Reference and Truth

  • R. J. Nelson
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 155)


Although I have been trying to maintain a division between the psychology and the semantics of mental attitudes the two have already tended to blur in the discussion of representations. There is a similar distinction that is much neater, one between intentional traits and behaviors on the one hand and linguistic reference and meaning on the other. On one opinion intentions can be ascribed to the dumb but meanings to the speech of language users only. A different view, which was at one time proposed by Davidson, is that only a creature that can interpret speech can have beliefs. For beliefs, he says, can be mistaken, and to understand the “possibility of being mistaken ... requires grasping the contrast between truth and error” (Davidson, 1975, pp. 22–23). My theory already belies such a proposal, and theory aside, dumb animals do seem to have mistaken beliefs and are able to correct them on the spot. Any dog tracking by a spoor and losing it is able to back-track and start anew once he gets on it. He can have mistaken beliefs and correct them. Moreover, a theory of truth, say, that seeks a truth definition for a language by abstracting from use, attitude, and the context of use may be doomed to commitment to abstract entities or to reliance on other unanalyzed semantic terms (Field, 1972), possibilities that I wish to avoid as a matter of strictly naturalist policy. The view I am rejecting may be correct (Davidson does not claim that it is), but I want to be clear about my own presuppositions.


Turing Machine Propositional Attitude Perceptual Object Core Belief Truth Predicate 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. J. Nelson
    • 1
  1. 1.Truman P. Handy Professor of PhilosophyCase Western Reserve UniversityUSA

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