Charity, Interpretation, and Belief
McGinn (Colin)
Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 74, No. 9 (Sep., 1977), pp. 521-535
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. It is generally agreed that a principle of charity should play some part in regulating the project of radical interpretation. But it is a question what status such a principle enjoys. Donald Davidson has urged that charity with respect to the beliefs and sayings of others is a sine qua non of successful translation; more, that unless we see to it that veracity preponderates in a creature's attitudes and utterances we cannot construe its behavior as that of a rational agent or psychological subject.
  2. The claim, then, is that charity as a methodological precept is to be insisted on because we know in advance, by a transcendental argument of some sort, that most of what others say and believe is going to be true (according of course to our own view of the truth). We know a priori that there is no possibility of widespread and deep-going disagreement between interpreter and interpreted.
  3. It is this strong modal1 thesis that I am here concerned to undermine. I shall review arguments that have been, or might be, given to support the thesis, concluding that none is probative. That the thesis is unproved is, however, less important than why it is that Davidson's central argument does not prove it; and my chief interest will be to advocate a conception of mental states, particularly propositional attitudes, which argues the incorrectness of Davidson's premises and, indirectly, of his conclusion.
  4. As by-products, I shall indicate
    • (a) how that conception bears upon some doctrines of Hilary Putnam, and
    • (b) what impact rejection of Davidson's position on charity has on his method of radical interpretation.

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