book (Davidson, 2002, Essay 14). Philosophers have been traditionally concerned with three different types of knowledge: of my own mind; of the world; and of other minds. The varied attempts to reduce some of these forms to the one taken as basic have all proved abortive. Davidson’s method of interrelating them hinges on his notion of radical interpretation. My attempt to interpret the speech of another person relies on the functional assumption that she has a basic coherence in her intentions, beliefs, and utterances. Interpreting her speech on the most basic level involves assuming that she holds an utterance true and intends to be understood. The source of the concept of truth is interpersonal communication. Without a shared language there is no way to distinguish what is the case from what is thought to be the case. I assume that her overall speech has a basic coherence and that by and large she responds to the same features of the world that I do. Without this sharing in a common stimuli thought and speech have no real content. The three different types of knowledge are related by triangulation. I can draw a baseline between my mind and another mind only if we can both line up the same aspects of reality. Knowledge of other minds and knowledge of the world are mutually dependent.
This reasoning leads Davidson to two conclusions that others find problematic. First, it is impossible for our general picture of the world and of our place in it to be mistaken. For the second we rely on a citation: “Communication, and the knowledge of other minds that it presupposes, is the basis of our concept of objectivity, our recognition of a distinction between false and true beliefs”. (Ibid., p. 217). I will focus on the objection most pertinent to the present context. The rhetoric of science, previously cited, assumes that that our common-sense picture of the world not only can be mistaken, it is mistaken on very basic aspects of reality. This is particularly true of the general picture of the world prior to the scientific revolution. Since then science, not common sense, has gradually provided a more objective view. Common sense, and the ordinary language that reflects and transmits it, achieves increasing objectivity to the degree that it conforms to scientific advances.
Such objections involve a fundamental misconception. Our ordinary language picture of reality is not a theory. It is a shared vehicle of communication involving a representation of ourselves as agents in the world, and as members of a community of agents, supplying tools and terms for identifying objects, events, and properties. Extensions and applications may be erroneous. There can be factual mistakes, false beliefs, incorrect usages, and various inconsistencies. But, the designation of some practice as anomalous is only meaningful against a background of established practices that set the norms. Our description of reality and reality as described are interrelated, not in a vicious circle, but in a developing spiral. Here, a relation with phenomenology is helpful. The ‘lived world’ is something immediate, all enveloping, pre-critical. We advance in understanding of our own language and culture, as well as of alien cultures, through a hermeneutic circle. Individual pasrt are understood in relation to a whole. Articulation of parts refines and enlarges our understanding of the whole. In the jargon that Heidegger and Gadamer popularized my prejudices supply a point of departure for my attempts to understand an alien language or culture. This is functionally equivalent to Davidson’s program of understanding alien utterances by matching them with sentences I hold true, while interrelating truth claims with beliefs and intentions. For this to work, the large amorphous collection of basic claims must be accepted as true of reality. Gadamer’s