his arguments somewhat distant from sociological concerns, this is a classic argument against relativism from a pragmatist position. It also is an argument that connects pragmatism to hermeneutics. It is an important reference point for countering the classic interpretations of Rorty and Kuhn that often dominate seminars on epistemology.

–Submitted by: Isaac Ariail Reed | University of Colorado at Boulder / Sociology Department / Associate Professor Personal Website

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